[This story contains major spoilers from the season two finale of Yellowjackets, “Storytelling.”]
The second season of Yellowjackets brought with it a tragic ending for one of the core castmates of the Showtime survival series created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson.
In the season finale, which released May 25, Juliette Lewis’ character, adult Natalie, was accidentally killed by Misty (Christina Ricci) during a wilderness reunion gone very wrong between the adult survivors of the 1996 plane crash that stranded the Yellowjackets soccer team when they were teenagers for 19 months, pushing them to cannibalism and other violence in order to survive. The series, which flips back and forth from 1996 to present day (and briefly introduced a third timeline of when the team is rescued), has featured Lewis as a series regular from the start. She makes up the core foursome of Natalie (Lewis), Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Taissa (Tawney Cypress) and Misty, with Lottie (Simone Kessell) and Van (Lauren Ambrose) having expanded the adult survivors in season two.
“Natalie is constantly in search of something to live for,” said Lewis while reflecting on her character during Showtime’s “Behind the Buzz” featurette on the finale. “She seems all tough but if you see her actions, she just wants to love.”
The actress took to Instagram on Monday to say she has been and will remain “off line for a bit,” and reflect on her time with the show, writing that she is “beyond moved by the appreciation of my work” on Yellowjackets. “Love respect & [appreciation] is the oil in this creative machine and the encouragement I always need- That I do not create alone that I will and can continue creating despite the challenges of this industry, with [its] breakneck hours & the pressure cooker expectations etc etc. I love you all above and beyond.”
She went on to express her gratitude to Lyle and Nickerson, in addition to the Showtime team, for the “opportunity of a lifetime” and “some of the greatest, wild and ultimately fulfilling creative firsts & life lessons.” Lewis’ post also praised the show’s “exceptional writing” and its “phenomenal” cast. “Until we meet again,” she closed the post, which included photos from the finale.
Her castmates commented on the post, with Lynskey writing, “I love you with all of my heart and the respect I have for you is gigantic,” and Ricci posting on her own feed that Lewis is “one in a million,” adding, “We have loved, we have laughed, we have giggled, we have fought and made up, we are sisters.”
Lewis was an exciting casting from the get-go, with her, Lynskey and Ricci thrilling legions of fans as they reunited for the ’90s-set series. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about the difficult decision to hand Lewis this fate so early in the show’s run (Yellowjackets has already been renewed for a third season and the co-creators have a five-season plan), director and EP Karyn Kusama said that, while her exit was hard and very emotional, the character’s arc had been teed up ever since the pilot of the series.
“Something I know the showrunners had always thought about, and that Ashley and Bart had always thought about from the pilot, was that mysterious moment when Natalie hallucinates Misty at the kegger in the woods,” shared Kusama, who directed both the pilot and the season two finale. “That was always this time-defying flash-forward to the notion that Misty was always going to be kind of an angel of death for Natalie.”
Lyle and Nickerson, on “Behind the Buzz,” spoke about the death being a full-circle moment for Nat and Misty’s friendship from that moment in the pilot. “As upsetting as it always is to lose a character who is as important to our story as Natalie, the fact is that the stakes of the world are life and death,” said Lyle. “The ritual itself awakens something in them that had been dormant for a really long time.” Nickerson added of the tragic consequences, “What we’re trying to do with the present-day story is to show that that force is not one that ends when they get rescued.”
Ricci added in the featurette, “Misty’s obsessed with Natalie. It’s the closest she’s come to having a friend, she’s not about to let that go — even if she ends up holding her so tight she crushes her.”
Kusama, when speaking to THR, shared that while Lewis was in the loop about her fate for “quite a while,” the cast only found out shortly before filming the episode, which was the ninth in the sophomore season. Sophie Thatcher, who plays Lewis’ younger counterpart teen Natalie, described her sadness over losing her mentor, while also unpacking how the decision will propel the show forward. (The finale also had a major reveal for teen Natalie when she was crowned as the long-awaited Antler Queen, which provided more heart-breaking clarity to adult Nat’s fate.)
“It was pretty devastating,” Thatcher told THR of reading the finale script, shortly after Lewis had confirmed her departure while the pair were doing press together. “I’m excited for her as an actor to go onto different projects and explore different roles. Because Natalie is a really hard role, emotionally, to take on, and I can’t imagine doing that for another three seasons or whatever … But, I think it’s really tragic for our character. Everyone has been through a lot, but Nat is the one who has been taking it all in most intensely, and letting it live inside of her and bubbling up, so there’s something really sad about that. I haven’t really thought about it yet, because we don’t know when we’re doing season three, but not having that mentorship… I know she’ll always be a contact, but not having that immediate [mentor], everyone else has that and now I’m removed of that. She’s given me so much confidence as a performer and an artist, and I’ll take that with me my entire life.”
Amid the ongoing writers strike, the third season of Yellowjackets is paused; the writers had one day in the room before it was pencils down after May 2. When production resumes, Kusama shed light on what the series will explore after the major Yellowjackets loss and events of the finale. “There’s something about a loss in the present like this that creates an opportunity to explore the ways that it can trigger reevaluations or revisiting of the past, and it can trigger a lot of change, for good and for ill. And so I think that will be something that the show will explore deeply around Nat’s death,” she said. (Read the full interview.)
The creatives and stars also weighed in on season three in the featurette. Thatcher called Nat’s fate a “beautiful juxtaposition” of the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one, while Kusama noted that teen Natalie becoming Antler Queen in an evolution from Lottie (Courtney Eaton) means that any of the Yellowjackets could have an opportunity to wear the crown.
The season ultimately ends with the young survivors’ cabin being burned to the ground, effectively leaving them without shelter in the winter wilderness. “We’re big fans of clue climaxes and so decisions were made and what those decisions mean will be a big part of season three,” teased Nickerson.
Kevin Alves, who plays Travis Martinez in the 1996 storyline, gave viewers a head start about where to look when speaking to THR about the shocking moment of cannibalism for his character, when he took the first bite out of his late brother Javi (Luciano Leroux) after thinking he died accidentally.
“What’s kind of cool and resourceful about the Yellowjackets is, there are a lot of insert [shots when they leave the cabin after the fire]. I’m not sure how many were included in the final edit, you have to go really slow to see. But, they were grabbing stuff coming out of that cabin,” he shared. “I assume in the writing it’s going to tie into how we’re going to survive outside of the cabin. We grabbed everything we could and this show is so symbolism heavy, there’s no way there’s not a reason why we took some of those things. [The writers are] too sneaky. We had the Queen of Hearts in that deck of cards in episode four or five of season one, and they now came to fruition.”
Yellowjackets left viewers with an ominous message from Lottie (Kessell) in present day, as she looked into the camera and said they gave the wilderness what it wanted and it’s pleased; “you’ll see.” In Yellowjackets’ final social media stunt for the season, the show updated the voice mail to the emergency land line number for Lottie’s Sunshine Honey wellness center (an Easter egg from episode seven that has been updated with each episode to reflect the story). If viewers call (607) 478-1033, they will hear Lisa (Nicole Maines) on a chaotic message as the compound scrambles after Nat’s death. “I’m sorry we’ve left … or, we will be leaving. Our gates are closed … and we’ll be in the darkness again soon.”
The second season is now streaming and on Showtime on demand. Read THR‘s Yellowjackets season two coverage and interviews.
May 29, 5 p.m. Updated with Lewis’ Instagram message.