Television

Is Yellowjackets, the Great Showtime Series, Too Disturbing for You to Watch?

A detailed, spoiler-free guide.

A still from Yellowjackets showing three teenage characters, overlaid with blue and with an animated flickering scale.
Photo illustration by Slate. Image via Showtime.

For horror die-hards, nothing can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong movie or show can leave you miserable. Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies and shows, comparing them with classics along a 10-point scale. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each story’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore.

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This time, the Scaredy Scale is taking aim at Yellowjackets, the Showtime series about a girls’ soccer team stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash that just wrapped up its first season. Yellowjackets is more of a sometimes horrific drama than straight-up horror, but its breakout success means you’ve probably been hearing a lot about it lately—and also heard that it does not hesitate to get incredibly brutal when the material calls for it. Here’s a rundown to help you determine whether you’re tough enough to hang with the ladies of Yellowjackets.

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A chart that gives Yellowjackets a 4 for suspense, about equal to Jurassic Park.
Photo illustration by Slate
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Yellowjackets begins in 1996, right before a New Jersey girls’ varsity soccer team boards a plane bound for national championships. That plane crashes, and the audience learns that the survivors weren’t found for 19 months. The show alternates between two timelines, 1996 and the present day, when the some of the Yellowjackets who are still around find themselves drawn back into a story they all agreed never to speak of again. In the pilot’s opening moments, it’s heavily implied that the team resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. But who, and why, and what’s with the creepy-seeming ritualistic nature of it all? That more slow-burning mystery and tension hangs over the entire season, and the show is for the most part not a thrill-per-minute vehicle. There are suspenseful sequences to be sure—in one of the earliest scenes, we see a girl we can’t identify in the forest running for her life until she meets an untimely fate. The team also must contend with wolves, a knife chase, and lots of death, plus further intrigue in the present day. But the more heart-racing, edge-of-your-seat suspense tends to be isolated to a few minutes per episode.

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A chart that gives Yellowjackets a 7 for gore, about equal to Jaws.
Photo illustration by Slate

Yellowjackets trades in isolated gore, which is to say you can watch long stretches of it without encountering any gore at all—but when the gore does arrive, oh my god. One of the pilot’s most notable bloody moments sets the tone for the rest of the season: During soccer practice, a player falls and hurts her leg, and you see the injury up close, her broken shin bone poking out. The plane crash provides further carnage: an impaled dead body, a leg so mangled from being crushed that it needs to be amputated with an axe, and much more blood. One of the scariest moments of the season comes when we see a character’s face that seems to be missing half its skin after an animal attack. Animals are also hunted, including one unfortunate bunny who gets its throat slit and prepared in a stew. Oh, and one character chews on her own hand.

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A chart that gives Yellowjackets a 6 for spookiness, about equal to The Sixth Sense.
Photo illustration by Slate
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There are repeated plane crash sequences, so if you’re the type of person who tends to retain images like that, you’re out of luck. The show’s survivalism and the slow breakdown that accompanies it are disturbing in a way that lingers. There, too, are more literally spooky aspects: Throughout the season, the show plays up the tension of whether all that’s going on is scary and traumatic in its own right (as a deadly plane crash and being trapped in the middle of nowhere would surely be) or if there are supernatural forces at work. A spooky symbol that appears carved into trees and later on postcards sent to the women as adults makes it seem like there might be an evil spirit or something occult out in the wilderness with the girls. One character sees ghosts. It would be overly optimistic to claim that Yellowjackets definitely won’t torment you afterward.

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A chart that gives Yellowjackets a 5 overall, about equal to The Sixth Sense.
Photo illustration by Slate

As someone who sits firmly in camp scaredy cat, my professional opinion is that Yellowjackets is scarier and more violent than most of the entertainment I consume, but also that it’s all a manageable level of scariness. The scariest thing about the show is baked into the concept—cannibalism—so it’s not like that’s going to come out of the blue and shock you. And you can make adaptations to keep your heart rate down while you’re watching: You may have to cover your eyes for a few minutes per episode if you can’t stand to see blood or plan to watch in broad daylight to stave off getting spooked. The show is good enough that it’s worth it.

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