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‘Yellowjackets’ Finale: The Most Compelling New Show In Years Answers (Some) Questions

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‘Yellowjackets’ Finale: The Most Compelling New Show In Years Answers (Some) Questions
High-school back-stabbing, pit of spikes—not as far apart as you might think Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME.

There’s nothing more terrifying than a teenage girl. Except, perhaps, a group of teenage girls marooned in the woods, driven to madness and cannibalism. Yellowjackets, created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, plays on the unease and unpredictability of adolescence, allowing the most unhinged aspects of feminine youth to flourish onscreen. The series, which debuted on Showtime in November and has slowly built a strong following since, has been praised for telling a story typically only afforded to male characters—rightly so. However, its strengths are more complex than gender parity alone. 

In the tension-filled premiere, a high school soccer team—the Yellowjackets—are on their way to nationals. It’s 1996 (a spot-on setting to play on the nostalgia of millennial viewers) and the team is already cracking at the seams. Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is sleeping with the boyfriend of her best friend and teammate Jackie (Ella Purnell), and Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is so focused on winning that she slams into a teammate during practice, brutally breaking her leg. When the team and its coaches, traveling by rickety private plane, crash land in the wilderness, these cracks begin to splinter. 

On the surface, that premise is deeply familiar, recalling Alive, Lord of the Flies and Lost. But Yellowjackets is not exactly something we’ve seen before. From the first few minutes of the premiere it’s established that something—what?!—transpires in the wilderness that sets some of the girls on a path to ritualistic cannibalism. We’re not sure who is involved, although by the end of the gasp-inducing finale we can make some educated guesses. 

The slow unwinding of the team’s mental state in the woods is juxtaposed with present day, as adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Taissa (Tawny Cypress) and Natalie (Juliette Lewis) begin to suspect that someone is digging into their problematic past. There are blackmail notes and another survivor, Travis, is found dead in what looks like a suicide but likely is not. 

As the episodes leap between timelines, Yellowjackets feels like a mystery rolled into a psychological thriller rolled into a buddy comedy, particularly as the present day Yellowjackets are forced to team up with Misty (Christina Ricci), a fellow survivor who is hilariously unstable. In both timelines, each time a new piece of information is unveiled the audience falls deeper into the show’s spell. It’s a methodic, careful burn on the part of the writers, leading into the finale, which closes with a few surprising twists—although it doesn’t really get us any closer to knowing the how, why and who of the premiere’s cannibal scene. The series has already been greenlit for a second season, so it behooves the writers not to reveal their full hand yet, since it’s that tense anticipation that makes Yellowjackets work so well. 

It’s not an exaggeration to say Yellowjackets is the most compelling new show in years, aided by its anticipatory weekly drop, which opens it up to fan theory after fan theory. Is there something supernatural at play in the woods? Who is the antler queen from the premiere? Are there more Yellowjackets still alive in the present day? The high ratio of questions to answers is reminiscent of Lost’s early seasons. The endless Yellowjackets memes (“What? There’s no book club?”) reflect a growing collective cultural obsession, which expands as more and more viewers discover the show. That obsession is built both on the plot and characters, which are impressively crafted, and on the drops of on-point nostalgia. The music cues are near-perfect, with ‘90s tracks from PJ Harvey, Hole, Portishead and Mazzy Star punctuating the action. 

While Yellowjackets plays on fear, it’s not horror outright. The gore is blatant, including when the younger version of Misty (Sammi Hanratty) amputates the shattered leg of the team’s assistant coach with an ax after the crash. The show doesn’t shy away from the reality of a group of girls in the woods, either. In one episode, “Blood Hive,” everyone’s period has synced, resulting in a “blood soup” pot of makeshift tampons, and in another, the penultimate “Doomcoming,” the survivors get high on shrooms and descend into an orgy. It’s not about shock value, though; it’s about possibility. Those who have been a teen girl will remember the volatile mental state of those years and how easy it was to succumb to the crowd. It’s not really a far leap to translate the catty back-stabbing of high school into brutally murdering a disliked peer on a pit of spikes in the forest after months of isolation and forced survival. 

While both timelines are compelling, as much as we’re desperate to know who gets eaten first, it’s the adult Yellowjackets who prove more interesting. Shauna, a housewife with a petulant teenage daughter of her own, toys with risky behavior, killing a rabbit in the garden for dinner and engaging in an affair with a man she meets after a car accident. It’s evident that her years in the woods have numbed her to violence and she now seeks out reckless situations. Taissa is campaigning for public office, but can’t escape a darkness that seems to have emerged during her time in the wilderness. And that darkness, as we see in the finale’s final moments, may be more problematic than first revealed. 

From that perspective, Yellowjackets is about trauma and the ways in which we process that trauma as an adult. Sure, not all of us had to slaughter animals in the woods for food, but moments of adolescent pain linger for everyone. We can repress those memories all we like, but everything finds a way to surface. The finale, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” titled for the Latin phrase “Thus passes the glory of the world,” reveals that season one has only scratched the surface of the survivors’ trauma. There’s still so much left unseen, so many questions left unanswered. The most important one: When does season two premiere? 

‘Yellowjackets’ Finale: The Most Compelling New Show In Years Answers (Some) Questions

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Gunman’s final 90 minutes fuel questions about police delays

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Gunman’s final 90 minutes fuel questions about police delays

By JAKE BLEIBERG, JIM VERTUNO and ELLIOT SPAGAT

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — It was 11:28 a.m. when the Ford pickup slammed into a ditch behind the low-slung Texas school and the driver jumped out carrying an AR-15-style rifle.

Twelve minutes after that, authorities say, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos was in the hallways of Robb Elementary School. Soon he entered a fourth-grade classroom. And there, he killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in a still-unexplained spasm of violence.

At 12:58 p.m., law enforcement radio chatter said Ramos had been killed and the siege was over.

What happened in those 90 minutes, in a working-class neighborhood near the edge of the little town of Uvalde, has fueled mounting public anger and scrutiny over law enforcement’s response to Tuesday’s rampage.

“They say they rushed in,” said Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, and who raced to the school as the massacre unfolded. “We didn’t see that.”

On Thursday, authorities largely ignored questions about why officers had not been able to stop the shooter sooner, with Victor Escalon, regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, telling reporters he had “taken all those questions into consideration” and would offer updates later.

The media briefing, called by Texas safety officials to clarify the timeline of the attack, provided bits of previously unknown information. But by the time it ended, it had added to the troubling questions surrounding the attack, including about the time it took police to reach the scene and confront the gunman, and the apparent failure to lock a school door he entered.

After two days of providing often conflicting information, investigators said that a school district police officer was not inside the school when Ramos arrived, and, contrary to their previous reports, the officer had not confronted Ramos outside the building.

Instead, they sketched out a timeline notable for unexplained delays by law enforcement.

After crashing his truck, Ramos fired on two people coming out of a nearby funeral home, Escalon said. He then entered the school ”unobstructed” through an apparently unlocked door at about 11:40 a.m.

But the first police officers did not arrive on the scene until 12 minutes after the crash and did not enter the school to pursue the shooter until four minutes after that. Inside, they were driven back by gunfire from Ramos and took cover, Escalon said.

The crisis came to an end after a group of Border Patrol tactical officers entered the school roughly an hour later, at 12:45 p.m., said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine. They engaged in a shootout with the gunman, who was holed up in the fourth-grade classroom. Moments before 1 p.m., he was dead.

Escalon said that during that time, the officers called for backup, negotiators and tactical teams, while evacuating students and teachers.

Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, which works to make schools safer, cautioned that it’s hard to get a clear understanding of the facts soon after a shooting.

“The information we have a couple of weeks after an event is usually quite different than what we get in the first day or two. And even that is usually quite inaccurate,” Dorn said. For catastrophic incidents “you’re usually eight to 12 months out before you really have a decent picture.”

Many other details of the case and the response remained murky. The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, almost a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.

During the siege, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.

“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside a house across the street.

Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner: “There were more of them. There was just one of him.”

Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz did not give a timeline but said repeatedly that the tactical officers from his agency who arrived at the school did not hesitate. He said they moved rapidly to enter the building, lining up in a “stack” behind an agent holding up a shield.

“What we wanted to make sure is to act quickly, act swiftly, and that’s exactly what those agents did,” Ortiz told Fox News.

But a law enforcement official said that once in the building, the agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN that investigators were trying to establish whether the classroom was, in fact, locked or barricaded in some way.

Cazares said that when he arrived, he saw two officers outside the school and about five others escorting students out of the building. But 15 or 20 minutes passed before the arrival of officers with shields, equipped to confront the gunman, he said.

As more parents flocked to the school, he and others pressed police to act, Cazares said. He heard about four gunshots before he and the others were ordered back to a parking lot.

“A lot of us were arguing with the police, ‘You all need to go in there. You all need to do your jobs.’ Their response was, ‘We can’t do our jobs because you guys are interfering,’” Cazares said.

As for the armed school officer, he was driving nearby but was not on campus when Ramos crashed his truck, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke of condition of anonymity.

Investigators have concluded that school officer was not positioned between the school and Ramos, leaving him unable to confront the shooter before he entered the building, the law enforcement official said.

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

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Ramesh Ponnuru: The gun debate needs to break old patterns

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Ramesh Ponnuru: The gun debate needs to break old patterns

The mass murder of children in Uvalde, Texas, coming just 10 days after the mass murder of shoppers in Buffalo, New York, moved former Sen. Bill Frist — who was the majority leader of a Republican Senate when President George W. Bush was in the White House — to issue a statement on guns: “We can find ways to preserve the Second Amendment while also safeguarding the lives of our children. … The time to act is now.”

The impulse to overcome long-standing divisions to find solutions is laudable. But the assumption behind Frist’s comment, and much of the rest of the national discussion of gun crime, is that progress is mostly a matter of getting enough Americans to have the right sentiments.

There are three deep problems that all who share those sentiments have not been able to get past.

 

First: The mainstream gun control agenda of the last 30 years would have negligible effects even if enacted.

When the Justice Department looked at the assault weapons ban in effect from 1995 to 2004, it concluded that a renewal’s “effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” A 2020 review of the research on assault weapons bans by the Rand Corporation found that even the effects on mass shootings were “inconclusive.” Expanding background checks would achieve little, either: Most mass shooters have already passed them.

 

Second: Most people understand that these policies would have very small effects, and it makes support for them soft.

Advocates of expanded background checks often cite polls that show very large majorities in favor of them; some polls also show majority support for a ban on assault weapons. But polls also find considerable skepticism about the effects of such laws. In 2017, Gallup asked whether “new gun control laws,” if passed, would reduce the number of mass shootings. A 42% plurality said they wouldn’t, while another 16% said they would matter “a little.”

Numbers like that one help to explain why opponents of new restrictions can prevail even when they are outnumbered politically. The opponents, who say the new laws would be intolerable restrictions on their rights or would lead to them, are intensely motivated. A lot of supporters are lukewarm. And that in turn helps explain why even in a Democratic-run Senate in 2013, a new assault weapons ban garnered only 40 votes.

 

Third: More ambitious gun control proposals could have a substantial effect, but are nonstarters.

A rigorously enforced ban on the civilian possession of handguns would slash gun violence. But the latest poll has only 19% of the public backing that idea. Support for it has been falling for 60 years. The Second Amendment of the Constitution bars it. And even if could somehow be enacted anyway, it would be impossible to enforce effectively in a country estimated to have nearly 400 million firearms — a country, moreover, where nearly half of adults live in a household with guns.

 

None of this means that Americans should give up and accept the current levels of bloodshed. But it does suggest that there’s a need to break out of the standard gun control debates.

In particular, it suggests that the authorities need better ways to identify individuals who pose a serious threat of lethal violence and to act on that assessment. “Red-flag laws,” which allow the disarmament of dangerous individuals, should be explored, although it remains to be seen whether they can make a difference while respecting civil liberties. State governments should also institute a duty to report serious threats: It’s remarkable how many mass shooters offered warning signs before committing their atrocities.

Better enforcement of existing laws, such as those against proxy purchases of guns for those who can’t legally own them, and against falsifying information on background checks, might also help reduce gun violence generally (if not mass shootings specifically) without adding burdens to law-abiding gun owners and thus yielding the usual political impasse.

Such policies do not promise advocates the catharsis of lashing out at political and cultural enemies, which is one of the draws of ritualized gun arguments. But those arguments have led nowhere. Let’s act now, yes, but only after we think.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is the editor of National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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Ellen DeGeneres ends daytime show with plea for compassion

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Ellen DeGeneres ends daytime show with plea for compassion

LOS ANGELES — Ellen DeGeneres brought her nearly two-decade daytime talk show to an end Thursday with a celebrity lovefest and a forceful assertion of her achievement as a gay woman daring to be herself.

DeGeneres and guests Jennifer Aniston, Billie Eilish and Pink shared memories and affection as “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” concluded its Emmy-winning, 3,200-plus episode run that began in September 2003.

“Twenty years ago, when we were trying to sell the show, no one thought that this would work. Not because it was a different kind of show, but because I was different,” DeGeneres said of the pushback from TV stations.

When the syndicated show went on the air, she was prevented from saying the word “gay” or even the pronoun “we,” DeGeneres said, since the latter would imply she had a partner. She didn’t specify who imposed the ban.

“Sure couldn’t say wife, and that’s because it wasn’t legal for gay people to get married — and now I say ‘wife’ all the time,” DeGeneres added, with a touch of defiance, as actor Portia de Rossi watched from the studio audience. They wed in 2008.

The host, who became known for encouraging her audience to join her in impromptu dances, shared some last moves with her sidekick and DJ, Stephen “tWitch” Boss, to the tune “Best of My Love.”

The dancer-choreographer saluted DeGeneres as someone who inspires others because she has “the courage to step out and be your authentic self.”

Aniston, who as the first guest on the show’s first episode gave DeGeneres a “Welcome” doormat, arrived with another that read, “Thanks for the memories.” DeGeneres noted the “Friends” star has been on the show a total of 20 times.

“You’re welcome,” Aniston said, teasingly, then turned serious.

“I love you, and I so appreciate you and what you have given to the world over the last 19 years. The contribution is endless,” she said. She introduced a career retrospective video that also touted DeGeneres’ philanthropic efforts, said to include more than $400 million in donations to charities and “deserving viewers.”

“I love you,” a beaming Eilish told DeGeneres during their chat. “I love you so much, it’s dumb,” said Pink, who performed “What About Us.”

DeGeneres’ daytime reign hit a serious bump in 2020, when the show was alleged to be a toxic workplace and three producers exited amid the claims. On the air that fall, DeGeneres apologized for “things that shouldn’t have happened,” but defended herself as being the same genuine person — if an imperfect one — on- and off-camera.

The talk show represented a second major TV act for DeGeneres. In 1997, she made an indelible mark when she came out as lesbian and brought her character on the ABC sitcom “Ellen” with her. The series was axed the next year.

“Twenty-five years ago, they canceled my sitcom because they didn’t want a lesbian to be in prime-time once a week. And I said, ‘OK, then I’ll be on daytime every day,’” DeGeneres said Thursday.

The comedian, actor and producer has said she’ll take time to consider her next career move, but first she and de Rossi are making a trip to Rwanda. DeGeneres wrapped her daytime show with a plea to her audience, one she said was worth repeating.

“If I’ve done anything in the past 19 years, I hope I’ve inspired you to be yourself, your true authentic self. And if someone is brave enough to tell you who they are, be brave enough to support them, even if you don’t understand,” DeGeneres said. “By opening your heart and your mind you’re going to be that much more compassionate, and compassion is what makes the world a better place.”

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