Sophie Nélisse insists that keeping Jackie’s ear was an accident. The 23-year-old Canadian actress, who stars as young Shauna Shipman on Yellowjackets, was the first—but by no means the last!—to confirm that, yes, they’re going to be eating people on this show. The second season’s premiere ends with Shauna nibbling on her dead best friend’s ear, after all.
“We did the scene. I put it back in my pocket,” Nélisse confides to me over Zoom. “Then, months later, I was going through my pocket and I was like, What is this weird squishy thing? Oh my god, it’s the ear.” Obviously, it’s not a real ear—the props team crafted the snack out of stretchy silicone. Nélisse kept it, of course. “I have it hidden in my room. It’d be a bit of a red flag if someone came into my room and there’s this whole little ear on my countertop. So, it’s hidden away in a little souvenir box,” Nélisse adds.
The ear-eating is far from the wildest thing the Yellowjackets crew gets up to in Season Two—the rest of poor Jackie goes the way of the ear in the very next episode—and Nélisse hints that their diets aren’t going back to normal anytime soon. “You’ll see eventually in the show there’s other things that we eat that are actually made out of gummy bear,” she says. “They’re actually so tasty, but they look so real and gooey and gross that our brains can’t really disassociate and step back away from it. It feels disgusting eating it—even though it’s actually quite yummy. It’s literally a giant gummy bear.”
If only nutrition was the marooned soccer team’s only concern. Now halfway through the season, we’ve watched the girls attempt to make sense of the strange environment they’re trapped in—the icy cold isolation of woodland winter straining friendships and inviting strange beliefs to take hold. Shauna is also dealing with the misfortune of being pregnant in the wilderness with her dead best friend’s ex-boyfriend’s baby, which Nélisse was particularly excited to explore in the new season.
“The stakes are just so much higher,” she says. “I was very excited for us to tap into more desperate, more animalistic behavior. Part of her has grown to love this child and she wants it, but at the same time it’s this constant reminder of all the things that she’s done that she regrets: sleeping with Jeff, which also sort of led to Jackie’s death. At the end of Episode Two, by eating Jackie, she puts the story to rest. But the pregnancy is this constant reminder. It’s a reason to try and survive and try to make it out of the wilderness, because she doesn’t have only her[self] to think about. It brings out this very selfless side to her, but she’s terrified for her life because she most likely could die.”
In the fifth episode, “Two Truths and a Lie,” Shauna feels trapped not only by her physical situation, but by the increasing numbers of what’s starting to look like a cult—with the reluctant (and possibly clairvoyant) Lottie Matthews at the helm. She’s thoroughly creeped out by their little woodland meditation sessions, and can’t shake off their persistent interest in her unborn child. “She understands where they’re coming from, in the way that you have to hold on to something in order to survive,” Nélisse explains. “Her hope is just this baby, and she doesn’t want anything messing with it. The journey that Lottie is taking scares her, because she can see how they’re losing touch with reality. I don’t think she wants to risk it, by believing in it.”
“She’s already so mad at herself for everything that she’s done that I don’t even think she can bear the responsibility anymore,” Nélisse continues. “She’s definitely projecting a lot of her anger, and she’s letting it out on other people because it’s too much for her to handle. As the season progresses, she feels very alienated, because she’s so mad at herself. And she feels very judged by the group, because she didn’t believe in the cause.”
Fighting off the advances of a witchy cult by yourself is a dangerous thing to do, but thankfully we know that Shauna is one of the survivors, with Melanie Lynskey playing her adult counterpart in the present. Nélisse explains that both actors have been careful not to try to mirror each other’s performances too much—while also creating a logical pathway, through the period of her life we don’t see, from one Shauna to the other. While other characters have matured or evolved into newer, different versions of themselves in adulthood, Shauna has taken the opposite route.
“She’s gotten back into the Shauna that she was before the wilderness,” Nélisse says. “In my storyline, we see Shauna evolving into who she is, finding her inner strength without all these social norms and hierarchies. Without Jackie there, she’s finally—in some weird, messed-up way—truly free in herself. But because she committed such terrible things, she’s scared of this person. She settled back into the Shauna she used to be before, molding into the person that the other people want her to be. She got back together with Jeff and settled into a family that she didn’t really want. Oddly enough, the Shauna years later is this more hibernated, locked-up version of herself. We see her acting out because she wants to find that voice that she found in the wilderness.”
And what, exactly, is that voice? The survivors have all been wrenched out of their happy(ish) suburban lives, and seem to be converging together for some unknown purpose, led by some unknown force. Natalie and Misty have sought out Lottie’s wellness compound. Taissa’s possible split personality has led her straight to Van. Shauna and Jeff are still attempting to cover up a murder, but it’s likely only a matter of time before Shauna feels the call. Yellowjackets never tips its hand one way or the other, inviting its audience to interpret events for themselves—as the characters do—as either a product of supernatural force or something more mundane.
“It appeals to a really wide audience,” Nélisse says. “I am watching every week as it comes out with my family. We were watching Episode Three last night, and that’s what my brother and his wife were saying—they play such a fine line. As a society, we have so many different beliefs. I have a lot of friends that are into crystals and astrology and all of that. Everyone that watches the show can have their own interpretation, depending on how rational they are in their own life of what they want to believe.”
Nowhere is that more apparent than in one of the final, tragic scenes of the first season, when Shauna and Jackie appear to share the latter’s death vision of being invited back into the cabin out of the cold, only to die in terror of a dark, ghostly presence. The scene cuts from Jackie dreaming to Shauna jolting awake—as if she knows exactly what happened. It goes down in a way that seems to invite many different conclusions.
“I see it as a premature dream,” Nélisse says when I ask what her interpretation was. “When you kind of know something’s gonna happen, you dream about it, or your instincts just kick in. It could be Shauna’s gut feeling of what’s going to happen, that Jackie’s dying. It’s probably the last thing that she sees before dying. It’s also what Shauna would have wanted to happen, for everyone to say, ‘We love you, Jackie, and everything’s gonna be fine.’ Unfortunately, you’re watching Yellowjackets—and nothing’s gonna be fine. These girls are in for a ride. We’re not out of the woods yet. At all.”
Emma Stefansky is a culture and entertainment writer based in New York City. Her work can be found at Vanity Fair, GQ, and The Daily Beast, among others.