Two of the biggest YA shows in the last year have been Amazon Studios’ The Wilds and Showtime’s Yellowjackets. On the surface, these two series look like a “Twin Films” phenomenon, when two extremely similar projects get greenlit simultaneously and debut within a few months of each other. But within only an episode or two, the stark differences between The Wilds and Yellowjackets are impossible to miss.
Warning: General spoilers for The Wilds and Yellowjackets follow. Both opening episodes of The Wilds and Yellowjackets feature a major plane wreck, and both open in a similar fashion. There is an interrogator asking questions in the aftermath of the rescue. However, in the case of Yellowjackets, it’s presented more historical documentary style, while The Wilds shows officials directly interviewing the survivors in the first days after their rescue. Each show then cuts back to the Before Times, with soundtracks featuring hits of the era and introducing what the characters’ lives were like before the crashes.
But this is where the shows first start to differ. The Wilds quickly cuts to the aftermath of the downed plane and focuses its interest on Day 1 of survival. (The premiere episode is titled “Day One;” each subsequent episode reflects how many days have passed.) Yellowjackets, on the other hand, splits its time in the premiere (“Pilot”) between the 24 hours preceding the crash, interspersed with the survivors’ lives 25 years on. The plane doesn’t go down until the closing minutes of the episode.
But that’s just the beginning. Here’s a rundown of how quickly these shows take their own paths.
1. The Crash Locations Make A Big Difference
The eight girls in The Wilds Season 1 (and eight boys in Season 2) crashed into the ocean and washed up on what appears to be a deserted island. Swimming for supplies out of the wreckage was a priority, as was drying out their clothes and other valuable items and finding potable water. Their problems included getting food poisoning from shellfish, building their camp too close to the waterline, and sand causing infection in wounds. Ocean-dwelling animals were their biggest competition.
The Yellowjackets girls crashed in the Canadian wilderness. The plane was a functional shelter, and everything aboard was readily available. Within a few days, they found a pre-built cabin shelter, complete with a hunting rifle and latrine. Their problems included ingesting poisonous mushrooms, pulling down the bodies of loved ones impaled on trees, and a complete lack of preparation to survive the cold of winter. Bears and wolves were their biggest predators.
2. The Eras The Crashes Take Place Affects The Survivors
The Wilds’ crash happens in the present day. The loss of technology is significantly felt, and they all subconsciously know getting the word out only takes one working cell phone at the right time. They believe reports of their missing plane would be worldwide, and that technology would eventually save them. Their hopes only start to fade on the girls’ side after being stranded for over six weeks. A sense of “women can do” permeates the girls’ camp.
Yellowjackets’ crash takes place in 1996. The moment the transponder on the plane broke, that was it for them. Other than occasional comments about batteries and Walkmen, there is no sense of lost tech, nor hopes of contacting the outside world. The hope for rescue disappears fast. As the girls’ soccer team, they were treated as secondary to the boys, even when they were state champions, which they’ve subconsciously internalized. It creates a sense that people won’t look for them and that this is more than they can handle.
3. The Wilds’ Crashes Are Gender Split
Speaking of the Yellowjackets girls having internalized sexism, they are also a gender-mixed group. Travis and Javi, the coach’s sons, and Ben, the assistant coach, survive alongside the team. Javi is a child, but Travis becomes the subject of sexual jealousy, and Ben the focus of a twisted crush.
The Wilds has segregated groups. The dynamics are easier — no girls for the boys to compete over; no male figures to rely on subconsciously. The boys don’t have any women to re-enact the gender dynamics they’ve been taught. But it also means they reinforce each other’s ideas of what they can and can’t do. The girls never team up to take down a large animal and preserve meat as the boys do. But the boys struggle to come together to help each other, and there’s never a teamwork moment to assist an injured member of the group like the girls experience.
4. Yellowjackets Has A Supernatural Element
Both Yellowjackets and The Wilds have a mystery at the center of them. However, where The Wilds turns out to be an actual conspiracy, the Yellowjackets one is less certain.
It’s not clear by the end of Season 1 if there was a supernatural element out in those woods or if their traumatized state led them into a religious frenzy. The supernatural overtone follows them as adults. It’s unclear if wood spirits turned these women into monsters or if their untherapized state keeps them locked in an unhealthy place.
The Wilds *does* have dream sequences brought on by the stress of the experience. But those are very obviously fantasies. (Sorry, Ben Folds doesn’t go island-hopping with a grand piano.) The island’s mystery gets cleared up when the show’s big twist is revealed, and it has nothing to do with supernatural forces.
5. The Wilds’ Plane Crashes Are Staged
The Wilds Season 1’s big twist revealed that someone staged the plane crash. The kids were drugged, so they don’t remember what happened; the girls are Phase 1 of a grand experiment: The Dawn of Eve. The boys are Phase 2: The Twilight of Adam. Phase 3, it’s suggested, is a combination of the two. Disgraced scientist Gretchen Klein conceived the experiment. After her son took another boy’s life in a hazing accident, Gretchen set out to prove that women are better builders of society than men.
Yellowjackets, by contrast, was the product fo a freak accident. While this is less sinister, it also means no one is around to watch over the crash survivors.
6. Yellowjackets Has A Major Time Jump
The Wilds’ big twist was that the crashes aren’t real. Yellowjackets’ big twist was that it’s not actually about the crash. Yellowjackets’ crash happened 25 years ago. The present-day story is about those who survived, dealing with untreated PTSD and a desire to keep what happened a secret. The driving plot begins when one of the survivors, Taissa, breaks the solemn oath they swore to live boring, unobtrusive lives so no one would ever ask questions. The crash is told in flashbacks, revealing what the women tried to forget.
7. The Wilds’ Survivors Were Handpicked
Since The Wilds’ crash was staged, every participant was hand-selected, whether they knew it or not. They all have survival skills, and their mental and physical health had been pre-vetted. In some cases, like Leah and Josh, their mental health was why Gretchen chose them; someone hoped this would help them find inner strength. Both groups were also under surveillance, watched by secret operatives working for Gretchen, who knew the truth about the situation. Not that Gretchen interfered if things got dicey — when one of her operatives in Season 1 gets badly injured, she does nothing to help. But there’s a sense someone is keeping an eye on the kids. The situation favors their odds of survival compared to the characters in Yellowjackets.
8. The Yellowjackets Survive Longer In The Wilderness
The Yellowjackets have little in the way of survival skills. The team captain, Jackie, has zero leadership ability; she was picked by the coach because she was no threat to his leadership. Lottie was diagnosed with schizophrenia and on medication that quickly ran out. Shauna was pregnant; Jackie's boyfriend was the father. The one adult figure lost a leg, could not walk, and disappeared by the time winter was out in full force.
And yet, the Yellowjackets survive 19 months, over a year and a half. They turn to cannibalism, and who knows what else, but they survive. That’s why their lives 25 years later are so interesting. By contrast, the longest anyone endured was 42 days on The Wilds.
Yellowjackets Season 1 is available on Showtime and will premiere on Paramount+ in the summer of 2022. Season 2 is expected to arrive by year’s end. The Wilds Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Prime TV.