Yellowjackets’ Symbol Might Reveal the Science Behind the Weirdest Part of the Season

The underlying cause of all the supernatural elements in Yellowjackets may be lurking underground.

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Yellowjackets is an eerie series where cannibalism, psychoactive drugs, and murder are all par for the course. But practically, what is going on? The series is too grounded to feasibly introduce aliens, spirits, or some other otherworldly element. There must be a scientific reason for the strange happenings in the wilderness, right?

Up until now, there hasn’t really been a firm case for any explanation. They haven’t eaten any bread, so the ergot poisoning that may have caused the Salem Witch Trials couldn’t be it. After the game-changing Season 1 episode “Doomcoming,” it’s clear the group has been more careful about what they ingest, so it couldn’t be anything psychoactive in the food. So what could it be? Now, Reddit may have pieced together the answer, lying in a combination of history, chemistry, and alchemy.

Our tale starts a year ago, when Redditor u/boreleafclover had a hare-brained idea about what could be happening in the Yellowjackets wilderness inspired by that strange red river the scout party sees in Episode 7. The theory claims the symbol that’s all over the woods and that ominously keeps appearing to the survivors in the present-day isn’t just a symbol, but a map to an abandoned mining shaft — meaning the survivors may have been consuming mining runoff that could have turned the water red.

Van in front of the weirdly red river in Season 1 of Yellowjackets.


Upon the start of Season 2, this theory was revived by Redditor u/justaguyinqueens who suggests that the red runoff is specifically cinnabar, the common term for oxidized mercury. Known for its bright red color, it could have adverse effects if consumed — and even if it’s not in the water, it could be in the bear meat.

There are a number of cinnabar mines in Canada, so this would make sense, and there are a lot of signs that something is up underground. Lottie has a vision of an underground corridor after she’s baptized by Laura Lee in Season 1, and in Season 2 Natalie notices a tree trunk with melted snow nearby. Could there be something geothermal going on with mines as well?

This theory also notes how the symbol looks similar to the alchemical symbol for “crystal,” and cinnabar occurs naturally in a bright red crystal form. There have been a number of theories trying to dissect the symbol using existing code (the Depression-era “hobo code” being a particular favorite) but the alchemical symbols may be the ultimate source. Many fans have mentioned how similar the symbol looks to alchemical symbols. Curiously, however, the symbol doesn’t look similar to the alchemical sign for “cinnabar” at all.

The seemingly heat-generating stump seen in Season 2 Episode 1 may be a clue to a mine underneath.


It seems like all the elements we see in Yellowjackets — the red river, the lack of animals, the mental health weirdness the survivors are experiencing both in the wilderness and in the years afterward — can be ascribed to mercury poisoning, also known as “mad hatter syndrome” because of the symptoms experienced by hatmakers after exposure to mercury salts.

This could be setting up a finale in the far-off future where we’d finally get an explanation that’s grounded in actual science (unlike the finale explanation of Yellowjackets’ spiritual predecessor Lost) — and one that’s actually believable. It could also provide explanations for the cabin, which may have been previously inhabited by a miner who could have died from poisoning. Is this the show’s ultimate endgame, or is there something more sinister and supernatural afoot?

Yellowjackets is now streaming on Showtime.

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