Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Even though “Kimmy Does A Puzzle!” begins where the last episode ended, it does some awkward narrative backtracking instead of following through on the momentum. Titus, fresh off his discovery that he’s a villain, confesses to eating Dionne Warwick while stranded on a lifeboat after the cruise ship caught on fire. Only, Dionne Warwick is alive and well (and being played by Maya Rudolph in the season’s best guest performance thus far), hosting a telethon for Hurricane Tammi with an i. Titus hallucinated eating her in his state of dehydrated delirium. Kimmy tells Titus that she’s glad he didn’t murder Dionne Warwick, because that’s the one line she wouldn’t let him cross. She can excuse plenty of his other selfish behaviors, but cannibalism would be a bit too far.

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Hurricane Tammi with an i isn’t the only storm brewing in the episode. Kimmy, who starts out with a chipper attitude about turning the apartment into a “fun-ker,” gradually loses her cool, and Ellie Kemper’s layered, dynamic performance throughout anchors the episode. Artie and Lillian can’t keep their hands off one another, and Titus is appalled at their straight acts of PDA, destabilizing the harmony of the supposed fun-ker. As usual, Kimmy finds herself playing peacemaker, coming up with a list of rules to keep everyone happy: keep things PG, share everything, no bad guys, no fighting, and have fun! The rules seem simple enough, but Kimmy finds herself struggling to keep everyone happy, especially when she discovers that all the board games she found in the trash have missing pieces. Even the plastic-wrapped macaroni and cheese puzzle she puts together is missing the final piece. Nothing is going smoothly in the fun-ker, ruining Kimmy’s attempts at immersion therapy. We see her unraveling with every little thing that goes wrong.

And then Titus breaks one of the rules in a very real way by being a bad guy. He may not have eaten Dionne Warwick, but he was still lying about the cruise and why it all fell apart. There was no fire. After filling in for a few nights as the star of the play while Dionne Warwick was sick, Titus let his newfound cruise-fame get to his head. In flashbacks stylized like a high-stakes throwback noir, we learn Titus poisoned Dionne Warwick’s wet baby corns (according to her, they massage the vocal chords while going down) with hot tub water, which then got into the ventilation system and poisoned everyone on board, sending Titus on the run (row?). Not only did Titus lie to Kimmy about the cruise, but he’s also the culprit in the case of the missing board game and puzzle pieces, which he used to accessorize his Barbies. When Kimmy was frantically looking for the puzzle piece, he knew where it was all along and chose to say nothing. Kimmy blows up at him and rightfully so. Creating the fun-ker meant more than just board games with friends for her, but Titus was once again too selfish to see that. Since Titus realized he’s a villain at the end of last episode, it’s a little redundant for him to go through more-or-less the same journey here, but this time, it’s much more personal. “Kimmy Does A Puzzle!” takes Titus’ villain realization and contextualizes it in terms of his interpersonal relationships. He isn’t a villain in the abstract. His actions hurt others. They hurt Kimmy.

For all its bottle-episode fun, “Kimmy Does A Puzzle!” gets very serious when it has to, pushing the characters into uncomfortable spaces, the tension heightened by their cooped-up circumstances. Even things between Lillian and Artie take a turn for the more serious when they finally get the chance to sleep together and Lillian worries she won’t be as good as his dead wife. “How do you compete with a memory?” she asks. Even though there are lots of jokes and the writers have a little too much fun with making the characters say “dead wife,” the storyline has poignant things to say about loss and late-in-life romance. The episode develops Artie and Lillian’s relationship in a way that makes both characters more grounded and compelling, giving emotional stakes to their attraction.

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Kimmy storms out of the fun-ker and goes to stay with her new friends at Columbia. After she leaves, Lillian has a serious talk with Titus about the fact that they both need Kimmy. She points out that before Kimmy moved in, they were constantly screaming at each other. Kimmy keeps this dysfunctional family together, and she’s always giving them life advice. “She makes us both better people,” Lillian says. Their conversation resonates with emotional honesty, because we’ve seen all of this in past episodes. Kimmy does make them better people. Titus has another breakthrough and goes to Kimmy at Columbia, begging for her to come back. And he finally gives in to something she has wanted from him for a very long time: He high-fives her. In fact, he high-fives her over and over and over in a slow-motion sequence that portrays their reunion as the momentous occasion it truly is. Kimmy and Titus break up and make up very quickly over the course of the episode, but breakneck pacing is one of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s defining qualities. And although it happens quickly, it all unfolds believably, building on the relationship work done between these two characters since the first season.

Stray observations

  • Life According To Titus: Why would one ever play Monopoly, a game where the whole point is paying rent?
  • Life According To Kimmy: PDA stands for porno with dead animals.
  • Every time Rudolph is on screen, she steals the show.
  • “SHELLS CAN BE PASTA.”
  • So many digs at New Jersey in this episode.

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