The many attempts to ban the novel Lord of the Flies from high school reading lists tend to have the same theme: William Golding’s book is demoralizing and cynical about human nature. The plot itself is simple enough – a plane crash strands a group of school boys on a remote island, their attempts to form a community disintegrate and their existence degenerates into a brutal, survival-of-the-fittest narrative, with the boys attacking and brutalizing each other.
The novel, published in 1954, was imbued with post-Second World War weariness and despair about human nature. And since its publication a question has simmered – what if it were a group of girls or young women who were stranded? Would the outcome be different? In a nutshell, how wicked and latently savage are young women?
Yellowjackets (starts on Sunday, Crave/Showtime 10 p.m.) tackles this question. It’s a breathtaking series, both lurid and shrewd. It grabs you by the throat and compels you to consider how and why young women, and their adult versions, will inflict pain and suffering on each other. Little wonder the script attracted Melanie Lynskey, Tawny Cypress, Juliette Lewis, and Christina Ricci.
The Yellowjackets of the title are members of a winning high school women’s soccer team. When we first meet them, in the 1990s, they are almost-familiar in their acts of arrogance, or spite, or solidarity with each other. The team is headed to a national-championship game in Seattle when their plane crashes in a far-north wilderness and, well, terrible things happen among the survivors.
The drama has a dual timeline. In the present, the survivors, now middle-aged and in varying states of lingering trauma, are aware that once again, somebody is trying to find out exactly what happened when they had to fend for themselves for months. They really, really don’t want that story out there. But one of them, Taissa (Cypress), who seems the least damaged, is about to run for political office and the group fears that somebody is going to dig up the past and reveal it. It is hinted, in the first episode, that savagery was unleashed in the wilderness.
A series that attempts a past-and-present storyline is, usually, asking for trouble. One storyline will dominate. But here, both the youthful and middle-aged versions of the characters are equally compelling. We see the adult Shauna (Lynskey), a mess of a morose suburban housewife, and understand her better because we see the teenage Shauna engage in betrayals that might, in another series, be mere fodder for teenage angst, but here it’s all about something far more primordial and dark. Juliette Lewis is sublime as the adult Natalie, an acid-tongued, gun-toting addict who, you know immediately, is capable of terrible violence. Best of all is Christina Ricci as Misty. As a teenager she’s a hanger-on with the team and as an adult a vaguely terrifying nurse.
There is a lot to be unpacked in Yellowjackets (created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, who both worked on Netflix’s Narcos) and some of it will make some viewers uncomfortable. It’s hard to tell if the ferocity of the early hours can be sustained through the full 10 episodes, but it’s a blazing start to a series speculating about the dark, seething rage and violence that lurks in young women given the agency to create and control their own society.
Also airing/streaming this weekend
Nature’s Big Year (on The Nature of Things, streams on CBC Gem from Friday) will take you back, and eerily so, to the first lockdown period last year, when much of humanity was obliged to go quiet. Myths emerged, such as those imaginary dolphins in the canals of Venice, but true facts remain – wildlife, usually forced to share space with humans, behaved differently. One scientist in this fascinating episode of The Nature of Things calls what happened, “an unexpected, controlled experiment,” as it became possible to observe how birds changed where they fly and how they sing, and some predators were free to roam and hunt in quiet daylight, not just at night. And those blue skies free of pollution from cars and planes? Well, they revealed something more troubling than the bliss they seemed to represent.
Adele: One Night Only (Sunday, CBS/Global, 8:30 p.m.) is a prime time special to promote the return of Adele, who, actually, hasn’t been missing in action for too long. It only seems like yesterday she was doing carpool karaoke with James Corden. Anyway, she performs new material and older chart-topping hits. Plus, she is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in a pretty garden. What is she, royalty?
Finally, 60 Minutes (Sunday, CBS/Global 7:30 p.m.) asks the provocative question, “Who is to blame for the supply-chain crisis?” It focuses on the ports in Southern California where, recently, more than 80 giant cargo ships were waiting to off-load cargo. As reporter Bill Whitaker says, “The truckers blame the terminals. The terminals blame the shippers. The retailers blame the truckers and the shippers. How do you get that contentious group to sit at the table and actually clear out the backlog?” But is it just a shipping issue?
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