The central question of this Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode is one that’s particularly relevant these days: In an era of manipulation and mixed messages, who can we trust? Instead of settling for a pat moral of “trust your family and friends” or “trust your gut,” it attempts to go to some deep places regarding people’s assumptions about themselves and the world. But while the theme is timely, the execution is jumbled and a little repetitive, creating a muddled episode that doesn’t quite live up to its ambitions.
Despite being the most justified in mistrusting everything and everyone, open-hearted Kimmy kicks off the episode by once again getting taken for a ride, panicking over the hurricane prognostications of a fire-and-brimstone weatherman named Drench Thunderman. With his insistence on stocking up canned goods and building bunkers for the apocalypse, Drench is a callback to Kimmy’s past, only this time, the threat seems very real. Lillian reassures her that it’s just fake news — “None of it ever comes true. Swine flu! Hot tub babies! Killer bees! A woman president!” — but the thought of a Reverend-like figure lying to millions of people just makes Kimmy even more livid, and she sets out to shut down Drench’s show.
Meanwhile, Titus is blindsided by his own televised nightmare: an ad campaign for overactive bladder medication starring a suspiciously Titus-like talking bladder, complete with sassy catchphrase (“It’s time to go, girl!”) In yet another of Titus’ bizarre brushes with fame, it turns out that he’d majorly blown an audition for a Big Pharma commercial months prior — so memorably that the company decided to rebuild the campaign around him, stalking him everywhere he went so that an impressionist (Scott Adsit, in the season’s second 30 Rock cameo) could more effectively portray him.
Given its usual blistering pace, the show spends what seems like an eternity connecting those dots, with Titus manipulating Kimmy into serving as his enforcer so he can discover the truth. That leaves it much less time to deal with the central revelation: The Big Pharma folks liked Titus so much because he made a great villain. Confronted with the video evidence of his assholery — from insulting a Geek Squad repairman to making Kimmy carry him on her back “because it’s Black History Month” — Titus begins questioning his positive image of himself. (“Like that little bladder, I only cared about No. 1.”) But with most of that exploration shunted to the next episode (when we’ll find out what really happened aboard the cruise ship), the revelation feels incomplete and hollow, adding little thematic weight to the story at hand.
Inspired by Titus, Kimmy immediately goes to confront Drench Thunderman, but to her disappointment, he’s no Reverend. For a fake news peddler with a goofy moniker, his logic is downright coherent: The weather is unpredictable, but he has a duty to warn people when something looks bad, even if he’s totally wrong. That’s a reasonable enough statement, but it works pretty poorly as a viewpoint on the fake-news and sensationalism culture the episode spends its first act working up to skewer. I’m pretty sure “fake news is okay if you believe it’s right in your heart” isn’t the philosophy the writers wanted to express here, but it’s the one they deliver. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but this plot seems like a lot of effort if the goal is just to have a #notallbunkers revelation on Kimmy’s part.
The best and most effective plot is Lillian finally coming around to Artie, because it seems so true to how many older people feel about life. In a certain sense, Lillian’s whole life has been one of disappointment: she’s lost her husband, the neighborhood she loves, and the culture that mattered to her. In this context, her mistrust of Artie makes sense — it isn’t about Artie, but about 40 years of mistrust that’s built up behind him. Love, like the Second Avenue subway, has a way of surprising you when you least expect it. I’m rooting for those two crazy geezers. May they have many years of complaining about taxi fares and chips in credit cards.
• Instead of Corn Chex, Kimmy eats Körn Czechs. The bowl on the box appears to be full of cigarette butts.
• Artie is a Baby Boomer you can trust: “Bob Dylan is dead! To me. Can’t show up to get a Nobel Prize? Rude.”
• The Banana Boys, East Dogmouth’s favorite gang, return for another cameo that also gets the best gag of the episode. One of them assures Titus that he knows all about Big Pharma because “I’m also in the drug biz,” then hands Titus a promotional pen that says “CRACK” on it.
• Artie has a good point about Big Naturals’ name: “Every national chain sounds disgusting. Jack in the Box. Hardee’s. The Gap. Jiffy Lube. Dick’s. BJ’s Wholesale.”
• Tina Fey’s shows always put the most amazing non sequitur dialogue in the mouths of establishment types. The two Big Pharma guys, after kicking Titus out of their office: “Wanna take boner pills and go to an aquarium?” “You know it!”
• One of those moments where I felt a near-religious connection to this show was Kimmy’s complaint to Drench: “You’re so overboard you make the movie Overboard seem like a lighthearted comedy, instead of a messed-up story about a handyman enslaving a woman with a brain injury.”
• Titus is annoyed that the pharma company “used every part of the Titus, including [his] ability to make up catchphrases at will.” Indeed, in the previous scene, he comes up with a good one for Sbarro: “Let the airport come to you.”