Warning: Spoilers for Yellowjackets season 1 follow.
When a contemporary TV show is set in the ’90s and revolves around teen girls, there are certain touchstones from the era that one will naturally expect to see. Issues of Sassy magazine. College-rock needle drops. Gap perfume. Slightly less expected: an homage to Jame Gumb in the form of a basement captive using a beloved pet for leverage — only instead of a small dog, it’s a bird named Caligula.
“I read that too and I was like, ‘From Silence of the Lambs? We’re doing Silence of the Lambs?’” says Christina Ricci, who plays the captor in question in Showtime’s breakout hit Yellowjackets, which just aired its first-season finale. (Fortunately for its obsessed fans, the show has already been renewed.) The series tells the story of the Wiskayok High School girls’ soccer team — go Yellowjackets! — whose chartered plane crashed somewhere deep in the woods of Ontario on the way to Nationals in 1996. The survivors — most of the team, their assistant coach, and the sons of the head coach — have to figure out how to stay alive in the wilderness, which involves glimpses of the supernatural and possibly cannibalism. A parallel narrative follows the adult Yellowjackets who survived, bearing psychic scars and threatened by the exposure of their mysterious time in the woods.The series comes off as a tantalizing mix of elements from Lost, Lord of the Flies, and Mean Girls.
Misty, the team’s grasping, highly capable, but increasingly scary equipment manager, is played by Ricci as an adult. Having started her movie career as a pre-teen in Mermaids, which required her to perform a near-death by drowning, and quickly moved on to play daughter Wednesday in the live-action Addams Family movies, Ricci’s roles have always leaned towards the macabre: There was a trafficked tap dancer (Buffalo ’66), a werewolf (Cursed), a serial killer’s girlfriend (Monster), and a notorious American murderer (Lizzie Borden Took An Ax).
Like the show’s audience, Ricci didn’t necessarily know what she was getting into with Yellowjackets. “I didn’t really know that it was going to be folk horror,” she says. “You have to understand, we had very little information in the beginning; people played it all very close to the chest, what was going on for the rest of the season. So initially, the only aspect of that that I understood was that there would ultimately be some sort of culty thing that happens out in the woods. We still don’t know exactly what it is. We still have not been told. I happen to be someone who is really fascinated by cults, so I was intrigued by all that, and intrigued, also by the idea of Misty in that situation, and all the potential manipulations that could occur.”
Misty’s outsider status among the other Yellowjackets has determined her path on both timelines. “People really do connect with that need [Misty] has that motivates everything, which is to be accepted, to be a part of the group,” says Ricci. “But what’s interesting about this character and what I think these writers do so adeptly is, they show you how badly she wants to be there, and then they show you the reason why she deserves to be kicked out.” For example, after the crash, Misty (as played by Samantha Hanratty) is the only one to find the black box from the plane transmitting their location…and she breaks it, ensuring that they will remain stranded in circumstances where Misty has a great deal of value and importance: she knows how to identify edible mushrooms and perform a field amputation on the crushed leg of assistant coach Ben (Steven Krueger).