The whole season has been building to the reunion between Kimmy Schmidt and Lori-Ann Schmidt. Even before we knew how big of a role Lori-Ann plays in Kimmy’s deep-seated attachment issues, it was clear that Kimmy was on a path toward reconciliation this season. Ultimately, she doesn’t really find that reconciliation with coasterhead and all-around mess Lori-Ann Schmidt. She reconciles with herself.

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“Kimmy Finds Her Mom!” so perfectly epitomizes the tone and scope of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s second season. It doesn’t necessarily alternate between funny and sad; it’s both all at once—a seemingly impossible task, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt makes it look easy. Kimmy has been making huge realizations about herself and about what happened to her all season—some that give new meaning to things from all the way back in season one. Her journey culminates with this mother-daughter reunion. Lisa Kudrow becomes another one of the season’s perfect casting choices, bringing humanity and a playful lightness to the character that complicates and grounds Lori-Ann Schmidt. The character and relationship development done in this episode happens efficiently, quickly establishing the messy and varied inner-workings of both Lori-Ann and Kimmy when it comes to their reunion. Kimmy has a lot she wants to say to Lori-Ann, but she doesn’t get her chance at first. Like Titus, I bristled at Lori-Ann’s initial reaction to Kimmy. She doesn’t let her talk. She tries to make it all about herself, interjecting to say how hard it was for her instead of letting Kimmy speak about how she feels.

And both Kudrow’s performance and the writing makes it so that Lori-Ann comes off as both a flawed and sympathetic character. There’s emotional honesty to what she says. Yes, of course it was hard for her, too. When she remarks that she was sick of being in Indiana where everyone just expected her to be sad all the time, that’s something Kimmy can relate to. They both hate being defined by the bad thing that happened to them. Kimmy admits that she didn’t even think about how her kidnapping made her feel.

But at the same time, even if there’s validity in Lori-Ann’s feelings, she’s still being selfish by prioritizing herself over Kimmy. The fact that she knew Kimmy was rescued but avoided her just to put off all these feelings is devastating and so unfair to Kimmy. So both women say what has been on their minds…while screaming their heads off on a roller coaster. I feel like all my talk of Ellie Kemper’s exaggerated facial expressions conjured that incredible circus of funny faces we get from Kimmy on the roller coaster. But in between the funny faces, Kemper’s also giving a fantastic emotional performance, expressing some of the hardest truths Kimmy has had to grapple with this season. She was the one to take care of her mom when it should have been the other way around. She hates her mom for not looking for her harder. She hates her mom for acting like she never wanted her. But it’s complicated. Lori-Ann explains that she was only 17. Of course she didn’t want her. But she loved Kimmy. And when Kimmy was kidnapped, people blamed her.

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But even more affecting than the roller coaster scene are the scenes that come before and after. In the first, Kimmy’s playing in a ball pit—a perfectly normal activity for the Kimmy we know. But Lori-Ann starts to worry they’ll miss the ride, so she tells Kimmy they need to go. Kimmy just needs to put her shoes on, but it takes her too long. Lori-Ann never taught her how to tie her shoes. Lori-Ann leaves her, and Kimmy falls, scrapes her knee, and calls out for her mother. The scene very intentionally frames Kimmy as a little kid, and it’s very effective. We’re used to seeing Kimmy do kid-like things, but here, it comes from this deeply emotional and dark place. All these years later, Lori-Ann still can’t be the mother that Kimmy needs.

I picked up on the significance of the Velcro shoes in the flashback to Kimmy’s kidnapping a couple episodes ago, but seeing Kimmy connect the dots here is a powerful moment. After the roller coaster, Kimmy puts it all together, realizes that if her mother had only taught her how to tie her shoes then she probably wouldn’t have been kidnapped. She lashes out at Lori-Ann, blames her for the role she played in what happened that day. But there’s a catch: Her explosive moment of catharsis didn’t actually happen. She only imagined it. Kimmy ultimately decides she doesn’t need to lash out at Lori-Ann. It won’t un-kidnap her. It won’t solve anything at all. So instead, she has her quiet moment of catharsis, her reconciliation with herself.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt even manages to give deeper, sad meaning to Lori-Ann’s most absurd quality. Kimmy asks her mom why she’s a coasterhead. Lori-Ann explains that sometimes you want to scream your head off, and a roller coaster is the only place where no one looks at you weird. Nothing is really all that random in this show’s universe. There’s usually an emotional explanation for even the weirdest details.

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Titus also stands on the precipice of a big life decision—one that has been building all season. Unfortunately, the final send-off is a bit lackluster. His prayers answered by Black Jesus from the Madonna “Like A Prayer” video, Titus ditches the bus that’s supposed to take him to the van that’s supposed to take him to the cruise ship for his tenure as a performer and instead boards a bus bound for Titusville. It’s a real place in Florida, home to the Kennedy Space Center. But after a raffle-won dinner with an astronaut, Titus realizes that Titusville is a place where dreams go to die. No one has gone to space since 2011 (“So space is like American Apparel?”). Titus gets the hell out of Titusville and reclaims his dreams of being a paid performer. His fears in “Kimmy Finds Her Mom!” definitely track with what we know about the character and with the general headspace he has been in all season, but it just feels like his realizations here cover the same exact ground as his journey last episode. For the first time all season, Titus’s subplot really just seems like filler, retreading familiar ground and recreating the same conflict that the last episode did better. Maybe I’m just bitter that Mikey wasn’t a part of it this time. Hey, at least Titus fires off some classic Andromedon zingers and also makes a very compelling argument for why he suddenly likes space (“weightlessness, non-melting ice cream, buff scientists”).

Even more so, Lillian’s role in the episode doesn’t add a lot to the story. Even though the problem persists, it’s too neat of a wrap up on her gentrification storyline. After painting a somewhat complex picture of what gentrification means for New York neighborhoods, the writers just fall back on easy jokes here like the sudden prominence of mommy joggers. In a way, it’s poignant that Lillian wonders if anyone even notices her within a seemingly unimportant subplot, but I think the writers are really just trying to put a button on her season-two struggle, and there simply isn’t enough time in the episode to really give it the weight of the other storylines going on. And hey, Lillian’s minimal scenes here might all be worth it just for the visual gag of the listing sign Lillian makes: “HOUSE” FOR SALE BY “OWNER” 3BR 0 LGL BA. And Lillian’s arc still has momentum: She’s potentially running for office, taking her passion for her neighborhood to the political arena.

The character development done with Jacqueline has been one of the best parts of the season, and even though the Russ stuff has been really rushed, her storyline in this episode is really touching and builds on all of the rich character work that has been poured into her arc all season. Jacqueline meets Russ’s family for Thanksgiving, and Josh Charles guest stars in the best brand of Josh Charles guest star spot: a privileged asshole named Duke. He’s one of Russ’s many terrible family members. At first Jacqueline hits it off with Duke. He’s a reminder of the kind of empty, rich men she used to go for in her past. But she learns the truth about Duke and Russ and the rest of their family: They’re the owners of the Washington Redskins. Jane Krakowski delivers another emotional performance: When Jacqueline realizes that Russ’s family doesn’t give a shit about their team’s name or about the people whose culture they have trampled on, she backs slowly against a wall, as if she feels trapped and helpless. She confesses to Russ that she loves him but can’t be with someone who doesn’t see a problem with the team’s name. But of course, that only makes sweet and earnest Russ love her back. They kiss and vow to take on the cause together. Jacqueline’s path to redemption has been a bumpy one, but it has made her a bigger player in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s overall narrative. She isn’t just some rich lady caricature around to provide contrast to Kimmy and Titus’s lifestyles. She’s a real person with feelings.

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Titus, Kimmy, and Jacqueline all, in their own ways, struggle to parse out their own feelings, but they all reach pretty pivotal moments of self-discovery in the season finale. It has been an incredibly dark—while still hilarious—season, but it ends with a touch of sweetness, even for Kimmy, who leaves Universal Studios not altogether fixed but with a new sense of confidence and acceptance. Try as they might, these characters can’t change the past. It’s time to start living in the present…which is a lot easier said than done. In the final seconds of the finale, things go unmistakably dark again when an unknown caller giving Kimmy a ring turns out to be none other than the reverend, asking Kimmy for a divorce. It wouldn’t be true to the overall message of the season if Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt had ended with a simple, satisfying conclusion.

Stray observations

  • Another season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ends with a little bit of resolution and a whole lot of uncertainty. Fear not: Netflix already renewed it for a third season before this one even came out. I hope we see more of Anna Camp and Lisa Kudrow next season.
  • I’m sure the main reason we don’t see Jon Hamm appear until the very end of the season had to do with scheduling, but it’s actually extremely effective to have this be the first time all season that we see the reverend’s face straight-on. It makes his presence jarring, just as the phone call is for Kimmy.
  • A nice subtle Jacqueline moment is when she tells the jeweler she isn’t selling her family’s necklace. Krakowski has been really bringing it on so much more than just a comedy level this season.
  • Lori-Ann has been carrying around the Christmas present she was going to give Kimmy the year she got kidnapped, which at first sounds touching, but then the present turns out to just be a homemade coupon book. I love the details that went into the coupon book, like the cover, which was only written in elaborate bubble letters for the first few words before Lori-Ann presumably got bored and switched to normal, hurried writing. Shout out to the Kimmy Schmidt art department.
  • Kimmy doesn’t know who Spongebob is, refers to him as “cheese businessman.”
  • Kimmy: “I wish you were Geena Davis!” Lori-Ann: “Me too, dude.”
  • Jacqueline, with the best Thanksgiving toast ever: “I know what I’m thankful for: Loving someone other than myself…and revenge.”

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