As a budding lesbian, I was first introduced to Melanie Lynskey through my love for television and her small, albeit memorable role in The L Word, where her character rode a moped and kissed Leisha Hailey. My journey continued with 1994’s Heavenly Creatures and 1999’s But I’m a Cheerleader. Throughout years, I followed her career; I was laughing whenever I saw her Twitter exchanges with Sarah Paulson, where they would call each other “quacklings” and religiously watched the FX limited series Mrs. America, where she portrayed Rosemary Thompson, a character who was among hyper-conservative Phyllis Schlafly’s staff, fighting against (!) ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.
The actress, born in New Zealand, was always someone that I admired for her skill, talent, and ability to become so many layered characters. What I didn’t expect was to be utterly amazed by her all over again in her newest role as adult Shauna in Yellowjackets, Showtime’s buzziest series, created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson.
Yellowjackets is without a doubt one of the most elaborate, mind-bending psychological thrillers of the year. In its well-crafted premise of loss, grief, and perseverance, the show tells the story of a high school soccer team — the titular Yellowjackets — after their plane crashes in the wilderness on the way to a match. Lost for what it seems forever, the survivors must fight for their life in a world where animals rule the kingdom. Simultaneously, the creators give us a glimpse into the presence, showcasing the remaining survivors and how the trauma and brutality of the event has, and continues, to affect their lives.
Melanie Lynskey’s masterful execution of Shauna certainly deserves a spotlight. Although usually associated with a soft-sounding, sweet voice and warm demeanor, when Lynskey becomes Shauna, her role evolves into something more serious, complex, and exhilarating. The actress rarely allows us to take the eyes away from the portrayal. Additionally, she superbly details and further highlights the way the trauma affects one’s mental health — we are thoroughly in awe of the actress’ ability to quickly shift the character’s emotions from one extreme to another, with the help of facial expressions, or tone of voice. In result, we see Shauna as a mom, a wife, but also a woman who can turn stone-cold, calculating, and outright dangerous when necessary.
Her aptitude manifest itself very early on and continues to capture the audience’s attention. Halfway through the first season, in episode 5 titled “Blood Hive,” the actress delivers an emotionally-charged speech, which simultaneously showcases the character’s ability to shift from warm to stone-cold, and highlight how given up and outright resigned she is in her motherhood.
In said moment, her daughter Callie (Sarah Desjardins) attempts to blackmail Shauna: she won’t tell her dad (Warren Kole) about the woman’s affair with Adam (Peter Gadiot) only if the teenager is left to her own devices, despite still being an underage woman. In an instant, the Shauna’s exterior changes completely, making it clear to Callie there is no win here and asking if her daughter heard of mutually assured destruction.
After the teenager confirms, the atmosphere between the characters tenses, and woman continues, “Oh! Okay, great. So let’s chase down exactly what you’re proposing. First of all, do you have any idea how much divorce lawyers cost? We’re talking $500, $600 an hour. So, there’s about 12,000 bucks in your college fund right now — and, yes, I do wish that number sounded less pathetic — but regardless, you can kiss it goodbye. And speaking of that curfew that you’re so eager to be free from? Get ready to have a different kind of cramp on your weekends, because there is no one lonelier than a recent divorcé. You will be spending your Friday nights in your dad’s sad little apartment, eating cold pizza on the sofa you know he cries into. And after a few months of that, just when you start to think, “Oh, okay, Dad’s taking a little bit better care of himself now” — get ready. Because that is when he is gonna come to you for dating advice, which I don’t doubt you’ll be able to give him, because most of those girls will be about your age. But, hey, you’re the one holding the trump card here.”
The monologue leaves one speechless. It’s one of the most memorable performances delivered by Lynskey in the show as her character’s demeanor changes into someone Callie probably doesn’t recognize, perhaps into Shauna from 1997 (and even perhaps a touch of teen Pauline from Heavenly Creatures) — a woman forced to fight for survival, no matter what cost and not wanting to waste time with trivial aspects.
Near the end of Yellowjackets, there is another scene that showcases Lynskey’s versatility. After murdering Adam, whom Shauna suspected of mysterious threats towards the group, the actress goes above and beyond, showcasing Shauna’s indifference towards the death of another human being: “What do you mean you killed someone?” Jeff asks after his wife comes clean to him. Shauna’s indifference is apparent when she replies: “I stabbed him, and now he’s dead.” It’s difficult not to have said scene in mind, similarly to the previously referenced monologue. Thanks to the fact that the creators and the actress put so much work into the character of Shauna, this is one of the creations that the viewers will surely remember for a long time, especially as it’s way darker than what Lynskey’s done recently.
There are many questions left after the emotional finale, a few of them circulating around Shauna’s pregnancy when stranded in the wilderness; the high schooler is expecting a child with young Jeff, who cheated on Jackie with her. In the present day, the couple is still married and raising a 16-year-old daughter; however, this would indicate that Callie wasn’t born until 2004. Since the plane crash occurred around 1997, what happened to the first baby?
After the emotional season 1 finale, you’ll want more. There is a specific feeling associated with the show — Yellowjackets’ season 1 is so good that it’s difficult to even think of something else to watch after, let alone starting an entirely new series.
Yellowjackets has a great chance of receiving numerous nominations (and hopefully winning!) at this year’s Emmys. Everyone’s efforts in making Yellowjackets the biggest, most positive surprise of the 2021 TV lineup, deserve a standing ovation. One thing is certain — Lynskey’s exhilarating work in Yellowjackets will linger in your mind for quite some time. I can’t imagine anyone else in her place. Let’s hope that the actress will appear among the nominees because she certainly deserves it!
Yellowjackets is currently available to stream on Showtime.