Shauna, Jackie, and Those Sapphic Gazes on Yellowjackets

someone will remember us
I say
even in another time
— Sappho 147, If Not, Winter. Translated by Anne Carson.

When I first saw the Yellowjackets pilot, I was so sure there was something going on between Shauna and Jackie. Sprinkled throughout were their soft shared stares, but that one longing sigh with which Shauna watched Jackie at the pre-crash party really made those lesbian vibes so palpable! With subsequent episodes and the triangular equation popping up though, the Shauna-Jackie situation became more and more complex. Yet this queer tension between their glances was never snuffed out.

Two seasons later, the intricacies of their bond still remain — even if Jackie doesn’t — in the finest and tiniest of gestures. In the final moments of season two, for instance, Shauna shows her priorities up front. She instinctively grabs onto Jackie’s Doomcoming dress and her journals before actually waking up her soon-to-be roasted slumbering teammates in the cabin-turned-oven.

Teen Shauna carries a dress out of the attic in the season two finale of Yellowjackets

Jackie’s dress first, fellowjackets later!

It is most certain that of everything witnessed, experienced, and felt in the wilderness the one thing that continues to haunt Shauna (literally!), in both timelines, is Jackie. There’s guilt but beyond that, the specters surely reek of their pre-crash dynamic, not because of Jeff — rather, in spite of Jeff. Yellowjackets does a brilliant job of making one thing clear from the onset: Jackie was never really into Jeff (ahem, weird fingering scene), and honestly, it doesn’t seem like Shauna was either (even though, in his defense, Jeff could’ve gone strawberry!).

The peculiar triangular situation between the three of them has been dominantly seen as the result of Shauna’s jealousy of Jackie, or as a response to Jackie continually sidelining Shauna. However, Shauna and Jackie’s relationship is way too nuanced to be simply shrugged off as either. Nothing vocalizes it, and Jeff’s position in it, better than Sappho 31:

He seems to me equal to gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking

and lovely laughing

— lines 1-5, If Not, Winter. Translated by Anne Carson.

Teen Shauna in a jean jacket in the pilot of Yellowjackets

Jackie dancing in the Yellowjackets pilot

Jackie and Jeff dancing in the Yellowjackets pilot

An adaptation of those words literally plays out in the pilot episode at the party where we stand with Shauna and see through her: First, there’s singular focus on Jackie as she dances, laughs, then, that focus includes Jeff too, who is also looking at Jackie. Yet, almost synchronously, we’re shown Shauna as well, as she gazes both intimately and sadly, or as Sappho has coined, bittersweetly. The precision in this scene’s direction shines through its sharp emphasis on the manners of looking. Jeff can easily be equated to that man who is only godly in his fortune of being within Jackie’s vicinity. Sapphic as an adjective for Shauna and Jackie’s intense glances, cozy hugs, and fierce dialogue, thus, is not merely enough. Theirs is a complex dynamic that absorbs, and tailoring it to their own taste, also performs, Sappho’s verse.

Sappho was an ancient Greek poet around 600 BCE who belonged to the island of Lesbos (famously where the term lesbian comes from!). Her fragments feature her intricacies of observing, particularly women. They comprise the earliest writings of a woman poet that have managed to survive in the West. Yet almost all of Sappho’s works excavated are incomplete. Either they were deliberately destroyed or lost due to natural causes. In Yellowjackets then, Shauna and Jackie can be seen initiating a process of continuing that which remains irretrievable with this cherished Sappho-flavored dialect of theirs where their stares say so much more than they ever manage to out loud. After all, the girls have gone way too Greek in this series to turn a blind eye to Sappho. Gazing, in a way that smudges the binary between looking and being looked at, is the very punctuation within which Sappho 31 functions:

for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me

no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am

— lines 7-15

Sappho’s manner of looking is one that queers the gaze that is elsewhere scrutinizing, surveilling, and invasive. Her verse embroiders due space for the gazer to look upon themselves, and thus, propels interiority. In the reel world of Yellowjackets, this intimate Sapphic inwardness is adapted in nuanced reflections where the show shows us, often in crisp closeups and crosscuts, the very impact of the characters’ looking upon themselves. The season one poster illustrates this most cohesively.

Jackie on the season 1 Yellowjackets poster sees the Antler queen in her eye. The antler queen on the Yellowjackets season 2 poster

Here, we see Jackie, we see the Antler Queen as Jackie does reflecting in her eyes, and we see her reaction to it — all of this in a single visual, with some blood and a bee too. After season two, it’s all the more crucial to look back at this poster, as it is this vision of the Antler Queen that the second season’s poster delves into. In the above-mentioned party scene also, we’re sharply shown Shauna as she watches, not just Jackie, but Jeff watching Jackie too. The layers of these palimpsest gazes are inextricably interwoven such that characters’ emotional palettes become discernible. Yellowjackets ensures that when characters stare, hallucinate, and remember, their perspective is always displayed with self-reflexivity. Like Sappho, here a viewer never does become a voyeur.

In Sappho 31, the insight this interiority provides is on Sappho’s very nature of looking, one which produces psychosomatic reactions — a sudden voicelessness, an increase in pulse rate and body temperature, throbbing ears, a hindrance in eyesight, an onset of tremors and sweating, along with an alteration in the color of Sappho’s skin — that makes her feel:

…dead—or almost
I seem to me.

— lines 15-16

Proximity to death, an illustration of passion for Sappho, is actualized in Jackie’s frozen corpse horrifically, yet this parallel opposite still functions in the Sapphic realm. Actual death here sediments Shauna’s phantasmic gaze and creates her deeper, more visceral bond with Jackie. Enter: Ghost Jackie. The choice of the verb seem in Sappho 31 then, which already emphasizes on perspective, takes on a newer meaning when thought of in conjunction with Shauna and how things seem to her now that she’s sees spooky stuff. Conjuring Jackie’s spirit to share stares with, Shauna’s hallucinations materialize her internal dialogue — there’s guilt, shame, and most importantly, a desire that metamorphoses into, and finds release in, ferocious gluttony, initiating with an ear.

Shauna chomping an ear on Yellowjackets

that tiny, raspy crunch is chilling!

This ear, an erogenous zone, is queered further when Shauna pockets it, inspects it, and eventually munches on it. This bizarre and peculiar ear eating act is deliciously scandalous — terrifying for sure, its intimacy remains undeniable. Shauna’s bodily need for nourishment intertwines intensely with an urge of erotic devouring. Theirs is a union where the self/other binary is abjectly disturbed. Then, while Sappho’s mechanics of dealing with loss, absence, parting, and longing include memory, imagination, and emotion that sustain the absentee beloved in her gaze, Shauna throws relishing flesh into the mix.

Before savagely savoring Jackie, Shauna tells the others, “she,” meaning Jackie, “wants us to.” These words, and the precise present tense, make two conjectures possible: One, maybe dead-Jackie is actively involved in hosting her own wilderness-themed barbecue feast of a funeral which smells way too delicious to be coincidental. And two, perhaps her supernatural spirit did command Shauna to commence the meal in the diction of Sappho 94:

Rejoice, go and
remember me

— lines 7-8

Shauna drinking from a goblet in Yellowjackets

Shauna feasting in Yellowjackets

And Shauna does remember, more than she does anything else, even beyond the bacchanal buffet which is nothing if not fiercely memorable. Adult Shauna distinctly admits to spending “the better part of [her] life thinking about [Jackie] every single day.” Jackie’s absent-presence throbs within Shauna in such subtle yet significant ways — there’s Jackie’s voice at the onset of the dream where Shauna sees her baby alive, the painting of poppies in her house she had told Jeff are Jackie’s favorite, and Shauna’s absurd relationship with rabbits who Jackie apparently loved — it proves their dynamic unending. Also, in one of the densest unresolved mysteries of the show, the link between Shauna and Jackie is yet again underscored: In Jackie’s death dream, an unknown man tells her he’s “so glad you’re joining us. We’ve been waiting for you,” yet it’s Shauna we see waking up from this vision startled. They’re together in the dream and dreaming together simultaneously.

Jackie drinking hot chocolate in a dream in Yellowjackets

Smash cut from Jackie drinking hot chocolate to Shauna panting, waking up.

Shauna waking up from a dream in Yellowjackets

Then, evoking Sappho amid these tangled gazes of theirs has made one thing certain: Jackie and Shauna’s is a fraught tussle within the dynamics of (in)visibility. Shauna is really observant when it comes to Jackie and, throughout the first season, we see Shauna’s queer gaze lingering at her. Jackie does reciprocate, but often, Shauna finds herself feeling invisible, which is what her final journal entry before the cabin fire is about. She detests nothing more than being the sad sidekick. Yet Shauna is in no capacity actually rendered invisible in Jackie’s life. The fact that she wouldn’t let Shauna be endangered in saving Van after the crash says a lot. Is Jackie self-obsessed? Yes, but this comes from the normative code of compulsory heterosexuality — i.e., the “perfect little princess” persona — that her parents smother her in (even after she’s dead). Their derogatory treatment of adult Shauna explains a lot about Jackie’s upbringing.

Like Shauna, Jackie has her own flaws, but she is a deliciously dense character too. Puncturing her relentless charisma is a scene rather early on in Yellowjackets where, after she fakes an orgasm with Jeff, she furiously brushes her teeth and studies herself with an introspective impassivity.

Jackie looking at herself in the mirror in the Yellowjackets pilot

The fragility of her identity reeks through the mirrors Jackie is surrounded by here. This is perhaps why looking too closely and facing facts terrifies her. After all, it takes Shauna almost slitting Travis’ throat during the Doomcoming shenanigans for Jackie to finally confront her about Jeff. And then, her dialogue gives away her troubles of gazing when she tells the now unabashed Shauna: “I can’t even fucking look at you right now.”

Theirs is a Sappho-seasoned Greek-level tragedy where hamartia nestles in their refusal to look at, and their inability to show each other, the vulnerabilities that gnaw at them. The final exchange before Jackie steps out of the cabin towards her impending death sums up their insecurities:

Jackie: I don’t even know who you are anymore.
Shauna: Or maybe you never did.

Even then, theirs is a bond that never does cease to exist. Queer in their desire, disgust, and devouring, the Shauna-Jackie wilderness version of the isle of Lesbos is one from which Jackie never returns physically, and Shauna never returns viscerally (no return, no return, no reason!). Though not really buried, Jackie is the sapling I hope to see sprout in the seasons to come, especially once winter is over.

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Sakhi Thirani

Sakhi Thirani is a writer based in India. She has previously written for platforms such as JSTOR Daily, Certified Forgotten, Common Sense Media, and Offscreen.

Sakhi has written 1 article for us.


  1. I want to say a lot, but this article has left me a bit speechless. Another greek quote translated from Anne Carson in Eros the Bittersweet may work best instead.

    “If you love me, you hate me and if you hate me, you love me. Now, if you don’t hate me, beloved, don’t love me.”

    The paradoxical entanglement. Forever.

    Thanks for the fantastic piece 🖤

  2. I don’t know if I can articulate how much I love this article but I will try.

    From that first exchange in the gym between Shauna and Jackie I was like….this is gay. I felt the sapphic tension in the stardust of my bones. I was sure something was going to happen between them in the wilderness, like in a physical sex way but it did not. That’s not to say, there weren’t plenty of queer moments between the two of them. After all, what exactly IS lesbian sex? Shauna will forever be haunted by Jackie and it is so deeply unrequited. They are drenched in tragedy and desire.

    That leads to the fact that you tie it so perfectly with Sappho’s texts from, If not, Winter. My first ever Sappho purchase. I have been waiting for someone to write about this. Thank you so much for this.

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