Baby, You’re A Firework
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, floating through the wind, one blow from caving in? I do. So does Kimmy. And in fact, not one person in episode 9 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt isn’t in flux, tumult, or otherwise on the brink.
We begin the episode aware that Kimmy is about the celebrate her 30th birthday. We find her outside a liquor store trying to buy alcohol for her party. Since she has no valid identification, she asks a stranger for help getting booze. The stranger is a leering man who sees an opportunity and offers that he keeps some liquor in his van. In Kimmy’s easy acceptance of his offer (thankfully Titus appears and intercedes) we know that she is no less gullible—or vulnerable—now than when Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne scooped her up. Some would view Kimmy’s near miss—and all the risks that life presents—as evidence that we must hide from life to avoid its dangers, because the risks will never end. That we’re better off protected from what life would do to us. That’s how Kimmy’s mom and stepdad handled raising Kimmy’s sister Kymmi after all. But this episode leaves you wondering, what is captivity and what is freedom? If you aren’t taking risks, if you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable are you truly free? And what does any of it have to do with what it means to be human?
Episode 9 shares more with us about Kimmy’s family back in Indiana. We learn that she has a stepfather, an absent mother, and a half-sister named Kymmi. Obviously Kimmy’s 15 years in captivity wrecked havoc on those left behind and half-sister Kymmi harbors extreme resentment toward Kimmy for overshadowing her life, even in absentia. Kymmi explains that she wasn’t allowed to do anything, her parents so feared disaster. We learn that while Kimmy was stuck in the bunker, her sister was in her own sort of captivity. And even though the show’s introduction—and Kimmy’s past itself—substantiate that living a life is hazardous, freedom is the thing we value.
Another thing this episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt spends time on is contrasts. Look at Dong and Logan. Dong is a poor immigrant trying to seem more American, Logan an aristocratic New Yorker trying to seem more British. Dong makes Kimmy her one birthday gift and Logan has his secretary buy Kimmy a slew of gifts. But they both are enamored of Kimmy. And when Kimmy asks each of them to get her ice, they both do, each in his own way. Dong finds ice from an apartment’s malfuncing window unit air conditioner, Logan gets epicurean ice with it’s own case. Clearly these two are filling the same role—if a little differently—and so Logan confronts Dong about having a crush on Kimmy. Logan uses an obscure metaphor to describe the situation and Dong exclaims “your experiences are not universal!” But indeed the show is guiding us to conclude that the human experience is universal. Maybe not the exact details, but the heart of being human is the same in all of us just as ice is frozen water no matter where it’s found. And those universal truths of what it means to be human, what it means to have a birthday and be disappointed, to know pain, and joy—to be free—are the heart of the matter here.
To know the sweetness of life you have to be free. But if nothing else, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tells us that the state of being free is also the state of vulnerability. And even though risk is involved, we cannot flinch. Because if we hide from risk, we hide from life. Kimmy’s half-sister Kymmi’s upbringing shows us that subjugation can happen under the auspices of freedom and security. So the universal truth here? Being human offers the same joys and sorrows to each of us. But being human requires that we be free to learn these truths through our self-made choices and experiences. Captivity is destruction. But as long as we are free, we can enjoy the breeze, the view, from the brink, one blow from caving in.
All these connections made for what? If Kimmy is the same as Kymmi, and Dong is the same as Logan, how does any of this have unique value to the cult survivor? Well it’s a message to the cult survivor. One that’s heartening and scary at the same time. The cult survivor has freedom, and gets to be truly human either again, or for the first time. That’s the really great part. The scary part? To truly live—to allow for the joy and pain of life—the cult survivor is going to have to let herself be vulnerable again. (Hey, but readers, do what you can to say no to any offers that involve climbing into a stranger’s van. Okay?)