Here we are. The melancholic distortion of the Cranberries’ “Zombie” is enough to give anyone goosebumps as Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) ambles to the cabin. Travis (Kevin Alves) is the first to greet her, but bereft of words, the cabin shows, not tells.
The irrefutable magnitude of the Wilderness and its lip-smacking is enough to drive even the insurmountable Nat to tears.
At the lodge, Lottie (Simone Kessell) feels the end of the line upon them. Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) manages to talk her out of an early checkout, and suggests the squad go old school on this force by giving it a “Hunt”.
Judging from the response of the team, even for the unflappable Natalie (Juliette Lewis), the thought of getting down and dirty one last time on the Pitch of Life is too much to bear. Lottie, on the other hand, is relieved, as if coming out of a long overdue trepanation.
The thing is Shauna is trying to lure Lottie out by “giving in” to this reality of hers. The whole team is encouraged to follow her lead. Taissa (Tawny Cypress) co-signs to Shauna’s plan, but Misty (Christina Ricci) can read through them like rice paper.
“All the old games.” Masks, knives, card deck. The only thing required of Lottie is that the acolytes stay away from this very sacred game, so with that, she goes on her way. Misty votes for having her recommitted, and while that is a viable option, Natalie thinks this calls for something more hardcore. Van (Lauren Ambrose) agrees. They all have it in them, but your girl is on some next-level Tyler Durden shit.
That night, Misty (Sammi Hanratty) informs Lottie (Courtney Eaton) of a last-minute substitution in play. She’s also made aware of the simple yet elegantly unbiased way of choosing who to keep her alive. To me, this would make Lottie a sweeper, the last line of defense in a tight spot. It’s most advantageous in all having the six of a sweeper on the pitch.
She assures the rest of the cabin that Lottie was all too pleased with the will of the Woods, but the mood isn’t feeling chipper. Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) is called upon to do what she’d gladly swap places with Javi: telling his brother to step aside or become jerky.
Ever the most fearless on the field, leave it to Van (Liv Hewson) to grease the wheels when she offers Javi’s neck up to Shauna. Blindfolding herself, she commences the exsanguination. Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) are requested to make for the cabin with Van. Shauna needs to get acquainted with her new chatmate.
At the commune, Misty obtains the name of Lottie’s doctor in her office. She also happens to break into the locked armor armoire, retrieving her phone. Sensing somebody coming, she retreats before being found out by her knight in purple chore coat, Walter (Elijah Wood).
Preparations are in order for this very adult game of that childhood night-time spring favorite, manhunt, including the dulling of cutlery and the marking of the Queen of Hearts. The Wilderness has heard them in the past. Have they still got it in them to hear back?
On the ride to the commune, Jeff (Warren Kole) tries to convey to his only daughter, Callie, (Sarah Desjardins) the gravity of living as a fugitive. With doing time out of the question, the screws are really being tightened on him to find answers to questions he doesn’t even know exist. He opts for an alternate route to the commune.
Detectives Kevyn (Alex Wyndham) and Matt (John Reynolds) infiltrate Lottie’s hideaway, stumbling across Walter and Callie, respectively. One of the officers is knocked the fuck out and shot the fuck up, and the other is bestowed with a moral dilemma. Who is killed? To be fair, if I told you, would it matter? The way of death was callously out of character, not who was killed.
Out in the wilderness, Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) arrives at the carving station only to take in Shauna’s knife skills on display. This is way too much for him. He runs into Natalie, who fesses up to her belonging among the savagery of the cabin because of her inactivity to save a life outside of her own.
In Javi’s tree, Ben attempts to get a fire going. At the cabin, Shauna arrives with Javi, complete with the heart intact. Shauna looks at Travis. He offers up Javi’s whittled animal and proceeds to consume it with a heavy heart. The lifeblood has been restored through circuitry completion. The meat is clean. Misty brings up some for Lottie, but something’s weighing on her. Is this really what the Wilderness wants?
As Buffy Sainte-Marie’s trotting lyrics set the stage for a night hunt, the girls gather around the campfire for one last tale, one last chance to look each other in the eyes and know the bond is stronger than the flesh that houses it.
Shauna wants to know how long until help arrives. Misty reveals she and her inadvertent plus one had it covered. Lottie arrives ready to kick things off. Callie stumbles upon Matt. She’s saved from a fatal mistake with a buzz from Kevyn, compliments of Walter. It did what it was supposed to on its end: instilling fear in the Detective about his partner.
At the campfire, Lottie takes the dreaded Queen card and shuffles it to its rightful place, somewhere between unbridled chaos and sheer probability. Everybody’s 90 minutes is up. We’ve crossed into the temporal do-or-die zone of Stoppage Time. This ain’t no damn scrimmage either. When “it” plays for keeps, coming up empty only means the gut-wrenching dread is prolonged for a spell longer. This continues until Shauna pulls the winner.
The squad masks up. There’s no bargaining, there’s no two ways about it. Shauna calls a time out to lampshade the absurdity in her potential last moments on earth. The Wilderness doesn’t have time for bargaining, and with that, the hunt is on.
Matt discovers Kevyn in the trunk of their vehicle, but before he could spring into action putting out an APB, Walter swoops in like a majestic carrion to finish the job with a few bullets. He gives Matt a choice in his story path: that of bought glory or undeserved shame.
Out in the lovely, dark, deep woods, the bestial cries of the squad fill the air until a shot fired puts it to a dead halt. Callie’s aim for Lottie’s weapon arm is true as is her fear when Lottie summarily takes an interest in her.
There’s no time for explanation, though, as “it” has arrived, according to Lottie. The psych team was called off, so the team is at the mercy not of Lottie, but rather what she implores the group to heed: the call of the wild.
Lottie is up and about in the cabin. She has the full support of her team, even though she’ll never be the same. The girls settle in for a story. Van wants to share something off the beaten path, a story of the Wilderness itself and the house that it built. Lottie claims she never wanted this role, that the wilderness chose her as the appointed go-between because she had the gift of heeding its language. That gift resides no more in her, transferred instead to the rest of the team. A new leader is called for.
Natalie’s name surfaces as the new head of the cabin. Adult Lottie indeed sees the forest for the trees and hears its inescapable death knell of inevitability. Every single person standing before her has the wild within, Natalie especially. “Doomcoming” (also the 9th episode) had seen its first coronation, so who is Natalie to deny the mantel of a leader?
As Nouvelle Vague’s dreamy rendition of “The Killing Moon” flares up, the team takes turns in paying respect to their new Queen. Van accepts her as a superior, as does Taissa. Travis lays his undying fealty to his Queen before her. Lastly, though belabored, Shauna throws her support behind a fellow midfielder.
It’s too late. Even Lisa (Nicole Maines) holding up the crew at gunpoint isn’t slowing down the biorhythm of the Wilderness. Natalie isn’t giving her friend acceptable answers, so Misty answered for her Queen. She nails her bestie with a spike of something lethal, resulting in an “accidental suicide”. The irony is not lost on me.
This causes Natalie to black out and recede into an alternate reality where she’s the only passenger on the flight. As the unmistakable first notes of “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” reverberate, we soak in Natalie’s rage. The blood she’s spilled on the field, the blood she’s spilled in the theater of the wilderness, and the blood she’s spilled making good on one last thing. In a callback to Javi, the team can do nothing but bear witness to the horror of the Wilderness beckoning one of its own back into the loam.
All parties need to call it a night. Walter kills in order to protect Misty; meanwhile, Misty stands accused of just being a killer. Jeff is reunited with his family, and a fire was put out. It’s of no consolation. A bigger one will arise anyway.
Taissa assures Lottie that though she’s headed back to the Happy House; she and Van will visit. Lottie knows the Wilderness is pleased, but how could they ever be? A goddamn legend has fallen for good… operative phrase: for good.
That winter in Canada, the Wilderness did provide. Even when the cabin is set ablaze by none other than Coach Ben, they were in the Wilderness’ plans all along. Echo and the Bunnymen’s haunting tune tends to underscore the grandeur of this loss, but the Wilderness was giving.
Remember what I said about not seeing the forest for the trees during a forest fire? Maybe it’s what will get these girls out of the woods yet.
With the through line of Coach Ben’s mentally deleterious state this season, I was expecting him to finally find peace in the sweet release of death within this hour. What we got was an act of cowardice. Personally, I love you Coach Ben, but ya gotta fucking peace out. Your story arc this season had just enough juice for a meaningful exit. The lack of an adult would have ratcheted up the stakes for next season for a truly heavy Lord of the Flies, finishing it out strong. #Justice4Javi
To be honest, I was left a bit empty by the time the credits rolled on this. I feel adult Natalie’s electric complexity kept her compelling from the very start. Yes, self-sacrifice is noble. Yes, being taken out by Misty and not some tourist in order to complete the circuit is poetic, even. I should have gasped at a moment like this, but instead, her death didn’t feel like anything. And it should have. It should have left me without air. Her rushed friendship with Lisa scuppered any potential for our connection with Lisa. Nope. One moment she’s with us, and the next she’s not. Suddenly, our front-row tickets feel like cheap seats.
The cold fucking sting of Death should mean something in a series like this, and following the ham-fisted tackling of Detective Alex’s death, another “shrimp on the barbie” doesn’t seem all that surprising. Remember, it’s always good to raise the stakes with storytelling. Raise that fucking bar. Dance in the fire. If the storytelling is retardant to the flame, you have the ability to move an audience. If it isn’t, like the squad’s cabin, it’s just kindling.
And Natalie was just getting sober. Ghoulish move, peeps. Ghoulish move.
3/5 Stars. #Justice4Natalie
ADDENDUM: As for the season itself, Jeff has proven to be the most compelling to me. Huge kudos to the writers and Warren Kole for taking a seemingly one-note character in lesser hands and defiantly elevating it. Every character should matter. They’re not NPCs (Sorry NPCs.) I say this because of Akilah, Mari, Gen, Melissa, Crystal (R.I.P.), Lisa, and Javi (R.I.P.).
Javi’s (Luciano Leroux) reveal was a very welcomed surprise, but we hardly knew the bloke from a fart in the wind. He felt more like a shortcut than an earned road in the end, but the parallels of Natalie letting life slip through her hands not once but twice only galvanized my love and adoration for the character. Kudos to all, not least of which is the actress par excellence, Juliette Lewis. A cigarette-smoking spitfire to the very end with a bourbon-soaked soul, Natalie’s ticket punched was rough. I really wanted her to make it to the final whistle. So thank you, Ms. Lewis, for introducing us not to Natalie, but to Nat.
Were missteps had? Yes. Exciting as this season was, it relied upon filling too much into 9 episodes. It introduced new characters only to drop them in our lap with only vague outlines, and no fine details as to why they belong in the soup. That being said, this season felt like a cold, bitter slog. For their winter season. That’s what I loved about it. The weight of burden hangs low. However, some plot points were dropped off, like Sammy and Simone’s plight narrative in favor of spending way too much time on a teeter totter on whether the Family Sadecki gets carted off to jail. Very little hope was found this season for me. It felt like a SWANS song. I could have used every now and again a bit of sunshine in the form of someone coming out of a coma, or anything to drag me out of the sludge.
Like Laura Lee, my faith is solid like a goddamn rock. Though this desultory season’s cliffhanger was outshone by seeming disregard for Natalie’s sacrifice, its masterfully written character taught me that it’s never too late for an about-face in the 11th hour. I’m looking at you, Season Three.