The closer that Jane The Virgin gets to Jane and Michael’s wedding, the more it is being forced to confront the fact that said wedding threatens many of the show’s core relationships.
This isn’t to say that the show would fall apart if the two get married (which, being a telenovela, still remains an open question as far as I’m concerned). Rather, it’s important to acknowledge how much the show’s character dynamics are built around the Villanueva women all living under the same roof, and how much those relationships will change when Jane moves out the house. While Jane’s pregnancy was obviously a major life event, it was one that ultimately only reaffirmed the close bond between the women, and Mateo has fit comfortably into their daily lives and routines. But Jane actually leaving the house creates a crisis for all three women, who have to reevaluate their relationships with one another and with their own selves with their cohabitation coming to an end (previewed, in a way, by them being forced out of their damaged home).
“Chapter Thirty-Nine” is neither the first nor the last episode to confront Jane and Xiomara’s complex relationship, but it comes at a particularly complex time. The episode parallels two separate scenarios, as Jane and Michael each struggle with unwanted guests at their bachelorette/bachelor parties—Xo has invited herself to Jane’s regardless of her daughter’s wishes, while Michael is forced into inviting Rogelio when his future father-in-law overhears plans being made. The latter case resolves itself in a peaceful, bromantic manner: Rogelio creates an elegant dinner and spa that interrogates the gender dynamics of the tradition, Michael’s friends feel uncomfortable, Rogelio overhears Michael explaining he doesn’t want him there, and the two have a civil conversation where they acknowledge that there are new boundaries they need to set now that they’re going to be family. Father/Son-in-law spa treatments? Sure. Raunchy stories from Michael’s past with his generic bro friends? Maybe not so much. Case closed.
But things are not simple for Jane and Xiomara, nor will they ever be. The episode uses flashbacks to Jane’s 21st birthday party—which is also where Jane and Michael met—to show us that Jane has been dealing with her mother’s partying for a long time. The show hasn’t been hiding this from us or anything—we’ve always known that Xo’s maturity level has long been outpaced by her daughter, a dynamic that shifted when Jane was still a child. But Jane’s pending marriage has brought it to the forefront, because any major change to a relationship is going to activate greater introspection. And by the end of Jane’s bachelorette party—including her mother delivering the very type of party that Jane had prohibited—Jane has come to a stark realization: her mother is a cautionary tale, and she’s no longer going to accept an apology. She wants her mother to grow up.
The party itself is a bit of a mess plot-wise, pulling in Rogelio’s annoying stepdaughters and some ridiculous conflict surrounding Jane’s job, but none of that actually matters. The bachelorette party is there as an awakening for all parties involved. A night of heavy drinking and partying becomes a lesson for Lina, who sees Jane’s pending marriage as a sign she needs to do more with her life, and start working toward her goal of becoming a stylist. Jane realizes that this isn’t her last night of freedom before marriage, but rather her first night of the freedom of knowing that Michael will always be there to help her in her moments of need. And if Jane were able to take Xo at her word, it would be the night where a mother realizes that she isn’t a twenty-five-year-old, and can’t party with her daughter and make out with her best friend’s hookup, and needs to get her act together. But Jane doesn’t believe that was this moment for her mother, and we find the two women at odds in ways that only deepen the gulf set to grow between them upon Jane’s marriage.
Like so many Jane The Virgin stories, this emotional truth—and some fun onscreen alcohol-level tracking and drunk Jane acting from Gina Rodriguez—obscures the way the story isn’t quite sure how to generate external conflict to touch on these emotions. Indeed, the show’s biggest problem for me this season has been the “plot,” which often exists outside of these relationships. The crime story was present in season one as well, of course, but it felt different there: the show was more high concept in general (the crime balancing with the accidental insemination), and Sin Rostro was a more active presence in the story (and embedded in the show before being revealed). But now that it feels like we’re been dealing with the trailing vestiges of Sin Rostro—now Mutter, but she serves the same basic story function—for almost two full seasons I have to say that I just don’t care about any of it. There’s a utility story wise: it forces Michael and Rafael to interact, it gives Rafael a story now that Michael and Jane are back together (much as it gave Michael a story when Rafael and Jane were together), and it maintains a constant sense of danger which will allow them to eventually kill Michael before he makes it down the aisle (yes, I know I’m going dark here, but tonight’s early vow recital pretty much sealed the deal as far as I’m concerned). But Derek is a complete non-character, and Rafael drunkenly committing insider trading does nothing to speak to the emotional core of these characters or the show as a whole.
This isn’t to say that I think Jane The Virgin should become this grounded, realist drama and abandon its telenovela roots (where, at least given my experience with U.S. soap operas, crime stories no one cares about are indeed a staple). But if you’re going to pull a major twist, like tricking the viewer into thinking we’ve been watching Petra dye her hair and run away from her babies only to reveal that Petra has a secret (twin?) sister who has come to find her, it should be a twist with meaningful character ramifications. Rafael insider trading with the half-brother he never knew? This does nothing but generate perceived (minimal) forward momentum of serialized crime story. Petra having a secret twin sister? This puts her crisis of conscience with regards to starting a family in context, giving her an additional relative to connect with and creating the hope that she her family is more than just a cautionary tale when it comes to the type of love that holds—or has held, at least—the Villanueva women together for so long.
It seems bizarre, when you think about it, but the most interesting conflicts on Jane The Virgin are the ones that you know are going to resolve themselves. I have no doubt that Jane and Xo are going to reconcile, and that whatever rough patch they go through will result in them both being stronger and wiser. Their relationship will change when—or if, should you be with me in the Death Pool—Jane and Michael get married, but it will never cease to exist, because the love between these women is crucial to the way this story will unfold moving forward. When Xo climbs into bed with Alba like a daughter who needs her mother, there is an intense history of complicated emotions between them, and you realize how much depth the show has created in two seasons worth of stories about these women, and how moments like this one reverberate in ways that other stories can’t. Michael and Rogelio’s bromance has been charming as all get out, but it will never be the engine that moves this show forward, and the same goes for the crime story that’s stuck around this year.
“Chapter Thirty-Nine” ends with the Latin Lover Narrator emphasizing how rarely Jane loses control, but that when she does it’s “epic.” The same goes for Jane The Virgin, and Jane spurning her mother’s apology combined with Petra’s surprise sister marks the show entering the point in the season where it will purposefully spin out of control to create the requisite dramatic conflict. One can only hope that in the remaining episodes, as it (mostly) was here, that lack of control can begin at the emotional core of the series and move outward to the plot, rather than just the other way around.
- It was nice to get a proper Lina story—the episode acknowledged that Jane and Michael’s friend groups have never been particularly well drawn (while I recognized Charlyne Yi as Angela immediately, the Latin Lover Narrator absolves us of any need to learn who anyone else is), but Lina is an exception, and so to see her get fleshed out a bit was a nice chance to give Diane Guerrero a bit more to do.
- I feel like Jane The Virgin is the only show where there would be a Don Quixote stripper, but one of many broadcast shows where strippers inexplicably strip wearing boxer briefs they could have pulled out of my underwear drawer.
- Best Hashtag of the Night: As always, plenty of good contenders, but I liked #HeWorksHardForTheMoney after Xo noting she had hired the most industrious stripper in history. Simple, but effective.
- Worst Hashtag of the Night: This is a tough one, but it has to go to #MichaelThe(Massage)Virgin, which is very clever except that the Latin Lover Narrator should know better than to include hashtag-breaking parentheticals in an onscreen hashtag. Rookie mistake, Latin Lover Narrator. You know better. I know you know better.
- Are they selling the t-shirts? (Also, I love that despite the fact 95% of printed t-shirts are probably crew necks, Rogelio went with V-necks, because of course he did.)
- The Twins on their fashion blog: “It’s our chance to be like the Olsen Twins…but less depressing, and without Mary Kate’s old French guy.” (The Twins have decent lines at times, but they do not feel like real human beings, and thus drag the show down more often than not for me.)
- University Verisimilitude Corner: So while this feature really bugged some people when I dragged it out writing about Shameless, I have to observe how ridiculous the reaction to Jane’s stripper incident was. Now, there’s reason to be concerned, but her professor showed up to ask Jane to give that prepared talk moments before it was scheduled to happen, and the way he repays this significant favor is to treat her like she’s just defamed the school through her actions despite having no involvement in the stripper’s arrival and in no way supporting it taking place once ir started? Because I am a broken person, my incredulity at his overreaction—which, yes, is necessary to play out the conflict with her mother throughout the party and create the beats in the A-story, I know why it’s there—managed to overcome my delight at Rodriguez’s hilarious reactions to the stripping as it was happening. It’s one of the show’s best cut-to-credits to date, and here I am still all worked up about the idea of a professor being so unreasonable—while that’s sort of on me, I think this whole situation could have been avoided.
- And in case you didn’t realize it before now—I have to think the combination of hashtag pedantry and asking for realism in a story triggered by a Don Quixote stripper should have clued you in, but maybe you’re new—Oliver was done in by local preemptions tonight, but he’ll be back next week.