Of course Courtney Eaton is jealous. The 27-year-old Australian actress, who plays young Lottie Matthews on Yellowjackets, is snowed in inside a rickety wilderness cabin. Meanwhile, her newly introduced adult counterpart, played by Simone Kessell, gets to float around a summery cult compound in kaftans and sparkly jewelry. No wonder Eaton and the rest of the cast have been getting up to some creepy, witchy stuff while they wait for rescue.
“By the end of the season, we were all sick of that cabin,” Eaton tells me over Zoom, laughing. “Some of the cast and I made decks of cards to give to the crew that said, ‘Fuck This Cabin.’ It is funny because it feels like a home. But we also all hate it.”
Winter has come to Season Two of the Showtime series, leaving blankets of snow on the forest floor and crust over the needles on the pine trees. Eaton and her co-stars crunch around in the cold—as freezing as the set gets, it’s not quite as cold as true mountain winter would be, so they’re all sweating under their layers—looking for fresh meat, while unable to shake the feeling of a presence following them through the woods. In Episode Four, which premiered this Friday, things come to a head when some of the girls convince Lottie to use her maybe-powers to summon something to their aid.
“There’s a few scenes this season where she’s more confident in leadership, leading prayer circles, for example,” Eaton says. “She’s still figuring this stuff out.” Lottie, thanks to her oddly prophetic premonitions and that climactic bear stabbing at the end of the first season, has become a reluctant spiritual leader. She guides the faction of girls who are attracted, for one reason or another, to the prospect that there is a supernatural force in the woods worth communicating with.
“It is a bit of a puzzle and a game playing her, especially when you can sense something’s coming in the next episode, and some of the choices she might make later in the season,” Eaton says, “but without the writers actually telling you any of that. So it’s kind of a guessing game. I’m so similar to Lottie in the way that we make choices. If I was put in the wilderness, my brain would also be also my undoing.”
Yellowjackets is still being plenty coy about what’s really going on—whether it’s a ghost thing, or a superpowers thing, or a people-going-nuts-in-isolation thing. Even the cast is in the dark on a lot of it—they get their scripts a week before they shoot, finding out the story’s twists and turns as they go along.
The mysteries are extra opaque when it comes to something like Lottie’s mental illness. We saw her run out of pills in the first season, and in the first moments of the second, we watch as her parents send her to electroshock therapy after the survivors are rescued. Nowadays, it’s trendy in some circles for historians and psychiatrists to diagnose the mystics of the past—Joan of Arc’s ecstatic visions, some say, were likely brought on by epilepsy, or maybe schizophrenia. Yellowjackets, because of its arcane structure, has more breathing room.
Eaton had multiple conversations with series creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson to make sure she wasn’t skewing her performance too far in one direction. “I don’t want someone who could possibly be a villain to be that because of mental illness,” she explained. “We had this great discussion of how Lottie is kind of the only character that walks this line. Is it trauma or is it the plane crash or her family beforehand? Or does she have a special kind of… I’ll have my own thoughts in my head of what’s going on. But I love that she’s someone that walks this line of no one really knows.”
Obviously, no one can give the rest of us any answers either—which meant there was lots of rueful shrugging and wild, silent gesticulating throughout my conversation with Eaton. Lottie’s big moment in this week’s episode comes after an act of desperate bloodletting, begging the forest to send anything at all that could help them. She stumbles into another of her strange visions, running into a few of the survivor Yellowjackets, plus the long-dead Laura Lee, sharing a meal at a mall food court.
“I’m always scared, with Lottie, giving a definitive answer one way or the other, because then it will make people lean,” Eaton says when I ask what this scene could possibly mean for her character. “It will take a bit of the magic away. I would say that you see her out in the elements and they’re already kind of sleep deprived, hungry. They are on the edge. And I think Lottie’s mental state is already fragile. There’s going to be fun things going on with her brain.” Could be a vision. Could be something else.
Of course, we knew that Lottie made it out of the woods eventually, but Season Two is the first time we meet her as an adult. Kessell plays her as the deliberate, self-assured earth mother-type leader of a wellness commune, whose silk-clad facade begins to crack as the past comes back to haunt the survivors as adults. When they compared notes about their character, Eaton says they took notice of some small physical characteristics they could share—which was easy because they look so similar: “Someone nicknamed us Flopsy. We’re both long and lanky and flop around.”
But they were careful not to share too much, to make sure that the two versions of the character were kept separate. “Both Lotties live in such separate worlds,” Eaton explains. “Obviously she needs to know where I’m coming from, but it might be my downfall if I know where I’m going too much. Simone and I always talk about the older Lottie being the light in that side of the character, and right now the ’90s version is the darkness, and she’s trying to find her way to that light.”
Emma Stefansky is a culture and entertainment writer based in New York City. Her work can be found at Vanity Fair, GQ, and The Daily Beast, among others.