Co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and star Ellie Kemper explain the thinking behind some of the biggest choice points and funniest dead ends in ‘Kimmy vs. the Reverend.’
[The following story contains spoilers for Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt interactive special, Kimmy vs. the Reverend.]
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s Kimmy vs. the Reverend is Netflix’s first interactive comedy special, coming after the streamer’s landmark Black Mirror interactive project, Bandersnatch.
Despite their different tones, Bandersnatch and Kimmy vs. the Reverend both follow the general principle of letting viewers determine what happens to the characters, selecting from two or more choices that pop up from the bottom of the screen at various points in the narrative. If viewers don’t make a choice after roughly 15 seconds, one option will automatically be selected.
And like Bandersnatch, Kimmy vs. the Reverend — which follows Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) as she faces off against her kidnapper, doomsday cult leader Rev. Richard Wayne (Jon Hamm) while she plans her wedding to Daniel Radcliffe’s Prince Frederick — was created using Netflix’s Branch Manager technology.
But, as Kimmy Schmidt co-creator Tina Fey explains, the team behind Kimmy vs. the Reverend took a different approach to crafting end points, ultimately directing viewers toward a few specific outcomes.
“There are things where you sort of hit dead ends, [or] there’ll be versions where Kimmy doesn’t end up getting married to Frederick and someone else marries Frederick, [and] the technology will kind of push you back and get you to try again,” she explains. “So it’s a little different than Bandersnatch in that way where Bandersnatch would just end and you’d be like, ‘Well, that was a creepy ending,’ but you’d have no sense of whether it was an intended ending.”
And indeed if viewers have watched the special all the way through, looping back after any dead ends, they likely made it to Kimmy and Frederick’s wedding. But only one version of the ceremony tells the viewer “You Win” via an onscreen graphic. So if Kimmy walked down the aisle with Frederick in a fancy dress and lamented not wearing the fun one or Kimmy and Frederick got their happy ending but things didn’t work out so well for Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) and Titus (Tituss Burgess), viewers are urged to restart to make different choices.
Beyond that, subsequent viewings of the special will feature slightly different versions of scenes viewers have already seen and alternate jokes depending on the viewer’s choices, as well as a number of Easter eggs unlocked through certain selections, including making the same choice multiple times.
So to help viewers better navigate the special and uncover more comedy, The Hollywood Reporter has outlined how to reach all of the different endings and noteworthy dead ends, including timely commentary on the college admissions scandal and Time’s Up movement, presented in chronological order, with insight from Fey, co-creator Robert Carlock and Kemper as to the thinking behind those outcomes.
Kimmy and Frederick Make Out Before It’s Revealed They Got Married
Just about 10 minutes into the special, the action can come to an abrupt end if viewers choose to have Kimmy and Frederick make out instead of reading the book she found or continue with wedding planning. After some odd displays of affection, the action jumps ahead a month and shows Kimmy and Frederick, seated for a When Harry Met Sally-esque interview, telling viewers that they did indeed get married and are living happily ever after. “The end,” Kimmy proclaims. It’s then that Jan, Kimmy’s talking backpack, chimes in and said she expected more adventures and excitedly calls for a “do-over.” With that, the special loops back around, and viewers have the option to either plan the wedding or read the book — if you don’t read the book, that choice will come back to haunt you later while creating the opportunity to access more jokes and scenes later in the movie. If you pick “make out” on subsequent viewings, the camera pans out to reveal Titus watching the footage on video monitors and admonishing viewers, who now know they ultimately have to read the book, for making “these pasty children tongue down.”
The Ending Where Donna Maria Tells Kimmy Not to Let the Reverend Ruin Her Wedding
Once Kimmy discovers that the book she found was checked out of a library five years after she was kidnapped, she wonders who it belonged to and calls her fellow mole women to find out, with the viewer picking who she calls. If she calls Donna Maria (Sol Miranda), the first time, Donna Maria says the book could have come from anywhere and urges Kimmy not to let the Reverend ruin her wedding, particularly after she found love following her break-up with Josh Groban (who appears as himself in a flashback, in which he speaks in a squeaky voice that sounds nothing like his singing voice). Kimmy agrees, returns to Frederick for some making out and the special flashes forward once more to Kimmy and Frederick in their When Harry Met Sally-esque scene summarizing that they got married and are living happily ever after. But this time, Cyndee (Sara Chase) shows up in a bridesmaid’s dress and says she expected the special to include more story, wondering why they’d fly Radcliffe out for just one scene. Kimmy agrees and calls for a do-over. Ultimately, Cyndee is the right call, but phoning Gretchen (Lauren Adams) leads to a fun tangent. Subsequent calls to Donna Maria go to voicemail, where the viewer learns that Nuñez Foods and Restaurant Group is connected to the Sheinhardt Wig Group, a hint that the action in the special takes place in the same world as 30 Rock. Via Donna Maria’s switchboard, viewers also have the option to spend a lot of time with mascot Taco Snake, who sings a Mexican food-inspired version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” if you press No. 3. If you let Taco Snake finish the song and select No. 3 again when you return to the switchboard, you get an Easter egg of bloopers from making the special.
The College Admissions Scandal-Inspired Ending
If viewers pick Jacqueline to accompany Kimmy on her trip to Indiana to confront the Reverend, letting Titus do his movie, there’s a deadly riff on the 2019 college admissions scandal. Kimmy and Jacqueline are soon shown in the cockpit of an airplane, with Jacqueline’s young son Buckley (Tanner Flood) flying the plane. When Kimmy asks if he’s a pilot, Jacqueline says they claimed he was on his college applications but now, unless she wants to go to jail, “[admitted mastermind] Rick Singer wants proof,” so Jacqueline tries to snap a photo of him piloting the aircraft as it quickly becomes apparent he has no idea what he’s doing and the plane starts to crash. As they’re going down, Buckley also yells that he didn’t go to the flying lessons she paid for; doesn’t want to go to USC, a popular school for applicants involved in the scandal; and that he wants to be an influencer. Meanwhile, Titus has a bad experience at the gym, where he’s thrown off of a treadmill. When Kimmy and Jacqueline’s plane crashes, Fred Armisen’s Robert Durst, who made frequent appearances in the series, particularly in its second season after the success of HBO’s The Jinx docuseries, shows up, speaking to the audience in front of a black screen and praising viewers for having “killed them all.” The special then loops back to let viewers pick Titus to accompany Kimmy, after which the series’ theme song begins, offering another indication that if viewers ended things earlier, the story’s far from over.
Why it matters: “It just lined up with something that Jacqueline would absolutely have been tempted to do. It was just so character appropriate,” Fey says of the real-life scandal, in which wealthy parents, including Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, were accused of paying large sums to secure their kids’ admissions at elite schools as fake athletic recruits or by having someone cheat on their entrance exams. “And probably when we were writing, we were probably still in the middle of it.” Beyond that, Carlock adds that the scene allows viewers to realize that their choices could have fatal consequences. “I think our main hope with that moment was … we were sort of hoping people would want Titus to go off and do the movie and choose Jacqueline and have a very early declaration of ‘Hey, your choices can kill everybody.'”
The Ending Where the Reverend Dies in Prison Before He Reveals Where the Other Kidnapped Girls Are
When Kimmy sits down with the Reverend in prison in Indiana, viewers have the option to be sociable or get down to “beeswax.” If viewers select sociable, there’s some chit-chat, in which the Reverend mentions the “Party Monster” documentary he was in and wonders how Kimmy can wed someone else when they still are married, which Kimmy explains by saying her lawyers are handling it. Ultimately, the Reverend stands up, dances, shouts “MJ … innocent” and hits his head on a counter before falling backward. As blood pools around his head, he manages to reveal that there are other kidnapped girls, but he dies as she’s asking where they are. “I guess you’ll never know,” Jack McBrayer’s prison guard, named Sandy Parcell, making him perhaps related to his 30 Rock character Kenneth Parcell, says. “Now, go get married, you crazy kid.” After a glimpse of a shocked Kimmy, the screen fades to black and Titus appears saying that doesn’t seem like the right ending, urging the viewer to go back to skip the small talk and get down to “beeswax” with Rev. Richard, where Kimmy learns the other kidnapped girls are in West Virginia.
Kimmy and Titus Die While Waiting “4,000 Minutes” for an Uber
When Kimmy and Titus arrive in West Virginia, near the only town with the school the book was checked out from, they see a sign that the town, Frackwater, is 12 miles away. Titus orders an Uber and is told by the app that the driver is 4,000 minutes away, giving the pair the option to wait “so many minutes” or walk. If viewers choose to wait, there’s a flash forward to 4,000 minutes later and viewers see Titus and Kimmy’s clothed skeletons lying on the ground. If viewers choose to wait the first time, the Uber arrives and, as he drives past their skeletons, the driver leans out the window and says “one star,” before the action rewinds. Choosing to wait again, though, brings up a more disturbing scene as a robot stomps on Titus’ skull and proclaims that the last good human is dead so they can proceed. The camera fades out to reveal a robot army marching across a postapocalyptic landscape. The screen then fades to black and Armisen’s Durst reappears to observe “that’s weird!” The camera then pans out to reveal he’s not wearing any pants. Still, the special loops back so Kimmy and Titus can walk and continue on their journey.
The Bar Brawl That Results From Titus Singing the Wrong Version of “Free Bird”
When they reach Frackwater, Kimmy and Titus go to a bar to try to get some information from local townspeople, but the two friends struggle to get the bar patrons’ attention until Titus gets the idea to win them over by singing. Someone in the audience requests “Free Bird,” and viewers have the option to choose whether Titus truly knows the lyrics. If you select “he thinks he knows it,” Titus performs a song from his past employment at a pet shop when they tried to get rid of a “problem bird” and disaster ensues as a transcript of a 911 call pops up where it seems Kimmy and Titus got into a fight with the people at the bar who were upset that Titus disrespected Lynyrd Skynyrd. The screen fades to black and Cyndee appears, saying this also doesn’t seem like the right ending but noting that she’s not a writer, even though, she says, she did work on the final season of Game of Thrones, where they used all of her ideas, a dig at the backlash to the final installment of the HBO series. The special loops back to Titus getting ready to take the stage, where it’s revealed he does in fact know the lyrics to the Skynyrd version of “Free Bird,” which he performs beautifully and wins over the crowd.
Why it matters: Kemper says it’s worth it for viewers to go back and watch Titus’ performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd version of “Free Bird,” which she calls one of her “favorite outcomes” in the special. “That performance of ‘Free Bird’ is unbelievable! It’s so good,” Kemper tells THR. “I know I’m not really a part of that — I mean I’m watching him, that’s a huge part — but it’s so great that I’m glad audiences get to enjoy this uplifting performance by him.”
The Reverend Gets Away and Takes the Girls to Florida
At the gas station in Peabody Falls, Kimmy and Titus learn that the Reverend recently stopped by and set out to catch him and rescue the kidnapped girls, but as they’re about to leave, they notice the station proprietor, played by Johnny Knoxville, left a baby (and a gun) behind. While Kimmy is eager to catch the Reverend, she doesn’t want to leave the baby alone. And if viewers choose to abandon the baby not only does it roll out of the gas station, but also as Kimmy and Titus are riding their bikes down the road, the Reverend passes them in his van, yelling out the window that he’s taking the girls to Florida. With that, the screen fades to black and Mikey (Mike Carlsen) appears reminding viewers that Kimmy’s “a good person.” “And you’re not making good choices for her,” he adds. The action rewinds to the gas station so that viewers let Kimmy stay and babysit. But if Kimmy still hasn’t read the book she discovered in her backpack, when she and Titus get to a fork in the road, she won’t know where to go and they’ll see the Reverend drive by in his van with the girls, headed for Florida. This brings up another fourth wall-breaking appearance from Mikey, in which he tells viewers they did the right thing in watching the baby but they still have to go back to the gas station where, while Kimmy and Titus are watching the kid, the baby starts crying and Kimmy can either read to it or Titus can “read” the baby. While Fey says that Titus reading the baby is one of her “favorite dead ends,” and if viewers choose that option, they’ll end up with the same outcome at the fork in the road, but this time Mikey only appears for a second before the action reverts to the gas station so Kimmy can read the book to the baby. And it’s the book that helps Kimmy and Titus figure out which way to go at the fork in the road.
Why it matters: “Because we could have these dead-ends and you get to try again, you could let Kimmy act in ways that she didn’t ordinarily,” Carlock explains of part of the fun of writing the special. “She can abandon a baby. She can make out instead of reading a book. … Then you get to go back and be Kimmy. But ultimately we did, whether it was for the viewers’ sake or for the characters’ sake, we did want the right path to be making the right, Kimmy choices.”
The Ending Where Jacqueline’s Blamed for Destroying the Time’s Up Movement
While Kimmy and Titus are chasing after the Reverend, Jacqueline’s been stalling on Titus’ movie set, telling people that he’s refusing to come out of his trailer. Jacqueline’s storyline can have a few different scenes and variations, based on the viewer’s choices, as she interacts with various crewmembers in different ways. But ultimately, she ends up admitting that Titus isn’t in his trailer, and if he doesn’t find his way to the set, she further admits that he never was in his trailer and thus she’s been lying to the crew. One of the male crewmembers calls her out on this and says, “But everyone in Hollywood told us we have to believe women all the time now. If you lied, that means other women probably lie, too.” As Jacqueline tries to interject, another crewmember announces, “That means Time’s Up is over, everybody. Women lie, so we can go back to doing whatever we want.” Jacqueline frantically tries to clarify that her lies are only her own, but the damage has been done. A frenzy of sexual misconduct breaks out on the set, all soundtracked by the series’ third-season hit “Boobs in California,” and Jacqueline is grabbed by the male writer and kissed as she screams. Later, Jacqueline’s confronted by a woman who blames her for ending the Time’s Up movement and she offers that she’s doing a daily apology on Instagram. To avoid this catastrophic ending for Jacqueline, viewers need to get Titus to the set, which involves helping him overcome the food hallucinations he experiences by choosing to follow Kimmy instead of eating the second woodland banquet he discovers. If he stays and eats from the buffet, he’s shown eating even more dirt but not minding this time. And later Jacqueline explains that he ruined his voice by eating dirt. If the viewer’s choices create these unfortunate endings for Jacqueline and Titus, even if Kimmy gets a happy ending, either Jacqueline or Lillian (Carol Kane) will appear at the end of the special to call out the fact that things didn’t work out so well for Jacqueline and Titus and urge the viewer to watch the special again to make better choices for them. Jacqueline’s fate hinges on Titus. If viewers choose to have him ignore the fake food and follow Kimmy, he’ll later run right through a real table of food and be discovered by a crewmember from the very film he was supposed to be shooting. Jacqueline will hear he’s on his way to the set, and thus she can avoid admitting she lied. On set, Titus performs his one scene, standing in front of an explosion, and that’s a wrap.
Why it matters: “I think we were just thinking of, how could her small mistake, her small moral mess-up have a huge, bad impact. And that seemed like something that could happen on a movie set,” Fey says. Carlock adds, “The victories won so far in Time’s Up are on a knife’s edge.”
Kimmy Shoots, Stomps or ‘Splodes the Reverend
Arguably Kimmy’s biggest moral dilemma occurs when she confronts the Reverend in the woods. Retrieving the gun she grabbed from the gas station and stashed in her backpack, she points it at him, and the viewer can choose whether to shoot the Reverend, “stomp” him, “‘splode” him or spare him. If the viewer chooses any of the first three options, things end disastrously for Kimmy. The Reverend dies in all three scenarios before Kimmy can find out where the girls are or rescue them. And if Kimmy chooses to “‘splode” him with a nearby rocket launcher, Kimmy’s killed in the explosion too. The action jumps ahead to Frederick and what looks like Kimmy but is revealed to be a clone of Kimmy seated on the couch for a When Harry Met Sally-esque interview. They’re married but the “Toyoga”-saying Kimmy isn’t quite herself. If Kimmy shoots the Reverend, the action jumps ahead to a When Harry Met Sally-like interview with Lillian and Frederick as a couple, explaining how they met while he was preparing for his wedding to someone else but Kimmy wandered off into the wilds of West Virginia and pity turned to love and now Lillian has a plan for all 11 people ahead of Frederick in line for the throne. If Kimmy stomps him, it’s Kimmy’s frenemy Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula) who ends up married to Frederick and, as viewers learn from their couple’s interview, thanks to a blimp accident with the royal family, Xan’s now the Queen of England. If Kimmy kills the Reverend all three different ways in a row, he shows up from hell, which he thinks is heaven, on a red leather seat with flames behind him and calls out the viewer for killing him but says the “joke’s on you” because he’s partying with Aileen Wuornos, the serial killer portrayed by Charlize Theron in her Oscar-winning role in Monster, and disgraced puppet Mr. Frumpus, who’s sitting on the top of the booth wearing a tropical shirt and no pants. If Kimmy spares the Reverend, she still confronts him on what he did to her and her fellow mole women in the bunker and tells him that she won’t kill him because she’s better than him. Fortuitously, as Kimmy’s looking for a splint for his hurt ankle, she stumbles upon the bunker and rescues the girls, telling them, “It’s all still here,” in a callback to the pilot.
Why it matters: Kemper says Kimmy’s confrontation with the Reverend was “really hard to play because I think in that moment, she’s overtaken by her rage and she sort of gets into it. Her whole objective is to sort of take charge of a situation and not to let the circumstances tell her how to act but rather to do the right thing despite the circumstances. Whatever unfortunate situation she’s been dealt, Kimmy figures out a way to handle it in a mode that helps people and doesn’t make the situation worse. So when she does make the choice to kill the Reverend, I think she’s just again blinded by rage because it’s very un-Kimmy to make that choice. When we do see her make the right choice, she says that very thing, which is that ‘I’m better than that, that’s not the world I want to live in, where it’s an eye for an eye,’ and rises above it. I think she does make the wrong choice when she kills him because she lets her emotions get the better of her.” Fey adds that it’s in keeping with the character for Kimmy to ultimately “avoid the temptation for revenge. … Kimmy is a kind and naturally moral character,” Fey says. “She would not be able to live with herself having committed a murder, no matter who it was.”
Kimmy and Frederick’s Wedding
After Kimmy rescues the girls, the screen fades to white and a brief news report informs viewers that not only is Kimmy getting married to Frederick at The Plaza, but also that the Reverend was kicked to death in prison. There are a few different versions of the candy-colored wedding, depending on previous choices, but in order to win, viewers have to pick the fun dress at the very beginning and make Titus choose to follow Kimmy instead of giving in to his food hallucinations, which will also prevent Jacqueline from destroying Time’s Up. This combination will bring up a “You Win” graphic over the Breakfast Club-inspired closing shot. And during the news report, a ticker at the bottom of the screen informs viewers that they made all of the right choices, and on subsequent viewings of the special, the ticker teases viewers for having too much time on their hands. Other choices will take viewers to the wedding once they spare the Reverend and rescue the girls, but the ending won’t be perfect. If viewers pick the fancy dress and let Titus make it to the set, Kimmy will admit that she wishes she’d picked the fun one. And if Jacqueline and Titus’ careers are ruined, viewers will get an appearance from Lillian (fun dress) or Jacqueline (fancy dress) explaining that while things ended well for Kimmy, they didn’t for Jacqueline and Titus, and urging the viewer to replay the special to try for a better outcome for Kimmy’s friends. Beyond that, if viewers make the correct choices on your first viewing, Kimmy tells Frederick she thinks she’s pregnant and he recites the vows he was writing earlier. Subsequent views feature different dialogue from officiant Xan and the fan-favorite characters at the wedding and different middle names for Frederick. Also keep an eye out for Radcliffe playing the gardener who may or may not have fathered Prince Frederick — the backstory on that can be found by having Kimmy and Frederick plan their wedding instead of making out or reading the book. Nevertheless, once viewers make it to the wedding, Kimmy and Frederick get married and the credits begin to roll, indicating this is the main ending. If you exit to the official credits, you get a more traditional set of end credits like the ones following episodes of the series, but keep an ear out for Titus singing fan-favorite first-season song “Pinot Noir.”
Why it matters: “We wanted there to be a clear winning ending,” Carlock says. “And it felt like the wedding was at least clear announcement of, ‘OK, you did all or most of this correctly.'”