Cannibalism has been quite the trend in TV and film of late. In 2021, Yellowjackets crashed into our lives with the tantalizing and terrifying tale of teens turned could-be cannibals in an untamed wilderness. Then 2022 brought us Netflix’s docuseries Dahmer, about the notorious cannibal serial killer. House of Hammer renewed talk of Armie Hammer’s flesh-eating fantasies, and Bones and All turned all-consuming teen lust literal with a road trip romance of fine young cannibals.
Now, 2023 kicked off with The Last of Us, HBO’s TV drama set in a post-apocalyptic landscape where brain-infecting fungi transform men into maneaters. And just as that scorching season concluded, Yellowjackets returns with its hotly anticipated second season.
‘Yellowjackets’ Season 2 review: Our favorite messed-up cannibals return — with even more bite
The Last of Us and Yellowjackets have more in common than a plot about a teen girl fighting to survive in a world of cannibals and endless emotional damage. The two series also share an unnerving excuse for the unthinkable, and a few disturbing bits more.
What do The Last of Us and Yellowjackets have in common?
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO
It all begins with winter. The air is freezing. The game is sparse. The ground is frozen solid. Too solid for digging.
In episode 8 of The Last of Us, the soft-spoken preacher David (Scott Shepherd) consoles the grieving family of the man Joel (Pedro Pascal) had slain in a previous episode. A sobbing daughter asks when their loving father might be buried. It seems a straightforward question, but it gives David pause. He exchanges glances with his right-hand acolyte (Troy Baker) before declaring, “The ground is too cold to dig. We’ll bury your father in the spring.”
It seems a reasonable response. But before the episode’s end, we — and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) — learn the truth behind David’s ruse as a peaceful man of God.
Meanwhile, on Yellowjackets, the titular team faces a similar crisis in Season 2, episode 2, titled, “Edible Complex.” Jackie (Ella Purnell) froze to death months ago, and the earth has not gotten softer since. So, Shauna’s (Sophie Nélisse) has been keeping her deceased bestie in their meat shed, out of sight but very on her mind.
Away from the others, Shauna’s guilt resurrects Jackie as a smiling, taunting, makeover-demanding imaginary friend. The rest of the team has a vague clue that her coping method has gotten weird, but once they discover that Jackie’s been posed and painted like a macabre American Girl doll, Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) decides it’s time for proper disposal.
“Shauna, this has to stop,” Taissa pleads, “for your own good, and for the good of the baby…We are getting rid of Jackie’s two-month-old corpse.”
And what does Shauna say? “We can’t even bury her. The ground is frozen solid.”
But they can cremate her. Right?
An ear proves a vital clue in Yellowjackets and The Last of Us.
Credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO
In both scenarios, it would be an arduous task to dig a proper hole in these frigid conditions. But the digging is not what concerns David or Shauna. It’s the meat that might be wasted.
While trying to escape from the cage into which David has slung her, Ellie discovers how he’s really been providing for his flock. While he insists the stew he’s serving to Ellie and his followers is “deer meat,” she can plainly see a bloody human ear lying on the floor not far from her cage. Later, Joel will find more gruesome clues to David’s Sweeney Todd side.
A dismembered ear proves pivotal for Shauna too. It’s the bit of Jackie that fell off during a one-sided argument in the shed and made for a secretive snack at the end of Season 1’s premiere. So when Taissa proposes burial, we know it’s not just Jackie’s presence that Shauna will miss. A sly cutaway to the corpse’s cut away wrist confirms that Shauna is the first of the Yellowjackets to go cannibal. Like David, she’s eager to hide this dining detail. But before long, she won’t carry the secret alone.
Faith blooms in a hopeless place.
Credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME
Is there a dark spirit in the forest that’s protecting or possessing the girls? Lottie (Courtney Eaton) and her acolytes believe so. The Antler Queen has steadily been building a religion in the wilderness on blood-infused tea, healing meditation, and the sacrifice of a bear heart. While Yellowjackets plays with what might be paranormal and what might be psychological, it’s easy to see how believers might find Jackie’s failed funeral pyre a blessing from their wilderness god.
Sure, teen girls with no training in cremation might have mucked it up anyway (as they did by setting a live Van aflame in Season 1). But the ominous music and swooping POV-seeming cinematography of the sequence in Season 2, episode 2 suggests something beyond fate fwomped all that snow atop Jackie, preventing her from burning to ash, and instead slow-cooking her as a feast for ravenous followers. When the girls emerge from the cabin to see Jackie laid out like a steaming buffet, a fantasy sequence takes over of them attending a Grecian bacchanal, where every want and whim might be satisfied. Faith and fantasy collided in The Last of Us as well.
To his followers, David preaches about God and heaven. But to Ellie, he lays down his true faith, declaring the infecting fungus as divine. “What does Cordryceps do? Is it evil? No,” David says, “It’s fruitful. It multiplies. It feeds and protects its children, and it secures its future with violence if it must. It loves.”
Episode 8 of The Last of Us Season 1 reveals David to be a liar, a cannibal, and a rapist. Yet in his mind, he is a man of faith, devoted to something greater than himself. He uses his beliefs to justify his behavior, to set himself above and apart from those he lies to, assaults, and eats. We don’t know how David’s path to cannibalism began. But it does seem it might be the same that Lottie and her teammates and acolytes are treading, whether they like it or not.
They’ve crossed the line now. They are cannibals, just as the rumors have teased in Season 1. And winter is long and unforgiving. So, it’s unlikely Jackie will be the last of their regretful feasts. After all, we know Pit Girl will fall to their needs in what appears to be a ruthless ritual. How will we get there? One bite at a time.
Yellowjackets Season 2 is streaming on Showtime, with new episodes streaming weekly on Friday. Episodes also air every Sunday on Showtime at 9 p.m. ET.