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Steel Magnolias Is the Rosetta Stone for Yellowjackets' Misty Quigley

A monologue from the '80s classic speaks volumes about who Misty is and who she wants to be.
  • Samantha Hanratty in Yellowjackets, alongside Sally Field in Steel Magnolias (Photos: Kailey Schwerman/Showtime; TriStar Pictures)
    Samantha Hanratty in Yellowjackets, alongside Sally Field in Steel Magnolias (Photos: Kailey Schwerman/Showtime; TriStar Pictures)

    The Roman God Bacchus may very well be the key to the larger mystery of Yellowjackets, but a classic ’80s tearjerker is the Rosetta Stone for Misty Quigley. And she certainly needs a bit of deciphering. She will both kill for her friends and eat them. She can master everything from internet sleuthing to battlefield surgery, yet she cannot shake her sense of loneliness. Depending on the situation, she is either a vibrant leader or a fervent follower, and when given the opportunity, she will always choose a sweatshirt with kittens on it. This could almost make her a descendant of Annie Wilkes, the sledgehammer-wielding, cock-a-doodie-spouting superfan in Stephen King’s Misery. Yet while she certainly has a vengeful streak, Misty can’t be understood as a mere villain. That’s clear during “Digestif,” the fourth episode of Season 2, when she publicly recites a monologue from Steel Magnolias. It’s a choice that speaks volumes about who she is and who she wants to be.

    As a crash course for those who didn’t grow up among southern women or the gay men who love them, Steel Magnolias is a 1989 film about a group of Louisiana ladies who help each other through endless ups and downs. Based on the play by Robert Harling, it features meaty performances from Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Darryl Hannah, Shirley MacLaine, and (in her Oscar-nominated breakthrough role) Julia Roberts. The anchor, however, is Sally Field as M’Lynn, a wife and mother whose world is rocked when her diabetic daughter dies due to complications from childbirth. This tragedy lets Field deliver a graveyard monologue of iconic grief and fury.

    It’s a moment designed for tearful reenactments in front of a bedroom mirror, which is obviously something young Misty (Samantha Hanratty) understands. After all, when Crystal (Nuha Jes Izman) suggests Misty perform a monologue as a gift for Shauna’s (Sophie Nélisse) baby shower, she chooses M’Lynn’s big speech. This is very instructive. Since there are no VCRs in the haunted cannibal cabin, one has to assume that Misty already has this speech committed to memory. Plus, when she gets up to perform, she not only remembers the lines, but also mimics Field’s grunts, sighs, and inconsistent Southern accent. You don’t achieve that kind of mastery unless you have studied Steel Magnolias as a sacred text. And as we’ve learned from watching Misty as both a teenager and an adult (Christina Ricci), she always commits with that level of intensity.

    Sarah L. Thompson and Ameni Resza, who wrote this episode, could have made that point with any film. Misty could’ve perfectly recited a speech from, say, Edward Scissorhands and still demonstrated her spirit of dedication. It’s important that she chose Steel Magnolias, a movie about unshakeable female friendship. Everything she does is driven by her desire to be important and therefore to be loved. Teen Misty breaks the airplane’s black box after she hears people praising her survival instincts, because she doesn’t want to leave a place where she might be valued. To protect Natalie (Juliette Lewis), Shawna (Melanie Lynskey), and Taissa (Tawny Cypress), adult Misty kills a reporter with a poisoned cigarette and snorts a tableful of cocaine, among other high-key gestures. So of course she gravitates toward an idealized portrait of women who support each other no matter what. It’s her fantasy come true.

    This is all the more poignant because Misty cannot find that community in her real life. Instead of treating her like a ride-or-die sister, most women merely tolerate her. Yet within the sadness of her dashed Steel Magnolias dream, there is also a seed of triumph. When young Misty stands up to perform, the other girls initially roll their eyes, confused that she’s chosen a baby shower as the venue for a speech about a mother losing her child. Soon enough, though, they stop snarking and listen. As she gets deeper into her performance, Misty transforms. She submits completely to M’Lynn’s emotions, and director Jeff W. Byrd holds the camera on Hanratty’s face to let us see the startling depth of her performance. When she finishes, the girls have to applaud. They have no choice but to respect what they’ve witnessed.

    That’s because Misty always completes her mission. She commands admiration, if nothing else, for her willingness to dive headlong into any situation and do what must be done. She doesn’t just memorize the monologue; she inhabits it. She doesn’t just join the citizen detective website; she dominates it. This is another link to Steel Magnolias and to M’Lynn in particular. Field’s character rises above tragedy, because somebody has to get the funeral arrangements made. This is obviously how Misty views her own responsibility to the world. She wants to be the glue that holds people together.

    That even justifies her fealty to young Lottie (Courtney Eaton) and her woodland cult. Misty could easily convince herself that doing uncomfortable things on Lottie’s behalf is a way to keep everyone safe and guarantee that she herself is necessary. If M’Lynn were in a cult, then she might do the same thing and call it good old-fashioned gumption.

    New episodes of Yellowjackets stream Fridays and air Sundays at 9:00 PM ET on Showtime. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Yellowjackets, Showtime, Ameni Resza, Sally Field, Samantha Hanratty, Sarah L. Thompson