Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a diabolical show. The premise puts a woman under tremendous mental duress by being kept captive in an underground bunker for 15 years, but once she’s out, rather than give her appropriate recompense, things just keep getting worse and worse for her. It’s a hard thing to watch.
Even when things appear to go right for her, it’s only as a means to go bad. Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) gets robbed of all her money, but she finds a job! She has gainful employment now, but she’s constantly at risk of being exposed as a Mole Woman! Kimmy finally finds a mental health professional to talk to, but this doctor is just as unstable as Kimmy! It’s only ever going bad.
This puts the show in interesting company. It still operates very much like a traditional sitcom in that, well, comedy is derived from outlandish situations, but the way it fails to amicably resolve in a categorical way at the end of each episode is far more akin to a drama, especially one of the modern television age. Watch The Americans and Parks and Recreation on either side of a viewing of Kimmy Schmidt and it’s pretty obvious which one it skews closer to.
Kimmy is surrounded by those that help but aren’t quite helpful. They seem to constantly get her mired in their own schemes and complications, which is perhaps the most dramatic element. Through her own raw determination, Kimmy doesn’t ever win; she simply manages to never drown. It’s a low bar, but sometimes it’s the only bar. Not everyone is at your service. They have their own lives to lead. And that includes Kimmy’s own motley crew.
For as much strife exists in her life, there’s a commensurate amount in Titus’ (Tituss Burgess). There’s as much disaster in Lillian’s (Carol Kane). Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) has been in trouble since the first episode. It often feels like they’re all trapped in one of those trust exercise circles where everyone leans back on the next person’s legs until the only support is the full commitment to the bit. No one can get up, but hell yeah is no one on the ground.
It’s all underscored by this menacing, simmering shadow: they’re all victims of trauma. Kimmy, though it seems like she’s channeling a happier time from her childhood through her indefatigable smile, is attempting to stomp down her bunker years while keeping down the truth of her terrible mother. Titus is always and forever combating his past—his years enduring an existence not his own—while struggling to pull his current life up to where he desires. And Jacqueline, it seems, doesn’t really know what love or affection or trust is for myriad reasons, not least of all because she actively denied it from her life as she denied her heritage.
All that trauma is for a reason. It certainly makes the entire cast far more relatable than watching them endure another tired will they/won’t they office romance and keeps the show topical by reminding viewers that as the world progresses, so too should its art and entertainment. But more importantly, it builds towards one single and inescapable consequence: the end of Kimmy Schmidt.
In some ways, that more accurately would be the end of Kimmy Schmidt, as in the end of the show. It was announced this was going to be the final season long ago (a continuation of the best trend in television right now: leaving on your own terms), not to mention that all shows end at some point unless you’re The Simpsons or CNN. But this is really the end of Kimmy the character.
This back half of the final season tries to do a lot in a short amount of time. So much was started, after all, in the first six episodes released in May of last year. It wanted to go after the absurd men’s rights activists. It wanted to tackle the #MeToo movement. And it wanted to do this while continuing to set up increasingly absurd episode frameworks like a mockumentary and a mafia movie.
And while this impetus carries forward, it just can’t stick the landing. This second part of the season has one of the best episodes of the entire show (and perhaps of this past year of TV) as they ask what would have happened if Kimmy never ended up in the bunker, but it also wavers between guiding the characters to their ultimate destination and being more incisive in its commentary. Granted, it’s as funny as ever even as it stumbles along and still manages to be leagues better than many other shows, but there’s no bite.
That’s because with the end of Kimmy, it has to ask one vital question. Was it all worth it? Not for us the viewer but for these lovable idiots we’ve spent the past four years watching. If their trials and tribulations meant nothing, then there’s no possible way there can be a happy ending, or at least not one that’s earned. And this show, as proved by four seasons of insight and commentary, has no qualms about not giving something that’s not deserved.
I won’t spoil the finale (though there was a goof that made me do an actual literal spit take). But I will say it’s an incredible feat that all of this—these preceding 11 paragraphs and a wealth of other pieces many other more eloquent writers have penned—cannot be dislodged while watching it unfold. This is the end of Kimmy Schmidt, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.