Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Even Kimmy Schmidt’s happy place has its horrors

Illustration for article titled Even Kimmy Schmidt’s happy place has its horrors

Season two has already started asking questions about Kimmy’s psychological underpinnings. Now that Kimmy’s in therapy with Andrea, the writers can quite literally ask those questions through the character. Kimmy approaches therapy the way she does life, brightly believing she’ll conquer her demons in no time. She wants to skip ahead to the breakthrough. But as Andrea reminds her, that’s not how it works. Therapy isn’t a linear process.

The most fascinating thing to come of Kimmy’s sessions with Andrea so far is the concept of Kimmy’s happy place. As I wrote in my previous review, Kimmy’s kindness and optimism have been defining qualities of the character since the pilot. “Kimmy Goes To Her Happy Place!” delves deeper into why Kimmy is the way she is. How does someone who experienced something so horrible manage to somehow never get angry? It turns out Kimmy has a coping mechanism: Whenever she starts to lose control of her emotions, she escapes to a fantasy world where she’s a Disney princess who sings lovely songs with her animal friends, unbothered by the horrors of reality. When Andrea pushes Kimmy to allow herself to get mad, she breaks the happy place. The reverend invades Kimmy’s animated fairytale world, and she and the fellow animals graphically torture and kill him in a genuinely terrifying animated horror sequence.

But make no mistake, Kimmy’s happy place disturbs even before it becomes an angry, blood-stained nightmare. “When I’m feeling sad or mad and wish that I were dead, I hide inside my mind and sing a happy song instead!” animated princess Kimmy sings when the episode first cuts to her fantasy world. Despite the cute animals and the jaunty tune, Kimmy’s happy place evokes a sense of dread and darkness. As Andrea points out, coping mechanisms can be a good thing, but they have their limits. Kimmy has been repressing so many of her fears and anxieties, masking them with the cartoon sheen of her happy place. But by never getting angry, she is actually preventing herself from being happy.

By cracking open her happy place, Kimmy finally realizes that her problems didn’t start with the bunker. There’s so much more under the surface. When Lillian abandons Kimmy in a deli, Kimmy freaks out, screaming and destroying the deli. It’s much different than the times she has freaked out at men. And in her happy place, the fairy godmother insidiously seems to contribute as much to princess Kimmy’s anxieties as the reverend does. Kimmy gets a breakthrough after all: Her feelings toward her mother are also affecting her ability to heal. She has more demons than just the reverend and the bunker. The episode brilliantly builds to that revelation.

The flashback to the moment Kimmy was kidnapped is a particularly effective scene, especially since it illuminates some details from Kimmy’s present. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but when Kimmy bends down to readjust her Velcro shoes, I immediately remembered a seemingly throwaway line from Titus in season one about how they still haven’t figured out why Kimmy’s afraid of Velcro. The flashback in this episode doesn’t explicitly make that connection, but the fact that such a small detail like the shoes she was wearing when she was kidnapped stands out really speaks to how good these writers are at subtle character work and subtly giving deeper, specific meaning to some of the finer details. Kimmy’s sessions with Andrea and the emotions they unearth are deeply personal and specific. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is crafting a truly complex story of coping and self-discovery.

The Titus and Mikey storyline is also very moving and builds on compelling, specific character work. Mikey decides he wants to finally come out to his family, and Mike Carlsen gives his best performance yet. Mikey’s sincerity is a huge part of the character, and there’s something about that sweet, earnest personality that’s especially poignant in the context of his nervousness about coming out. Mikey isn’t worried so much about himself as he is about his family’s feelings. In particular, he doesn’t want to upset his dad. Ultimately, Mikey’s insistence that he isn’t hungry ends up causing much more of a family crisis than his confession that Titus is his boyfriend does. The episode wonderfully plays with expectations, and the comedy that results from that is really great. Just as Kimmy’s storyline is given a little dose of surrealism through the cartoon world, Mikey’s coming out manages to be emotionally honest and comedically over-the-top all at once. Mikey’s grandmother, for example, is a straight-up puppet. It’s wild that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can tackle such serious, heavy issues within a world that’s so absurd and heightened for comedy. But it basically all comes down to great writing.


Speaking of great writing, Titus Andromedon writes and delivers what is quite possibly the best speech ever given on tolerance (which he rhymes with “tall fence” in a musical number). Okay, so the speech itself doesn’t really make that much sense, but it’s a Titus performance through and through: theatrical, hilarious, captivating. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” pointedly, only to follow it with: “If you tickle us, do we not Elmo?” I lost it at that one. But even though the speech is mostly just fun, Titus and Mikey’s scenes that come before it are really quite powerful. Just as they do with Kimmy’s trauma, the writers treat “coming out” as complex and messy, never once letting the comedy diminish the weight of what the characters feel. When Mikey’s family ends up being fine with their son’s sexuality, Titus is disappointed. Mikey accuses him of being selfish, but in reality, it’s much more complicated than that. Titus didn’t want to give his speech on tolerance just for the sake of theatrics. He wanted to give it because he never had the chance to come out to his family and community back in Mississippi. It wasn’t an option for him, and he has been waiting to boldly declare who he is and shut down bigots for 20 years. He isn’t all drama and costume changes. Just like Kimmy, there’s so much more to him than what people first see.

Stray observations

  • Titus singing “it was a total bang fest” is the best opening credits lead-in moment to date.
  • “I was born on a rollercoaster during a tornado alert.”
  • Andrea’s own issues are also present in the episode. When Kimmy needs some late-night counseling, she encounters nighttime Andrea. I’m really interested in the story Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is telling through Andrea. She isn’t just a mechanism for getting Kimmy to talk about her issues. She’s actually connected to the show’s narrative in a much deeper and more significant way. I find the show’s portrayal of addiction fascinating so far.
  • I had to pause the episode after Titus dumped out that box of dead butterflies because I was laughing so hard.
  • “We’re going to figure this out like a couple of lesbians setting up a hot water heater.”
  • Tituss Burgess and Carol Kane have excellent timing and delivery in the scene where they’re trying to guess what Kimmy’s acting out.