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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s night of romance takes a dark turn

Illustration for article titled iUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/i’s night of romance takes a dark turn
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It’s fake Christmas on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Kimmy and Dong, at last, get their romantic night together. Moved by Kimmy’s selfless actions when she helps him lie to Sonya about how Kimmy’s blue scrunchy ended up under his pillow, Dong finally gives into his feelings for her. They run away to a raccoon-infested hotel that hasn’t been open since 2003, and their night goes from Home Alone to Dawson’s Creek to My Girl to…well, to real life.

At first, Kimmy and Dong’s hotel adventures are just lighthearted fun. In the Home Alone phase, nothing matters. They’re just two people having fun together, beating up a candy machine, taking fake calls at the front desk, playing with fire extinguishers, and yanking table cloths out from under all the dusty dishes left behind. It’s an anarchic, giddy romp. But Dong and Kimmy are two adults who are attracted to each other. Here are they are, in a hotel, the usual forces that keep them apart temporarily disarmed. Kimmy wore her sexy lingerie: a Frozen nightgown. Sitting on a bed that’s probably as asbestos-ridden as Kimmy’s tugboat-apartment, they kiss.


And then Kimmy smacks Dong across the head with the nearest rotary phone. “Kimmy Goes To A Hotel!” is not the first episode of the series to strongly imply the sexual trauma Kimmy experienced in the bunker. This isn’t the first time she has violently reacted to physical affection. In the pilot, she makes an off-hand, off-putting reference to “weird sex stuff” that went down in the bunker. Writing about the first season, Emily Nussbaum explicitly refers to Kimmy as a rape survivor. If anyone somehow doubted the severity of what the reverend did to the mole women over the course of those 15 years, “Kimmy Goes To A Hotel!” should put those doubts to rest. The reverend didn’t just fill their heads with nonsense, like the idea that God doesn’t let penguins fly because they’re gay. He violated them. Kimmy’s P.T.S.D. is on full display in this episode. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is such a smart and layered show when it comes to its characterization of Kimmy as a survivor.

Plenty of shows—Game Of Thrones, Outlander, Scandal, American Horror Story, to name a few—have recently featured storylines involving sexual violence. As a comedy, Kimmy Schmidt is obviously very different than those examples, but it can be just as dark and disturbing, even against its brightly colored backdrop. And Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t need to explicitly show the horrors of the bunker to communicate just how bad it was. There’s nothing gratuitous about the way it portrays sexual violence, because it isn’t portraying the violent acts at all. Instead of focusing on the abuse, the writers acutely dig into its lasting effects, centering the narrative on the survivor and giving her full command of all the emotional beats. She grapples with some heavy, dark anxieties in “Kimmy Goes To A Hotel!,” and she can’t articulate to Dong exactly what’s going on. She’s still trying to figure it out for herself, and the writers are letting her take her time with it.


Kimmy’s pop-rocks energy has always been one of her defining qualities. But season two is starting to complicate her perpetual grin and giving heart. Kimmy’s kindness is a part of who she is and who she will always be, but at the same time, she sometimes uses it as a mask. “I have problems,” she admits to Dong, but she still isn’t ready to get into exactly what those problems are with him. So she tries to kiss him again. And again, she hits him with the phone.

They end up getting some unexpected advice from a bodega cashier named Purvis who looks suspiciously like Joshua Jackson (it is Joshua Jackson). All the specific references to Dawson’s Creek are funny, but it also ends up being a pretty moving scene when Kimmy realizes that sex and relationships are complicated. It doesn’t have to all be perfect. And then Ellie Kemper punctuates the scene with her hilarious delivery of Kimmy’s condom request.


But then things go My Girl when Dong has a rather intense allergic reaction to latex. Their romantic evening together comes crashing to a halt when Kimmy has to call 911, eventually leading to Dong’s arrest and pending deportation. It’s devastating. Faced with the possibility of never seeing each other again, Kimmy suggests they hook up in the back of the cop car. But even in her sudden eagerness to take things to the next level, Kimmy’s trauma persists: She’s only truly comfortable getting intimate with Dong because he’s handcuffed.

Kimmy wants so desperately to leave her past behind her. She insists to Dong that her reasons for only having seen the first season of Dawson’s Creek and for feeling calm that he’s in handcuffs are “totally normal, not weird.” In Kimmy’s mind, she’s not normal. That kind of abuse survivor mentality is a very complex idea to untangle. Kimmy doesn’t really find any kind of resolution in “Kimmy Goes To A Hotel!” Kimmy’s trauma isn’t mere conflict for the show to wrap up neatly. It’s deeply embedded in her, and just as it’s always going to inform her actions and choices, it’s always going to inform the show. Kimmy and Dong finally do it, but it isn’t the typical kind of sitcom success ending. It’s tinged with sadness for both characters. Dong’s facing deportation. Kimmy’s realizing it’s still difficult for her to be intimate with someone. She needs him to be handcuffs to feel secure. She wants to have sex with Dong, but it isn’t that simple. It’s infinitely more complicated than the love triangle at the heart of Dawson’s Creek. Because it’s real fucking life.


Kimmy and Dong are undoubtedly the highlight of the episode, but there’s some fun stuff in the subplots, too. Jacqueline’s eventual empathy for the Weiner family isn’t nearly as well developed as some of her other recent storylines have been. It seems too broad and lacks the personal and specific punch of her emotional journeys in the past two episodes. But the phone calls to her parents are quite lovely. I especially loved Sheri Foster’s matter-of-fact delivery of “of course she knows” when Jacqueline’s father asks if she knew January Jones was from South Dakota. It’s minute, but it just reads as such a genuine parental exchange. The stolen-art subplot also allow for a rare teaming up of Jacqueline and Lillian. Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski are unsurprisingly great together.

Titus, meanwhile, gets called into work on his day off and accidentally lives out his own version of A Christmas Carol. It’s a funny visual gag, and it fits the show’s overall sense of humor, but it feels a little out-of-place in this episode. The payoff is sweet, if on-the-nose, as Titus rushes home from work to be with Lillian and Kimmy. “Fake Christmas is about one simple thing: It’s about being with your fake family.” Everyone smiles as they sing a fake Christmas carol, fake snow falling around them. Of course, that fake snow would be asbestos. Nothing is quite as it seems on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.


Stray observations

  • Fun fact: Steve Buscemi directed this episode!
  • Titus, when Mikey plays fake Santa on fake Christmas: “Where was all this acting commitment when I asked you to say it was my birthday at Baskin Robbins?”
  • Ki Hong Lee gives a really great performance throughout. Both Lee and Kemper are fantastic in the scene where Kimmy and Dong are pretending to hate each other for “invisible” Sonya’s benefit. It’s a genuinely sad moment. There are a lot of those in “Kimmy Goes To A Hotel!”
  • But there are a lot of hilarious moments, too. Mimi Kanasis should be passed out on a couch in every episode, awaking only for brief bursts of deranged hilarity. When Kimmy wonders where everyone is, she snaps up and shouts “Jacqueline took the old lady to the movies, and the black guy’s dead!”
  • Titus and Kimmy’s made-up carol at the end is all around perfect, but especially as they cheerfully sing “Hey, where is Mimi? I bet she is dead by now.”
  • One of my favorite Kimmy Schmidt runners is how certain objects remind other characters of Kimmy. Here, Jacqueline looks at a red dish scrubber and immediately thinks of her. Titus also mistakes a large, red creature at the restaurant for Kimmy.

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