“A Fascinating Transition”: How Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Portrays Recovery

In my first two blog posts on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, we explored how the show portrays symptoms of trauma and resiliency. In this post, we will look at Kimmy's recovery and how her process depicts what survivors may face during their own journeys.

There’s More Than One Way To Recover

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt depicts how survivors of trauma can have differing reactions to their circumstances—even when survivors have experienced the same traumatic event. Kimmy chooses to move to a large city to start her post-bunker life by seeing someplace new and getting an education. At her kidnapper’s trial in Indiana, Kimmy learns that one of her fellow captives has clung to the ideals taught by the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne and has started to recruit new members for the reverend’s cult. Another survivor has moved forward and has taken on a new role as an entrepreneur.

In the fifth episode, another fellow captive, Cyndee Pokorny, played by Sara Chase, comes to visit Kimmy in the city. Kimmy learns that Cyndee is being coddled by the townspeople back in Indiana and is ignoring many realities about her life since the bunker. Kimmy takes it upon herself to shock Cyndee into facing the truth. Cyndee then reacts by indicating that she is aware that she’s being catered to, and is choosing to move forward in a way that works for her. Kimmy backs off; rather than forcing her own belief system onto her friend, she sees the importance of Cyndee following her own path.

Kimmy (to Cyndee): Listen to me: Don’t listen to me. You get to live your life the way you want. That’s the whole point of not being in a bunker. You just took a shortcut to get there, and I can’t do it that way.

Although Kimmy does not choose the same path to recovery that Cyndee does, she comes to realize that Cyndee’s choices are neither an indictment of Kimmy’s methods, nor an impediment to her recovery.

No Easy Way Out

Repeatedly, we see how Kimmy must walk through her life—she cannot avoid her past or current challenges, and there is no “easy button” to move her ahead. In the first few episodes, Kimmy is introduced to Charles, her attractive and seemingly kind coworker. My first thought when seeing him was, “…and there’s the guy she ends up with.” My assumption seemed correct as they very quickly flirt and steal a few kisses at the home where they both work. But it fell apart as Kimmy moves forward too quickly and scares Charles off. As the scene plays out, Kimmy realizes that she could not assume that she was in love after a few kisses and says to Charles, “I was trying to have fun, but then I made everything weird because I’m weird.” Her acknowledgement does not mean that all is forgotten and that she and Charles can continue to date. In fact, she and Charles part ways, and we don’t see him for the rest of the season. There is no fairy-tale romance here. Instead, Kimmy realizes that she cannot expect to fall into success; she will be to be proactive in achieving her desires.

The Way Out Is Through

This leads us to Kimmy having to do the work to reach her goal of building a successful life in New York City. There are numerous examples of Kimmy having to move through the real world: She loses her income, moves into a substandard apartment with a roommate, starts back at school to get her GED, meets a teacher who is not invested in her education, needs to find a tutor, decides not to get plastic surgery to cover up her appearance, and must get a job. Even within the confines of a half-hour sitcom, we see Kimmy taking the path of facing her obstacles.

Support Along The Way

Kimmy develops quite a support system following her move to New York City. She gets a roommate and ally in Titus, and she meets an eccentric and supportive landlord in Lillian Kaushtupper, played by Carol Kane. She becomes involved with the Voorhees family as she works for them, and she even dates various suitors before she selects her fellow classmate Dong, played by Ki Hong Lee, to be her boyfriend. She is choosing her support system, as so many adult survivors do. We also see Kimmy grow through the ways in which she interacts with them. She begins by hiding her past from everyone except Titus, but eventually shares more about herself and her history in order to support others, strengthening the bonds of trust in her relationships.

In an early episode, Kimmy seems interested in seeing a therapist but does not think she can afford it. She wants badly what all of us want—to get to talk with someone else and not be judged. She wants this so much that she starts dating a senile man to whom she can say anything, because he does not remember what she has told him. I selfishly wanted Kimmy to find a great, highly competent therapist, but I suppose that wouldn’t have led to as many laughs. Whether or not such a storyline becomes part of Season Two, Kimmy already has a strong support system, who can be there for her during this “fascinating transition.”