The Bad One: Black Women And Our Doppelgängers


By Lea Anderson · @leaeanderson · January 23, 2024, 7:00 PM EST

Part of what attracts us to horror is its capacity to reflect our anxieties back to us through the body of the monster, and true as this may be of all monstrous figures, it’s especially true of doppelgängers. Translating to “double-walker” in German, doppelgängers, Gothic doubles, evil twins, the beloved who “comes back wrong” all belong to a category of horror that doesn’t just destabilize the real and imagined with regard to the material world, but the self. Its terror derives from the struggle to reconcile self, other, and the other in relation to the self: how are we the same, how do we differ, what is the nature of the power dynamic whose orbit we find ourselves trapped in?

The doppelgänger will come to be known as one of the defining monsters of this historical moment, and not just because they’re present in so much of the horror storytelling being produced, particularly within Black horror. Rather, their presence in fiction reflects their presence in our lives. In a period defined by split material-digital identities, at the dawn of AI and its various associated crises, where disinformation, fraud, surveillance, distrust, and conspiracy abound, it’s no wonder the doppelgänger would be the monster du jour. Of course, we feel fractured and at war with ourselves. We quite literally are.

Much of the discourse around Black horror and Black folks in horror over the last decade has been primarily concerned with tropes produced by white creators, nearly all of which have a binary, doubling nature; itself a preoccupying subject of Black writers and thinkers over the ages. Looking specifically at those tropes designed to narrate Black femininity, a clear pattern emerges. Topsy embodies the “wicked,” “fiendish” rendition of the Black Best Friend or Sidekick. Jezebel troubles the Good Christian Woman. The Angry Black Woman is the monstrous counterpart of Mammy or the Magical/Sacrificial Negro. In each case, the “good” aspects are those who serve power and the “bad” those that refuse; who indulge their personal wants over others’. So it is onscreen as it is in life, that Black women’s humanity is frequently held hostage by the phantasmagoria of these doubles who were never even ours to begin with. We did not imagine them into being—others did,

So much of the grief and terror of being Black and feminine in this world is grounded in the illegibility of our humanity to those invested in perceiving us as these monstrous counterparts with whom we navigate the world: learning to see others seeing her, even if she’s not in the room. Thinking both about the monster as a reflection of its creators as well as a worldbuilding technology, what do the Black woman doppelgängers being produced reveal about how Black women specifically experience the world? What questions do they ask if we dare to listen, and what risks do they pose should we refuse to engage?

Lovecraft Country's Topsy Twins

Lovecraft Country - Jig-A-Bobo

Easily among the most terrifying episodes of Lovecraft Country, “Jig-A-Bobo” centers on Diana (Jada Harris), Atticus’ teenage cousin, as she grieves her parents’ absence and her best friend, Emmett Till’s murder. After a casual display of anger triggers the evil cop Lancaster (Mac Brandt), he sets a curse upon her in the form of The Topsy Twins, otherwise known as Topsy and Bopsy (Kaelynn Gobert-Harris & Bianca Brewton).

Derived from the pickaninny caricature portrayed in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s nineteenth-century novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Topsy is a representation of Black girlhood designed with the explicit purpose of narrating an aspirational vision of white girlhood. While her white counterpart, Little Eva, is portrayed as saintlike- her name, Evangeline, suggests an adjacency to the divine- Topsy is repeatedly described as “wicked,” “heathenish,” “goblin-like,” and generally unruly. She is characterized almost exclusively as Eva’s monstrous Other in order to create the white character’s prescriptive superiority.

Over the century following the novel’s publication, the characters were adapted thousands of times, and in this process of endless derivation, the paternalistic nature of their dynamic became deeply entrenched in the cultural imagination, hereby taking on a life of its own. Though the details would change, Topsy’s depiction continuously fed harmful stereotypes about Black girls that directly contribute to ongoing real-life interpersonal and systemic abuses. Rather than combat this depiction through excessive attempts to humanize Topsy, screenwriters Misha Green and Ihuoma Ofordire take a different approach. If she’s meant to be a monster, they say, then let her be a monster.

Lovecraft Country Jig-A-Bobo TB

With their tattered, blood-spattered dresses, red ribbons, yellow eyes, and overpainted Joker-esque mouths, Topsy and Bopsy are aestheticized to create the same dichotomy between them and Diana as was initially established between Topsy and Eva. Their manifestation locates a deep well of horror in minstrelsy, and the stereotypes of “uncivilized” Black femininity the practice propagated. The Topsy Twins spend the episode relentlessly stalking Diana to the tune of “Stop Dat Knocking,” a nineteenth-century ditty popular in minstrel shows.

The terror they inspire is amplified by the fact that only she can see them, a singularity that reflects the madness of contending with the projections of the white imagination. Dee faces a clear and imminent threat, but the world doesn’t see that. It sees a rude, hysterical Black girl being too loud, too demanding, and taking up too much space.

Their haunting mirrors how the negative stereotypes manufactured and disseminated through such characters have haunted Black people for centuries. Lancaster looked at Diana and saw Topsy, a movement that speaks to the relationship between imagination, projection, and reality. He saw a monster and in so doing, he created one.

That they just keep coming is what forces Dee past terrified avoidance toward direct confrontation with the Twins. It’s not just that they hunt Dee—they beckon to her. “Let me in, let me in, let me in, let me in.” As monsters of the white imagination, if she succumbs, she becomes one more Topsy for racists to point to in confirmation of their delusion. The essence of Lancaster’s curse is in the madness of constantly having to combat and distance oneself from another’s false belief of what you are.

Yellowjackets: "The Bad One"

Yellowjackets Taissa double

There’s no shortage of double lives in Yellowjackets, a point revealed by the split timeline that cracks team secrets open like a garden gate. But this is particularly true of Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown/Tawny Cypress), whose shadow self is not so much a figurative presence (as could be said of Shauna or Misty) but an actual presence: “the bad one” as named by her son, Sammy (Aidan Stoxx). The one who takes over when she sleeps; when her eyes are closed.

The instability of Taissa’s sense of self defines her character arc through the first season. Ruthlessly goal-oriented and ruthlessly devoted to those she loves, we see these impulses conflict with one another again and again. She was the one competitive enough to actually break a weaker teammate’s leg; the one both brave and reckless enough to test their limits in the wilderness; who appears to be the most well-adjusted adult, though appearances are never what they seem.

yellowjackets other taissa

The revelation of Taissa’s gothic double was a highlight of the first season finale: bombshell confirmation that her mental unraveling wasn’t just the stress of her senatorial campaign but something far more sinister and far less ambiguous at play. Was it Taissa or The Bad One doing ritual sacrifice with the family pet? Who drove into oncoming traffic? Who delighted in eating Jackie’s face?

One aspect of the horror associated with doubles is how they trouble sight as a tool with which we discern the world. They represent the embodiment of conspiratorial thinking, where an imposter (“the bad one”) is always in opposition to the one that is “real”: a binary that, as Jordan Peele’s Us elucidates, is never objectively true so much as a matter of perspective. But in Yellowjackets, Taissa and The Bad One share one body, one house. It’s not a case of two individuals who look the same but are the same—and also not. The Bad One knows things Taissa doesn’t; is willing to confront what she suppresses.

One of Yellowjackets’ primary preoccupations is the tension between spiritual faith and mental illness; intellectual knowledge and intuitive knowledge; what can be quantified and what just is. Much as Lottie (Courtney Eaton/Simone Kessell) has been the touchstone of this tension- her childhood schizophrenia diagnosis informing how we interpret the character, her attunement to the wilderness, and her desire to return to that state of communion as an adult- these same conflicts play out through Taissa. If Lottie’s visions expand our conception of sight, Taissa’s double reveals its limitations.

The psychological aspects of the team’s struggles in the wilderness increasingly come down to matters of discernment, of being able to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. A double can’t be distinguished without deep knowing, and clarity is a hard-to-reach clearing when one is slowly starving—or is it? Cannibalism is the easy answer to the question of how they survived years in the wilderness. The more complex answer is that they learned to see, to be differently. For Tai, that meant a profound internal schism: the distance between a dog’s blind ambition and the wolf in her reflection.

Her cutthroat nature is part of what I love about Taissa as a character. She’s the anti-Sacrificial Negro. The Black guy who will do whatever she has to- sleepwalking and face-eating included- to not get eaten by a bunch of ravenous white girls. If Topsy and Bopsy embody the phantasmagoric horror projected onto Black girls (Black children), Taissa and The Bad One reveal the hyper-humanity of our most monstrous selves: the one most hungry to live.

The Other Black Girl


Most recently, Zakiya Dalila Harris sets The Other Black Girl in the unforgiving wilderness of Manhattan publishing, a place where the fluorescence is blinding and Nella (Sinclair Daniel) can’t walk five feet without meeting a microaggression. She persists on the borderline delusion that because Wagner Books published her all-time favorite novel, Burning Heart, decades prior- a book brought into existence by Nella’s heroes, writer/editor duo and childhood besties, Diana Gordon (Garcelle Beauvais) and Kendra Rae Phillips (April Parker Jones)- there’s hope the notoriously white publisher might one day become more inclusive. This is her first mistake. The second is when she thinks that day has arrived because Hazel May-McCall (Ashleigh Murray), another young Black woman, has been hired as a fellow editorial assistant.

Younger meets Get Out meets The Blob and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Other Black Girl isn’t solely the critique of white corporate culture it’s been made out to be but an elucidation of the legitimate problem inherent to identity politics: no people are a monolith. Nella is so thrilled by Hazel’s arrival, so enamored of her and the fantasy of revolutionizing Wagner together, she naively turns an eye to Hazel’s many manipulations while absorbing their consequence.


The first half of The Other Black Girl reveals the violence of juxtapositions in corporate spaces and group dynamics at large. Hazel is Nella’s double in the sense of a fraternal twin rather than an identical one. In a less racist, less misogynistic environment, the two would be able to stand as individuals and collaborators rather than being compared and pitted against each other—but then this wouldn’t be a horror story.

Just like the tension of Topsy’s wickedness is used to create Eva’s pedestal in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Hazel’s maneuvering creates the conditions for Nella’s star to plummet at work even as she masterfully convinces Nella that she’s actually trying to support her. And in her way, she sort of is: a point explored in episode 9, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Broke.” But it’s the same paternalistic way Eva could be said to support Topsy: not to be true to herself, but to become more palatable. To avoid violence by submitting to it, contorting to the shape it wants you in. Which, as it turns out, only begets more violence.

the other black girl

The conflict between Nella and Hazel is itself juxtaposed with the present history between Diana and Kendra Rae: two Black women with shared goals and horrifyingly different beliefs about how those goals can/should be achieved. Like Taissa and Lovecraft Country’s Diana, they all struggle against the constrictive limitations of what others expect Black girls and women to be until, along the way, that struggle becomes one with the self. When Diana asks her what she wants in episode 9, Hazel responds, “to feel free.” The question then becomes, what is the nature of that freedom? and at what cost?

Doubles are the embodiment of conspiracy. They trouble concepts of authenticity, truth, and integrity by revealing just how treacherous such landscapes actually are, particularly in a world that rewards compartmentalization, obfuscation, competition, and paternalism.

Much has already been written on Us and Jordan Peele’s use of the doppelgänger to elucidate the violence of capitalism as a hierarchical system; the dance between Adelaide and Red (Lupita Nyong’o) imitating the dance of class warfare, where one must be subjugated in order for the other to be free. Which again begs the question, what is the nature of that freedom? Is it freedom, or merely its illusion?

The traditional lore around doppelgängers contends that seeing one’s double is a bad omen: a signal of strife to come. But perhaps what it really is is an opportunity. To see ourselves more completely. To hold ourselves in all our complexity.