We’ve never once seen Kimmy Schmidt cry. We’ve seen her panic, as she did during her romantic evening with Dong. Last episode, we got her get overwhelmingly, unapologetically angry. But we’ve never seen her cry. And then in “Kimmy Meets A Celebrity!,” we find out that not only doesn’t Kimmy cry in her post-bunker life. She never once cried during the 15 years she was in the bunker. “Even when you were alone?” Cyndee Pokorny, from kidnapping, asks. Even when she was alone. As we learned last episode, Kimmy has a happy place where she hides her feelings. But even given her coping mechanism, it’s pretty shocking that Kimmy never once shed a tear in the bunker.

Cyndee accuses her of being a robot. How could someone who suffered in the way she did, who was taken away from her life and everyone she knew at such a young age not cry about it? Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t offer any direct answers to that question. Rather, the character continues to be defined by her actions. The show does an extraordinary job of showing instead of telling when it comes to Kimmy’s emotions and perspective. No, Kimmy is not a robot. She just has dealt with the bunker differently than Cyndee has. And that’s okay. Survivors don’t all look and act the same. Cyndee and Kimmy were different people before they were locked up together, and they’ll continue to live their lives differently. But as well baby Deborah Wells points out, there’s still significance in the fact that Kimmy has someone who has shared the same pain as her. As different as they are, Kimmy and Cyndee share a complicated and meaningful connection, one that eventually leads to the emotional climax of the episode.

But let’s back up a bit. “Kimmy Meets A Celebrity!” takes Kimmy out of her usual environment and throws her into the fucked up world of therapytainment. Kimmy and Cyndee initially bond—while sipping wine glasses filled with milk—over the fact that they’re both in therapy. It’s a touching moment, but it takes a disturbing turn when Kimmy learns the truth: Cyndee’s “therapist” is actually a celebrity television therapist played, hilariously, by Jeff Goldblum. Unsurprisingly, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s take on Dr. Drew effectively skewers the bizarre and exploitive reality television subgenre.

Dr. Dave assembles a band of merry survivors for a celebration of courage (presented by Splotch Guard, one of his many corporate sponsors whose slogans get progressively more ridiculous and hilarious over the course of the episode). There’s the aforementioned Deborah Wells, a woman who was stuck in a well for three weeks as a baby and now oversees a charity that organizes the throwing of roast beef sandwiches into wells. There’s also Thomas Vletchen, who has a syndrome named after himself, Bob and Bub Kittle, formerly conjoined twins, and Holly Krieger, a former SeaWorld employee who was eaten and pooped out by one of the orca whales she trained. Dr. Dave’s show, which tapes five episodes a day, is part horror-circus, part singing competition. He’s more interested in creating scenarios that can go viral than in actually helping people, so he brings out a person in an orca costume to chase Holly and dresses a coconut as the reverend to show to Cyndee, who said in her pre-show interview that she hates the reverend but loves coconuts. Dr. Dave provides just the kind of satire that the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt writers excel at, and the casting of Goldblum is especially inspired.

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But the storyline does so much more than make fun of celebritherapy. Every time one of her former mole women shows up, Kimmy has some sort of major revelation about herself and her journey. Kimmy tries to save Gretchen from herself, just as she always has. Kimmy never cried in the bunker, because that simply isn’t how she expresses herself, but also, she was way too busy taking care of everyone else to really process her own feelings. In the bunker, when Cyndee started crying because Can Man—a fictional man made of cans down in the bunker that has come up a few times in the series—broke up with her, Kimmy just keeps on crankin’ and acts out Titanic for Cyndee. But Kimmy has a crisis when she realizes that the only way to save Cyndee would mean losing her. She knows that marrying her gay fiancé on national television will ultimately be bad for Cyndee, but she also knows that if she tries to crash it, she’ll never speak to her again. She’ll lose someone who understands her unique pain. It’s that inner turmoil that finally pulls heaving tears out of Kimmy.

Because we’ve never seen Kimmy cry, when she finally hits a breaking point in “Kimmy Meets A Celebrity!” and slumps into a panic attack marked by hyperventilation and full-bodied tears, it hits hard. It’s devastating. Ellie Kemper sells the moment wholeheartedly. Again, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt manages to get very real even in the played-up world of Dr. Dave. Kimmy’s breakdown further unearths other sides of her intricate psyche, peeling back more layers of this human biscotti. She might hate how Cyndee has chosen to live her life post-bunker, but she loves Cyndee Pokorny. She’ll always be Cyndee Pokorny from kidnapping to her, and that’s an unbreakable bond that the episode’s emotional narrative is built on.

Continuing his streak of hilarious-yet-heartfelt storylines, Titus becomes a stand-in father figure for a young boy named Tyler who asks him to help him buy a ticket for the R-rated film The Human Centipede 5. After participating in a drug trial that made him feel like a piece of meat (“but in a bad way”), Titus is touched to be treated like a real person. He gives advice to Tyler about how to court the girl he’s crushing on, and it’s adorable—but also funny, given Titus’s exaggerated unfamiliarity with how straight people act and talk. But Tyler turns on Titus when it turns out the girl doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, poking holes in Titus’s fatherhood fantasy. Titus eventually takes his feelings to the stoop crone, who spends the episode still stuck to the bulldozer she handcuffed herself to at the end of “Kimmy Goes To Her Happy Place!” (according to Mikey, Shark Week is a union holiday now).

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Lillian’s love for her neighborhood and fear of the changes gentrification brings has worked both on a character development level as well as a plot level. Her passion characterizes Lillian as more than just a crazy ol’ stoop crone ranting about the way things used to be. She cares in a deep and meaningful way. And the serialized story of her trying to defend her neighborhood, culminating with her latest poorly planned but earnest protest, also serves as a plentiful narrative well for the show to dip into. In the case of this episode, Lillian uses her love for the neighborhood to explain to Titus that parenthood is a messy, glorious thing. She may have never had kids herself, but she offers an alternative view of parenthood. The neighborhood really is her child, and no matter how much it turns on her, she’ll always love it. She helps Titus realize that even when her brief relationship with Tyler turned sour, he still got so much out of it. Titus wants to be married. He wants to have a family. And he comes to those conclusions in a way that makes sense for the character.

Even though the jokes are sharply constructed when it comes to the writing on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it’s the characters who are really in command of the show. Most of the show’s best jokes are more than just funny: They work to enhance the show’s emotional backbone, too. The show isn’t afraid to get real—even at its most absurd.

Stray observations

  • It doesn’t quite beat “it was a total bangfest,” but this episode has another fantastic cold open, particularly when it comes to Kemper and Burgess’s commitment to reacting in horror to the wallpaper face.
  • “Knock knock! I always wanted to say that, but I was never on the other side of a door from you!”
  • Buzzfeed ranked her tragedy one of the top 10 most disturbing bunker kidnappings of 2015.”
  • Kemper’s face during the whole first Dr. Dave taping is great.
  • Titus apparently has made flashcards for Kimmy about pop culture and entertainment that she missed while in the bunker, and most of them are about Tyrese.
  • “I’m smart, like that Jennifer Aniston water.”
  • Lillian introduced pizza rat’s parents.
  • Kimmy, when Dr. Dave suggests she has had serial sexual partners in her post-bunker life: “Yeah, I’ve thought about Tony the Tiger.”
  • Titus says “Viola Davis” instead of “voila.”
  • #molefight

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