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From Yellowjackets to Class of 07, we’re in the era of stranded girls

From Yellowjackets to Class of 07 and The Wilds, TV fans are obsessed with survival series about stranded girls post-Lost, and we don't want it to end.

Shauna, Tai, and Lottie in Yellowjackets season 2

When the thriller series Lost debuted in 2004, it did something to our brains. It made us more concerned with series-long arcs, ignited the week-to-week conspiracy theorists, and, perhaps most radically, made us realise how much we like to see people stuck in places and saying ‘fuck it’.

Fast forward to 2023, and evolution has occurred. We’re not just compelled by dynamic shifts and power plays in general, we’re specifically making these loglines come to life with casts of young women.

Yellowjackets, Class of 07, and Amazon Prime’s cult teen series The Wilds all have something in common, other than all being released within three years of each other: the TV series primarily follow young women who become stranded in challenging environments, leaving them to fend for themselves while civility rots like flesh.

Woodlands, an island, and an all-girls high school are sites of trauma, where characters reconcile with girlhood and the ways in which it scarred them. Each show utilises flashbacks and finds week-to-week challenges that further push the young women towards a cliff’s edge — and going over it may prevent their reintegration.

Emma Horn as Renee and Sarah Krndija as Sandy in Class of 07

Yellowjackets has a few male characters in the past setting, The Wilds was quickly cancelled after adding men to its castaway scenario in season 2, while Class of 07’s season 1 finale actively rejects changing its chemistry with the addition of men.

Just like Shauna paced and resisted before devouring Jackie’s ear in Yellowjackets, the show fulfilling the promise of subtext-laden cannibalism often found in these stories, audiences seem to be drawn to something grisly and irresistible here. What is it about girls unhinged that delights us so?

There’s something to be said about the way these shows tackle teenage years in general, with Class of 07 and The Wilds, in particular, framing female adolescence as a prickly bush one has to drag themselves through, birthed out the other end with wounds that shape us into adulthood.

The Wilds utilised an episodic approach where each girl is given a back story, and we’re given insight into all the different ways they’ve been constrained. Class of 07 hones in on interpersonal hurt and bullying that takes place in high school halls, and Yellowjackets devises a devilish scenario where rules are no longer useful — a memory the older versions of the characters repress because of how these behaviours would now be received.

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Homophobia, abusive parents, pressure to overachieve, and eating disorders are the backdrop of their lives before their ‘incidents’.

The central thesis of The Wilds’ villain, who fakes a plane crash to run a social experiment on unwilling participants, is that the girls will actually be better off for it. In fact, they will be an example of how women, when freed from the invisible chains around them, will thrive and make brilliant leaders.

This is, of course, an insane way to go about things. But there’s a tantalising idea under the surface about how modern life and its rules can hold people back and how letting go of that to focus on pure survival — eat, drink, sleep — could set someone who feels boxed-in free.

In killing off Jackie, Yellowjacket’s prom-queen vehicle for naivety and civility, the series pushes its characters off that previously mentioned cliff — even having them ritualistically consume her, a metaphor for how simple desires and animalistic patterns have taken hold.

Helena Howard as Nora Reid in The Wilds

And in Class of 07, albeit in a comedic tone, the women hold a vote for who should be sacrificed for the greater good of the clan. As for The Wilds, the teenagers begin to unknowingly prove their kidnapper’s theories right by assigning roles, working as one, and restructuring.

There’s an unsettling craving for release and chaos in how these shows find positives in their characters’ horrific situations, proposing that when survival calls for it, young women are dangerous, strategic, and possibly may find enlightenment in the struggle — a dark and dangerous perspective on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Historically, we’re not used to teenage girls being treated with the most grace and complexity in media, so it’s not difficult to imagine why female showrunners and staff in writer’s rooms are allowing freak flags to fly and approaching taboos with reckless abandon. There’s an audience for this, and they’re hungry for it.

If we grew up watching simplistic, ill-defined young girls on screen, as adults we may salivate at the idea of girls unhinged, terraforming their insular communities where by way of numbers they shift away from patriarchy and are free to express themselves for better or for worse.

Sarah Pidgeon, Sophia Ali, Helena Howard, Shannon Berry, and Mia Healey in The Wilds

Many popular series of our youths were barely passing the Bechdel test, a crude but indicative marker of representation. And the general dismissal of the plights of girls is another line in the sand we can trace back to the beginning of this era of drama series, where sacrifices in the woods, simple living, and a focus on relationships between women are the bones of what is now a fully-fledged subgenre.

Whether it be forbidden desires, a taste for flesh, or the weightlessness of no expectations, this surge suggests we’re filling a storytelling void.

We are living in a world where dark, complex women exist on the best TV series, but it seems that’s not enough to satiate, we need them to eat each other and light the rulebook on fire too.

If watching teenagers devour their friends like they would a KFC bucket makes your stomach churn, you might have to travel back to the early 2000s and stop Lost from airing. If it hadn’t, maybe we wouldn’t have realised how fiery plane crashes, supernatural inclinations, and fights over places in the pecking order have us gleefully dipping into forbidden waters, even when we really should be looking away and clutching our pearls.