One of television’s most complex and vulnerable characters to come out of the last few years is Shauna Shipman in Showtime’s survival thriller “Yellowjackets.” Created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, the show follows a high school girls’ soccer team who survived a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness in 1996. The story balances its 90s timeline with the 2020s, as the survivors are reconciling with the guilt and trauma of their past. Since the season one premiere of “Yellowjackets” in November 2021, the appreciation for Melanie Lynskey (who plays the adult version of Shauna) has skyrocketed to new levels. Shortly after the show’s successful release came Adam McKay’s doomsday satire “Don’t Look Up,” in which Lynskey played the role of June Mindy, wife to Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio). The following year, she starred as Betty Gore in Hulu’s biographical crime series “Candy,” and earlier this year appeared as the ominous Kathleen Coghlan on HBO’s apocalyptic hit “The Last of Us.” Plus, during this two-year timeframe, Lynskey’s performance in “Yellowjackets” earned her several accolades, including her first Critics Choice Award win/nomination and first Emmy nomination. The prevalence of Lynskey’s projects as of late has made it more accessible for audiences to witness her talent and realize the breadth of performances she has given since her phenomenal debut in Peter Jackson’s 1994 film “Heavenly Creatures.”
The buzz around Lynskey in “Yellowjackets” continues to build as the show is halfway through its second season. Its final episode will air just before Emmy nomination voting begins. With each new episode, Shauna continues to live on the edge and is steadily becoming less skilled at hiding it. Once a shell of societal normalcy, her family household is now privy to the darkness she had been suppressing within herself. As a teenager, Shauna (played by Sophie Nélisse) was petrified of not knowing what the future would hold but now relishes the idea of the unknown. Tethered to ordinary life on the surface, her unpredictable actions feed into dangerous impulses and trauma bubbling underneath. You never truly know what the character will do at any given moment. It’s a testament to Lynskey’s magnificent portrayal of Shauna that she could make you laugh one moment and absolutely terrify you the next. She already has her Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy reel with a skin-crawling monologue in episode three (titled “Digestif”), during which a gun-wielding Shauna threatens a stranger in order to retrieve her stolen minivan. From Lynskey’s fascinating micro-expressions to the subtle change of tone in her voice and the way she catches herself from acting purely on desire, she personifies the feeling of hanging on by a thread emotionally.
As new episodes continue to air, will momentum around Lynskey’s performance continue to build? Perhaps her monologue was only a taste of what’s to come. Given the rising stakes around Shauna and her crumbling pillars of domesticity, viewers could be in for another “Digestif”-level moment that gives Lynskey even more material of this magnitude. Even if the monologue goes unsurpassed this season, there is a likely chance of “Digestif” being the episode that gets submitted for her Emmy consideration. Sometimes it takes one scene to sway the momentum. Consider how in 2021, Julianne Nicholson became the Emmy frontrunner in her category (supporting actress in a limited anthology series or movie) overnight when the “Mare of Easttown” finale aired. She had a gut-wrenching moment that sealed the deal. While Nicholson and Lynskey differ in terms of category, award trajectory, and timing, there is something to be said about how much power a single scene can hold, especially when voters are playing catch up.
Going into this year’s Emmy season, there is a consensus around Lynskey being the early frontrunner. In addition to critically acclaimed reviews of her work and enthusiastic praise from viewers, she has the support of being a previous nominee for “Yellowjackets” in its first season. Plus, the show itself received six additional Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series. Given the consistency of reviews thus far, it seems likely that season two can come fairly close to its predecessor’s 2022 nomination haul. In the Outstanding Lead Actress Drama Series category, Lynskey will be among entirely new company as she is the only 2022 nominee eligible this year. This gives her the early frontrunner status to win. Lynskey already has a lot of support behind her in the form of positive reviews and viewership, previous industry awards for the show, and continuous goodwill from her peers. Also, there is a strong chance Lynskey could receive two Emmy nominations this year, the second being for “The Last of Us” in the Guest Actress (Drama) category.
The thing about an early frontrunner status is that we are still in the early days of Emmy discussions. While some Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series contenders are part of somewhat divisive seasons (Imelda Staunton in “The Crown”; Elisabeth Moss in “The Handmaid’s Tale”), others are entering the race with fresh new shows (Sharon Horgan in “Bad Sisters”; Helen Mirren in “1923”; Keri Russell in “The Diplomat”). Then there are the incredible breakout stars of pop culture phenomenon shows (Bella Ramsey in “The Last of Us“; Emma D’Arcy in “House of the Dragon“). Plus, three “Yellowjackets” cast members will join Lynskey in the conversation — Juliette Lewis, Tawny Cypress, and Sophie Nélisse (who was submitted in the supporting category last year). It was also announced recently “Succession’s” Sarah Snook will be campaigning in the lead actress category this year. Snook has two previous Emmy nominations in the supporting actress category for her performance as Shiv Roy in HBO’s critically acclaimed drama. Given the overwhelmingly positive response to “Succession” during its fourth and final season thus far, the placement move could seal the deal for Snook. This would be her last opportunity to win an Emmy for playing Shiv Roy.
Beyond the preliminary Emmy talk, we are still in the early days of “Yellowjackets” itself, which has a 5-season plan according to co-creator Ashley Lyle—having an extended future of “Yellowjackets” to look forward to might create less urgency around awarding Lynskey for the show’s second season. As is the case for every award season, timing and momentum are key. Working in Lynskey’s favor is precisely what the adult character of Shauna welcomes with open arms: the element of surprise. While Lynskey’s frontrunner status is building early, what the creators of “Yellowjackets” fully have in store for Shauna this season remains to be seen. And regardless of what happens in the upcoming episodes, the “Digestif” monologue should act as a striking reminder that Lynskey is at the top of her game.
Who do you think will be nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the Emmys this year? Do you think Melanie Lynsey has a shot to win for season two this year after being overlooked for season one? Please check out our latest Emmy predictions here and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.