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Simone Kessell Breaks Down ‘Yellowjackets’ Finale Hunt & Death

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Yellowjackets Season 2 finale “Storytelling.”]

There’s a lot to dissect about the end of Yellowjackets Season 2. Don’t worry: We have you covered.

Simone Kessell talks us through the tragic finale where her character, present-day Lottie, revived the ritual of the hunt, ultimately leading to the death of Natalie (Juliette Lewis). The group’s onetime leader was mistakenly killed by a horrified Misty (Christina Ricci) and died surrounded by the other wilderness survivors: Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Taissa (Tawny Cypress), and Van (Lauren Ambrose). Kessell shares what it was like to shoot those final scenes, how she can’t listen to a certain Radiohead song anymore, and what she’s hoping for in Season 3.

The heart of this episode was this resolution of Lottie and Natalie’s long and twisted relationship, and it really ends in tragedy for both. Natalie dies and Lottie is on her way to being institutionalized again. Could you reflect on those two characters’ journey, in the context of this finale?

Simone Kessell: That’s a great question. It’s quite an emotional question because Juliette and I chose moments in our scenes together to really connect, and I think the wonderful fanbase caught onto that quite early with hopeful dreams that the two would end up together. But it was more of a sisterhood as I think about it. When we found out that the character of Natalie was going to die, I had to sort of reset the way we were in scenes together. And I remember in [Episode] 208 saying to our director, Daisy [von Scherler Mayer], “There has to be a shift here,” because when Lottie says, “One of us has to drink the tea,” you see Natalie looking at Lottie, that’s the beginning of it. You see Natalie go, “Oh my goodness, this is wrong. She’s mentally ill and I’ve followed her to the edge, but I am not going to jump.” And that’s the turning point in 208.

So, when 209 comes, Natalie is very, very dark on Lottie, but Lottie is not present to that because Lottie is so unhinged, for search of a better word. She’s in complete turmoil at that stage. She’s fixated on the fact that we have to give back to the wilderness and that would be a sacrifice, and it has to be one of us. And if it’s the hunt, then so be it. And that’s really tragic on so many levels because I feel that the audience is more Natalie, the audience along with Natalie sees what Lottie is doing.

So then the flip is the devastation that then she dies. She is the sacrifice. Lottie then believes that the death or the passing of Natalie was the sacrifice that we all needed. It validates her prediction, and it validates her turmoil, and a calmness sets in over Lottie. And that’s just so, so sad and twisted. And I just found, Kate, I was just looking through my phone and I had forgotten that the night we filmed the scene I had done, in my trailer, a little piece to camera saying, “Oh my goodness, we’re filming the last scene in Season 2.” I’m watching it back and I realize how traumatic it was for all of us actresses also, that whole beat between Lottie and Natalie sort of played out in real life with Simone and Juliette as well. And there’s that duality of life imitating art, art imitating life. That was a very long answer [laughs] but you know what I mean!

Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

No, I love talking to you because you’re so thoughtful. So, when you had to make this turn with the characters that you talked about, did you and Juliette have a conversation about that? And then how did you say goodbye to each other on set?

That’s a good question too because there was so much, and I had to obviously be sensitive around Juliette and where she was at, and it was like, there was a relief, and I don’t want to put words into her emotions or feelings, but she was just wonderful. She was so present, and we were filming in very, very tricky conditions. It was the last week and we were running out of time, and it was cold, and we all had real sensitivity around Juliette’s performance, but also around what was probably going on for her. She was wonderful and it really shook us all in different ways as actresses, that moment. It stuck with us all and we were all shaken.

It was the last couple of days of filming. I think everyone was just a bag of emotions regardless. We were all really feeling it as our characters, but also as actresses and as friends. Over the season, I became very close with Juliette, and she cracks me up. She’s wonderful. She’s such an interesting human being and so delicate and so alive. The idea that we would be then going into another season without her, I think, is the loss that we were all feeling. And the beautiful way [director] Karyn [Kusama] filmed it. And also the soundtrack of Radiohead song [“Street Spirit (Fade Out)”] over it is, yeah, I can’t listen to that song again. [Laugh] And I’m such a fan of Radiohead, especially that those early days.

Speaking of songs, there was another scene that I did want to ask you about, and that’s the scene where Lottie’s alone at the compound and that Buffy Sainte-Marie song, “God is Alive, Magic is Afoot,” is playing. Can you talk about shooting that and what you were imagining she was going through?

Well, first of all, Karyn said, “This is the song I want to have over this scene.” She played it to me and my whole face lit up and I was like, “I have never heard this.” And she was like, “Isn’t it perfect?” And I was like, “It’s incredible.” She said, “So take what you’re feeling now and let’s lock the scene and let’s rehearse it now.” On paper, that scene was a paragraph, if that, it was a few sentences. Lottie goes to her locker, she sees that someone’s opened it, and we’re out.

Karyn had seen it and read it and directed it in a whole different way. She had played it a whole different way already in her head. So we blocked it. It was clearly one shot, the choreography around turning with a steady cam and that my eyes were closed. I really had to feel where the camera was to open my eyes on that moment and then follow. It was a dance, it was a really beautiful dance. And by this stage, we’re all very close with crew, who were exceptional. It took us quite a few takes, I’m going to say eight takes, to perfect it with the camera, the focus, the movement, with the drawing in, with the tilt down to the cabinet to tilt up to Lottie.

But because Karyn had played that song to me earlier, it spooked me. But there’s a delight to Lottie because she knows something is about to happen. Something very big is about to happen. And she feels right. She feels in her power, she feels the sense of the wilderness supporting her decision. And you see that in the smile. I mean, it’s very beautiful. As an actress, that’s your dream moment.

Simone Kessell, Tawny Cypress, Lauren Ambrose, Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, and Christina Ricci in 'Yellowjackets'

Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

And then she comes out to this circle where the women have gathered and, as an audience, we’re thinking they’re still humoring her. We’re in Shauna’s head at this point. But then everyone kind of slowly gets into it with Lottie. Like they all start to revert and the end, they all turn around and they get their masks!

[Laughs] That’s so funny. I love the way that you say it because you’re right. It’s insane. It’s insanity, but they’re all insane. It’s just Lottie wears hers on the surface. You know, these women…it’s a hunger. It’s gone back to their youth, how they survived, it’s their instinct, what they have to do. It’s so primal. And I love Melanie’s delivery, like, what the eff?

Were the masks of any significance? Did you have any input into which you wore?

Our department came to me right in the beginning of that block and said, “These are the outlines of the masks.” I was instantly drawn to that one. But…the day that we put it on, I’ve got quite long eyelashes and there was so much fluff and feathers on it [laughs] that it kept sticking in my eyelashes. And I was like, “Ah, I can’t see, I’m sorry, can we call cut? I’ve got feathers in my eyes.” [Laughs] I remember going, “Damn, why did I choose that mask?” But these masks are spectacular. They’ve just made these masks, you know? There’s always an answer to why these wonderful props are suddenly there.

But it’s so powerful when they don these masks. To me, I’ve always played Lottie as a woman who wears many masks: the public face, the guru, the spiritual healer, the cult leader. That’s a mask, that’s a performance. It’s very Greek in regards to them putting on these masks to play these characters. It’s a stage. That’s why Lottie’s completely in her element at this point. And she’s just going with what has happened in the past — even though she’s not a part of that hunt with Javi [Luciano Leroux] because she’s so battered and bruised and the attic. It was pretty powerful and quite haunting playing it. We were all there, it was cold, and we’re around this fire and then we put on the masks, and you see the crew go, oh, [laugh], oh my goodness. And then it was on. It was really powerful. We were all feeling it. For sure.

Talk about powerful, when Shauna’s daughter Callie [Sarah Desjardins] shoots Lottie in the shoulder, Lottie doesn’t respond with violence. It’s more like awe. She says to Shauna, “Is this your daughter? She’s so powerful.”

Isn’t that insane? It gives you a real inside moment that Lottie is completely undone. She is on another plane. I really like that because you’d imagine her to be like, “What the eff,” but no, there’s another side to Lottie and I think representing whatever state of mind or mental health she is experiencing, she’s in awe. That was hard to play, I have to say. That was it. My natural instinct is, “Oh my God, I’ve been shot in the arm.” And look, we all just went for it. There was no time to question anything. We were like, “Let’s just do it. Let’s just shoot it.” My question to you then, Kate: Is it believable that she’s completely unhinged?

Oh yeah. Totally unhinged. But what’s interesting is, as you said, she wears her insanity. You can see it. The others tamp it down…a bit. But it was interesting what Van says a few times in this episode, “Lottie’s like this, because of us.” Van is feeling a lot of guilt. Do you agree with Van? Did the girls turn Lottie into who she is now?

Yeah, I absolutely believe that. And I love when the character Van says that because it’s a different perspective. We can all judge and go, “Oh God, she’s crazy.” But it’s Van who brings the perspective of, “She’s like that because of us, because of the beating, because she was off her medication, because of that, she is a broken bird. There is no compassion for the fact that this woman is just flailing in on every level?” I see Van and Lottie sort of merging. I see that in Van, and the way Lauren played that was perfect.

Courtney Eaton in 'Yellowjackets'

Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

And I guess there’s going to be more to come in Season 3 of what actually did happen to Lottie as well and that she has been institutionalized. [The other women said] throughout, “Hold on Lottie’s got a compound. What do you mean? I thought she was in Switzerland.” They’ve just kind of written her off and that’s so clever because then she comes back. I feel it opens up yet another chapter to Season 3 of what actually did happen to Lottie, which makes it even more juicy [laughs], you know?

Absolutely. The other thing I wanted to touch on was, we learned in this episode that Lottie made Natalie the Queen in the ’90s timeline. So, after all this time, with Natalie’s death and Lottie’s state of mind, does Lottie feel these two actually finished up their business on this earth together at the end of this episode or not?

I mean, I feel the way the episode plays out is we see Lottie is so broken. She’s been going through that pain, she’s been quietly suffering, she’s in such a different head space than the others. I played Lottie that she’s just muttering and murmuring to herself. Like, this is what happened, this is what had to happen. She’s on a different level. So I don’t know. I’m not sure where the writers want to take that. Part of me gets very excited by the idea that maybe in Season 3, Lottie is back in an institution, kind of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Euphoria, and as an actress that to me is gold. If they decide to play her out institutionalized, how exciting would that be, seeing our glorious guru in an institution? And would she be recruiting more broken souls? I love the idea of that world and that Van is like, “We have to help Lottie.” She’s very much alive at the end, and what is her next chapter?

Well, Lottie does say “You’ll see,” to everyone.

This is only the beginning of where they’re going. Maybe she’s already seen this in her visions, right? What the next thing is, that one of us had to go in order to release the past, to sacrifice, to move on. Maybe Van’s cancer goes away. There’s so much that they can do here, but I hope we get to see Lottie somewhere else, a different Lottie. Maybe she shaved her head.

Growing up, I remember Demi Moore in GI Jane shaved her head, and then later Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta. I’ve always been like, “Oh f**k, that’s so liberating.” Hint, hint, writers, if you’re reading this.

This is what Simone wants! I’ll close with this: What have you personally learned this season? Is there anything you’re going to carry with you from shooting?

I’ve learned absolute respect and compassion and more understanding for mental health in my research regarding that. I purposely didn’t make Lottie one thing or the other. We were very unclear of what Lottie suffers from and what her mental health issues are — and all of [the women] really. The other takeaway is absolute gratitude, and I hate even having to acknowledge this, but women in their mid to late 40s working together on a show like this, getting to play these roles and these characters, and getting to bring ideas to the table — that’s a rare thing. And that’s why the show, I believe, is so successful and speaks to fans and everybody. They’ve found a way to embrace everybody on this show and their characters. And everybody gets a moment. And coming away from it with new girlfriends, being closer to Melanie, Tawny, Christina, Lauren, and Juliette, that’s a gift in itself.

Yellowjackets, Season 3, TBA, Showtime

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