Yellowjackets Recap: While You Were Sleeping


Season 2 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 5 stars


Season 2 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Colin Bentley/Showtime/Colin Bentley/SHOWTIME

“Qui” is available to stream now via Showtime Anytime; it will make its Showtime network premiere on Sunday, May 7, at 9 p.m. ET.

“Kids die, Henry. They die all the time.” Who knew that this line — spoken by Melanie Lynskey’s character, Kathleen, in the HBO series The Last of Us — would be so eerily prescient for her character Shauna in Yellowjackets? Tragically, children and infants do die more often than most of us would like to think. And when parents lose a child, it is a cataclysmic event that irreparably alters the course of their lives.

In a year full of brutal television, Yellowjackets delivers one of the most heartrending episodes to date. It is titled “Qui,” but it might as well be called “A Tale of Two Shaunas.” While a chunk of the episode is dedicated to the remainder of the adult Yellowjackets giving themselves over to the magnetic pull of a reunion at Lottie’s collective community, we’re with Shauna for most of the run time. As we follow the horrors of her labor, delivery, and (dream-state) postpartum experiences, we finally learn about the tragic fate of her wilderness baby. The story explains a lot about who Shauna is as a person today.

The episode opens with a flashback to Coach Ben showing a birthing video in health class. (I guess he was their gym teacher, too? How weird is it that gym and health class were the same thing in the ’90s? Is that what’s still happening today?! But I digress.) Shauna and Jeff pass notes about their trysts while Tai and Van rib Randy about the size of his penis. No one is paying attention except for Misty.

Given her extensive experience watching a single video in sex ed, Misty is ostensibly supposed to be in charge of Shauna’s labor and delivery. Unfortunately, she’s distracted by the fact that her bestie just took a nose dive off a cliff, so she temporarily removes herself from the situation. The wonderful Akilah takes over, and as she frantically directs the rest of the Yellowjackets to boil water, it feels like everyone is woefully unprepared for this moment. Why is there no clear birthing plan? Why didn’t Misty teach everyone else what she knew in case of an emergency? Do they even have any soap left?!

The needle drop accompanying Shauna’s labor pains as she returns to the cabin with Tai is “Song 2” by Blur, and the rousing “woo hoo!” chorus leads us to believe that we’re in for a wild and entertaining ride. It’s a misdirect. Things immediately go wrong. As Akilah presides over Shauna’s labor, the placenta comes out first, meaning that at some point in time, Shauna experienced a placental abruption, or a separation of the placenta from the uterine wall. This is an absolute emergency as the placenta is meant to come out of the body, but not before the baby.

Placentas don’t often get a lot of screen time, so when the camera lingers on the overhead shot of Akilah removing one from Shauna’s body, it feels transgressive. In showcasing the placenta, Yellowjackets commits to telling a story rooted in the messy, shocking, and often disturbing realities of childbirth. At one point, Nat reminds Shauna that women have been having babies for millions of years. This is technically true, but in a situation with no doctors, midwives, doulas, or even experienced parents to guide the way, Shauna’s labor exemplifies the raw, unyielding, and capricious whims of Mother Nature.

Nature is certainly on the brain for the rest of the survivors. In an attempt to control what they can control, they engage in improvised wilderness rituals on the periphery of Shauna’s birthing bed. Travis yanks the bear skull off the wall, and Lottie directs him to spill blood on it. The rest of the girls offer up tokens, including small buttons and locks of hair. Feeling empowered by her followers’ communion, Lottie talks sense into Misty, resulting in her returning to Shauna’s side. Shortly after Misty’s return, we see Shauna give birth to a baby boy. But plenty of cues indicate that this moment is not based in reality.

After passing out in the throes of her unmedicated labor, Shauna awakens to Jackie’s voice urgently whispering her name. All the Yellowjackets are there, greeting her with a sea of smiles and cheering her on. The exaggerated happiness depicted in this vision is not unlike the circle of unconditional love that the survivors formed around Jackie in the dream Shauna had on the night of Jackie’s death in the season-one finale. This time, as everyone rejoices, the needle drop doesn’t lie. Elliot Smith’s “Pitseleh” plays over the moment. Layered over a bright piano riff, Smith’s signature melancholy guitar and raspy vocals portend complications in the near future.

Shauna immediately has trouble breastfeeding her son. The scenes in which she struggles to feed him have a dark, haunting quality, with only Lottie and Natalie drifting in and out of the room for support. Shauna welcomes Nat’s presence but shoos Lottie out of the room when she catches her trying to feed the baby. As the scenes progress, there’s a very real feeling that the baby won’t make it because Shauna’s malnourished and starving body can’t produce milk for her child. She’s desperate for it to work, and the dire reality of the situation starts to settle in. There’s no nearby drugstore where she can grab a can of formula; she’s it.

The hyperfocus on breastfeeding is apt in a show that focuses on cannibalism. The act of nourishing and sustaining another human using nothing but one’s body is intimate and powerful. (See also: The controversial conclusion of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.) We witness this power firsthand in the brief, triumphant moment in which Shauna gets her son to latch and begin eating. Sophie Nélisse is a wonder in this scene as her unbridled enthusiasm makes Shauna’s joy palpable and accessible. In fact, the last few minutes of the episode call upon Nélisse to access a wide spectrum of emotions, including buoyant joy, abject horror, and, finally, unbelievable sorrow. She delivers every time.

In interviews before the debut of season two, the cast repeatedly promised that the baby wouldn’t be eaten, but then the show went ahead and did it anyway. Sure, it was in a dream, but as the mother of a 4-month-old baby boy, I wasn’t a fan of this bait and switch. I and all my janky postpartum hormones truly could have done without witnessing a group of ravenous, blood-soaked teens chowing down on a baby as his mother looked on in terror — but this is Yellowjackets, so I probably should have steeled myself for the worst. Yes, Shauna dreamed that her baby was a rotisserie chicken, but given how rooted in real-life horror this episode is already, the addition of the baby feast felt wholly unnecessary.

After these stressful tableaus, Shauna finally wakes up in the real world, only to discover her son didn’t make it. Instead of the exuberant faces that greeted her in her dream, the rest of the girls appear empty and spent. Tai gently breaks the news to Shauna, who cannot believe what she is hearing. She just fed him! He’s crying! As the scene fades out, Shauna sinks into a state of denial, pleading with her friends and then, surprisingly, breaking the fourth wall. She stares into the abyss, making us complicit in her sorrow as she beseeches us to hear her infant son’s phantom cries. It’s a haunting beat that lingers far after the screen fades to black.

Yellowjackets underscores this outcome as an inflection point that altered Shauna and shaped her into the wildly erratic and emotionally withholding person she is in the present. Adam’s murder was a direct result of the unresolved trauma that she carries with her, as is her complicated relationship with her family. When Shauna and Callie are called in for questioning by the cops, it’s clear that she’s on tilt. When the sleazy Saracusa starts pushing buttons, everything comes tumbling out. Shauna admits to having an affair with Adam, but then she can’t stop talking. “I never wanted to be a mom,” she admits. Her guilt and shame over losing the baby in the wilderness led her to marry Jeff and have another child. She’s had the experience of loving something so fiercely only to lose it moments later, so she tries to keep them at arm’s length, but she can’t. She loves them, but her love is complicated and thorny because she has never confronted her trauma.

Later in the episode, when Lisa tells Nat, “Suffering is inevitable, and only by meeting it with compassion can we begin to grow,” it’s almost as if she’s addressing all of the Yellowjackets. It’s funny that Lisa seems to have learned this helpful mantra from her time spent with Lottie when it’s clear that Lottie hasn’t effectively dealt with any of her own issues, but cults be like that sometimes.

As the episode draws to a close, all six surviving Yellowjackets converge upon Lottie’s compound, facing down the past they’ve all worked so hard to bury. An overhead shot of the meeting space shows that it’s been configured to mirror the mystery wilderness symbol. Lottie approaches the rest of the women, and we’re left to wonder what other secrets have yet to be spilled.

Buzz Buzz Buzz

• Sorry not sorry, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the iconic “babies taste best” scene from Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer as I wrote this. It’s something I often say to my kids when I playfully chomp on their toes or nibble an ear, and it would have made a very fitting title for this recap if it wasn’t so spoiler-y.

• Juliette Lewis continues to showcase her innate talent for accessing raw and real emotion as Natalie comes to grips with what she did in the past and who she’s become. Her scenes with Lisa in this episode positively vibrate with all the feelings of fear and excitement that tend to accompany true mental-health breakthroughs.

• Misty loving her celebrity status in the cult is so hilariously on brand.

• So, Tai will get Shauna out of this Adam Martin mess, right? She’s a senator and a lawyer, and she’s wrapped up in the disposal of the body, so she has a vested interest in Shauna not getting caught. Also, the show can’t really continue if one of the main characters is in jail, so something’s gotta give here.

• Jeff rocking out to “Fuck the Police” by N.W.A. while waiting for Shauna and Callie outside of the Wiskayok police department might be the funniest needle drop in the history of television. I might never stop laughing about it.

• Alternatively, Madonna’s “Rescue Me” softly playing in the background of Ben’s latest hallucination was sort of a letdown for Madge’s first outing on the show.

• Lottie’s therapist continues to dispense very suspicious advice. Does anyone else think that Lottie might be imagining her?

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Yellowjackets Recap: While You Were Sleeping