[This story contains spoilers from the fifth episode of Yellowjackets season two, “Two Truths and a Lie.”]
Yellowjackets was praised for its casting after the first season introduced characters so adeptly shared by two sets of actresses. In following the dual timelines on the hit Showtime series, the teenage Yellowjackets soccer team and the adults they become — after surviving the 1996 plane crash and 19 months in the wilderness — melded together with the teen and adult versions of Shauna (Melanie Lynskey and Sophie Nélisse), Natalie (Juliette Lewis and Sophie Thatcher), Misty (Christina Ricci and Samantha Hanratty) and Taissa (Tawny Cypress and Jasmin Savoy Brown).
The second season expanded the roster of survivors from four to six when it first introduced adult Lottie, played by newcomer Simone Kessell, in the premiere and, after a brief introduction at the end of episode four, viewers finally got to meet adult Van, played by Lauren Ambrose, when she and adult Taissa (Cypress) reunited in the fifth episode.
“Initially, my questions were around, ‘OK, what does the experience that they all went through look like for Van as an adult? How is that going to work on her over the years? What’s it going to do with her? Where is it going to go?’” Ambrose told The Hollywood Reporter of what she asked showrunners Ashley Lyle, Bart Nickerson and Jonathan Lisco coming into the season-two role. “Liv [Hewson] is giving such a beautiful performance; so funny, open and alive. I just really admire what Liv did with this character and I feel really honored to get to come on board and continue her as a grown-up.”
The other pairs of Yellowjackets survivors were able to collaboratively create their characters from the start of the show. So when it came to bringing Van and Taissa’s teenage romance to life 25 years later, the foursome who inhabit the two characters got to observe each other on set to make up for that time.
“Courtney and I have talked about this a little bit because, for the two of us, it’s sort of opposite where we didn’t need to worry about matching anybody,” Hewson told THR about Eaton, who plays the teenage version of Lottie. “But Lauren came and watched Jasmine and I work. And then I snuck in and watched her and Tawny work a little bit. And Lauren, when she came on, she asked the editors to make a compilation of all of our scenes from season one. And they made it for her. It’s a Van-Taissa super cut.”
The scene that Ambrose came to set for memorably played out in the opening moments of the third episode: After Van (Hewson) reminded Taissa (Savoy) that they ate Jackie, Taissa vomited. “You really don’t remember? Tai, you ate her face,” Van tells her girlfriend, who has been having dissociative sleepwalking episodes and doesn’t remember having their cannibal feast.
“It was at the end, the close-up where I was having my Viola moment, with the snot and the tears. And she was like, ‘Hi!’ I was like, ‘Sorry for the snot!’” recalled Savoy, who shared with THR that, unlike several of her co-stars, she did not have a physical reaction when filming the Jackie feast.
“I guess that’s what disassociation is,” she continued, “going back to filming and me having a hard time shooting that scene and kind of going numb, was my body looking out for me? I didn’t end up having a physical response like some of our castmates did, like throwing up, etc. So if that is the purpose that this alter ego/other version of Taissa is serving, then I’m very curious to see how her relationship to that other version of herself progresses, be it the rest of the season or future seasons.”
To Savoy, she said Taissa interprets the experience of “other Tai” as feeling like “I’m out of control, I hate feeling out of control, I’m always in control, and waking up scared and frustrated.”
So it makes sense that in the present-day timeline when Taissa feels an overwhelming loss of control, she would seek out Van. (After sacrificing her family dog to win her election to New Jersey Senate, Taissa had a hallucination about her son and ended up crashing her car, leaving wife Simone, played by Rukiya Bernard, still in a hospital bed unconscious.)
But to Cypress, that signifies a weakness in Tai. “Taissa regresses back to being unsure of herself post-crash, where everything was so delicate in her world. And then when she meets up with Van again, I think that’s really going back and regressing to an old relationship,” Cypress shared with THR. “She relied on Van so much, that she goes right back to relying on Van and doing anything Van tells her to do, because of this traumatic relationship. It’s like when you have your first love. You move on with your life, you come back to that first love and you fall right back into step.”
The fifth episode reunited the pair when Taissa again crashed her car and hitchhiked her way to Van’s video store, a location that detective-for-hire Jessica Roberts (Rekha Sharma), who was murdered by Misty in season one, had tracked down for Tai while investigating the Yellowjackets amid the campaign. The former couple dropped one hint about the gap of time between the wilderness and present-day — about how they went to Shauna and Jeff’s (Warren Kole) wedding — but the timeline of their break-up remains a mystery.
The co-stars who play teen Van and Tai have their own theories about why the pair ultimately split. “I think they’re going to break up in the woods, eventually. I don’t think they make it all the way back,” said Savoy, adding that the line about Shauna and Jeff’s wedding “doesn’t mean they were together.”
Hewson shared their theory: “What I think about all the time with these two characters, I think they were together before the plane crash but I think they were hooking up and not talking about it. I don’t think it was serious. So what I think happened is that they’re falling in love in the wilderness. They’re coming out to their friends saying, ‘I love you.’ Their relationship is tied up in this traumatic experience that they’re having. So once you get back to the real world, in order to get that experience away from you, how can you stay with this person? We don’t know how they separate, but I imagine that has something to do with it. It’s like with Shauna and Jackie — they should have been allowed to have that fight normally in high school and get over it. And Van and Taissa should have been allowed to fall in love and then decide what they get to do when they go to University.”
The shared trauma that Van and Taissa are carrying bubbled to the surface in present day, as they argued about why Taissa showed up at Van’s door in the first place — and when “other Tai” paid Van a middle-of-the night visit, she kissed her and said “we shouldn’t be here.” Ultimately, when Tai breaks down, Van comforts her and promises to help.
Cypress says that will kick off a troubled journey ahead, now that they’ve reached the midpoint of the nine episodes. “That’s basically Tai the rest of the season, is this shadow of the season one Tai who was so sure of herself and so confident. This new Tai is weak. Especially with the break of the personality where all of the strength has gone to the other Tai. She’s really a shell of herself,” she said. And with the discovery that Van is relying on pain pills, Ambrose agreed: “Van as an adult is stuck and not that free, open self, maybe in her essence. But it’s really the guilt and shame. She seems kinda OK on the surface, I suppose they all do. But you see eventually there’s a lot going on and a lot eating at her. I think of her as dimmed and stuck, and hardened.”
Ambrose said all of this is why she finds herself so invested in Van and Taissa’s storyline and their intense arc. “There is a lot of energy in there for each other — what they went through together and how they got to live so fully and be who they were, are out there in the wilderness,” she said.
She continued: “A big thing is that all of these characters, at their essence, were most alive in the woods, and especially I think Tai and Van, being able to be in this relationship openly with their teammates, which is not really the experience that a teenager would have had in 1996. And what that must have been like coming back into society and back to the real world, and then I have lots of questions about how it was for them to part. Now that they haven’t seen each other for so long, that for whatever reason this thing was too much to bear for so many years, and now here they are, needing each other again, for various reasons. And then the whole group needing each other, because really, they’re the only ones who know the experience they had.”
Yellowjackets streams weekly on Fridays and airs on Showtime Sundays at 9 p.m. Keep up with THR‘s Yellowjackets season two coverage and interviews.