Why Did It Take Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 3 Seasons To Talk About Sexual Assault?

Photo: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, for all its running gags and off-the-wall jokes, is a show about abuse. While the Netflix series makes an effort to keep things light, season 3 finally puts into words what has long been suggested: Kimmy Schmidt is a victim of sexual assault. Kidnapped by the Reverend as a teenager, Kimmy was held hostage along with three other women in an underground bunker. There are countless real life stories like this one, and most involve some level of sexual abuse, and even Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's bright colors and upbeat music can't cover up the truth.
In episode 3 of the new series, which dropped on Netflix May 19, Laura Dern guest stars as the Reverend's mistress — because, technically, he's married to Kimmy. Dern's character Wendy describes their night together as a Noel Coward play, and Kimmy responds with this:
"If Noel Coward really was a coward who rapes everybody."
The characters don't linger on this moment, but for the viewers, it's huge.
"I think that's the first time we've used that word," Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt co-creator Robert Carlock told E! News. "And while the show doesn't talk about it much, in part because we have a main character who doesn't want to talk about it and because it's a line to walk, we don't pretend that what happened in the bunker was the Hogan's Heroes version of what happened to Kimmy. We try to treat it delicately, but I think that's the first time she's really kind of run smack-dab into it."
"I think to continue to make it watchable you have to lighten those moments in a way," Ellie Kemper, who plays Kimmy, added.
This is true. People definitely don't turn on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt when they're looking for a thriller, but it is hard to believe that if sexual assault was a big part of Kimmy's time in the bunker, it would just be coming up now. Even when the show broached her PTSD in season 2, there was no way to know that included recovery from sexual assault.
In fact, the only other time it's even vaguely mentioned is in an offhand comment in season 1, with Kimmy saying that yes, there was "weird sex stuff" in the bunker. However, we didn't know between whom, or whether or not it was consensual. It's good that the creators are finally opening up this conversation, but rape isn't a small detail you can just drop in after three years — it's worthy of its own storyline.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

More from TV

R29 Original Series