Kimmy Schmidt, It’s Been A Fascinating Transition
Power. Believability. Image. Or let’s put that another way: Image. Believability. Power. Three things, each flowing from the other. The better you are at crafting your image, the more people believe in you, and the greater power you have. All three profound motivators, all of them ruling each of us, either through their presence or their absence. What image will we present to ourselves and the world? Will people believe it, will people like it? Will it be enough to allow each of us to be master of our fate? Throughout the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, we see all the characters battle with their identities, battle with their credibility, and struggle to maintain control over their lives. We see it in Jacqueline as she struggles with the image she presents to the world. With Titus when he struggles as a gay actor. With Jacqueline’s step daughter Xan as she tries to figure out who she is amongst her Manhattan peer group. And of course we see it in Kimmy as she tries to acclimate to her new life outside the bunker. The show constantly illustrates the tension between who we are, who we want to be and who gets to be in charge.
That tension, while active in all our lives, is something new to Kimmy at the start of the show. Something new to all cult survivors. And there has to be a reckoning before they can move on with their lives. A reckoning because Kimmy didn’t have a chance at power in the bunker. So she didn’t have the arduous task of figuring out who she was, who she would present herself as to the world. She didn’t have to fight for the power to choose her path because that option wasn’t open to her. She wasn’t free.
I guess the real point here is that freedom (if we define it as having power over who we are in the world, and the choices we make in it) isn’t something that we naturally possess, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. It is rather something we have to make for ourselves and fight to hold onto. An individual straight out of a cult could easily make the mistake of believing that simply being freed grants them freedom. But that’s the transition Kimmy makes in season one of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She finds herself freed from the bunker, and discovers that she’s not free at all. And it’s through many episodes and comedic interactions with Titus, Xan, Jacqueline, and weird dates with Grant Beldin, enlightening moments with Cindy Pokorny (and her gay boyfriend), identity struggles with Dr. Framph, figuring out if Buhbreezing your life is effective, power struggles of the heart with Logan Beekman, confrontations with family from Durnsville, and hiding behind Tristafé’s charisma, that Kimmy forges an identity that she can believe in, finds her power, and is finally free.
Episodes 12 and 13: An Apostrophe to the Point Fey and Carlock have Been Making All Season
The Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, terrifically portrayed by Jon Hamm, woos everyone and illustrates the extent to which image determines believability, in turn determining the extent to which one has power. Richard Wayne is utterly ridiculous but because his image is so appealing, the entire courtroom believes every absurdity he utters. And he is in control. Powerful. Everyone has been Buh-Breezed by him. And no one cares about the truth. So when Kimmy arrives in Durnsville, ready to expose the reverend, she has her work cut out for her.
While episode 11 felt like the show’s climax, a final breakthrough for Kimmy, these last two episodes are the show’s falling action and dénouement, if we’re talking dramatic structure. The task of these two episodes is to resolve the conflict between Kimmy and Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. And it does. Kimmy has to use her characteristic tenacity to outmaneuver the reverend in the courtroom. But in order to do that, she has to take one more trip to the bunker. Kimmy and the Reverend go head to head but armed with her friends and a belief in herself, Kimmy is able to overcome this adversity and finally make waffles out of the Reverend.
And what finally undoes Richard Wayne Gary Wayne? What was his fatal error? While the video tape the mole women find in the Reverend’s man cave seems to hold no proof of his crimes, indeed, it holds the key to unhinge the reverend’s entire defense. He asserts that he was trying to help the women, to save them from the apocalypse. That his only crime was in being wrong about WHEN it would happen: June 6th, 2006, at 6:66pm. But as Kimmy stalls for time by showing the courtroom the video tape, she discovers her strategy. On part of the tape is the Reverend’s audition to be on the next season of The Apprentice. And he tapes his audition the day before the supposed apocalypse will arrive. So if he thinks there will be a next season of The Apprentice, clearly he doesn’t believe the world will end tomorrow. Kimmy dramatically raises this point and poof! The reverend’s image is destroyed. The struggle between Kimmy and her past is over, the battle fought and won. And what hung the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne was popular culture itself. His desire to be on t.v. and show the world his greatness. This is the apostrophe to Fey’s and Carlock’s main point throughout the season because it again shows us that it’s our empty and absurd society that makes room for predators like Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. And it’s through persistence and strength that our protagonists will come out on the other side of adversity. Thank God females are strong as hell, because the world doesn’t make it easy for any of us to be free. But as Jacqueline drives off to embrace her heritage, to stake a claim on who she is, we believe that when Kimmy heads back to Manhattan, she’ll be equipped with enough wisdom to freely pursue her life.
Season one verdict? Worthwhile, even as it poses as another one of our society’s empty preoccupations. Season two? What will it’s theme song say? I don’t think it’ll end with the phrase “This is going to be an interesting, uh, transition.” Kimmy’s done it. She’s transitioned and now she’s free.