Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
After four seasons on the razor’s edge of poverty, the series finale finally pushes Kimmy, Titus, and Lillian into homelessness. Lillian’s tugboat/house has been seized by the city to be razed, the final throe of gentrification in East Dogmouth. And though Kimmy dutifully searches the paper for talent shows “with prizes of at least $3 million” to bring it up to code, it’s clear that their home is gone forever.
Surprisingly, Lillian, who’s lived there for four decades, is the most okay with it. She tells Kimmy that it’s a sign to move on, and that she plans to become a “New York legend … all the papers are going to want a picture of me soon, to see what I looked like before I blew up!” What Kimmy doesn’t understand is that Lillian plans to literally blow herself up with the house, like an old-school captain going down with her ship. After years of feeling like a ghost in her changing neighborhood, she thinks she has a better shot at tormenting yuppies and tourists if she actually is one.
Titus knows Lillian’s actual plan, but he’s got other things on his mind. He’s finally gotten the call he’s been awaiting for the past decade: an understudy gig for Rafiki in The Lion King. Even better, his elderly overstudy, Nono, is quite literally on her last legs (she’s prone to falling down stairs). But just as Titus is ready to go full All About Eve, Mikey calls, inviting him to sing at his wedding to “Blandrew.” Well aware that his brand is drama, Titus believes Mikey actually wants him to make a grand gesture at the wedding to win him back, “like that white movie where they end up on a bus!” (“The Graduate?” Xanthippe asks. “No, Speed!”)
The prospect of winning back Mikey forces the usually conniving Titus to go into hilarious “reverse Dionne Warwick” mode. Desperate for Nono to survive through the matinée that coincides with the wedding, he pampers her with vaporized Spaghetti-Os and foot rubs. But after a revitalized Nono meets her end on a CitiBike, it seems like Titus will have to choose between his star turn and the love of his life.
As Kimmy soon discovers, Mikey definitely knew exactly what he was doing when he asked Titus to come. But in the end, Titus isn’t forced to choose: Mikey comes to him. After they kiss, he cheers for Titus-as-Rafiki from the front row. It’s a happy ending that feels muted: sidestepping wedding-crashing cliché, but also absolving Titus of such an out-of-character act of decency as putting the love of his life before his fame.
Jacqueline’s storyline is much the same. Having already lost her home last season, her mini-apocalypse is the death of White Talent, as rival agent Eli informs her that he’s still contractually entitled to all of new star client Greg Kinnear’s earnings. With Giztoob packing up post-acquisition, Jacqueline’s out of an office, too. She rebuffs Eli’s desire to “have [her] under him,” telling him she’ll never sleep with him. But it turns out that Eli just wants Jacqueline to work for him. He couldn’t care less about her as a sex object, because he’s secretly blind as a bat (and literally gets around via echolocation). Knowing that Eli wants her only for who she is heightens Jacqueline’s desire, and before long, they’re going at it in her empty office.
Compared to where Jacqueline was at the start of the show, it’s an upgrade. She has her own career, a hard-won modicum of genuine self-worth, and a partner who values her for more than her looks. But her “reward” is still an insecure bro covering up for his perceived deficiencies. Eli is the kind of guy whose existence Kimmy wrote her book to prevent, the kind of boss who stashes his female agents who’ve recently given birth in a separate office “until things get tiiiiiight!” It doesn’t feel like much of a step forward.
While Jacqueline gets it on in her office, Kimmy’s left one-on-one at her apartment with Xanthippe (the great Dylan Gelula, without whom the finale wouldn’t have felt complete). As Kimmy despairs about her homelessness, joblessness, and uncertain future, even snotty Xan feels badly for her, sharing a pearl of wisdom from her new favorite book: “The first step towards fixing the world is remembering that the good inside you is stronger than the bad.”
That book would be “The Legends of Greemulax,” whose metaphorical content has made it a viral hit among the Paulo Coelho crowd without Kimmy even knowing. She thinks her website’s been down because newly wealthy Zach has abandoned it; in reality, it’s been crashing from demand. Xan is unsurprisingly horrified that “K.C. Schmidt” is her new J.K. Rowling, but Kimmy (and her agent, Jacqueline) are about to be very rich.
Fast-forward to four years later, and Kimmy and her friends have it all. Titus is a movie star, with husband Mikey and his long-desired “adopted ethnic babies” in tow at the premiere of Sliding Doors 2: Tokyo Doors. Jacqueline and Eli are smooching on the red carpet, the James Carville and Mary Matalin of the talent-management world. Lillian, having failed to blow herself up on live TV, is like a human Pizza Rat: celebrated and commodified for exemplifying a rough-and-tumble New York that’s long gone. And Kimmy cuts the ribbon on a theme-park Greemulax Land, with her mom first in line to ride the themed roller coaster — followed by a little boy who thanks her for a book that makes him feel safe.
Kimmy Schmidt has always reminded me a lot of the original 1971 Willy Wonka, with its intertwining of bleak poverty, cheery magical realism, and pitch-black corporate satire. After watching this finale, I couldn’t stop thinking about the queasy ending of that film, when Gene Wilder’s quietly menacing Wonka poses a final question to Charlie, who’s just been awarded the chocolate factory: “Do you know what happened to the boy who got everything he ever wanted?” There’s a long pause, in which we’re forced to contemplate whether Charlie’s just inherited an ongoing nightmare. But before the boy can answer, Wonka pulls him into a hug: “He lived happily ever after!”
Kimmy Schmidt gives its characters everything they ever wanted — after spending dozens of episodes suggesting that people who get everything they ever wanted don’t live happily ever after. Fame, riches, power: Kimmy and her pals have been surrounded by people who’ve obtained them and bent them to serve “their old, terrible selves,” as Wonka describes the kids who didn’t survive the factory.
Like Wonka, the final shot of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a big, sweeping overhead pan of Kimmy’s new domain, her triumphant deliverance from poverty. But it feels oddly hollow to see her and her friends get the keys to the kingdom, when we know its doors open onto the same old nightmare we’ve just witnessed.
If Kimmy Schmidt will be remembered for anything (besides sassy Titus GIF’s), it will likely be for Kimmy’s ability to “just go on” in the face of truly horrible things. There’s even a “Kimmy Schmidt workout” premised on the idea that you can endure anything for ten seconds at a time. Floating the characters into a cheerful, friction-free deliverance robs the show of that power, and of its innumerable brilliant satires of the abuse of power. It’s a vision in which the meek inherit the earth, then proceed to still run it like its old, terrible self. Maybe that’s just the circle of life.
• Gretchen, Cyndee, and Donna Maria make final appearances for Kimmy’s last-ditch fundraising attempt: a soft-porn Celebrity Cam Girlz video that no one likes, “not even the Germans.” (Gretchen got sprung from jail because “the president pardoned her for being white and a six or above.”)
• Given the media-layoff hellscape this week, Xanthippe telling Kimmy that she “got an internship to run Newsweek for the summer” definitely had some extra sting.
• Until its last, Kimmy Schmidt reserved its best barbs for the entertainment industry. Where else will you hear jokes like “They’re digging deep into the Marvel library. Did you ever hear of a superhero named Glorbo? He’s got a knife and can talk to birds.” Or “I’ve been in this business since Billy Crystal was doing blackface at the Oscars. Almost five and a half years!”
• Carol Kane is the highlight of this episode, full of genuine emotion and still funny as hell. The “Witch Survives Explosion” news chyron as Lillian stumbles out of the wreckage of her house will always be close to my heart.