Melanie Lynskey on THAT 'Yellowjackets' Scene
Welcome back to the Yellowjackets hive! Every week we'll be interviewing someone from the addictive Showtime drama to discuss the shockers from the latest episode, get hints on what to look out for in the rest of the season, and to break down the Easter eggs that abound in the show's scripts, props, and even in its killer '90s soundtrack. (After all, it's the only series that deploys dramatic devices like Chekov's Tori Amos lyric.) Spoilers below.
Anyone hungry? Just a week after Shauna popped her dead BFF Jackie's ear into her mouth like it was an M&M (or, as some fans have taken to calling it, a "Jackie snackie"), Yellowjackets has gone full cannibal. The crew decides it's time to put an end to Shauna's meat shed heart-to-hearts with Jackie after discovering she'd given the corpse the Mary Kaye makeover treatment. And since the ground is still too frozen to bury her, they choose to send her off via funeral pyre. But when the fire dies out in the middle of the night, they awake to the aroma of the most perverse tailgate in high school girls' softball history. The episode ends with the team (sans a horrified Coach Ben) voraciously digging into Jackie. Intercut with the gruesome scene are shots of a lavish dreamscape in which the cast are all dressed like Greco-Roman gods seated at a grand feast. (It's rife with enough metaphor and potential symbolism to keep Reddit sated until at least next week.)
While this seems like a hard stop to Jackie's story, it's just the beginning for Shauna's—in particular, the story of how the honor-roll-kid-turned-expert-survivalist of 1996 (played by Sophie Nelisse) became the unfulfilled suburbanite with a reckless streak of 2021. In her present day storyline, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is struggling to cover up the death of her former fling Adam and struggling even harder to connect with her daughter Callie. Even two decades on, the trauma of what happened in the wilderness threatens to collapse her life around her.
In the latest of our weekly Yellowjackets interview series, we asked Lynskey to tease the 19-year fallout of Jackie's grim demise, give us a clue about what happens to young Shauna's baby (no, they don't eat it), and theorize about why the show's smallest details have become its biggest fan obsessions. (Just ask Tawny Cypress's optometrist.)
Going into this season, what did you know about Shauna and her character's trajectory?
I did not know much. By the time we filmed episode two, I was aware that everybody wanted to have that conversation with [creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson and co-showrunner Jonathan Lisco] about where their character was going and what their arc was going to be. So I decided to wait until they were ready to come me to me. We actually didn't end up talking until maybe episode four, or maybe even five. And by that point halfway through the season, some crazy things had already happened! [laughs] I said, "You know, I think I do need to have that conversation whenever you guys are ready, because she's really acting out. Where does this end? What's the culmination of all this craziness?" And it's really beautiful. There's a profound arc to her character this season, dealing with grief and motherhood and her experience in the wilderness and whether she thinks she's a good mother or even a good person. There's a lot going on, and it's coming out in surprising ways.
In the first season premiere, Shauna is annoyed with Tai's growing media profile, saying that they had all agreed to stay out of the public eye. "If someone's digging, we're all fucked." But there's a new recklessness to Shauna after her encounter with Adam. Do you think she subconsciously wants to get caught to make up with getting away with whatever they did out in the woods as teens?
I don't know if she wants to get caught necessarily. I don't know if she even thinks things through all that well. She just kind of operates on instinct and panic, and she definitely puts herself in situations later in the season where things could really go wrong for her. I was just like, "What are you doing?" [laughs] I guess she's just kind of a reckless person! She's so different from me. I overthink everything. Every worst case scenario is mapped out in my head at all times.
Young Shauna was a straight-A student with early admission to Brown and a lot of potential. Will we learn more about what happened to her in between rescue and the present day to tamp down that ambition and make her so disaffected?
Because I don't know everything about what they have planned for the post-rescue storylines, I've had to kind of make a decision for myself. And I felt like for Shauna, the idea of introducing herself to anybody—going to college, everybody knowing who she is, trying to explain what she'd gone through—felt impossible. She's so filled with shame. She's so overwhelmed by what she did and what she knows she's capable of. So I think that's why she decided to stay in New Jersey and get back together was Jeff. She knew that Jeff was not going to ask a bunch of questions. He's not that type of guy! [laughs] Everything else seemed impossible, and she just thought, This is safe.
This episode ends with the moment we've all been anxiously awaiting: when the Yellowjackets go full cannibal on Jackie's corpse. But I want to focus on Shauna specifically. In this episode, her vision of Jackie tells her, “You only had sex with [Jeff] so you could imagine being me.” And later, when Shauna eulogizes Jackie, she says, “I don’t even know where you end and I begin.” How much of Shauna's, ahem, "hunger" is about processing grief and feeling close to Jackie, and how much is an ongoing unconscious obsession with being Jackie?
I don't know. That's such an interesting idea, with Shauna literally consuming Jackie and all that. But I feel like the writers probably have a clearer idea of that than I do. It's kind of an impossible thing for me to answer. When I'm in this character, I feel so many different feelings of resentment, grief, and the loss of so many things, including the loss of her own sense of self as a young person. So it's all mixed together. But I've always felt that the thing about cheating with Jeff was partly her way of asserting her dominance over Jackie. "You think you can push me around, but secretly I'm getting what I want." Which is a really like fucked up thing to do. But teenagers do crazy things.
Teenagers are terrifying.
So scary, so scary. I'm so glad I have like nine years before my daughter is a teenager.
Outside of the literal visions of Jackie that young Shauna has, will we see more of how her death haunts Shauna's present day life?
Oh, yes, yes, yes. That hangs over everything. I think that their relationship and how it ended, the choices that Shauna made through the course of that relationship and after Jackie's death, it's all something that she's never going to get over. I realized this season how much of the trauma of her pregnancy had been buried because she was so consumed with Jackie, Jackie, Jackie, and how terribly that all went wrong. It's a huge part of the reason why Shauna thinks she's a fundamentally awful person.
Last season, there was a scene where you visited Jackie's parents and leafed through her old journal. Some viewers noticed anachronisms like references to movies that would have been released after Jackie's death. Now it's become a point of obsession for fans. I asked Ashley and Bart if they have a plan to explain this, and they implied they did. Confirm or deny?
They definitely have a plan and they have actually a great plan, which I really like. I saw them do an interview saying there's an explanation—and I had questions! So they told me their plan, and it's sad and spooky and so good. It's just so funny how these things become so big.
I asked Tawny Cypress last week if there was a hidden meaning to the tint of the color contact lenses she wears as Tai because it had become another point of speculation for fans. Did you ever expect that viewers would watch the show this closely and speculate on such small details?
We didn't even know if anyone was going to watch the show! Like, I was shocked when it got picked up! It had been a full year since we shot the pilot when I heard that the show got picked up. I was like, "What?" I've always thought it was really good, but I didn't think people will be watching as closely as they are. And it's pretty amazing, actually, that they're paying this much attention. I feel very justified in always being the nerd that I am with continuity and stuff like that. Everything matters! They're watching!
Another thing viewers are watching for is the fate of the baby Shauna's pregnant with in the woods. One thing we know is that the timing isn't right for it to be her daughter Callie. Without spoiling anything, how do you think Shauna's first pregnancy reverberates into her relationship with Callie in the present?
I think it's huge because whatever happened in the woods with the baby was so traumatic and so awful that she just said to herself, I will never, ever do that again. I'm not going to go anywhere near anything that reminds me of that time. And then she found herself married to somebody who wanted a kid, and she just felt that for the good of her marriage, she probably should have a child. It's an interesting thing to be playing somebody who has a kid that they don't really want. She loves her. And she's trying to be good at being a mother, but she's just not. She's just not a maternal person. And so she's full of resentment. Now Callie is at the age Shauna was when she was in the wilderness, and there's part of her that thinks, Look at this little brat just living her life and being snarky. I never got to be a dick to my mom and then go to a party. I never got that experience. She's trying to have empathy, but that wasn't her reality, so she's just really, really struggling. For me personally, I was so desperate to have a baby. Now I have my daughter and every single day of my life I'm just so grateful. So it's an interesting thing to play such a combative parent-child relationship.
Even when their interactions aren't outwardly combative, like when Shauna asks Callie if she wants to go to the mall, it's still incredibly awkward!
Yeah, because they don't do that! They don't go to the mall. Callie would probably be responsive if Shauna came in and said, "Do you want to talk about the worst shit I've ever done?" But, like, go to the mall? What would that even look like for the two of them? How awkward!
This season, we'll see Shauna, Misty, Nat, Tai, Lottie, and Van all together again in the present. What's that going to look like?
It was a really complicated thing to figure out, honestly. Suddenly we had to ask ourselves: When did we last see each other? How are we feeling in this moment? How much of it is the joy of being alive and being reunited? And how much of it is about the trauma we're holding on to? So there are a lot of different dynamics.
How were the new dynamics for you as actors? It's rare to find an ensemble where every single person is able to nail the weirdness, the drama, and the comedy of a show like this all at once.
I really can't believe it. And none of them think they're especially funny! It's so weird to me. Yet they're all comedic geniuses in their own ways. And I've got to say, there were these profound moments where I looked around and thought, Just look at these actors. It's crazy how good they all are. At one point later on in the season, we were shooting a scene outside at night all together, and it just felt like magic. It felt like witchy magic. I don't even know how to describe it. We all had chills. We were all simultaneously, like, repulsed but excited. There is just a really crazy energy between all of us.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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