The question at the heart of Kimmy Schmidt has always been whether people can eventually recover from trauma and move on with their lives —and its answer has mostly been yes. But that tends to surface another question: Can the people who perpetuate the trauma ever change? To that, the show has mostly said no. The Reverend will always be an unrepentant grifter; Kimmy’s mom will always be selfish. Perhaps in awareness of that ultimate message, this antepenultimate episode takes a softer tack, suggesting that cruel and horrible people can change if they really want to.
One of those people is Bobby Moynihan’s Fran Dodd, the obnoxious men’s rights activist who defamed Kimmy in the “Party Monster” documentary. While shoplifting books to burn at a rally (“Nancy Drew doing the work of two Hardy Boys? Yeah, right”), he stumbles on a copy of Kimmy’s children’s book The Legends of Greemulax, and it completely changes his perspective.
Fran becoming a feminist is a moving-full-circle moment for Kimmy, who was inspired to write the book in the first place to keep more boys from becoming like him. But while Fran’s views may have shifted, he still wants to have it both ways. He’s wooed a pretty colleague at the wedding-dress store by convincing her (and everyone else) that he wrote Greemulax, and he wants Kimmy to keep his secret. He’s also loath to give up his friendships with his “chosen family” of MRA buddies, even if he doesn’t share their views anymore. It’s a classic Kimmy dilemma: tell the truth and wreck Fran’s relationships, or keep it to herself at the cost of her own happiness and recognition?
While Kimmy wonders if Fran really has changed, Lillian is locked in her own battle of wills with Artie’s spoiled wild-child daughter Sheba (Busy Philipps), who definitely hasn’t. After fruitlessly begging for extra cash from her Lillian–controlled trust fund, Sheba steals the money instead. She tells Lillian she’s been thrown in jail at Burning They, “the gender-neutral Burning Man,” convincing her to send bail money, lest she be forced to confront the horrors of Nevada pizza.
Discovering Sheba’s used the stolen cash to finally achieve her dream of opening a year-round Halloween store (“I found the perfect space! It’s a year-round Christmas store that went out of business for some reason!”), Lillian goes nuclear, getting into a fistfight with Sheba that lands them both in jail. Simultaneously, a triggered Kimmy is unable to resist using a plastic pumpkin in the shop as a bunker-style toilet — and realizes that there’s no way Fran could change as quickly as he claims to have, if she hasn’t been able to with years of therapy.
That leads to a pair of come-to-Jesus moments (though Lillian would take a pass on that term), where Kimmy and Lillian demand real action from Sheba and Fran, not just promises. Both are pleasantly surprised when they actually do take accountability. Fran stands up to his MRA pals, informing them that the “future is female” and “Beyoncé is queen,” even as they taunt him for his feminine name. And after Sheba expresses despair that she’ll never live up to Artie’s reputation as “the businessman with a conscience, one of two men in Hustler’s first interracial pictorial!” Lillian reminds her that Artie made mistakes too — he just took accountability for them.
Sheba takes responsibility for starting the fistfight in “court,” only to have Lillian reveal that the whole jail stint and trial was as fake as Sheba’s in Nevada. “You hire some friends, you send Dick Wolf a coupon to Six Flags so he shuts down production and leaves town,” she tells her. “There’s money in your trust fund for education, and you just got schooled!”
Meanwhile, as Lillian and Kimmy try to reform unrepentant liars, Titus doubles down on being one. Asked to serve as an “eyebrows” (a reverse beard) to a straight HGTV star who needs to be seen as gay, Titus dives in with relish, assuming it’ll make Mikey wildly jealous. Initially, he’s right: Mikey looks a little blue as Titus performatively canoodles with Rob Huebel’s Tad Fry, who can only speak in bland, chirpy TV-host generalities. But once he’s been convinced that Titus has moved on, Mikey decides to propose to his new boyfriend, Andrew. It’s the rock bottom of Titus’s mendacity and preening self-regard. Can he be as honest with himself as Fran and Sheba, or is he going to keep making the same horrible mistakes?
• You have to admire Ellie Kemper’s willingness to do anything for the laugh. In this episode alone, she tap-dances in a Shirley Temple costume, shits in public, and does her best impression of a child Oprah (“Who’s turning … 7???”)
• The only people who follow Fran’s girlfriend Monica on Twitter are her mom “and, of course, Taye Diggs.”
• I have enjoyed every single one of this show’s potshots at New York construction workers, but Mikey and his co-workers’ “union-mandated spaghetti break” might be my favorite, especially with the kicker of Titus trying to seductively nibble a meatball as he sashays away.
• I will also never get tired of insights into Lillian’s criminal history. According to the (fake) judge, she invented the knockout game, released bees at the Met Ball, tried to sell drugs to a uniformed police officer, and was the only person looting during the 2003 blackout. (“Oh yeah, I got my steps in that night!”)
• I got nervous when Zach used his Matt Lauer button on Kimmy at the episode’s end, but the news that she’s about to become a tech millionaire is a pretty fun cliffhanger.