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From a distance, you might mistake Yellowjackets‘ Shauna Sadecki (Melanie Lynskey) as a woman born to be overlooked. As a teen, played by Sophie Nélisse, she was the frumpier, more bookish best friend to effervescent golden girl Jackie (Ella Purnell); in the present, she’s a sullen suburban housewife who spends her days scrubbing shit stains out of underwear and fussing over the plants in her front yard.
Yet Lynskey, who won a Critics Choice Award for her role in the Showtime drama in March, makes Shauna impossible to ignore. Shauna might carry herself with an air of dreary dissatisfaction, her face defaulting to a purse-lipped frown when no one else is around. But her ennui shouldn’t be mistaken for blandness or meekness. Under her mild exterior is a core of sharp, bright steel, which Lynskey can unleash with a tilt of the head or the slightest narrowing of an eye. And anyone who tests her, from the nosy reporter loitering in her driveway to her own bratty teenage daughter, quickly discovers she’s not afraid to deploy that steel and draw blood. (Literally, in the case of at least one suspicious-seeming man, and one very unlucky rabbit.)
As the season continues, Lynskey’s Shauna reveals more layers still. An affair brings out her reckless streak — which in turn offers her the chance to unleash her inner teen girl, giggling with her date over cheap bottles of illicitly obtained liquor in the parking lot like she never got to do as a college student. The blackmail plot that reunites her with her fellow survivors lets Lynskey play desperate and panicked — but also, in moments like Shauna’s heart-to-heart with Taissa (Tawny Cypress) during an impromptu sleepover, achingly tender.
Shauna isn’t a loose cannon like Natalie (Juliette Lewis) or a creep like Misty (Christina Ricci), but Lynskey’s performance is unpredictable in its own subtler ways. She’s funny in odd moments, as with her deadpan delivery of “I don’t even like my daughter” during an awkward brunch. She makes Shauna’s trauma feel rawer by underplaying her reactions to it: When she confides to Natalie that “sometimes I look at the world around me and it’s like all the light is just gone out of it,” her tone remains steady but her voice catches ever so slightly. Nearly three decades into Lynskey’s career, it’s hardly news that she’s a versatile actor, able to move between sweet and spiky, hilarious and heartbreaking with seeming effortlessness. In Yellowjackets, Lynskey plays all those notes and then some, layered into a single thrilling symphony.
“Bad things happen in life. I’m fine,” Shauna insists when pressed about the plane crash that derailed her life, but she’s not fooling anyone. Least of all us, since Lynskey’s allowed us into every twinge of guilt or flash of anger still haunting Shauna after all these years. If the grown-up Shauna we meet at the start of the series seems numb to the world, her arc throughout the season is one of a woman slowly coming to life again — to learn to face not only the darkness she locked away in her safe upon her return from the wild but also the joy and warmth and curiosity. Wherever the journey takes Shauna next, Lynskey ensures that she’ll never be overlooked again.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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