Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Recap: Back(pack) to Reality

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Kimmy Meets an Old Friend!
Season 4 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix/Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

Since this is a show about a woman dealing with sexual trauma and abuse, it’s inevitable that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt would address the #MeToo movement. Still, I’ve been amazed by the depth and breadth of its examination. Each episode of this mini-season has touched in some way on the trauma of sexual harassment and assault and the way our culture protects perpetrators. The finale doesn’t offer easy answers, but it does deliver some powerful moments of catharsis — from an anthropomorphic backpack puppet, because this is still Kimmy Schmidt.

That backpack is the “Old Friend” of the title, Kimmy’s bunker pal “Jan S. Port.” She lost Jan (along with the $13,000 inside) way back in the show’s pilot, but while the cash is long gone, Jan pops back up on one of the kids in Titus’s middle-school drama class, a hand-me-down from the club where his mom dances, er, manages. (I’ve said it before, but if she’s going to make a show that has coping with sexual trauma at its heart, Tina Fey really needs to reexamine her penchant for tired sex-worker and stripper jokes.)

Kimmy’s delighted to reunite with Jan — an adorable Muppet in her eyes, a literal old bag in everyone else’s. Back in the bunker, Kimmy used Jan as a conduit for her indomitable spirit and childlike imagination, plotting imaginary escapes like climbing Mt. Everest and losing to Norm MacDonald on Star Search. Ever-cynical Titus rejects Jan’s unique brand of “assistance” on his still-unwritten Capist pilot, but the return of her imaginary friend inspires Kimmy with a new way to reach boys: a YA fantasy book all about conquering their inner demons and learning to respect other people’s boundaries.

Sadly, Jan’s powers don’t extend to the world outside the bunker. An editor at Random House dismisses Kimmy’s Legends of Greemulax draft out of hand, telling her that she’s just not the right face to sell a kids’ book. “People see you as a mole woman, and it’s my job to keep you in that box,” he explains, encouraging her to write a brutal bunker memoir instead. Bereft, Kimmy lets Titus steal her book idea so he’ll have content for his Capist pitch meeting; he strikes out just as hard, as the executives in the room keep a kid on hand to prevent sexual assault and crack jokes about Titus’s own abuser (“hashtag Mr. Frumpus!”)

Knowing that Jan represents her inability to face reality, Kimmy decides to send her inner child to sleep with the fishes. The resulting scene is remarkably harrowing, with Ellie Kemper perfectly contrasting Kimmy’s despair and quiet menace against Jan’s representation of her inner sweetness and survival instincts, hilariously brought to life by puppeteer Stephanie D’Abruzzo. It’s a perfect blend of all the show’s strengths: genuine weirdness, funny cultural references, and an undertow of sadness, ultimately leavened by a dash of unlikely hope in the form of a young fan who’s fished Kimmy’s book from the trash and adores it. Like another redheaded children’s author who left an abusive relationship and struggled with literary rejection, this little girl might make it in the big city after all.

Alongside Xan’s broken heart and pregnancy scare (Jane the Virgin pregnancy tests are the new Sabor de Soledad!), Kimmy’s crisis delivers a powerful message about how abuse victims destroy parts of themselves to remain safe or to “grow up,” even as their abusers are encouraged to remain childlike forever. “It’s not my fault — why are men so believed?” Xan’s ex tells Jacqueline as she lays into him for lying about Xan’s promiscuity. “Why does society keep feeding the monsters?” asks Kimmy’s fan.

The show doesn’t have good answers to either of these difficult questions, if they exist. What it does have are opportunities to show women supporting other women, and the season closes on that note. Jacqueline’s self-absorbed, man-chasing years as Xan’s stepmother have perversely made her the perfect person to help her through her crisis, and trash her ex’s dorm room in the process. Lillian is also helping an adolescent of sorts: Artie’s ne’er-do-well daughter Sheba (Busy Philipps, delightful as ever), whose trust fund she’s now being forced to administer. As with all interactions between Lillian and clueless rich people, their relationship is delightfully savage from the jump, but Artie is probably right that they’ll be good for each other.

The episode concludes with the four main cast members celebrating over cake while being watched by Hebrew-speaking spies — a reference to the ex-Mossad agents of Black Cube that Harvey Weinstein hired to spy on his accusers. The vengeful abuser may be a Sesame Street puppet, but the message is the same as in the final scenes of “Party Monster”: Abuses of power won’t stop, and accusers are never safe, even if they have each other to lean on. It’s a dark place to end, but it’s a very honest one.

Other notes:

• I can’t believe we only got one episode this season with Xan (whom Dylan Gelula continues to embody with a perfect of entitlement and vulnerability), and just a couple of scenes with Amy Sedaris’s brilliant Mimi Kanasis, who’s now Jacqueline’s ad hoc secretary.

• Even by Kimmy Schmidt standards, there are some serious deep-cut New York jokes in this episode: Sheba’s mention of the original B&H Photo/Video in Krakow, Richard Kind reading the menu from Sammy’s Roumanian at Artie’s funeral, and the Fudgie the Whale cake the gang hoists at the end (“We’re Doing Real Fudging Whale!”)

• Titus making up a song so he doesn’t have to tell Kimmy about 9/11 is maybe the darkest joke the show’s ever done, and that’s really, really saying something.

• Did you spot the “Boobs in California” poster in Cap Tylenol’s dorm room? (The song is also briefly featured in “Party Monster,” in a shot that shows DJ Fingablast’s single soaring past it on the Billboard charts.)

• There are a lot of sharp, well-written jokes in this episode, but weirdly, Jan’s nonsense declaration that “Vests are fun ’cause your sleeves don’t get in your pudding!” is the one that might stick with me forever.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Recap: Back(pack) to Reality