Cannibalism. We all knew it was coming on Yellowjackets. Right from the very first episode of the show, we were promised brutal consumption distilled into grand ceremony. We just didn’t know how we would get there. But in episode two of Yellowjackets‘ second season, cannibalism finally arrives on the menu, proper. In works of fiction, cannibalism is usually seen as a brutal and abhorrent act. Engaging in cannibalism threatens to morph the very humanity of those involved into something else altogether. And on Yellowjackets, the team’s first true foray into cannibalism certainly involves a transformation, but brutality is exchanged for bacchanalia. The act of cannibalism itself transmutes into a rite of religious salvation.
The act of consummation is, after all, a godly one. If we define gods as mighty creators, makers of life that wield great power and have the capability of changing the course of humanity’s existence, in some cases by offering divine salvation and in others by offering divine punishment, then as humans, when we consume food, we practice a microcosm of the divine. As we consume our meal, our bodies create life. The better the food we consume, the better the life we manifest.
The idea of consummation is so potent that, indeed, in Christianity, believers often consume the blood and body of Christ, either metaphorically or literally, dependent on their belief. This proxy cannibalism of God allows devourers to obtain a better earthly life, salvation in death, and a mingling with the divine. Consuming the human-like figure of Christ brings his followers one step closer to godliness; the idea of physical creation blends with the idea of a spiritual one. And it is this perspective that the show carries into its first feast.
Yellowjackets offers a gentle slope into cannibalism and carefully sets the scene for its ultimate catharsis. We begin, of course, in episode one, where Shauna sneaks a taste of Jackie, eating her ear. Right from the beginning, the show lays cannibalism out not merely as an act of simply desperate eating but as a spiritual rite of consuming. Shauna seeks to keep Jackie with her, in one sense, and in another, she seeks to become her. And how better to make Jackie’s life blend with Shauna’s than by literally allowing the former to power the latter?
Shauna’s teammates, of course, don’t feel very impressed by her communion with a corpse. Since the ground remains too frozen for a burial, they seek to burn Jackie on a pyre and finally lay her to rest. And that leads to an interesting conversation among the group. Akilah hesitantly suggests that they take Jackie’s jacket before they burn her, and Van and Mari seem to agree. Shauna, however, flatly refuses. But as Van says, the exchange is “worth considering.” In the desperate circumstance of their isolation, the group could use Jackie’s jacket, which Jackie can no longer use. And extending the thought, they could also use Jackie’s meat… which Jackie can no longer use. Her life could become their life. But in the light of day, the thought of cannibalism only hovers at the edges of the Yellowjackets conversation. A transformation is still required.
And a transformation we receive. In the night, we see Travis and Natalie engage in a different kind of human act of divinity, sex. The scene comes to us peppered with images of the Pietà, or the famous depiction of the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus’ human body after his death. Travis flashes in and out of his intimacy with Natalie and his spiritual connection with Lottie, who plays the dual role of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the holy conduit of the wilderness. As Travis worships at the alter, Yellowjackets plays a cinematography card right out of Lost‘s book. The scene pans out over the wilderness and takes on a new perspective. The view implies we are following the sightline of someone or something. The force moves purposefully and, with intent projected by camera angle, smothers the flames devouring Jackie to a low burn.
The gods of the wilderness took Jackie when they froze her in the first snow, and now they return her transformed. Instead of a brutal desperate kill for sustenance, Yellowjackets gives us a fated religious transmutation from dead body to dinner plate. As Jesus Christ gives his blood and body to his followers to ensure their spiritual and earthly survival, Yellowjackets‘ arcane gods offer the survivors a gift of the wilderness. Shauna notes, “She wants us to.” And if the gods are truly divine, then Jackie has become a part of them, and the words ring true of this Yellowjackets rite of cannibalism. True enough for the starving survivors, at any rate.
As they eat Jackie, the team engages in the literal act of creating life and in the spiritual act of touching holiness. In their shared vision, even Jackie’s body, already transformed to look like an unidentifiable, weirdly shaped barbeque chicken, further evolves. The girls and Travis sit at a long table, leaden with a feast. Jackie transmutes into strawberries, roast meat, and freely pouring wine while the consumers shift into literal manifestations of gods and goddesses, as envisioned by a group of teens. They don long toga-like robes, golden leaves adorn their hair, and they are clean and happy. In short, as they engage in their cannibalism, the Yellowjackets become manifestations of the divine.
But, of course, Yellowjackets‘ version of gods harkens back to something more pagan and arcane. It tasks us back to the true roots of what it means to worship. The meal becomes a bacchanal that Dinoysis could feel proud of as the fervor of consummation sets in. The line between goddess and monster is a thin one, it must be said. And religion is traditionally a bloody business. It almost always goes too far.
In mythology and folklore, to eat the food of the fae means to remain trapped in their world forever. The consummation of divinity’s gifts renders you unable to ever escape its clutches. But as Radiohead’s crooning over the scene of elevated cannibalism tells us, the team has merely unlocked something that has always existed inside of them. And is the divine not said to be a part of every one of us?
Cracker and wine, or in this case, popsicle Jackie, become the blood and flesh of God. And as the survivors feast on their meal, they create life in their bodies and find, for a moment, salvation. Transmutation complete.