Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Second Season Is a Win for Survivors

When my friend introduced me to the Netflix original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt last year, I fell instantly in love. The jokes were funny, sometimes hilarious. Titus and Lillian were both my instant favorite characters, and when they were in scenes together, they were unstoppable. 

Season one wasn't without its flaws. It walked a fine line between comedy and offense at times, especially with Jaqueline Voorhes's Native American storyline, especially given that Jane Krakowski, a white woman, was playing a Native woman. Part of the in-joke, of course, is that Krakowski's character wants to be seen as very white, and she is hiding her Native heritage, but critics felt this could have been done better if the actress portraying the character were actually Native American.

I felt a little disappointed, given that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt had introduced itself as a smart show that satirized and called attention to racism. In the very first episode, when Kimmy and her bunker mates are released, a news broadcast is shown saying, "White women found: Hispanic woman also found."

But I was willing (and, admittedly, pretty excited) to watching season two, because I felt that UKS did something well that not many other shows have been able to do: show an honest portrayal of a woman after trauma. 

Season two introduces more nuance to Kimmy's character. After exploring all the aspects of her life that she wasn't able to finish in season one, such as going back to school for her GED, Kimmy is left in season two as a full character. She's more than just the woman who escaped the bunker. And yet, despite her optimistic attitude, she's still dealing with the trauma. She didn't fully leave it behind.

And I love that. I've spoken before about how much I adored Netflix's Jessica Jones, for its stark and candid look at a woman dealing with an abusive relationship and rape. But JJ is a darker show, a show that's sometimes too heavy to consume in one sitting, and I'm a rape survivor who relates more to the happy-go-lucky personality of Kimmy Schmidt. 

Kimmy is unusual. She's not the survivor people expect to see. For the most part, she's pushing to leave her past behind. She cracks jokes, she's happy and she spends much of her time laughing.

Season two developed her character even more into a multi-layered survivor. In season one, we can tell she's reeling from the trauma, and there are scenes that depict this. But in season two, Kimmy realizes she can no longer afford not to deal with it directly. She can't just jump up and down and yell, "I'm not really here! I'm not really here!" or go to her imaginary happy place.

The scenes where Kimmy meets a war veteran, and they joke about their PTSD and how much they've missed, were some of the best in the season for her character. As a trauma survivor, I got all those in-jokes. It felt like, finally, there was a comedy for survivors. Yes, what we each went through was difficult. But we're also people, and we sometimes like to laugh about what we've been through, in a safe space that understands us. The scenes between Kimmy and another survivor were that safe space.

In season two, Kimmy decides she needs to get help. She goes to therapy. And, again, these aren't jokes that poke fun at getting mental health treatment. These are in-jokes, for the survivors who have been there. In therapy, Kimmy's happy to get stickers, and she wants to walk away quickly, feeling better. But her therapist helps her realize she has more than just the bunker to heal from; she also has a very complicated relationship with her mom, best known for abandoning Kimmy.

Through these scenes, we get a firsthand look at some of Kimmy's triggers (the velcro thing that was just a side plot in season one? It has intention now) and coping mechanisms. Her imaginary happy place gets destroyed, and there's violence and gore. It was almost so much that I had to look away for a moment; it was almost on the verge of the feeling I got, as a survivor, from watching Jessica Jones. It's difficult, and most survivors probably saw those scenes and imagined their own safe spaces and the anger they feel about what happened to them. It was a darker side to Kimmy Schmidt, proving that you can be a trauma survivor who is angry and happy at the same time. They're not mutually exclusive emotions. Kimmy loves her life, but she's also dealing with some dark feelings about what happened to her. 

Additionally, season two adds characterization to others, including given Jacqueline's Native American storyline a lot more purpose, rounding out Lillian with a gentrification plot and treating the wonderful Titus Andromedon as more than just a gay stereotype. Considering how often LGBTQ+ characters are delegated to be sidekicks, I was thrilled to see Titus as more than just a singing narcissist. 

In season two, Titus deals with his fear of abandonment and committment. He deals with his past, and how he never really got to come out and be accepted in his Southern community. He tries to reconcile parts of the 'nice, caring guy' he used to be, before he took on the name Titus Andromedon and decided to start living for himself. He learns from his inability to finish projects. He, like Kimmy, gains a lot of layers. And I grew to love him even more. 

Like season one, there were some problematic elements to UKS season two. An entire episode was spent satirizing internet culture and the idea that Titus, a black man, portraying an Asian woman would be offensive. A group of people, including several Asians, are upset by Titus's one-man play where he wears yellowface to portray his "past life," a geisha. The episode is meant to be funny, and to remind us that UKS is a satirical show and that we can't be offended. In my opinion, it misses its mark. It doesn't delve into the nuances of what it's like to be part of a marginalized group and be upset about representation. Considering UKS seems to brand itself as a comedy for the underdogsthe survivors, the LGBTQ+, the marginalized, the socioeconomically gentrifiedit's in poor taste to make this kind of joke the unapologetic center of an entire episode.

If, in season three, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt makes a better effort to be conscious of its problematic elements (most commonly in regard to race), it has the potential to be one of the best shows on television, and a show that queer survivors like me can consider our safe space.