Film and TV

Jacqueline Finds a Worthy Opponent in Episode Two of Kimmy Schmidt

Each week, we're recapping the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode by episode. Pop on your shants and thigh tops.

"Kimmy Goes On A Playdate!" opens with Kimmy in full-on eighth-grader mode as she demands a job at a local year-round Christmas store, employing convincing arguments like "I'VE GOT A BOMB! And now that I've got your attention ..." and "They say there's a war on Christmas? Well, sir, put me on the front lines." Her over-the-top approach might seem a bit childish, given how long she's been in New York, but there's no arguing that this is a marked step up from her nervous verbal application to work at a candy store in the show's pilot.

Changes like this demonstrate how Kimmy can both evolve as a character and remain in a permanent state of childhood — and it's a big part of what makes her so enjoyable to watch.

Kimmy leaves donning her new elf costume as Jacqueline rolls up in the dirt-caked police car and asks to crash at Kimmy's until she can get back on her feet. (She also has her dog again, somehow?) Jacqueline plans to convince her old trophy wife friends that she's maintained her status, especially queen bee Deirdre Robespierre (Anna Camp). If successful, it'll earn her that very status back.

Kimmy runs into Deirdre and arranges a playdate between her and Jacqueline's sons, but the plan backfires when she agrees to have Jacqueline host in a townhouse she no longer owns. Except she didn't. Really, we checked several times, and Deirdre and Kimmy never agree on a place for the playdate. Somehow the episode's writers, director, and editor all failed to notice that they forgot to include the line that kickstarts the episode's central conflict. Given that the Netflix format guarantees this kind of rewatching, this is a baffling mistake. 

After the playdate, Jacqueline covers for the mix-up by MacGyvering together Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costumes from family heirlooms. Deirdre confronts Jacqueline about a rumor that the divorce left her with "only" $12 million (which it did). Jacqueline laughs it off, but realizes she can't maintain the facade. When Kimmy lambastes her, Jacqueline explains that she plans to impress Deirdre to start a charity for her family and tribe. They team up, and Jacqueline finally gets to Deirdre by bidding $11.5 of her $12 million on a painting.

This may be the first time we've had a real reason to root for Jacqueline in the whole run of the show. Even when she struggled over her lost connection to her family and her cheating husband in season one, she never cared about anyone but herself, and thus we never cared about her. But now with her Robin Hood philosophy and dwindling funds, she could legitimately drive the show forward for the first time. Camp also stands out as Deirdre, especially with her uncanny blending of blunt honesty and nonchalant passivity. "Maybe I'm just tormenting you just to feel alive, but also there's a chance this is real empathy," she says to Jacqueline, then chuckles. "We may never know!"

Meanwhile, Titus decides to take some of his overflowing wardrobe to the Salvation Army, imagining a utopian future where everyone dresses with his spectacular style. But nobody has any interest in his donations; In fact, a homeless man dumps the bag of clothes onto the ground and wears the bag instead. He grabs his clothes again and, in a fit of tears, throws them into a dumpster.

This all feels like an odd direction to take Titus, with stakes far too low, especially for this early in the season, until we meet the man who eventually does take the clothes: Mikey, the gay construction worker who appeared briefly in season one. Mikey hasn't properly come out yet, but he asks Titus on a date once more, and this time, Titus agrees. The clothes story reveals its significance: Titus is usually too confident for his own good, but his vulnerability over his rejected clothes helps him sympathize with Mikey's lack of comfort with his sexuality. That's why Titus says yes this time. It's not the most convincing reason, but it's tough to introduce a new regular character in a natural way, and this works well enough to add Mikey to the ensemble.

Also, Jacqueline's stepdaughter Xanthippe shows up in this episode's C plot, if we're using the term "plot" rather liberally. Xanthippe lives in Connecticut now, and she's back in the old Voorhees house packing up some remaining belongings. Then she hangs around the house moping and insulting Kimmy for the rest of the episode, until Kimmy ruins all Xanthippe's treasured memories of the house and convinces her to leave. She clearly only appears here in the first place to give her some closure, given season one's ending didn't have time to address her. A few solid jokes shine through (Xanthippe: "What the hell are you doing here?" Kimmy: "Being in a stupidface contest and coming in second"), but it feels like a missed opportunity to send the character off with something more memorable.

It's the biggest example of the episode's uniformly problematic plot, between the obvious inconsistencies in Jacqueline's narrative and the filler that dominates Titus's. Luckily, the jokes are strong enough to keep the show going. For instance, Mikey tries to keep up appearances as a straight guy by airbrushing "hot chick" Tilda Swinton on the back of his truck. Plus, with a show designed for binge-watching like this one, the writers can get away with some small-scale problems as long as the overarching story maintains its coherence. But Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt now has a lot less room left for these kinds of missteps.

Biggest Laugh: Kimmy: "Let me check my calendar." *rapidly scrolls through dozens of selfies with a wild squirrel*

Biggest Surprise: Mikey returning at all, let alone as a new regular fixture of the show. His season one appearance seemed like nothing more than a one-off critique of catcalling culture, so who knows where they'll take the character.
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