Yellowjackets Needs To Learn From The X-Files’ Biggest Mistakes
Yellowjackets needs to avoid the mistake The X-Files made by alienating viewers with constantly delayed answers.
The second season of Yellowjackets has to be one of the most anticipated upcoming television series of 2023 and definitely the most eagerly awaited show in the extremely specific genre of “teen girl soccer champions stranded in the Canadian wilderness might resort to cannibalism while their older selves investigate threats” right now. However, the enormous critical acclaim and popularity of the Showtime series (the first season of which has a perfect 100 percent Critics Score on Rotten Tomatoes) put it in a dangerous place and the showrunners would do well to learn from the biggest mistake of another formerly beloved series, The X-Files. Namely, audiences won’t stick around once the mystery starts to feel forced.
Yellowjackets has been praised for any number of elements, including incredible standout performances from Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, and Sophie Thatcher, its skillful use of a dual-timeline narrative, and its chillingly foreboding sense of dread. However, just like The X-Files, it runs the risk of delaying the central payoff for so long that it alienates viewers and diminishes the actual stakes. As The Simpsons so eloquently put it once upon a time, when are they getting to the fireworks factory?
For The X-Files, the idea was the looming threat of a human-assisted invasion by aliens that was hinted at over and over, so many times over so many years that by the time of the big reveal that Grey Colonists aliens would arrive in force to enslave humanity in 2012, it felt like a deflation. Keeping a mystery suspended for too long inevitably makes it seem like it was never that big of a deal, even if one does keep promising that the fireworks factory will be a big deal when viewers finally get there. This is what Yellowjackets needs to avoid.
While still influential and well-regarded, The X-Files has slowly diminished in cultural power; at this point, standalone episodes like the terrifying, immediately banned-from-broadcast “Home” or the elegiac weirdness of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” seem far more interesting than whatever the UFO abductions were about. Human-alien hybrids? Some kind of black goop? Who can remember?
The central mystery of Yellowjackets is what happened out in the wilderness in 1996: it has been heavily implied that the stranded team not only resorted to cannibalism but also formed some kind of bizarre cult and hunted each other for sustenance. Furthermore, it was increasingly hinted over the course of Yellowjackets season 1 that there was some kind of malevolent supernatural force affecting the girls’ behavior and seemingly keeping them stranded. This is the kind of mystery that launches a million online debates about what is really happening to the team, whether it is all in their minds or truly dark forces at work.
Just like what happened with The X-Files, there is undoubtedly the urge for Yellowjackets to push the mystery back further and further, to keep audiences on the hook for as long as possible. But Yellowjackets needs to remember what happened with the David Duchovny and Gillan Anderson series, how the ever-changing goalposts and increasingly forced ambiguity of the show just made the mystery seems tiresome and thin season after season.
Reportedly, Yellowjackets creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson have a five-season story arc planned, but let’s not forget that the people behind The X-Files and Lost said very similar things before the diminishing returns of their mysteries became too glaring to deny. As much as it is the mystery that draws in viewers and the answers might be disappointing to some (and more likely in today’s pop culture discussions, enrage them), Yellowjackets needs to resist the urge to think audiences will stay satisfied with having the fireworks factory always somewhere down the road.