The following contains spoilers for Yellowjackets S1E3, “The Dollhouse” (written by Sarah L. Thompson and directed by Eva Sørhaug)
Much like another show about survivors of a plane crash, it would seem that after the pilot Yellowjackets may center each episode around a particular character. With “F Sharp” that was Misty, though I hardly noticed it at the time. “The Dollhouse,” however, clearly circulates around Taissa and indeed culminates in a scene that climaxes in three timelines at once.
We’re introduced to a younger version of Ty (Bailey Burr), who attends to her dying nana. It is perhaps worth noting that this is presented as though the Taissa in 1996 and the Taissa in 2021 were remembering these childhood events, rather than being set apart through the use of a title card. Yellowjackets doesn’t tell us what year it is here, because it doesn’t matter. The trauma is always present, or better, outside of time where one event resonates with another almost sub specie aeternitatis.
And Ty’s memory is terrifying, in parallel with those later moments of horror, as we move from Nana (BJ Harrison) offering serene thoughts about God taking her back because her time is up, to a scene where she cries out in abject terror before she dies.
As with Lost, we can’t help but wonder if there are supernatural elements at play in Yellowjackets, though it may always remain possible to interpret things like the Man With No Eyes symbolically or as a manifestation of madness (and I hope it does). That’s true of a lot of horror, though, and if nothing else “The Dollhouse” places itself at moments squarely within the genre.
In another indication that the show is truly hitting its stride, Yellowjackets S1E3 gives us an opening title sequence, which is set to “No Return” by Craig Wedren and Anna Waronker. The song would seem to be an original composition for the sake of the show, though the style is so strongly reminiscent of a particular brand of ’90s rock that I’ll admit I poked around a bit trying to find it before realizing this.
The sequence is quite striking as a collage of footage, styled to resemble a blurred and distorted VHS tape playing. There is a lot that could be picked apart about what we see here, but the one thing I find most worth noting is the appearance of the Man With No Eyes in the woods.
Does he have something to do with the symbol that we saw last week carved into a tree and replicated on the back of a postcard someone sent to Natalie? We see it again in “The Dollhouse” carved on the floor of the attic in the cabin.
Lottie didn’t want to go inside because she had a bad feeling, and she was right, but isn’t it odd that she would then curl up staring at the corpse she’d discovered? Is she off her meds yet?
And how did this person die? The body is reminiscent of Mother in Psycho, but then where is the analogue of Norman Bates? Could that somehow be the Man With No Eyes? Or does he even exist?
It’s certainly possible that this image could be a manifestation of Taissa’s fear, which is piqued again in 2021 as she descends to her basement to find her son’s doll damaged on the floor…and its eye. Eyes tie together the scenes in each timeline, as the younger Ty investigates her deceased nana’s eyes, pulling back the lid to discover nothing but white staring back at her blankly.
Never Quite as It Seems
Are those antlers above the mantle the same ones we saw forming a crown in Episode 1? I thought so at first, but on closer inspection, I would have to say that they don’t have quite the right shape. Yet Yellowjackets presents us with images that evoke one another even as they lack in shared signification.
As for who will end up wearing that antlered crown, Taissa seems like the most sensible guess at this point. S1E3 sees her taking the lead of the group as she spurs them to leave the crash site and head to the lake. Jackie doesn’t want to go, of course, showing again how her leadership skills just don’t carry over to this new setting. By the time they get to the lake and “In Dreams” by The Cranberries plays, it’s clear that she’s not the captain anymore.
In 2021, Taissa is running for State Senator and we learn that she is the one who hired Jessica Roberts to try to pressure the other survivors into spilling the proverbial beans. Her opponent has run an attack ad characterizing her as a cannibal, which besides leading to Sammy’s playground altercation raises the question of what exactly is publicly known about what happened out there in the woods.
What were they doing when they were rescued? Were they wearing their pelts, furs, and ornamental scalps? More to the point, if there is a rumor that they engaged in cannibalism (which we know to be true), where does Simone, for instance, derive the confidence that it is false? Is it just that she doesn’t want to believe it?
She wasn’t there (though I have seen some confuse her with Akilah, whose hair Taissa braids by the lake in S1E3, all indications are that these are different characters), so she’s really just taking on faith that the woman she loves couldn’t have done such heinous things.
Does it all boil down to the truth being so beyond the pale that the average person finds it easier to reject it? That’s rather interesting, if so, and perhaps feeds into the paranoia about someone in the group breaking their shared story, but I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised to see this brought into the narrative of 2021. I guess I expected it was even more of a secret.
Caligula Hasn’t Learned to Use the Phone Yet
Misty and Natalie travel to New Hampshire in search of Travis, whom they find in the episode’s closing moments, which are soundtracked brilliantly by Ultravox’s “Vienna.” Given that this song was released in 1980, its inclusion doesn’t seem in any way grounded in a thought about timeliness, as could be argued with much of the music in Yellowjackets.
Nevertheless, it fits perfectly with its slow build from the discovery of Travis’s hanging body, through the dialogue that follows, to peak as the closing credits of “The Dollhouse” hit. The song’s lyrics also feel thematically resonant, even if more indirectly than the inclusion of Portishead did last week. Given how that song related to a thought about Misty in my mind, though, I’m tempted to posit that we should be thinking more about Taissa when it comes to “Vienna” than about Natalie and Travis, and it fits if we take the song as symbolizing her movement toward maintaining a cold veneer (that S1E3 also shows the cracks in).
We walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a window pane
Lying and waiting
A man in the dark in a picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice reaching out in a piercing cry
It stays with you until
The feeling has gone, only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
The music is weaving
Haunting notes, pizzicato strings
The rhythm is calling
Alone in the night as the daylight brings
A cool, empty silence
The warmth of your hand and a cold grey sky
It fades to the distance
The image has gone, only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Speaking of Natalie and Travis, I’m struck by the extent to which Yellowjackets has given us only their relationship before the beginning and after the end, as it were, and yet this is enough to feel the depth of its stakes. Indeed, it is perhaps more effective than some straightforward hookup in the woods would be, though I won’t be surprised if that’s coming.
Natalie is sure that Travis didn’t kill himself, despite signs to the contrary. Presuming she’s right, we can only wonder who did kill him and why. Taissa again feels like the easy guess, but this would imply she felt him to be a threat. Maybe he was? We don’t really get anything from 2021 Travis besides the note Misty found, and given that she seems to have pulled a pencil on blank paper trick, we don’t even know who that message was intended for.
Natalie doesn’t know what she was right about, and while we may well find out at some point down the line, I think it’s just as possible that Yellowjackets will leave this be as an enigmatic fragment, or at least leave things ambiguous enough to fuel speculation. My most immediate thought is to relate it to something supernatural, like the Man With No Eyes, but it could be something far more mundane pertaining to interpersonal relationships.
We don’t even know who all survived those 19 months in the woods at this point. The felt implication is that it’s not just those we’ve seen, but I tend to think we can infer from Javi’s absence in the 2021 storyline so far that he won’t be among them. We thus might recall when Natalie cajoled Travis in “F Sharp” about caring for his brother after their father’s death. He manages that somewhat in “The Dollhouse,” but is also rather harsh to Javi about the gum he keeps chewing.
How much does what happened to Javi relate to the decision Travis makes to withdraw into hiding and change his name? And, Natalie’s insistence aside, can we really be sure that he didn’t hang himself?
I’m not at all sure what to make of the episode title for Yellowjackets S1E3—“The Dollhouse.” In fairness, I wasn’t sure what to make of “F Sharp” last week either, except for some thought relating it to Laura Lee’s story about telling off her piano teacher, which felt so tenuous that I didn’t mention it.
Episode 3 offers some elements that seem to resonate with its title, however. If the dollhouse is a house, we can’t help but think of the cabin in the woods where the girls end up and where Lottie finds a very old corpse sitting in a chair in the attic. But that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with dolls.
On the other hand, we have Sammy’s doll, which Taissa finds damaged at the bottom of the stairs in another timeline that forms a part of the same climactic triptych.
So we have a house and a doll in resonance with one another but overarching significance eludes me. Perhaps these are better taken as floating signifiers, and perhaps “dollhouse” itself should be taken more figuratively than literally.
The implication might be that the girls who have entered the cabin are the dolls and thus not in control of what happens next, or perhaps it’s just where they will begin to play. Or maybe it’s a reference to a Todd Solondz movie.
Taissa’s son Sammy is legitimately creepy, though I am still prone to think that he is just a bit off, as opposed to, say, possessed by demonic forces or something like that. We don’t know who the lady in the tree is, though, and we can now add to that the mystery of what happened to his doll. Maybe there is something supernatural going on, or maybe Simone is secretly the bad one Sammy refers to and she threw the doll down the stairs. But it’s probably more likely that Sammy did it himself because he’s a weirdo.
Misty has been texting with Kevyn, pretending to be Natalie, and uses that connection to get them bailed out of jail after they’re caught snooping in Travis’s house. I love how Misty just almost naively thinks she’s justified in doing things like this because she thinks the goal involved is a good one (cf. sabotaging Natalie’s car because she didn’t think Natalie would let her come along on the trip otherwise, and the way she asks if she was wrong about that when confronted).
Adam shows up at the hotel Shauna follows Jeff to in 2021, which is kind of weird, but I can’t say I’m terribly intrigued by this storyline at the moment. Perhaps something will happen to change that in the near future. It’s not that I have anything negative to say about it, to be clear, but you’ll notice I’ve written about 2000 words so far on S1E3 and this is the first I’ve mentioned it. So I’ll try to give that more depth of consideration next week.
See you then.