Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s third season hasn’t been as cohesive as its second, at times spinning too many plates and then just letting them fall. The show has great continuity, especially when it comes to its ever-expanding web of recurring jokes, but several of the season’s most interesting developments haven’t lived up to their full potential or have been dropped altogether. “Kimmy And The Trolley Problem!,” however, refocuses on some of the most compelling character-driven throughlines of the season just in time for the season finale.
For Kimmy, this means coming to terms with how to talk about her past. Xan asks her to come on her campus television show where she profiles women on campus (called simply Profiles, much to Kimmy’s dismay). Of course, Xan wants her to talk about the bunker, saying it could inspire others. Even though Kimmy has been working had to put her past behind her, Xan’s pitch grabs her attention because of a recent philosophy lesson about ethical altruism and utilitarianism. Even though talking about her past hurts herself, it could help others, and that’s enough to convince Kimmy she should try to go through with it. The writers have a sharp sense of who their characters are, and that’s what grounds so much of the comedy on this show. Kimmy’s desire to help others even if it harms herself is wholly convincing giving everything we know about her.
Kimmy seeks out Cyndee Pokorny, who not only is comfortable talking about her past, but also capitalizes on it for her job selling BunCo bunkers. Yet again, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt reiterates that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to moving forward after trauma. All of the mole women have forged new paths for themselves. Just because Cyndee doesn’t care about others knowing about her past doesn’t mean Kimmy has to follow suit. In the end, instead of learning to talk about her past, Kimmy realizes she doesn’t have to at all. While the more obvious and neatly packaged conclusion to this storyline may have been to give Kimmy some grand moment where she talks about the bunker and inspires others without reopening her wounds, this more anticlimactic ending is significantly more satisfying. And the conclusion that it’s impractical to adhere to just one stringent moral code is satisfying, too, tapping into the show’s recurring theme that people are flawed but should always try to do their best. For all its darkness, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt isn’t cynical. And it doesn’t portray Kimmy’s persistent optimism as something to be mocked or dismissed.
Lillian has to move forward, too, now that her relationship with Artie is heating up. He wants to take her on a river cruise in Europe, which means leaving behind the life she knows and loves (including all of her cats). Her fears of change and aging are exacerbated when she learns that Artie has a serious health condition. It has taken Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a while to really insert Lillian into the action of the show, and Carol Kane doesn’t quite deliver at the same lightning speed as the other cast members, but this season has marked a turning point for the character, who finally feels like more than just a stoop crone for the others to play off of. Her relationship with Artie and the fears and insecurities it has unearthed have been a pleasant surprise this season, adding depth even in its weirder moments.
Of the three characters spotlighted, Jacqueline has the best storyline in “Kimmy And The Trolley Problem!” Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt again plays with expectations when it comes to Jacqueline. Given her reaction at the end of last episode, it looked like all the work she had done to better herself may have gone out the window. Russ’ coma made him hot, and Jacqueline seems very eager to get with him. But the transformation doesn’t end up having an effect on how she feels about him. Rather, it changes Russ’ perception of himself. Newly hot, Russ’ priorities have changed, not Jacqueline’s. He’s the one eager to get on Real Housewives Of New York in their sit down with Andy Cohen (as a huge Real Housewives fan, I love all the Bravo in-jokes in the episode). He even throws Jacqueline’s charitable cause under the bus, subtly showing signs that he’s turning into a bit of a Snyder.
Jacqueline’s fears are confirmed when she invites Russ’ family over as a ploy to remind him who he really is only to discover that his brothers and father aren’t tormenting him anymore now that he looks like he belongs with them. Russ revels in the attention, genuinely happy that his family accepts him as one of them now. Jacqueline may not care about looks or what others think anymore, but the Snyders still do. And that includes Russ now. It’s a genuinely poignant end to their arc, Jacqueline accepting that they both got different rewards out of this experience. For him, the reward was getting hot. One would think that would be a reward for her, too, but it isn’t. For her, the reward was discovering she can do things on her own. She cooked! She had sex with his dead grandma! She took care of herself and others, and she accomplished her NFL takedown! In the same way Kimmy finds the strength to not speak, Jacqueline finds her strength.
- Titus doesn’t get much to do in this episode, which focuses more on the other three leads’ arcs, but he obviously still shines even in little moments. His instant camaraderie with Cyndee is one of the best runners of the episode.
- Andy Cohen is very good at making fun of himself/his empire.
- “1, 2, 3, DESSERT SPAGHETTI.”
- The Hillary balloon bit is cruel…yet excellent.
- Kimmy’s look of disgust when Xan says “Profiles” while filming Profiles is great, and then Xan’s look of regret when she says “all you Xan heads out there” is even better.