Each week, we're recapping the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode by episode. Beware of silverfish.
Season one of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Netflix original that follows a young woman's life in New York after a 15-year period living in a cultist underground bunker, turned out even better than Tina Fey's involvement had us anticipating. Kimmy's roomie Titus Andomedon became everyone's new favorite sitcom character, and his "Pinot Noir" song remains one of the greatest things to happen on any show, ever. Episodes expertly balanced their goofy off-the-wall humor with legitimate questions about religion, sexuality, and the meaning of happiness.
And Kimmy? Kimmy added up to more than her dark-but-gimmicky premise made her appear. She was naive, sure, but also complex, dynamic, and yet infectiously optimistic through her hardest struggles.
But season two starts off on an odd note: a flash-forward to Christmas in the basement, with Mimi (played by Amy Sedaris, who appeared briefly in season one) sleeping on Kimmy and Titus' couch, Titus seemingly dating a mystery man dressed as Santa, and Sonya from GED class crawling through their window. It lasts all of a minute, and it's hard to determine what it's doing here. Typically a flash-forward teaser serves to inspire excitement and raise important questions, but this just inspires confusion and raises the question: "Did we miss something?"
We soon flash back to three months earlier, not long after season one's conclusion. Kimmy is heartbroken over Dong's green-card marriage, Titus has to properly divorce his estranged wife, and Jacqueline's back with her family on the reservation. With the pieces in place, things get moving quick.
Titus' estranged wife Vonda (who, remember, found him because of a viral video) tells Titus that she plans to sue him for 17 years of spousal support, but when she meets with Kimmy "woman to woman," she says she doesn't care much about the money. She just misses Ronald Wilkerson, the man she married, and wants him to come out from within Titus and apologize. Yet in a second meeting, the lawyer reveals that Vonda declared Ronald dead years ago and collected the Social Security earnings, leaving Titus off the hook. It's difficult to see how much Titus rubs this victory in her face, shouting "Boom, bitch!" and storming off in a flurry of Z-patterned snaps. We've grown to love this character for his outrageous flamboyance and sassy one-liners, but braggadocios and unsympathetic moments like this force us to confront that, beneath that, he's a bit of an asshole too.
Kimmy and Lillian plan a ladies' night out together, but Kimmy runs into Dong at a dollar store. Lillian invites Dong to go rollerskating with them. And as luck would have it, she also ran into her ex at the store (Fred Armisen as Robert "Bobby" Durst — yep, that one). Also, Dong has been learning English from Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and intersperses his considerably more fluid speech with high-pitched utterances of "Aww, you're sweet" and "Yaaaa, that sounds amaaaazing." It gets abrasive almost instantly, which is the joke, but a difficult one on the earbuds after a few utterances - hopefully it doesn't maintain through the rest of the season.
Lillian encourages Kimmy to embrace New York City's moral relativism and date Dong even though he's married, but Kimmy can't bring herself to do it. This is one of the major features that makes Kimmy an outcast from the rest of the world and especially from New York. Kimmy has the moral structure of not just of a kindhearted Midwesterner, but a 14-year-old girl who never had to adapt her values to a cruel, difficult world. Interestingly, it seems this should have hit her hard back in season one when she was fresher out of the bunker, yet Kimmy's only grown self-aware enough now to notice these intense discrepancies between herself and others.
And there's no clear right answer here. Sure, Dong's married. But wouldn't it make both of them happier if they were together anyway?
Meanwhile on the rez, Jacqueline tries to reintegrate with her family and tribe, but they clearly don't know what to do with her. Her father sends her into the fields to do a dance for the Corn God (it's clearly an adapted version of the Electric Slide). Her family eventually outright tells her to move back to New York, so Jacqueline gets back into her stolen cop car - only to lock herself in the back seat. Soon, she starts "visioning" from the heat and realizes she has to, indeed, return to her connections in New York.
Her C plot doesn't demand the same level of investment as the rest of the episode, if only because we can predict the outcome from the beginning. Still, these scenes provide some great comedic moments, particularly when Jacqueline swaps out a ceremonial peace pipe for a tobacco vape.
Back in New York, in a fit of frustration over Titus' refusal to apologize to Vonda, Kimmy crashes Dong's brunch. They meet in the bathroom and impulsively kiss, but Dong insists that he needs to maintain his marriage for the sake of staying in America and tells Kimmy to leave. When Kimmy returns home, she finds Titus about to run away from his problems once again, and she follows him to the train station. There they run into Vonda, and the two reconcile their differences and finally share their first dance together.
By the way, we found in writing this recap that this show definitely rewards rewatching, which makes it perfect for Netflix distribution. Oftentimes details mentioned only in passing will come up in a major way later in the episode - for instance, Vonda demanding her bridal jacket back in her first appearance, then Titus returning it in this final scene. Not to mention that the jokes come at such a mile-a-minute pace that you're sure to miss material just from laughing over it. The same was true of 30 Rock, which may play into its success as a long-running Netflix resident, but this is the first season of television that Fey has written specifically for streaming (season one of Kimmy was intended originally for NBC). It's exciting to see her taking advantage of this format.
In the end, Kimmy's central dilemmas this episode (her resentful explorations of moral relativism and her fear of Titus abandoning her like he did Vonda) never get satisfactory conclusions. That's a good thing, because that means the show will hopefully continue to explore these big questions as it proceeds. We did have a bit of trouble getting back into the more absurd elements of the show's humor. Particularly a bit where Titus inhibits a series of multi-ethnic "past selves" felt cheesy and ridiculous, although we may get more explanation on that one later. But thematically, this episode starts season two on a strong note, tackling the problems set forth by last season's finale while simultaneously exploring new ideas.
Biggest Laugh: Kimmy: "You are just Mr. Sassafras Jeans today!" Titus: "That's a dumb name for how fierce I'm being right now."
Biggest Surprise: Fred Armisen's appearance, which disarmingly walks the line between creepy and silly, coupled with a surprise musical number by him and Lillian at the end.