I had a strange realization after watching “Kimmy Walks Into A Bar!” The emotions and character beats of the episode reminded me a lot of the current season of Outlander. Structurally and tonally, the two shows couldn’t be more different. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a heightened comedy about a woman rebuilding her life after being held hostage for 15 years in an underground bunker. Outlander is about a 1940s war nurse who accidentally time-travels to 18th-century Scotland where she falls in love with a younger man. But both shows, in their own ways, so expertly portray the intricacies, contradictions, and residual effects of trauma. Outlander has a complicated plot involving history and politics and time travel. But even as it trudges through its plot, it never loses sight of how past abuse shapes its male protagonist’s actions and state of mind. Violence does not exist for the sake of violence on the show; it informs the story and sheds light on the complexity of trauma. And with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy’s past isn’t just some gimmicky premise. The bunker is practically a character in and of itself. Kimmy’s out of the bunker. The reverend is in jail. But her past sneaks up on her—insidious and unexpected.

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“Just because you’re out doesn’t mean it’s out of you,” Keith, an Army vet who knows a thing or two about trauma himself, tells her. The episode ends, rather grimly, with Kimmy insisting she isn’t like Keith, who very clearly suffers from PTSD. She storms off to plan a fake Christmas to make up for all the Christmases she lost while in the bunker. Kimmy’s eager efforts to prove she has left the bunker behind ironically only reinforce that she definitely has not left the bunker behind. Fake Christmas isn’t merely a bandaid solution; it’s a distraction. Kimmy tells Keith she can’t slow down because of all the time she missed while in the bunker. But by blazing forward, she isn’t taking the time to truly heal. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is as nuanced and smart in how it writes about abuse and survival as Outlander is.

And it’s even more striking that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt pulls all that off as a comedy. The episode really drives home the idea that Keith and Kimmy suffer similar side effects from what they’ve each been through, and that manifests in cute and funny ways. Samuel Page brings a cautious, awkward vibe to the role that clicks very well with Ellie Kemper’s performance. Keith uses outdated lingo just like Kimmy does. Kimmy suggests that they both go to a horror movie so they can laugh at what other people—who haven’t fought in a war or been held captive in a bunker—find scary. It all builds to an explosive moment that’s funny, sad, and powerful all at once: Keith, startled by a sudden noise, tackles Kimmy to the ground, and she immediately starts attacking him, projecting the reverend onto Keith. Page and Kemper are fantastic throughout the episode, but their acting is especially impressive in the split second when Keith and Kimmy realize what they’re doing and snap back to reality.

Ultimately, while Keith and Kimmy are able to relate about so many things, they’re driven apart when Keith tries to tell Kimmy she hasn’t fully dealt with her demons. Keith and Kimmy, while both survivors, are in very different places. Kimmy is on her own journey, and right now, she’s very stuck in her denial. Keith brings a lot of that to the surface. The flirtations between Keith and Kimmy are adorable, but he functions as much more than a potential love interest. “Kimmy Walks Into A Bar!” is a reliably hilarious episode, but there’s so much darkness bubbling beneath the surface of the jokes. That’s almost always the case for Kimmy Schmidt, but it’s especially palpable and stirring in “Kimmy Walks Into A Bar!”

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And Kimmy isn’t the only one being affected by her past. It’s another strong episode for Jacqueline, who is becoming almost as much of the show’s heroine as Kimmy is this season. Jacqueline not only taps into her past in terms of her familial roots but also into her past as a “side piece.” Again, there’s some really funny stuff there. Jacqueline rallies the troops of mistresses—who used to be her people—to give them what they’ve always wanted (“A reality show?” “His wife explodes?”). But as with Kimmy’s story, the jokes all work toward spinning a bigger story—one that really takes Jacqueline’s redemption arc to the next level.

Jacqueline going toe-to-toe with the fierce and terrifying Deirdre Robespierre makes for the episode’s most thrilling storyline. Anna Camp already made a splash with her first appearance earlier in the season, and here, she outdoes herself, giving a downright Shakespearean performance as Deirdre, Alpha Mom and former state department mastermind. Camp nails Deirdre’s manic, tumultuous energy. She deserves awards just for the way she alternates between maniacal laughter and crying in her last scene of the episode.

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Due to an error made by Mimi Kanasis (of course), Jacqueline’s charity gala ends up scheduled for the same day as Deirdre’s (for Lupus Awareness Awareness). But Deirdre craves the drama this brings. She longs for Jacqueline to put up a fight. She needs her. Jacqueline strikingly doesn’t push back at first. It’s another sign of how much she has changed. There’s genuine desperation in her voice and face as she pleads with Deirdre to let her have the venue for her charity. It suddenly becomes clear just how badly Jacqueline cares about raising this money. Jane Krakowski gives yet another stellar, layered performance, bringing humanity and depth to the character with ease. The fact the Deirdre doesn’t back down makes it all the more exhilarating. Her monologue about wanting Jacqueline to fight back is so wonderfully theatrical that the stakes really do feel Shakespearean. And Jacqueline’s eventual victory is equally grand. I will be replaying the image of Jacqueline raising her arms as all the old white dudes leave Deirdre’s gala for the foreseeable future.

But the glow Jacqueline gets from defeating Deirdre is quickly extinguished when the attendees of her gala realize that the cause they’re giving to in no way benefits them. Jacqueline is trying to use her power to give back to her community, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is bleakly realistic when it comes to her failure. Of course, the ignorance of the rich, white men at the gala is played up for comedy, but it’s also quite real. They have no interest in changing the status quo, in giving back to oppressed and displaced people. Jacqueline’s sad, defeated look adds to the episode’s truly grim ending.

But it isn’t all gloomy. Titus and Mikey keep spirits up throughout “Kimmy Walks Into A Bar!,” as they continue to be so downright cute. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is telling such a genuine and heartfelt love story through these characters. Titus becomes annoyed by Mikey’s incessant talking, but when he spends time with Mikey around his fellow construction workers, he realizes that Mikey doesn’t really have anyone else to talk to and that he isn’t just rambling. He’s opening up to him. Lillian is noticeably absent from the episode, and while I missed Carol Kane dearly, I think it actually works. The episode unfolds in a way where she isn’t needed. It’s especially meaningful that Titus comes to his own conclusions about Mikey’s behavior instead of having to be told by the wise ol’ stoop crone what it all means. Titus is showing personal growth, learning to listen on a deeper level. As it turns out, Mikey isn’t much of a talker after all. He explains to Titus that he talked a lot on their first date because he was nervous and then thought that Titus fell for that version of himself and wanted to keep it up for him. Just when I thought Mikey couldn’t get more adorable, he goes and says that. As with the other storylines in the episode, there are a lot of emotions going on in this one. It’s sad to watch Mikey pretend to be someone he isn’t around the other construction workers (or “contraption workers,” as Titus calls them). This relationship is getting the detail and development it deserves.

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Stray observations

  • Oh god, there are so many great Mimi Kanasis moments that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think I’ll go with her reaction to Jacqueline’s Snapple fact about ostridges being able to run 30 mph. Her initial “What? No! Help!” is already perfect, but then it’s topped by her telling Jacqueline not to answer her phone because “it’s an ostrich!” Oh unhinged, erratic Mimi, how I love thee.
  • I want to reiterate just how great Anna Camp is. She commands every second she’s on screen and can act on Krakowski’s level, which is no easy feat. As with Mimi, it’s hard to pick a favorite Deirdre line, but I really loved “Thank god you didn’t kill yourself, because I would have, and I know exactly how and when.”
  • Deirdre going in for a kiss from Jacqueline only to then chomp down in a bite was 1. very frustrating and 2. fantastically blocked. Here’s to hoping they become Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s will-they/won’t-they couple.
  • The guests at Jacqueline’s gala keep clapping for the pilgrims.
  • “Your feet aren’t bleeding anywhere, which means you’ve worn those shoes before.”
  • “I guess I should eat all the oysters first, but then I’d be so horny!”
  • “Are you here to kill me?”

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