Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
In its two seasons, Kimmy Schmidt has always celebrated independence, whether its from an underground doomsday cult, a loveless upper-crust marriage, a repressive Southern upbringing, or just the rules of common sense that would prevent someone from dating Robert Durst. But that independence rests on a foundation of interdependence, something Kimmy learned a lot about in the bunker — and which her New York friends don’t always manage to comprehend, aside from exploiting it to take advantage of her. Using Titus and Kimmy’s former bunker-mate Gretchen as examples, this episode argues that rolling solo can sometimes be too much of a good thing — and even a duo as unlikely as a bunny cop and kitty FBI agent sometimes need each other.
Titus is certainly an independent operator when it comes to his love life; he’s amassed a whole “Ex-Box” full of ephemera from part-time lovers, who include Amish boys on Rumspringa and a contortionist with the Korean National Circus. But when Mikey shows up four hours early for their first date with no conception of what to wear or how to act as a gay man, Titus starts to wonder if he’s up for trying to “Queer Eye that bridge-and-tunnel tadpole.” (His first question as he tries to dress Mikey up: “Which incarnation of Madonna do you most identify with? There are wrong answers.”)
After being outfitted with castoffs from the Ex-Box, Mikey and Titus head to a high-end gay club (named SCOTUS), where he manages to royally screw up flirting with the bouncer, having only learned his moves at construction sites: “Hey princess! Are you a high chair? ‘Cause I wanna put a baby in you.” His attempt to redeem himself by dancing hits an Elaine Benes level of embarassment, so much so that Titus just unclips the velvet rope and pulls them out of line — which is too bad, because end up just missing Yuko the robot, last seen picking up a child at St. Clotilde’s School for Fancy Boys, leaving the club.
Mikey confesses to Titus that he didn’t expect gay life to be all flashy clubs. He imagined it to be simpler: Two men cooking dinner together, wearing sweaters, and owning a giant sheepdog that sheds a lot. Needless to say, that’s not quite the vision Titus has for himself, but he can’t help but be charmed by Mikey’s sweetness and willingness to commit — not to mention their mutual love for The Lion King. (When Mikey says that Timon and Pumbaa are the perfect couple, Titus adds, “And they adopted that Simba from Africa!”) So Titus decides not to take him home for a hookup, despite the fact that Lillian, who’s developed a rooting interest in getting Titus and Mikey together, has scattered rose petals and barbecue potato chips on the bed.
By the next day, Titus is having a full-on crisis of confidence. He admits to Lillian that most of his past lovers weren’t just capricious one-night stands, but attempts at something real that went nowhere. “I wanted all of them to come back. All of them! They just never did. And they left behind some really important stuff,” he says, which includes: A Dutch passport, insulin, a prosthetic arm, and Titus’ withered self-esteem. His only consolation has been that those men didn’t really know him for who he is, and if Mikey does get to know him and rejects him anyway, he’ll be devastated. It’s a surprisingly poignant scene that lets out more than a little of Titus’s inner Ronald Wilkerson, and frankly, it’ll hit pretty close to home for anyone who’s been struggling on the dating market. (Titus’s earlier burn that Mikey should “make like a 30-year-old single girl and settle” didn’t help, either. Thanks for nothing, show.)
After Titus rejects Mikey out of fear, Lillian intervenes by visiting him at the construction site to sell him on giving their relationship another shot. Though Titus earlier describes his ungroomed self as “cocoon goo,” Lillian thinks Mikey could be the one to help him turn into a butterfly. She also maintains his cover by pretending she’s the one he’s hooking up with — he tells his bros that she’s Cheryl Tiegs — before stealing his multi-tool.
When he comes back to the apartment to look for his missing tool, Titus apologizes, and they share a sweet kiss, as Lillian encourages them to “go buy a pair of French bulldogs already.” I think Mike Carlsen has been a really great addition to the show so far — he and Tituss Burgess have terrific chemistry, and Mikey’s clueless, sweet, and irrepressibly optimistic nature basically makes him the male version of Kimmy — and an equally perfect foil for Titus.
Meanwhile, Kimmy receives word from Cyndee that their former bunker-mate, Gretchen, has gone off the rails. Though she remained the reverend’s devoted follower after being liberated from the bunker, Gretchen was finally able to see him for what he was at the end of last season’s trial. But she’s been lost ever since, trying to fill the vacancy in her life with other cults. After trying a stint at the Apple Store (“I gave the geniuses all my money for this magic watch!”), she’s fallen into Scientology — or rather, “Cosmetology” — and even appeared in a promo video for a Sea Org–like boat cruise. (Having seen some of Scientology’s real recruitment videos in Going Clear, the visual tropes UKS employs in this knockoff video uses are remarkably on-point, from the New Age music to the weird visual fades on backgrounds of stars.)
Determined to save Gretchen from another cult, Kimmy manages to kidnap her (“This is really hard … now I get why the reverend had a van!”) and convince her to start making her own choices. But that’s an unfamiliar concept to Gretchen, who went straight from a childhood with an overbearing Russian gymnastics coach (“Never have period, ah?”) into the reverend’s bunker. As a result, she’s made it to age 30 without ever really having made a decision for herself. Finally given the freedom to do what she wants by Kimmy, she immediately starts making bad choices: Adopting a surly pit bull, snorting coke with a “junkyard Elmo,” getting a giant chest tattoo, running into the street with her shirt off when she hears a car blasting “Put ‘Em on the Glass.”
It seems Gretchen just isn’t cut out for independence. “There are those of us who lead, and there are those of us who follow,” she explains to Kimmy. “The sheeps must follow the sheep-captain, and the sheep-captain must protect the sheeps, and keep them from using their dumb sheep brains, and also sell their hair.” It’s a sentiment that, when recorded and played back in the voice of Kelsey Grammer, Gretchen immediately latches onto. If she can’t live without a cult, Kimmy suggests, perhaps she should just lead her own. It’s one of the stranger metaphors for empowerment ever used on a TV show, but watching Gretchen lead her followers in their uniform garb — wet T-shirt contest tees and plastic-bag shoes — ends up being a perversely proud moment. For a show that rarely lacks a message, it’s also a remarkably powerful one: The worst decisions seem much better when they’re not made alone, and love is the one bad decision that none of us can do without.
- A detail I love: Because they spent the entirety of the technological revolution in the bunker, neither Kimmy nor Cyndee really understand the internet. “Okay, Cyndee, I’m on the World Wide Web. I see your electronic mail.” “Good. But watch out for porns.”
- Before Kimmy can say that she thinks “MILF” stands for “My Interesting Lady Friend,” Titus is already yelling her down. “WE ALREADY KNOW IT’S WRONG!”
- Jon Hamm will appear later in the season, via flashbacks, but until then, a nice shout out for Mad Men fans: “The reverend is a psycho liar who thinks he came up with the ’Buy the World a Coke’ commercial.”
- This episode’s bunker flashback is a nice callback to how Donna Maria pretends not to know English. After Gretchen puts her hand on a boiler in solidarity with the Reverend, she screams, “Get your hand off, you idiot!” before realizing she’s spoken English. “¡Ay, esta loca, esta loca! ¿Español, sí?”
- Lillian, thinking Mikey is an emissary from the mafia: “If this is about what [Titus] did in the Sbarro bathroom, then I apologize. The Sbarro family must be deeply disrespected, but there’s no need for a revenge killing.” You think Pizzarina Sbarro knows about the family business?
- Titus, pretending not to know who Mikey is: “Mikey who? That kid from the cereal commercial? He died of Pop Rocks.”
- “Bunny and kitty / Bein’ best friends / Together forever / The fun never ends / Solvin’ mysteries one hug at a time / Bunny and kitty / Two of a kiiiind!” This is a perfect distillation of a theme song for a kids’ show from the ’80s, so thanks, Jeff Richmond. Also, loved the vocal cameos from Will Arnett and Dean Winters (a.k.a. Dennis from 30 Rock) as the more hard-bitten, TV-MA bunny-kitty duo.