Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Most TV seasons tend to start on upbeat notes, piling on problems as they build up toward big resolutions. But so far, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s third season has been all about breakups, the bravery it takes to execute them, and the forces that keep people in relationships that are no longer serving them. Titus and Mikey, Lillian and Robert Durst, Kimmy and the Reverend: Each of these relationships had strong reasons for ending, and characters who were bold enough to let go. But what happens when someone doubles down on their delusions instead?
The show has previously explored this topic through Kimmy’s bunker pal Cyndee, who ends up deprogramming herself by starting her own cult. But it takes on a new dimension with this episode’s unexpected guest turn from Laura Dern (who’s having a hell of a year between this, Big Little Lies, and the Twin Peaks revival). Her character, Wendy, is the woman the Reverend is desperate to remarry, but she’s not exactly the ignorant or desperate type you would think would be down for such an arrangement. A vivacious woman with two graduate degrees and the looks of, well, Laura Dern, Wendy seems to have it all — but as Titus finds out, she also has zero self-worth.
Though she must have some comprehension of his crimes, Wendy remains profoundly blasé of the damage the Reverend has done to Kimmy’s life, mainly viewing her as a conduit to getting to know him better. She thinks Kimmy is as much to blame for her imprisonment in the bunker as he is, and that a note hitting her up for $100 is a love poem (“He’s like a young William Carlos Williams”). She finds living in a Hampton Inn glamorous. (Kimmy: “Oof, that sounds sad, and I lived in an underground tube.”) Even Kimmy saying outright that the Reverend is a rapist — a gasp-worthy moment, as it’s the first time that this show has turned that particular bit of subtext into text — isn’t enough to dissuade Wendy.
Dern isn’t a natural comic actress, leaning more on breezy charm than big theatricality or unconventional joke delivery. But when things turn serious, her subtlety really twists the knife, particularly when she confesses to Titus that she’s marrying the Reverend because she can always keep him at a safe distance. “If we only see each other one hour a week, he’ll never realize what a useless piece of crap I am and he’ll love me forever, and that’s what I deserve!” It’s easy to see why Kimmy once again self-sacrifices, giving up her chance at college money to save Wendy (who, needless to say, isn’t grateful). As usual, Kimmy’s belief in people is likely to backfire in a way that makes life harder for everyone.
For Jacqueline, self-sacrifice isn’t a remotely familiar concept. The show has long danced around whether she’s actually a good person deep down, or if she’s just able to convince herself that she is. Like many people, I’m not sure there’s really an answer, as indicated by her rather erratic behavior in this episode. We know that Jacqueline was initially repelled by David Cross’s Russ, seeing him primarily as a cash cow. But their shared devotion to Operation Plan, a.k.a. bringing down the Washington Redskins, seemed to be an unlikely fertilizer for romance. So far this season, Jacqueline has shown more affection to Russ than pretty much anyone she’s ever met, even though he’s objectively kinda gross.
But when the shit hits the fan, Jacqueline doesn’t show much resolve. She doesn’t defend Russ from his truly terrible family, or lift a finger to save him from being slowly flattened by a Smart car, or object to a deathbed wedding to bolster the Snyders’ credibility with Native Americans. It’s a weirdly passive episode for her character, who’s normally such a bulldozer, and it still doesn’t quite add up for me.
I don’t need Jacqueline to be a good person — in fact, I love it when she’s an awful one — but I do need to understand her motivations, and they weren’t clear here. Is Operation Plan still a go, or did she just agree to the wedding for the cash? Was seeking approval from Russ’s twitching fingers an act, or was it genuine contrition? Does she actually care about Russ, or does she only care about getting back her Native American cred? (Fat chance on that last one, based on the local headlines.) For an episode that takes on the complexities of why women get into awful, unhealthy relationships, I wish I understood hers a bit better.
• Damn, Buckley is now a tween. Life comes at you fast. Also, I miss Xanthippe. Is she ever coming back?
• Kimmy’s montage of college application items is adorable, particularly her blinged-out Ultimate Pretty Good Frisbee and her ventriloquist act with the bad mitten. (“What’s a minton?”)
• Other than brokeness, is there any explanation for why Titus drinks tomato sauce out of the jar? I don’t remember this being a thing.
• A bilingual joke from the bunker flashback: Kimmy and Cyndee initially think that Donna Maria’s name is “Ayudame.” It’s Spanish for “help me.”
• I’d bet good money that this whole “waffles don’t travel!” thing is a writers room argument that ended up onscreen. For the record, I am down with takeout waffles. Forget takeout fish tacos, though — that’s a bridge too far.
• Russ’s dad’s whole “organ donation” thing has creepy shades of Get Out. “In five years, I’ll be 80, my organs will be 40, and I don’t know how to do orangutan years, but my penis will be eight!”