After two years, I’ve discovered that the summer break from Jane The Virgin isn’t the same as other shows. Because so much happens in the plot, the absence of new episodes on a weekly basis hits especially hard at first, but it’s easy to get used to once summer kicks in. The warmth and color and energy of the summer are what Jane The Virgin delivers on a regular basis when the weather turns, and the hiatus is an opportunity to step away from Jane’s world and appreciate the season the show is always channeling. The series drifts from memory for a short while and then new episodes are added to Netflix, igniting conversations that make me remember just how much I miss Jane The Virgin’s wit, heart, and style.

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The summer fades and the fall premieres begin, and the anticipation for the new season grows as these other shows fail to deliver that unique Jane high. Moments from the finale start to push their way to the forefront of my mind and I need to know: Is Michael dead or alive? What the hell’s going on with Petra? How many times will Gina Rodriguez break my heart in the premiere? And then the day finally arrives. Jane The Virgin comes back, and it’s like no time has passed at all.

The Latin Lover Narrator provides a smooth entry into the new season with his recap of both the show’s general concept (for any first-timers) and specific events from the preceding chapters, and Anthony Mendez’s friendly, enthusiastic voice work quickly draws returning viewers into the world of the show. The title of “Chapter Forty-Three” indicates that this isn’t the ideal place to jump into Jane Gloriana Villanueva’s story, but writer/creator/showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman also understands that a season premiere is an opportunity to attract newcomers to the show so she devises a plot that welcomes those viewers while enriching the central relationships of the series.

The opening flashback spotlighting young Jane’s love of romance novels and her insistence on writers adhering to genre conventions represents this show’s simultaneous embrace and subversion of traditions across various romantic storytelling avenues: romance novels, fairy tales, CW romantic dramas, telenovelas. Jane The Virgin walks all those roads, but it also comments on them by maintaining an emotional honesty that challenges traditions and examines why they do and don’t work in a more grounded, realistic context.

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The fantastic circumstances surrounding Michael Cordero’s near-fatal shooting involve a drug kingpin who has been secretly posing as his partner, but that sense of reality is quickly established when the story becomes about Jane dealing with the potential loss of her new husband. As always, Gina Rodriguez is the anchor of this episode, and Jane is overwhelmed with fear and panic from the second she sees Michael bleeding out on The Marbella’s carpet. These emotions dominate much of her performance in the first half of the episode, but as she worries in the present, the episode jumps to the past to recount events immediately following Jane and Michael’s first kiss.

Putting Jane and Michael in a previous love triangle feels repetitive after two seasons of Jane/Michael/Rafael drama, and while it’s strange that Sam (Miles Gaston Villanueva) has gone unmentioned over the course of the show, the episode still makes this storyline work to strengthen the foundation of Jane and Michael’s relationship and remind viewers of what the two lovers have overcome to get to this moment. The repetition is intentional, and Urman wants viewers to draw a connection between Rafael and Sam, bringing up memories of the series’ main love triangle as it introduces a new one. Rafael’s romantic relationship with Jane doesn’t come up in the present because it’s not the right time for that (he’s also busy with a murder investigation and his wife’s evil twin), but the flashback is a reminder of the more significant drama Jane and Michael have had to deal with to reach their H.E.A. (happily ever after).

As the story of Jane and Michael’s past romantic mishaps takes shape, the stakes in the hospital rise. The arrival of Michael’s mother creates extra tension when she takes charge of Michael’s medical concerns although it’s technically Jane’s duty, and Jane is trying to hold on to her hope and faith as her world gets darker and darker. That question I had about how many times Gina Rodriguez would break my heart this week? The answer is four: Jane finding Michael’s unconscious body; Jane finally getting a moment to herself and breaking down in hospital waiting room; Jane being comforted by her abuela when she’s making the decision about Michael’s surgery; and Jane’s prophesy of her still-to-come future with her husband.

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That last moment is especially powerful thanks to the conviction Rodriguez brings to the script, making Jane’s dreams sound like reality. Gina Lamar’s direction, Lowell Peterson’s cinematography, and Kevin Kiner’s music all play integral roles in giving that speech maximum emotional impact. In the present, Lamar keeps the camera tight on Jane with Michael in the foreground to accentuate their closeness, but pans out during the flashforwards to create a sense of expansion as the family grows in the future. The scenes in the hospital are a cool blue with one artificial light source, but the flashforwards are full of warm pastels and natural light that signify Jane’s optimism. Kiner’s acoustic guitar score is the final piece in this emotional puzzle, playing a soft, intimate melody that builds as Jane becomes more affected by her fantasy and calms down again for the final flashforward of an elderly Jane and Michael sitting together on the bench swing outside their house. The audio and visual elements of this sequence are totally in sync with Urman’s script and Rodriguez’s performance, creating a vision of Jane and Michael’s future that is too good to be taken away in this episode.

I’ve had a lot of time to think the possibility of this show killing off Michael in the third season, and every time I weighed the options my gut told me that Michael would live. This show loves a good twist, but killing Michael immediately after Jane’s wedding, before she loses her virginity, would be cruel. It would be an emotional gut punch and create seismic shifts for the series, but it would also be an undeniably nasty thing to do to Jane and the fans on Team Michael because of where it falls in Jane and Michael’s story.

The entire series had essentially been building to that moment when Jane would finally lose her virginity to her husband, and the writers already stole that perfect moment from Jane so I couldn’t imagine that they would rip her heart out in the premiere. A more brutal show would kill off Michael in surgery after Jane’s speech, but Jane The Virgin isn’t a brutal or cruel series. Time and again it’s proven that it’s a show about love and hope, so Michael living through a successful surgery isn’t a huge surprise. It is a relief, though, and Urman deserve special credit for Michael’s amnesia fakeout, which is something that could have absolutely happened on this show.

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There are aspects of “Chapter Forty-Three” that don’t work as well as the hospital drama—a very silly subplot involving Rogelio giving his urine to two Tweeters who need to pass a drug test, Anezka and Magda’s plot against Petra and Rafael—but no thread is without value. In both instances, the exaggeration of those stories provides a contrast that intensifies and deepens the emotional conflict of the more grounded personal drama. Rogelio’s story is a way for Urman to have Xo come clean about being pregnant with Esteban’s child, and all the urine high jinks are worth it for the moment at the end of the episode when Rogelio tells Xo that he’ll respect and support her choice to terminate the pregnancy.

The Anezka/Magda story doesn’t have that emotional payoff, but the over-the-top telenovela elements provide a refreshing break from Jane’s pain in the hospital. Anezka and Magda are involved in some dark shit, but it’s treated with a light touch that makes it a source of humor. Petra is stuck in a ridiculous telenovela plot while Jane is in the midst of a believable domestic crisis, and these two aspects of the script complement each other because the storytelling is so confident in both. The fantasy of Petra’s situation gives Jane’s conflict even more weight because it’s so much more nuanced and layered by comparison, and I’m consistently impressed by how well this show uses that narrative dynamic. Jane The Virgin’s streak of excellence goes unbroken with this third season premiere, and even though Jane’s immediate future will likely be less sunny than what she imagines for herself and Michael, I can’t wait to see what it holds for them and the rest of their family.

Stray observations

  • Sin Rostro update: Somewhere underwater, creepily eating powdered doughnuts while watching Luisa sleep.
  • The narrator says that we’re smack dab in the middle of Jane’s story, which hopefully means the writers and producers have a five-season plan for this story. A set endgame and a clearly defined road map to get there will keep the show focused, and Gina Rodriguez’s career is taking off at a rate that suggests she’s destined for bigger things beyond her network TV series (as amazing as it is).
  • I didn’t start crying until I noticed that Xo, Alba, and Rogelio aren’t in the “great griller” flashforward. Not everyone will be around to see how big the Cordero clan grows.
  • What are Jane and Xo laughing about in the past? I don’t care if it’s not relevant, I want to know! (I would love it if a future episode revealed this during a story where it is relevant.)
  • Maybe it’s just because I reviewed the very white DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow premiere last week, but I was impressed by how nearly all the smaller speaking roles in this episode were played by people of color. I appreciate that the world of this series reflects the actual diversity of Miami.
  • Gina Rodriguez looks a lot like Rosie Perez with her wig in the Christmas flashforward.
  • #EsteBunInTheOven, #EsteBarf, #UrineTrouble
  • I wonder if Faith M. Whiskers III will somehow make her way on to this show before Jane and Michael reach old age.
  • “You made some good points about genre, or whatever.”
  • “He’s like 100!”

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