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Trauma Is a Real Mother on ‘Yellowjackets’

melanie lynskey yellowjackets goat

SPOILER ALERT: This post discusses the events of season 2, episode 7 of Yellowjackets. Buzz buzz.

Yellowjackets is a show about many things: teenage girlhood, cannibalism, survival, soccer, murder. Showtime’s horror mystery series tracks the trauma of its teen plane crash survivors both in the wilderness and, 25 years later, in middle age. So much of Yellowjackets focuses on themes of arrested development, and how the Yellowjackets are unable to move on from the horrors they experienced. While these women have been out of the woods for decades, that dark, destructive wildness still beats just below the surface. And it influences every aspect of their lives, most notably their parenting.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Shauna Sadecki (Melanie Lynskey). The last few episodes have focused on teen Shauna’s (Sophie Nélisse) pregnancy and the stillbirth of her son. Episode 7, “Burial”, tracks Shauna’s grief over the loss of her baby. When adult Shauna arrives at Lottie’s self-help compound, she selects “self care” as a treatment. Hoping for a massage or a mud bath, she is entrusted with the care of a baby goat named Bruce. Shauna is annoyed by the task, fully expecting a cruel bait-and-switch. She thinks that Lottie is toying with her, forcing her to take care of Bruce, only to slaughter him at the end of the day.

It’s an unsurprising assumption from the team’s resident butcher, but it speaks volumes about Shauna’s approach to parenting. The farmhand told her that the goat’s care is entwined with her own. But for Shauna, the act of caring is inextricably entwined with grief and violence. Loving something so much is forever tainted by the pain and loss she experienced when her son died. No wonder she struggles to connect with her daughter.

When Lottie tells her that no one expects her to murder the goat, something cracks wide open inside Shauna. “Wait, really, I don’t?”, Shauna responds, her voice breaking and tears coming to her eyes. “I’ve always kept my daughter, you know Callie, at arm’s length out of fear that she would die, I guess, or maybe that she was never even real to begin with,” she confesses to Lottie. ‘I tried to tell myself that it’s okay, that I’m safe to think of her as mine, you know, and to just be her mom … but I think something is broken, Lottie. I just can’t do it.”

In season 2, episode 6, Shauna confesses as much to the police. “I never wanted to be a mom. In fact, I did not start out a bad person, but in case you haven’t noticed, life doesn’t tend to turn out the way you think it will. You have a kid that you don’t want to save a marriage that you got into out of guilt and shame, and you just, you can’t really let yourself love either of them. But of course, you do, you love them despite yourself. You’re just incredibly bad at it.”

Shauna’s traumatic birth in the wilderness directly informs her present day parenting with Callie (Sarah Desjardins). It also reveals a universal truth about parenting. For so many of us, parenting is filled with expectation, with the promise of righting the perceived wrongs in our own childhood. “I’ll never do that to my kids,” we think to ourselves. But parenting forces us to revisit our own trauma, our own childhood pain, confusion, and fear. Raising a kid can feel like opening a fucked up up advent calendar, where each day uncovers some new forgotten pain or sore spot in your psyche. It’s an emotional endurance test at every turn.

These struggles can be emotionally devastating, especially in a society that constantly places unrealistic demands on mothers. And it’s deeply relatable to any parent who tries their best, despite feeling broken inside. Will Shauna be able to heal herself and her relationship with Callie? Will she be able to love her daughter a little less badly? I hope for both of their sakes she can. In the meantime, let’s offer kindness to our mothers and to ourselves, snuggle our goats, and invite some sunlight into our own dark wilderness.

(featured image: Kailey Schwerman/Showtime)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.