The Complex, Engaging Characters of Yellowjackets

January 18, 2023

In 1996, a plane carrying a female high school soccer team crashes in a snowy mountain-scape, leaving the young survivors stranded in the harshest of conditions. Twenty-five years later, the now-adult survivors are still recovering from this trauma and harboring dark secrets about what happened. This is the brilliant hook of Showtime’s Yellowjackets.

(Rest assured, there will be no spoilers here.)

Inside The Characters of Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets have a killer Lord of the Flies-tinged premise, a moody 90s-drenched soundtrack, and several swirling mysteries at its center. But it’s the characters of Yellowjackets that make this Yellowjacket really STING!

Currently, the main and primary supporting characters on the show include:

  • Shauna Shipmen, a Yellowjacket and stay-at-home mom
  • Jeff Sadecki, Shauna’s husband, a furniture salesman
  • Jackie Taylor, a Yellowjacket and Shauna’s best friend
  • Natalie Scatorccio, a Yellowjacket and recovering addict
  • Misty Quigley, a Yellowjacket and nursing home aide
  • Lottie Matthews, a Yellowjacket and leader of a mysterious group
  • Taissa Turner, a Yellowjacket, wife, mother, and aspiring politician
  • Vanessa “Van” Palmer, a Yellowjacket and Taissa’s high school girlfriend
  • Travis Martinez, the eldest son of the coach of the Yellowjackets
  • Javi Martinez, the youngest son of the coach of the Yellowjackets
  • Ben Scott, assistant coach of the Yellowjackets
  • Callie Sadecki, daughter to Shauna and Jeff
  • Adam, an artist who connects with Shauna
  • Laura Lee, a highly religious Yellowjacket
  • Walter, a true crime enthusiast who connects with Misty

Yellowjackets presents many of its main characters as both teenagers and 40-somethings.   Similar to shows like LOST, the high concept of the pilot might be the hook of the show, but it’s truly the characters that make us emotionally invested. The all-star cast includes Melanie Lynskey as adult Shauna, Juliette Lewis as adult Natalie, Tawny Cypress as adult Taissa, and Christina Ricci as adult Misty. In season two, Elijah Wood joined the cast as Walter.

World Building and Meeting The Characters

Yellowjackets open with horrifying glimpses of a young woman running for her life in the snow-covered mountains, only to drop down a massive man-made pit. Aside from a few other grisly moments at this locale, the pilot episode focuses more on the high schoolers’ regular lives before the crash and how some of these survivors transformed 25 years later. It only takes a handful of these post-crash visions to provide a chill over every other moment in the show.

characters of yellowjackets
The young ‘Yellowjackets’ in their hometown in New Jersey. Image via Empire Online.

In 1996, the Yellowjackets soccer team prepared for the national championship. They hail from a run-of-the-mill New Jersey town, one whose billboards still shout out the local boys’ teams despite their losing seasons. The soccer squad itself is a cross-section of attitudes, social classes, and high school cliques. 

In 2021, their world now shows little of the joie de vivre or color from their youthful years. Their focus is now on more adult concerns, from running for public office to unsatisfying marriages to rehab.  But one thing all of them have in common: the knowledge of what happened in the mountains.  And they’re not telling!  

The Characters of Yellowjackets: Breakdown and Analysis

Shauna might seem like the classic bookish best friend archetype to the more preppy and popular Jackie, but she harbors an array of secrets as a teenager long before the plane crashes.  (Again – I’m avoiding even the mildest of spoilers here)  She often bristles at how her BFF tries to control everything from Shauna’s wardrobe to where she attends college.  As an adult, a very different Shauna anchors the storyline.  She’s now an unhappy stay-at-home Mom whose own teenage daughter is now trying to push her around.  By the episode’s end, we see that Shauna is not someone to be trifled with.

Adult Taissa is in the middle of a state senatorial campaign.  She lives with her supportive wife and young son in a beautiful house and seemingly has it all.  Yet every time the camera stops taking pictures of her, that political smile quickly drops.  The teenage side of Taissa is a natural leader, one who’ll stop at nothing to make sure the team wins the national title.  So if you’re not bringing your A-game to soccer practice, WATCH YOUR BACK! 

characters of yellowjackets
Some of the adult cast in ‘Yellowjackets’ including Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis, Tawny Cypress, and Melanie Lynskey.

Adult Natalie is introduced to us at the end of her most recent stay in rehab.  Of the three main characters, she clearly has been on the most difficult journey since her teenage years when she often found herself drinking or smoking up.  Yet when they were teenagers, Natalie shows herself to be the true moral compass of this team.  

And what to make of Misty?  In high school, she was the soccer team’s over-enthusiastic assistant manager. One look at her, and you can see that there’s something off about young Misty, which carries over to her adult version. Now an overly peppy nurse at a retirement home, her unnerving smile only makes everyone who meets her a little uncomfortable.  However, in the second episode, it’s teenage Misty’s surprisingly deep knowledge that helps keep them alive. 

In short, nobody is quite who they seem in Yellowjackets, which only makes us want to binge more episodes immediately – the real goal of a pilot!

Story Engine and Balancing Plot Threads

Yellowjackets is a heavily serialized show, balancing multiple plot threads from 1996 and 2021.  Perhaps the strongest part of the story engine is the use of mystery.  From the very first episode, the show sets up multiple dramatic questions.  What happened in the mountains?   Where are the rest of the survivors?  Who attacked the young woman in the first scene of the pilot?  How did ANY of them make it out alive?  And how long till the reporter character uncovers the truth?  This alone would be enough story engine for multiple episodes or even seasons.  

Learn How to Write TV Characters at NYFA’s Screenwriting School

Learning how to write a pilot that is memorable and engaging is one of the most important skills an aspiring television writer can develop. In the screenwriting programs at NYFA, students learn fundamental concepts and techniques for writing a pilot and television, such as structure, formats, story engines, dialogue, themes, season arcs, show types, WGA format, subtext, and much more. To learn more about our programs, please visit our Screenwriting School page.