[This story contains major spoilers from the second episode of Yellowjackets season two, “Edible Complex.”]
Now that the second season of Yellowjackets has answered the question around who the fuck is Lottie Matthews, the next biggest character question could be: What the heck is going on with Taissa Turner?
One of the biggest lingering mysteries in Yellowjackets surrounds Taissa and what can be described as her alter ego. The “other Tai” — as Tawny Cypress calls it — made a big appearance in the season one finale when the newly elected New Jersey state senator flashed an evil smile after it was revealed to viewers that she had sacrificed their family dog at an altar, seemingly in hopes of winning the race.
In the second season, younger Tai (played by Jasmin Savoy Brown) is having increasingly worrisome sleepwalking episodes in the 1996 wilderness. And present-day adult Tai, played by Cypress, just had a major dissociative episode where she imagined that her son paid her a visit. Then, upon discovering that the visit was imagined, Tai purposely crashed her car — while driving her estranged wife Simone (Rukiya Bernard) — into oncoming traffic for a cliffhanger ending to the second episode (which mainly centered around the cannibalistic Jackie feast in the past timeline).
“The whole ‘other Tai’ was a real collaboration between me and Jasmin and Ashley and Bart,” Cypress tells The Hollywood Reporter, referring to her co-star and the co-creators of Yellowjackets, Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson. “But we’ve never spoken about a medical condition. I don’t believe it’s a dissociative state that she’s doing. If it were me watching, I might think it’s something more supernatural.”
That view was echoed by the pair and co-showrunner Jonathan Lisco, who wrote this week’s episode, “Edible Complex.” Lyle told THR that Taissa’s storyline represents the “subjectivity of reality” they are playing with this season and that whatever is really going on with the ambitious politician represents a repressed self. Lisco added, “And instead of just being literal with the dissociative personality of it all, aren’t we really just dramatizing something that everybody feels? I think we all feel like we have a shadow self who can wreak havoc if we let it. That’s really what we’re exploring here.”
Below, in conversation with THR, Cypress digs into those complexities around Taissa and “other Tai” after that cliffhanger crash, how she approaches the role without asking questions (the creators did not tell her about the dog’s season one fate) and she issues a dire warning of what’s to come in season two.
I get the most anxious when you come onto the Yellowjackets screen because Taissa is so unpredictable.
Me too. I have no idea what could happen with my character. It’s pretty fun to play.
I’m curious about you and Jasmin Savoy Brown, and how watching each other in season one impacted you two syncing up even more for season two?
I’m glad that comes through. Jasmin and I talked extensively the first season. We hung out all the time. I was like a big sister to her, quite honestly. We lived in apartment buildings right next to each other. We both brought our cats so we would watch each other’s cats while the other was working. So we were very, very close the first season, and we worked on the character a lot, on Taissa’s mannerisms and stuff like that. This season, we did not. We talked a little bit about the character, but mostly I think we were pretty solid on what we were coming in with after the first season. So it wasn’t a whole lot of character work, except for solidifying this “other Taissa.” Questions like: Is she feral? Does she like our Taissa? Those sorts of questions, we talked about.
Where did you guys land on those questions?
Well, you’re just going to have to find out! Honestly, in my own opinion, I think the “other Taissa” just wants to help, but she has no moral compass. She lacks all of that. But I think she wants to help.
I read that you two practiced the crouching and the physicality around the dirt eating for season one.
We did, yep. We met up in the park, and we were sitting in the park looking like a bunch of fools. (Laughing.)
Whatever is happening to Taissa remains one of the biggest mysteries. How much of her story is about the supernatural or unknown element of the show, and how much of it is about a personality disorder from repressed trauma?
I think keeping it ambiguous is the way to go. I’ve been on the Reddit forums, and I love the theories, and I think it’s interpretive for sure. We’ve never spoken about supernatural, me and the creators. But we’ve also never spoken about a medical condition. I don’t believe it’s a dissociative state that she’s doing. If it were me watching, I might think it’s something more supernatural. But it is all based in trauma and the fact that she does repress so much and has tried to make her life as perfect as possible. Something is going to break. There’s some broken eggs in there.
None of you knew season two storylines when you finished season one. I saw that when you read in the finale script that Tai gives an “evil” smile it worried you for season two. How has that view changed now that you’re done filming this season?
I definitely have a different perspective. It is not evil. And I don’t think the other Tai is evil, I just think she gets things done in a different way. And she enjoys doing the bad things. She doesn’t mind. She kind of relishes in it. But I don’t think that makes her evil. I do think that she has the best intentions in mind, but she’s just corrupt.
“Edible Complex” sees her having a heartbreaking episode around her son, and then violently crashing the car she’s driving with wife Simone (Rukiya Bernard) after her alter ego takes over when she’s called out for it. What was your reaction when reading how this all went down?
I’m going to cry, (emotional) because I love Rukiya so much. She’s one of my favorite people. So when I read the script, I immediately called her. And she said, “Am I going to die?” And I said, “Baby, I don’t know.” And I still don’t know, honestly. We do not get that answer. But, I hated it! I fucking hated it! I hate that I beheaded a dog [in season one]. I hate that I fucking crashed my car and put my wife into a coma on purpose. They are terrible things. And as a viewer, I think it’s kind of awesome.
And viewers are rooting for her.
We really want her to win. And I really can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen with the family situation; they haven’t told me anything about that yet. You’re going to have a lot more questions for Taissa at the end of season two.
What was it like filming that car crash?
It was really cool. They had it all rigged up, and it was a smashed-up car to begin with. We counted it down in 10 beats. Even looking at her was in the beats. It was a very technical scene, on the green screen stage. And on “10,” the car spun around. The smoke went off. The fake glass came pouring in, and it felt pretty real. It was fun!
Everything is coming crashing down for the adult survivors this season, 25 years after the plane crash. When you look at what Taissa has accomplished, she’s a wife, mother and a historic Black queer woman elected to Senate who chose a very public life. Why is this trauma rearing its head now?
Well, she pushed the envelope too far. She could have just stopped at “successful lawyer with beautiful wife and son in fantastic home,” and that could have been enough for her. But it’s never enough for her. She’s a narcissist. She needs more. And it went too far, holding it together to that level is what broke the shell. And out comes the other Tai, to sort of clean up her messes.
When you see the younger you on screen, does that break your heart? Younger Tai is so well-meaning and just trying to keep it all together.
It’s so true. The younger Tai is so similar to the older Tai but has such a more pure heart and the best intentions. She’s not trying to prove something to the world at that point. She’s just who she is, this sort of Type A sort of personality that loves. I love Jasmin’s portrayal of her, and it really helps me to watch her do her thing.
Have you two talked about why you think Taissa was chosen for this sleepwalking possession? She and Lottie (Courtney Eaton) seem the most connected to whatever is going on in the wilderness.
Yeah, I don’t understand that myself. I have theories. I don’t know. She is one of the only people who is seeing wolves. This is a question for Ashley and Bart. They tell me nothing. So I can only theorize about that and why she’s connected to these symbols. I don’t know the answer. But I think the breaking is different. I think the “other Tai” is… you know, you have like eight different shades of crazy on this show, and everyone is handling trauma in their own way. And she wasn’t handling trauma at all. Taissa just pushed it down and was like, “Fuck you, watch me. Watch me be perfect.” So this “other Tai” coming in is because of the trauma that she’s not dealing with.
When you play the other Tai, where do you go to bring her to life?
For me, the other Tai really just does not give a fuck. She’s going to do what needs to be done if it’s hurtful, if it’s wrong, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a different shade of Tai; a different facet of her personality. So the other Tai is still Type A, she’s still narcissistic. But she’s a doer, whereas Tai is a hider. This other Tai will do anything necessary.
After season one released, you spoke out about your sexuality in Shudder’s Queer for Fear docuseries and the impact 1994’s Heavenly Creatures, which starred Melanie Lynskey, had on you. What inspired you to share that?
First of all, I love [Queer for Fear executive producer] Bryan Fuller very much, and I’d do anything for him. So he asked me to do it, and I said yes. It was relevant to what I was doing, and I could speak on it. And I love horror, so it just seemed like a great opportunity. It’s funny that it’s being said that it’s a coming out story. I’ve never been in the closet, I’ve always just been me. And also, that girl that I talk about in the documentary, we were together. I just wanted to call it what it was, and that was the opportunity for me to be like, “Let’s go all in.” But yes, I am definitely under the queer umbrella, I’ve never been shy about that. Half the characters I’ve played in my career have been queer. And it’s just never come up before, that’s all. But Melanie to this day, I hold her in the highest regard. I work with absolute legends but Melanie, she’s in a class of her own.
If growing up you had characters to watch like Tai and Van (played by Liv Hewson in the past and Lauren Ambrose in season two as adult Van), how would that have impacted you to be able to see that onscreen?
It would have meant a lot. But for me, I was holding hands with girls in the hallway in high school. I was very open about who I was. And it really would have helped other people around me to find it acceptable. Not that I was ever shunned for it. For some reason, people were just like, “That’s her.” And they sort of left me alone. But it would have helped the view that it wasn’t some weird thing to be doing, and that would have been very helpful to me growing up.
The adult Yellowjackets survivors are scattered in the beginning. How did this season feel different, with you all on your own paths for now?
We do all have our own shit going on. Shauna [played by Lynskey] has a lot on her plate right now and is dealing with that for the whole of the season. You’re going to see friendship, and not in the way that you saw it in the first season. We’re going to get hurt. We’re going to hurt each other, and we’re going to get hurt. There’s going to be a lot of fighting, and that’s expected. It’s not all fucking rainbows and butterflies. Twenty-five years later, Taissa loves Shauna, for sure. But there’s still crap to sort out.
Your creators have said they’re targeting five seasons (and season three is already renewed). What do you know about the overall plan, and do you ask questions about where Taissa is headed?
They asked me at the beginning of the first season if I wanted to know answers to things, and I said no, I only want to know what’s relevant to my character right now so that I don’t play something in the future that I shouldn’t be. And they loved that because they fucking hate telling me anything. (Laughs.) They don’t tell me anything, and I don’t ask, unless it’s relevant. I have no idea where this is going. And I can only speculate. I can’t even imagine. I can’t imagine. Will I last? I don’t know, I hope so!
I did read that they lied to you and told you that Taissa wouldn’t hurt the dog in season one…
I said I didn’t want to know anything, and they went overboard and were like, “Let’s just lie to her and tell her whatever we want!” (Laughs.) I think they knew I’m a dog love,r and I was sort of going to campaign to keep him. [New dog] Steve is fine, ok? I’m just gonna say it: Steve the dog is fine!
How would you say this show has impacted your life between seasons one and two?
I feel like I won the lottery. I’m very fortunate. I’ve been an actor for 25 years. I haven’t had to take a second job but, you know, I’ve played dumb women who say a lot of jargon who run down the street chasing guys with guns. Very shallow parts. This role, this project has been like winning the lottery. I work with legendary actresses who are my friends now. As somebody who grew up in the ’90s and knows exactly who these women are, it’s crazy to me. And they treat me like their equal. And the writers listen to me. It feels like a collaborative team. Acting is not a solo sport, and it’s really great that I found this project. It’s the coolest thing ever. I like that people like it. I like it too.
Is there one thing on the Reddit boards you read that you really enjoyed?
Oh, gosh. So many things. I really can’t say if they’re true or not. But, they’re not. Nobody has gotten it right yet. There are a lot of theories out there. I think what people are going to see is actually going to blow their minds. And some people are going to hate us. Some people are going to fucking hate us by the end of the season, I think, unfortunately. The adult storyline is tough.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Yellowjackets releases new episodes weekly on Fridays for Showtime subscribers and airs on cable Sundays at 9 p.m. Keep up with THR‘s Yellowjackets season two coverage and interviews.