by Bailey Shrewsbury, Ball State University
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a T.V. show that explores how an apocalyptic event can work as a motivator in one’s life. Kimmy Schmidt, the protagonist, was 14 when she was stuck in an underground bunker with three other women by The Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. The Reverend convinced them that they were survivors of an apocalypse and that above ground was not safe to live in anymore. After 15 years, Kimmy is rescued from the underground bunker and a marriage from The Reverend. A fund is created for the women, and each get a cut to live their new lives, though Kimmy’s is eventually stolen.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a story of hope in the face of adversity, and we watch as she takes her new life in her hands and wants to live it to the fullest. This directly contrasts with Lee Quinby’s ideas of how apocalyptic media affects our life: “Rather than quelling the fear of endism and satisfying desire for electism, this consumption of the forms of expression seems to be generating insatiable craving for more” (9). In other words, Quinby believes that post-apocalyptic literature and media makes us more depressed instead of giving us hope.
By contrast, instead of letting the bunker ordeal dictate how she lives her life, Kimmy decides to move to New York City. Kimmy is frequently seen or heard saying things like, “If I can survive the bunker I can survive this.” This is an interesting response to trauma. James Berger states that “both apocalypse and trauma present the most difficult questions of what happened ‘before’ and what is the situation ‘after’” (21). Kimmy takes the question Berger asks head on, dictating what her “new” life will be like. She chooses not to dwell too much on the past and the bunker, instead forging on in her version of ‘after.’ She gets a job babysitting for the wife of a billionaire and enrolls in a class to get her GED.
The past, however, will not let go of Kimmy. One of the women she stayed in the bunker with uses her story to sell products. Kimmy takes it upon herself to try and show her the right path, though the bunk mate didn’t ask for it. But the biggest person who won’t let her forget her past is the Reverend. The Reverend serves as her constant reminder of the past. He reappears in Season Two when he calls her from prison to tell her that they need a divorce. Kimmy spends the third season grappling with what their marriage means and how to deal with the consequences. He’s a ghost of the past, not letting her go. This directly correlates with Berger’s idea of before and after. While Kimmy is trying to make the best of her life after her own personal apocalypse, the Reverend is dragging her back into the ‘before.’ Kimmy struggles with how to transition her experience with the Reverend into her version of ‘after.’ He represents everything she wants to leave behind and the Kimmy she doesn’t want to be anymore. Whenever he’s mentioned or she thinks of him, she loses her positive outlook on life and demeanor. Kimmy’s optimism and upbeat attitude are what make Kimmy herself. She has to find a way to cope with these setbacks without losing herself and to balance her life in the “after” with the trauma of “before.”
Despite the many challenges she faces in this new world, Kimmy shows that Quinby’s ideas don’t always hold true. Instead of letting her apocalyptic experience scar her for life, she uses it as a motivating force. In Season One, she enrolls in an adult GED class to finish her education, even though she works as a babysitter with only an eighth-grade education. Kimmy, however, is determined to not let her life in the bunker establish how the rest of her life is going to be. She spends most of the first and second season getting her GED and starts to pursue college in the third season. Whenever she hits a bump in the road, she always falls back upon the fact she has a life now and has survived the bunker. Though this is a comedy, it’s a hopeful version of what could happen after a life-changing event. Apocalypse means revelation, and this apocalypse revealed to her who she really is. There’s a reason she’s called The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. As the theme song states, females are strong as hell.
Berger, James. After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1999.
Quinby, Lee. Millenial Seduction. Cornell University Press, 1999.
Carlock, Robert and Tina Fey, creators. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Little Strangers, Inc., Bevel Gears, 3 Arts Entertainment, and Universal Television, 2015.