Since the beginning, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has done the unexpected. It took a premise that sounds, at best, confounding on paper and spun it into a complex, funny, and often moving series that impressively balances absurdity and biting realness. Season three has followed suit, playing around with sitcom tropes and taking its character in surprising directions. The show burns through story at lightning speed. Jacqueline takes down the NFL pretty early on given that it seemed like it was the goal the character was set up to work on all season. Titus goes from thinking Mikey’s cheating on him to letting him go so he can experience more than just one relationship to wanting him back to…not quite getting him back in this finale. Those turns all happen quickly but coherently. At times, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt seems unfocused in how much it moves around and wraps things up and brings things back relentlessly. But its ability to surprise remains a strength. After setting it up to seem like going to college would be the big character moment for Kimmy, the finale sees the swift end of that storyline.

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Because there’s more to the story than just going to college. Just like there was more to the story than Jacqueline getting the NFL to change its team names. Her journey wasn’t quite over when that plot point came to an end. We see her grow even more, rejecting her past life as a desperate divorcee trying to be a Real Housewife. She leaves that life and her husband, too, and the finale sees her scrambling to figure out what the next move is. Kimmy, meanwhile, flunks out of college. It seems to come out of nowhere, and yet, is it really that much of a surprise that Kimmy isn’t doing the best academically at Columbia given her overall lack of world experience and tendency to overthink to the point where critical thinking becomes impossible? Of course Kimmy flunks out, so she goes to her fallback plan of becoming a crossing guard.

This leads to a very fun sequence of scenes, starting with Kimmy nailing the 1000-question crossing guard test. It’s satisfying to watch Kimmy excel at something, especially since she’s so jazzed about it herself. But when a Yuko robot gets the same score, the two have to go head-to-head in a ridiculous crossing guard off. The hilarious competition ends on an intense note, when Kimmy sacrificed herself in a simulated trolley problem in order to save everyone else. That’s who Kimmy is at her core, someone who wants to help others. But that tendency has gotten her into a lot of trouble over the years. She even once blamed her tendency to want to help others for getting kidnapped by the reverend. All Kimmy wants to do is help others by being a crossing guard, and yet again the reverend gets in her way. Because she’s still legally married to him, which she did to help Wendy, she can’t be employed as a crossing guard.

Ultimately, the finale doesn’t settle for the first plan or Kimmy’s backup plan. Every time it looks like her arc is about to click into place, the writers upend everything again. Kimmy and Lillian both find themselves questioning who they are and what their purpose is. Lillian tells Artie she won’t go to Europe with him, even going against everything she stands for by urging him to just use his money to get higher up on the heart transplant list. Artie says he just wants to live in the present, but Lillian doesn’t want to sit around and wait for him to die, so she leaves and gets shitfaced on cooking brandy and cleaning alcohol. She’s further devastated when she finds Kimmy also giving up hope. Life’s like an onion, Kimmy explains. “It’s a lie. It stinks. And it makes you cry.” Lillian exclaims that this isn’t how things were supposed to go for them. Both characters find themselves in uncharted emotional territory. Neither of their lives are panning out the way they thought they would, and from our point of view, neither of their storylines have followed an expected path.

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And the same can be said for Jacqueline and Titus, too. Merging Jacqueline and Titus’ narratives together in the finale works exceptionally well. Jacqueline throws herself into helping Titus, invigorated by her sense of purpose, and along the way she learns that she would make a damn good agent. With Jacqueline’s help, Titus gets the money he’s owed for “Boobs In California” going viral (in the kowabunga demo) and then continues his quest to try to get Mikey back. Even that doesn’t go as expected. Titus declares his love for Mikey in the middle of performing with Gordy on a Mets cruise, and for once, it’s not some rehearsed or staged moment. It’s a genuine emotional release, the kind of raw moment not even Titus can script ahead of time. And Mikey doesn’t jump right back into his arms. Again, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tempers its often over-the-top storytelling with realness. And in real life, grand romantic gestures rarely go smoothly, rarely result in a clean-cut happy ending. Mikey says he doesn’t know what to do, and Titus vows to try and win him back. He doesn’t know exactly when it will happen, but he’s determined to try. Titus and Jacqueline both come to crucial realizations in the episode (and both are so self-centered that they think the other is just a sidekick in their own story). Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski make an incredible comedy duo, and this season has thankfully given them more screentime together.

While Jacqueline, Titus, Lillian, and Kimmy all have learned a lot about themselves this season, the finale doesn’t give any of them too much resolution or closure, instead introducing a whole new path for each of them to pursue. Jacqueline wants to become an agent. Kimmy lands a job at a startup, where her emotional intelligence is valued. Titus is on a quest to get Mikey back, and Lillian is trying to embrace uncertainty. Since season one, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has become increasingly about all four of these characters instead of just focusing on Kimmy and casting the rest as Greek chorus members in her journey of self discovery. They’re all on their personal journeys of self-discovery, and that has led to strong and varied emotional storytelling this season. While the pacing has been a little inconsistent all season and certain storylines never paid off (namely: Perry, but also Wendy), overall the season has harnessed the show’s unique voice as it moves the characters forward. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt remains unabashedly weird, but it’s also anchored to reality in how it explores the often nonlinear, complicated process of personal growth.

Stray observations

  • Thanks for reading another season of my Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt coverage! Now that the season has come to a close, I can confidently say that my favorite guest star was Maya Rudolph. But Rachel Dratch is a close second.
  • Life According To Titus: Things worth giving up: heroin, cigarettes, jigsaw puzzles (“you already got the picture on the box, bitch”).
  • Life According To Kimmy: Even Beaker makes science mistakes, so she shouldn’t feel too bad about hers.
  • I stand by what I said a few reviews ago: It sort of feels like Burgess is becoming the real star of this show, and I’m okay with that.
  • That being said, Ellie Kemper’s performance has been brilliant all season, and I still think she deserves awards for her facial expressions alone.
  • Hello again, DJ Fingerblast. I love when this show brings back random past characters. The world-building for this show is very strong.
  • I’m always here for a dig at La La Land.

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