Season one of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ended with a huge victory for Kimmy. She finally got to put away the man who kept her and the other mole women in that bunker for all those years. Kimmy effectively buried her past, and season two opens with an immediately different tone and perspective for the character. Kimmy still speaks in hilarious anachronisms from time to time, but the bunker and its darkness doesn’t really loom over this premiere. Kimmy really has moved on, and she’s charging forward. Season one was about Kimmy regaining control. Now she’s back in command of her life but realizing that even life outside the bunker has its own setbacks. She can’t control it all.
And honestly, Kimmy acts pretty selfishly in her attempts to live the life she wants. Titus gets caught up in a legal battle with his ex-wife Vonda, who resurfaced at the end of last season. Vonda, who believed Titus to be dead, is seeking damages because Titus left her before their wedding dance. Of course, Titus had a pretty legitimate reason to go: He had a panic attack about the fact that he had just married a woman even though he was gay, so he walked away and restarted his life as Titus Andromedon. After talking to Vonda though, Kimmy becomes scared Titus will one day leave her without a word, effectively making it all about Kimmy instead of really listening to Titus’ perspective. He left, because he had to. Titus says so himself: “Mississippi was my bunker.” Kimmy should understand that. But instead, she assumes Titus is someone who just walks away from people, which is exactly what she thinks he’s doing when she sees him packing a bag and heading for an Amtrak station. Really, he’s just trying to catch Vonda before she leaves so he can tell her they’re still friends and finally do their wedding dance together. (To no one’s surprise, the choreography is fabulous).
Even worse than her actions with Titus, Kimmy actually shows up at Dong’s brunch with his wife Sonya and the immigration officer assigned to their case. Kimmy was undoubtedly deeply hurt when Dong married Sonya, but he explained the stakes to her, and he reiterates them in the premiere. Dong feels something for Kimmy, and they shared a special moment on the roller rink the night before, but it isn’t worth it. He doesn’t want to get deported, and that matters more to him than whatever he has with Kimmy. During the scene where he explains this, dead silverfish keep falling on Kimmy, because even in its most emotionally honest moments, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t press pause on the humor.
It’s actually a strong narrative choice to make Kimmy look a bit like an asshole in the episode. The lessons she’s learning at this stage of her post-bunker life are much different from those she learned in the beginning. Kimmy’s view of life outside the bunker is becoming increasingly more complicated. She thinks that because she finally beat the pastor she can now seize control of everything in her life. But it isn’t that simple. In the premiere, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt really digs into the idea that Kimmy isn’t the only character who once felt trapped. Titus did, too. And Dong does now. Kimmy got to mostly be the hero of season one, and she still maintains that unwavering sense of optimism in the face of hardship. She’s still healing. But she isn’t perfect. Season two is peeling back the layers to the character, making her more complex and flawed in ways that prove she isn’t just a cartoon character, as someone else describes her in the premiere. Kimmy is discovering some of life’s gray areas, and as a result, the character is becoming less black-and-white, too.
Speaking of white…Jacqueline, Jacqueline, Jacqueline. In the premiere, she’s no longer pretending to be white. She sheds her blue contacts and her New York name, re-adopting her given name Jackie Lynn. Look, I made it very clear last season that this storyline is a tough one for me to untangle. It simply doesn’t make sense for a show to deliver a scathing joke about how Native Americans are forced to watch Mexicans play them on television when that very show commits the (arguably worse) offense of casting a white actor as a Native American. As I wrote last season, because of the casting of Krakowski, Jacqueline’s character development basically amounts to a whitewashed story about whitewashing. And in the season-two premiere, the joke is that Jacqueline is trying so desperately to return to her roots but because of the new life she has chosen, she actually has a pretty racist and incorrect understanding of her own culture. And her parents exploit her lack of knowledge because she’s causing too much trouble and they just want her to return to Manhattan where she apparently belongs.
The writers are trying to criticize the offensive things Jacqueline says by rendering her as the “white idiot,” but it’s coming from a show that’s trying to tell us, after all, that this character isn’t white—she just pretends to be. So yeah, the storyline is as confusing and strange as it was in season one. The joke is on Jacqueline, but what does it really add to the story? She’s the butt of a joke in a way that doesn’t really seem to fit the tone of the show. Last year, at the Television Critics Association press tour, Kimmy Schmidt co-creator Robert Carlock defended the narrative choice, saying: “Wouldn’t that be a crazy A-to-Z for her to deal with that, and maybe reconcile with it, and re-embrace who she really is, ultimately.” But is that what really happens in the premiere? It looks more like the writers are just trying to push Jackie Lynn through this “reconciliation” as quickly as possible in order to get her back to being Jacqueline, Manhattan socialite.
- “Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The bad news is Instagram canceled my account due to lack of interest.” This line was undoubtedly the most 30 Rock joke of the episode.
- The fact that Dong bettered his English by watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians—causing him to occasionally slip into a Calabasas cadence—is a fine joke, but the much funnier runner is the fact that even characters who don’t watch KUWTK know so much about the Kardashian family without really knowing how they know. That’s real.
- “What’s wrong, Kim Blake Nelson?” I hope Titus keeps an ongoing written list of potential Kimmy nicknames.
- There are three things Titus does not do: apologies, drag, and calculus.
- Titus, while surrounded by three pizzas: “I don’t have pizza.”
- Fred Armisen guest stars as Lillian’s former flame…“Bobby” Durst. Unsurprisingly, the impression is spot on. Ahead of the season, Carlock promised more musical numbers, and the premiere ends with a ukulele love song between the creepy killer and Lillian. It’s no “Peeno Noir,” but it’s pretty great.