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On Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, no one’s problems have easy solutions

Illustration for article titled On iUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/i, no one’s problems have easy solutions
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I always love Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s episode titles. They’re succinct, to the point summaries of what Kimmy does in the episode. But as with the show itself, there’s so much under the surface. Because every title ends with that emphatic exclamation point, they embody the zippy energy of the sunshiney protagonist. But once we watch the episode and understand really, truly what person or action the title refers to, once we have all the pieces, a certain darkness casts its shadow over the once-innocuous words. The celebrity Kimmy meets in “Kimmy Meets A Celebrity!” is a manipulative and dangerous daytime television therapist. When Kimmy goes to a hotel in “Kimmy Goes To A Hotel!,” it doesn’t end up being a fun or sexy escape. The happy place in “Kimmy Goes To Her Happy Place!” is a land of nightmares disguised by a song and dance of denial. In “Kimmy Sees A Sunset!,” Kimmy indeed sees a sunset. It’s beautiful and bright. But it happens right as Andrea peels back another layer of Kimmy’s inner turmoil. The sun sets as Kimmy’s latest attempt to help someone else miserably fails. The sun sets as Andrea drunkenly does the Whip/Nae Nae alone, a CamelBak full of vodka strapped to her stomach. Yes, it’s a beautiful sunset. But it’s more than that.

Kimmy sees a sunset just as Andrea forces her to see something else: Her abandonment issues are rooted in a toxic cycle of blaming herself for things that are in no way her fault. “It’s not your fault,” Andrea insists to Kimmy twice—and then once more, Oprah-style. It seems so simple. In fact, Andrea remarks that it feels almost hack to have to say it. But Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt this season has really shown that there’s nothing simple about trauma or the healing process. Kimmy needed to be told that it’s not her fault that people leave in order to really understand where her attachment issues come from. It’s a breakthrough not unlike a sunset: signaling transformation and approaching darkness. But the light will come back, too.


Andrea also vocalizes a crucial personal revelation, although it seems like she’s not quite at a place yet where she can really listen to her own words. As Kimmy continues to talk about daytime Andrea and nighttime Andrea as if they’re two different people, Andrea interjects: “I’m not two different people. I’m just one big mess, and you can’t fix me, Kimmy. Sorry.” Like Kimmy, I also have been thinking of Andrea as two different people. But she’s right. That’s not the case. Even when she’s not drinking, daytime Andrea is still an addict, just like nighttime Andrea. Trying to separate the two, in a way, absolves daytime Andrea of her actions, and that misses the point. Andrea says Kimmy can’t fix her.

All the characters this season have been fighting for the things they care about, and they’ve undergone huge change in the process. It hasn’t been easy. Kimmy wants to mentally escape the bunker, and she isn’t there yet, but she has learned so, so much about who she is and what she needs in her journey toward reclaiming control over her life. It’s crucial to the story that Kimmy does indeed fail in her efforts to get Andrea to stop drinking for just one day. After Dong and Gretchen and Cyndee and Jacqueline, Kimmy has learned that helping others isn’t easy at all. And it doesn’t always work, no matter how hard she tries. With Andrea, she fails in a big way. She needed that failure so that she can give up—for now—on Andrea, who won’t be able to truly get better until she wants it for herself. Now Kimmy can focus on finding her mom, which this whole season has been building to. Mikey finds Lori-Ann Schmidt rather easily on Facebook, which puts Kimmy at ease for a moment before snapping and screaming “Why’d it take them so long to find me?!” It’s a hilarious—and sad—ending to the episode, sold so emphatically by Ellie Kemper’s excellent delivery.

Titus and Jacqueline have been fighting for the things they care about, too. And in “Kimmy Sees A Sunset!,” they both learn to love, with the help of ol’ stoop-crone Lillian. Lillian points out that loving someone means putting their needs over your own. Titus finds himself doing just that when he nurses a sick Mikey back to health instead of preparing for his audition. He catches Mikey’s flu and ends up accidentally singing a jingle for Trident gum instead of his usual audition piece at his audition (unsurprisingly, the jingle is perfect). Titus realizes he loves Mikey—that he would rather be spending time with him than pursuing his dreams. When Norman Gordon—the older, underemployed actor who Titus sees as a harbinger of his future—dies during an improv 101 class, he realizes that life’s too short to put the things you love on the backburner. He has a great thing with Mikey, so he agrees to live together. But he ends up getting the part out of the audition he thought he botches, and there’s a catch: It’s for a four-month cruise gig. Titus is faced with a contradiction: By embracing his relationship with Mikey, he has to put something else he loves on the backburner. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt takes a very genuinely heartfelt direction with the conflict. Titus isn’t the only one in love; Mikey is, too. So he’s willing to put Titus’s needs ahead of his own this time. He encourages him to go on the cruise, even though it’s four-months long (Titus: “That’s like three Judd Apatow movies!). Their relationship is worth the risk.

Jacqueline also learns of all the complications and contradictions that arise from falling in love. At first, she uses Lillian’s words on love to help further her plot to woo Russ (David Cross) into knocking her up so she can get his money. Russ is considerably nicer and less controlling than the men Jacqueline usually goes for. In fact, he has dedicated his life to giving voice to the voiceless. He’s just a little…gross. He lacks the charm and sophistication of the people in Jacqueline’s world. But a funny thing happens when Jacqueline tries to get him to fall for her: She falls for him. It’s an unlikely outcome, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt pulls it off quite well, especially given Jacqueline’s character development in previous episodes this season. Like Titus and Kimmy, Jacqueline is learning new things about herself that surprise her. They all get their sunset revelation moment. A bit of uncertainty hangs in the air for all of them. But as gangly orphan Jeff would say, “the sun will rise in the morning, or so I’m told, but who knows?”


Stray observations

  • All we know about Kimmy’s mom so far is that she’s addicted to riding roller coasters.
  • Tina Fey continues to give a great performance as Andrea that keeps the character grounded.
  • Jacqueline, upon meeting Andrea in the back of Kimmy’s car: “Who is that? Is she prettier than me?” That was the 30 Rock reunion of my dreams.
  • Andrea wakes up in Kimmy’s bed, not knowing where her keys, phone, wallet, shoes, or NuvaRing is. According to Kimmy: “You threw your keys in the river to protest racism.”
  • Kimmy takes Andrea to a literal Sausage Fest.
  • “One time, to get white wine, I listened to BJ Novak give a free book reading.”
  • Russ suffers from “incurable stink tongue.”
  • Norman Gordon’s last words, uttered during improv class: “Well, Hillary Clinton, here we are at IKEA—oh god, my arm’s numb, my bowels…”
  • Kimmy, on how to hold your breath for four minutes: “The trick is not caring whether you live or die.”

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