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

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: “Kimmy Is Bad At Math!”

Illustration for article titled Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: “Kimmy Is Bad At Math!”

With the exception of the bunker scenes, we haven’t seen Kimmy develop meaningful relationships with the people around her. Yes, Kimmy is super friendly, able to talk to anyone. But the writers have put a lot more effort into developing her as a person than developing and justifying the interpersonal relationships on the show. “Kimmy Is Bad At Math!” does some much needed relationship work. Kimmy has met a lot of people in her new life in New York City—Titus, Jacqueline, Lillian—but those relationships haven’t been very well defined. Her friendship with Titus happens super quickly and still remains pretty nebulous. This episode, at least, focuses in on Kimmy’s relationship with Jacqueline. Until now, it was kind of unclear what Jacqueline’s role was in this world. Jane Krakowski is obviously hilarious, but with the exception of the confusing and poorly executed Native American plotline, Jacqueline has been little more than someone to laugh at.

In “Kimmy Is Bad At Math!,” the relationship between Jacqueline and Kimmy extends beyond just boss and employee, and there are real emotional stakes behind it. Kimmy pushes Jacqueline to divorce Julian just as she pushed the other mole women to leave the bunker. In Kimmy’s mind, she’s freeing Jacqueline from another controlling man. Even though they aren’t very close and Jacqueline is appalled by Kimmy’s working-class lifestyle, Kimmy feels compelled to help her, and it makes sense based on what we know about who Kimmy is and how she sees the world. Kimmy believes in helping all women, even ones whose biggest problems are suddenly not being able to spend their usual $100,000 per month.

But ultimately, it isn’t just about the money for Jacqueline. She’s scared of being alone, and that believable and well-founded fear grounds Jacqueline, gives her more depth than just an unhappy wealthy housewife. It’s much better executed than her backstory, even though the two conflicts are connected: Part of her fear of divorce stems from the fact she’s estranged from her family. But the way Jacqueline’s vulnerabilities unfold here feel organic and earned. And it all opens up the opportunity for Kimmy to finally tell her the truth about who she is. For the first time, Kimmy is severe with Jacqueline. “I thought the world had ended. I thought I would die there,” she tells her about the bunker. The moment is touching in a way that doesn’t feel forced, and even though it very much so belongs to Kimmy, Jacqueline functions here on a deeper level than we’ve seen so far.

The other relationship developed in the episode is between Kimmy and Dong from her GED class. Just as I was starting to write in my notes that the writers need to cool it with all the “dong” jokes, Kimmy replies to one of Jacqueline’s with: “Enough. Dong is a common Vietnamese name. No more jokes.” Here, the writers prove that they’re smart enough to anticipate criticism, that there was a certain level of self-awareness in the writers room when all the dong jokes were being thrown around. But it’s precisely because of that sense of self-awareness that I feel like Dong isn’t being written as well as he should be.

There’s no denying that the writers are leaning on racial stereotypes when it comes to Dong. All of the comedy that comes from the character is rooted in his English errors and cultural difference. That’s lazy writing that limits the character. Ki Hong Lee is a fantastic actor who deserves more than what this character is right now. I look forward to the possibility of a romance between Dong and Kimmy, hinted at near the end of the episode. But if the writers are self-aware enough to know that all the “dong” jokes are redundant and lazy, then they should also be smart enough to make Dong more than a Vietnamese immigrant who’s good at math.

Meanwhile, the Titus plot in “Kimmy Is Bad At Math!” is a perfect balance of funny and penetrating. Titus realizes that when he wears his werewolf costume for his new gig at a themed restaurant, he’s actually treated better by strangers than he is in his day-to-day life. “I’ve decided to live as a werewolf,” he tells Kimmy. “It’s so much easier than being an African-American man!” That line in and of itself is equal parts funny and devastating. I actually would have liked to see the show play around even more with this concept and show us more scenes contrasting the way people treat Titus when he’s a werewolf versus when he’s a Black man instead of Titus just explaining it all. We get a glimpse, but I think the storyline had potential for even more.


Stray observations:

  • I am officially convinced that the Olsen twins are four people.
  • Amy Sedaris makes a great guest appearance.
  • I totally anticipated the joke about Kimmy using a permanent marker for her sudden stroke of math genius, but Krakowski’s reading of “those are not erasable markers” is so wonderful that it made me laugh harder than any other joke in the episode.
  • I love that hats with brims that go all the way around are a marker of wealth to Kimmy and Lillian.
  • Lillian spends most of the episode complaining about gentrification, and even though there are some funny lines that come from this, Lillian often feels shoehorned into the show.
  • As someone who is also abysmally bad at math, I related a little too much to the way Kimmy tries—and fails—to calculate change.