I was surprised to find myself completely unspoiled when I finally hit play on Showtime’s Yellowjackets pilot, only a month after it finished airing its first season. You see, the show was the topic of conversation in virtual spaces every single week. I’d see some vague tweet about it, but I refrained from delving more into what the show was about. I wanted the whole experience of a show that promised chaos in the form of overly hormonal teen girls and their adult counterparts played by talented actresses like Christina Ricci and Melanie Lynskey. It delivered on that account and more. It’s a bold and vigorous exploration of female excess. From cannibalism to synchronized periods, Yellowjackets straddles the line between sincere drama and the absurdity of camp. Throw in a bit of horror in there, and you have a show with limitless potential.
Yellowjackets has been described by many as a crossover between LOST and Degrassi. Where the wilderness is awash with the angst and drama of a group of teenage girls who survived a plane crash on their way to a soccer tournament, the group of young athletes must learn to survive the outbacks of dense and remote Ontario forest. You know, just your typical backdrop for a show about paranormal occurrences, cults, and high school paradigms. Stacked with a compelling ensemble, with the aforementioned and others like Juliette Lewis and Tawny Cypress, Yellowjackets is exceedingly feminine. It is not just allocating spaces here and there for specific types of “womanhood” arbitrarily deemed necessary but across a broad spectrum. It’s unapologetically female.
However, that’s not why we’re here today. No, today we are here to discuss both Melanie Lynskey’s masterful acting as Shauna Sadecki in her adult years and how exactly this coincides with one familiar street known as Wisteria Lane. Yes, we all remember that street like it’s 2004, and ABC is airing the latest episode of Desperate Housewives. Waiting with bated breath as to whether or not today was the day Gabrielle Solis’s (Eva Longoria) husband Carlos (Ricardo Antonio) would finally find out about the affair she’s been having with their gardener. They just don’t do television quite like that anymore. Or don’t they?
I’d say Shauna Sadecki could easily blend in with the rest of the ladies of Wisteria Lane. She may even give them a run for their money. At least she’d make a great addition to the group. It seems that, unintentionally or not, Shauna’s arc is running on a different wavelength than the rest of her friends. Yellowjackets does operate on some level of theatrical absurdity that rivals that of any show from an early 2000s ABC dramedy. However, Shauna’s characterization seems to be comically similar to that of any of the women from Desperate Housewives, even down to the suburban backdrop. Affairs, murders, extortion, and confessions are essential plot mechanisms in Shauna’s overarching trajectory in the first season. She’s pounding raw chicken with a meat cleaver in one moment and playing psychological war games with her daughter in next. And all in one scene, sometimes.
This is a drastic contrast to the arcs of the other women on the show. While everyone else is fighting for their lives, quite literally, Shauna is living in an episode of General Hospital. She initiates an affair with a random man whose role is drummed up to play a significant part in Shauna’s tragic past but ends up being just an absolute nobody. A nobody, I might add, that ends up murdered at the hands of Shauna herself amid a deep, psychotic breakdown. This is the same woman who has a child with her best friend’s boyfriend and navigates a passive-aggressive relationship with her daughter. While Juliette Lewis’s Natalie Scatorccio is dealing with the potential suicide of an ex and Tawny Cypress’s Taissa Turner contends with her slowly crumbling marriage and political career, Shauna is out dancing in a club and having unadulterated sex with the same nobody she kills at the end (okay, he does have a name but how relevant is it in the end? If I had to deal with the disappointment of his importance to Shauna’s narrative, so do all of you reading this.)
I don’t say all of this to downplay Shauna’s own traumatic response to being cast away in the wilderness of Ontario for several months. I’m just pointing out what we already know: Melanie Lynskey is a magnetic force on screen, a credit to her acting skills as the only one capable of pulling off a role like this. The soft cadence of her voice and demeanor is such a jarring contradiction to the character of Shauna. Absolutely the kind of character you want to both champion and strangle all in one go. You want to shake her for her impulsiveness, such as when she contacts a stranger she was in a fender bender with that jump-starts one of the many mistakes she makes throughout the season. All this while also rooting for her stale marriage to Jeff (Warren Kole) to work. It really is like being between a rock and a hard place with Shauna, but specifically, Lynskey’s Shauna, the one who emotionally manipulates her daughter Cassie (Sarah Desjardins) to keep her affair a secret and, in the next moment, endures a troubling psychotic break because there are some serious traumatic issues in the aftermath of her time in the forest.
This cocktail of mania and sorrow makes Shauna’s arc both tragic and… amusing. I dare anyone to look at me directly in the eyes and deny laughing at the ridiculous scenario that was Shauna’s life by the end of the season. Jeff’s exclamation of “THERE’S NO BOOKCLUB??” will forever define a generation of men who truly believed their hot wives would rather spend their evenings at a book club than doing anything else at that time of night. In the case of Jeff, he was simply a naive, sweet man whose only crime was being dull in the grand scheme of Shauna’s life. That didn’t stop me from rooting for their sexless marriage. I, too, was hot and bothered when Jeff stood up to Jackie’s (Ella Purnell) family after more than 20 years later, when they still wanted to remind Shauna just how “special” their daughter was in comparison to her.
It did feel like being back on the manicured lawns of Wisteria Lane, watching Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) dump a dead rat in the trash as collateral damage in her quest to get her house in order. Or Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross) cocking a loaded gun on her front porch. Unhinged women committing crimes at all hours of the day. All in a single block. Had Shauna waltzed down the street of Wisteria Lane and moved in, it wouldn’t take a day before she was burying her own dead body in a backyard. Or maybe cheating on her husband Jeff with resident heartthrob Mike Delfino (James Denton), reinstating Mike’s taste in women after his disastrous escapades with Susan (Teri Hatcher). Sorry, Susan.
Where does that leave us? Oh, yeah. Melanie Lynskey played to her strengths, and there are many, in a performance that stood out just that much from everyone else. This includes Ricci’s sociopathic Misty, who is eager to please in more ways than one. What Lynskey does in Yellowjackets is a subtle work of camp and drama that is a nostalgic reminder of female characters on television that basked in their unhinged states of mind without straying too far into the caricature. I mean, we all saw that hacking of the rabbit, right?