Each week, we're recapping the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode by episode.
Sitcoms like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, where every episode has an A plot, a B plot, and sometimes a C plot, sometimes can't help but come out uneven. That's the case for "Kimmy Gives Up!" more than any other episode in the show's run; Kimmy's leading story comes with plenty of surprises and delivers some great character evolution, while the remaining parts of the episode concerning Jacquelyn and Titus feel like pure filler.
Kimmy drops off a letter for Dong about the upcoming GED exam, but finds out he and Sonya are utterly unprepared for a meeting the next day with their immigration officer. Kimmy helps them take a series of pictures faking their vacations and romantic life, but putting the scrapbook together only makes Kimmy miss Dong more. When Sonya goes missing, Kimmy offers to fill her place in the meeting, but Dong shuts her down and insists she needs to stop coming onto him. The next day, Kimmy falls asleep during her GED due to exhaustion from looking for Sonya all night and fails the test. At Lillian's insistence, she cuts herself off from Dong entirely.
After Kimmy and Dong split in a flurry of emotion at the end of this season's first episode, it's only natural that they would come back together like this. The crazy part of "Kimmy Gives Up!" is that Kimmy actually does give up, which she never, ever does. Through the trial, the love triangle, even the 15 years in the bunker, Kimmy always kept her mind focused 100 percent on getting exactly what she wanted, and in some sense, she always succeeded. But now Kimmy will have to actually come to terms with accepting the realities of when she can't possibly get what she wants, which opens up opportunities for plenty of new ground for the character.
Meanwhile, with Kimmy occupied and no one else around to help her, Jacqueline has to take care of her son Buckley herself for the first time ever. A doctor recommends a prescription of Dyziplen (pronounced "Discipline") to calm him down, and it works, but it also turns him into an emotionless zombie. When Kimmy confronts Jacqueline on medicating her son, Jacqueline takes a pill herself to prove its worth, but she finds it kills her own joy. She decides to take her son off the medication and try actual parenting instead.
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Overmedication of children is a worthy and timely cause for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to take on, and their exaggerated depiction of drugged-up child behavior works great as a comedy piece ("Mommy, I am tired," says Bradley, "Can we go sit someplace quiet, like a shoe store?"). As social commentary, though, the subplot lacks enough nuance to say anything significant about the issue. Yes, children on drugs lose parts of their personality, and yes, parents need to take responsibility for learning about their children and helping them through their behavioral problems, but we've seen all that before. In its first season, particularly with a story in which Titus finds he receives better treatment as a werewolf than as a black man, this show demonstrated it could add something new to a relevant social conversation in a hilarious way. But between the SJW mishap in episode three and this failed attempt, the political aspects of the show that don't live up to those standards are growing tiring.
Titus's story may be the weakest of the three, and it gets away with it if only because it occupies the least screen time. Titus realizes Lilly had virtually no exposure to show tunes growing up, so he makes it his duty to sing her the entirety of (fictional) Broadway history. She points out that he can't stop singing because Mikey's making him happy, but that sends him into a panic attack over losing it all. When Lilly sings the episode closer along with him, he embraces his new happiness instead. It all acts as an excuse for Titus to sing ridiculous song after ridiculous song, the best of which being "the Helen Keller-inspired but unauthorized musical 'Feels Like Love'" — "Does he even see me?" sings Titus, "Is he screaming my name?" But most of the songs aren't nearly as funny as they could or should be, and didn't Titus just have this exact same crisis on the last episode?
Biggest Laugh: Kimmy: "Sorry, but giving up isn't my jam. My jams are grape, Jock, and Space."
Biggest Surprise: Perhaps Jacqueline's bizarre five seconds of song at the beginning of the episode. The moment fits given the musical theme of the episode as a whole, but since we hadn't gotten that far in Titus's plot yet, it comes completely out of nowhere, and not in a particularly good way.