How do you cope with stress when life keeps getting harder and harder? It’s a frequently asked question, and it’s one that is especially relevant right now. Life always brings fresh challenges as people get older and take on more responsibility, but with the news dropping multiple dispiriting bombshells every single day, it can be difficult to let go of stress. Stress relief is a major theme of “Chapter Fifty-Three,” beginning with the increasing tension in the Villanueva-Cordero household as Michael prepares for the LSAT and Jane worries about her novel and Mateo’s slow verbal development. The confluence of all these issues at once is too much for Jane to bear, but she tries her best to keep her cool and not let Michael know how stressed she is because she can see how stressed he is. This isn’t productive at all, and no amount of yoga or essential oils will help Jane decompress when she’s keeping so much bottled up.

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The vast majority of The CW’s output right now involves overtly fantastic narratives, so it’s always refreshing to jump into Jane The Virgin’s world and see ordinary problems turned into intriguing drama and hilarious comedy. (There’s still plenty of telenovela fantasy, but it’s never the driving force of this series.) Jane and Michael’s story is something so many couples have to deal with, even if the circumstances aren’t exactly the same. How do you support your significant other when they embark on a new career path that is going to require a lot of work and life restructuring? How do you continue on your own career path when anxiety about the future starts to take over? What do you do when your child isn’t developing at the same pace as other children? This episode explores these questions with nuance while realizing the immense weight these issues put on Jane and Michael, and it’s easy to empathize with both Jane and Michael as they struggle to figure out the best courses of action.

The answers to these questions aren’t set in stone, but one thing becomes clear over the course of this episode: communication is key. Michael freaks out when Jane tells him about the challenges he’s going to have down the line on his law school journey, but this is information that he should have now before he commits to something he may not be ready for or even want. He’s already under a lot of stress with LSAT prep, but the stress will only intensify once he gets into law school and realizes just how hard it is and how much time it takes away from his wife and son. (Assuming he gets into law school.) It’s not a coincidence that communication is also the issue with Mateo, and once Jane and Michael finally talk about their fears and anxieties, Mateo starts to exhibit new speech skills. Everyone in this family is connected on a spiritual level, and when they realize that being together is the most important thing in the face of all this stress, they’re all able to grow together.

While Michael is fretting about his LSAT and law school interview, Jane is nervous about the newly completed draft of her novel. Her most immediate fear is that Alba won’t approve of this fictionalized version of her life’s story, so Jane tries to hide the draft from Alba to avoid potentially disastrous repercussions. This ends up being a small plot point in the grander scheme of the episode, but the resolution is very touching, with Alba stealing the draft from Xo, reading it, and whole-heartedly loving it. The relationship between Jane and Alba is one of the most beautiful things about this show, and Alba’s endless support of her granddaughter is inspiring. Ivonne Coll does fantastic work in this scene capturing Alba’s pride and delight as she tells Jane how much she enjoyed the story and how moved she is that this is the end product of all the pain of those past events. You can feel the love between these two characters, and it’s clear how much Jane’s writing moves Alba as well as how relieved Jane is that her fears were unfounded. She has other fears regarding the general success of the novel, but she can’t let those keep her from getting the work out into the world.

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Petra is also dealing with a lot of stress, and her situation is particularly fraught. Last week’s episode established Petra’s overwhelming paranoia as a reaction to her Petra-fication, and this episode delves even further into her fragile mental state. For most of this episode, it looks like Petra is back in full-on telenovela villain mode, stomping on Scott’s heart and plotting with Catalina so that she can act on her knowledge about Emilio Solano’s will. Petra convinces Catalina to take Rafael away for a night in exchange for $10,000 (and her watch), and uses Rafael’s absence to sneak into his room and steal the addendum to the will. It all looks pretty evil until the reveal of what Petra does with the addendum.

Rafael storms into Petra’s closet looking for camera monitors after Catalina tells him about Petra’s deal, and Petra comes clean when he finds the screens hidden behind a rack of clothes. Yes, Petra has been spying on Rafael, but that’s because her time in paralysis showed her what people say about her when she’s not around. She can’t trust what people tell her, so she goes to drastic measures to discover the truth. An even bigger bombshell is that Petra destroyed the addendum rather than using it to cause further trouble for her ex-husband. Why? For her children. Anezka paralyzed Petra just as she was beginning to bond with Elsa and Anna, and now the twins cry when Petra tries to hold them. She’s retreated into her old mindset that she’ll never be a fit mother for them, but she can still help them by making sure their father stays rich and able to provide them with whatever they need.

Yael Grobglas’ ability to bounce between ice-cold bitchery and heartbreaking vulnerability has made Petra an incredibly rich character, and this talent is highlighted in this episode. At the start she’s a predator on the prowl, but by the end she’s weak and frightened and unable to keep up the illusion that everything is fine. Petra is falling apart, and she can’t pull herself together on her own. Her revelation to Rafael is a major moment of catharsis, but it’s just the start of the healing process for Petra. Rafael sets her up with a psychologist at the end of the episode, and I’m very excited to follow Petra down this road, especially because you know that psychologist is going to have some amazing reactions to Petra’s life story.

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Last week I proclaimed my love for the De La Vega Factor, so this week’s developments for Rogelio and Darci have me giddy. The two of them are falling for each other hard, and it’s a joy to watch because Jaime Camil and Justina Machado have outstanding chemistry on screen. Rogelio’s stress this week comes from a mix of his romantic feelings for Darci and his dissatisfaction with the series finale of Tiago, and the former is connected to the latter. Rogelio is uncertain about his future with Darci, and that uncertainty bleeds into his work and keeps him from closing the door on Tiago because he doesn’t know what’s coming up next. Darci is also starting to develop feelings for Rogelio, but when she sees how attached he still is to Xo, she becomes extremely critical in hopes that it will squash his affection for her so that they can get back to the original baby plan.

The two eventually come to a mutual understanding regarding each other’s emotional baggage, and once Rogelio is more confident about his future with Darci, he comes up with an idea for the Tiago finale that makes him happy, sending Tiago to the Garden of Eden to help create mankind. I’m hoping that this is foreshadowing the start of the De La Vega Factor family, because I am shipping these two characters like crazy right now. They are perfect for each other and the actors have an outstanding rapport that makes their relationship blossom on screen. I believe that rapport comes from Camil and Machado’s history working together, and before Jane The Virgin, they both appeared together in the stage musical The Mambo Kings. From their very first scene together, there’s been a comfort between Camil and Machado that makes their characters seem like an ideal match, and it’s wonderful seeing that comfort blossom into full-fledged affection.

This episode’s script by Chantelle M. Wells is one of the best juggling acts this series has ever accomplished. As usual, there is a massive amount of material to cover across all the storylines, and every thread is compelling and emotionally satisfying. The three main storylines are all tied together by anxiety over children: Mateo’s underdeveloped speech is a big part of Michael and Jane’s domestic woes, Rogelio worries about how Darci’s hyper-critical attitude will affect her parenting, and Petra’s machinations to destroy the addendum and keep Rafael wealthy. Everything ties together gracefully to make a cohesive, powerful story, and “Chapter Fifty-Three” is a remarkable example of this series at its best.

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Stray observations

  • There’s very little Xo and Bruce in this episode and I have no problem with that at all. Bruce does make some good points, though, when he tells Jane about the impact becoming a lawyer had on his marriage.
  • I hoped that Anezka would stick around and she’s sticking around! And she’s married to Scott, who taped up the addendum to Emilio Solano’s will and is going to use it to bankroll their future! This is going to get messy.
  • As if this episode wasn’t great enough, there’s an entire scene of sweaty shirtless Rafael.
  • So many reasons not to like Catalina in this episode, including that she didn’t vote in Brexit and uses Uber.
  • Darci Rules #12 and #23: Never lay it on too thick and never order food you don’t look attractive eating, respectively.
  • The most romantic phrase Jane Gloriana Villanueva can hear: “Maybe you can make me one of your patented calendars.”
  • Michael: “Schedule in lots of sex.” Narrator: “Which she did!”
  • “O.K. I have a boner! Not a physical boner. An emotional one. An emo-ner, if you will.” #emoner
  • Rogelio: “At this moment I would love to grab you in my embrace and kiss you, but I must ask first since Donald Trump has ruined romance for all of us.” Narrator: “Along with a lot of other things.” This show isn’t shy about its feelings regarding the current president, and I wonder if his political agenda will become a bigger plot point later in the season. I hope so.
  • Catalina: “What’s the worst that can happen?” Rafael: “With my luck, one of my ancestors will manifest and turn out to be an axe murderer.”
  • “This is not dirty looks. This is just my swollen, puffy, melting Mickey Rourke face!”
  • “And give Petra her watch back, weirdo!” That watch is mentioned a lot. Will it come back into play in some way?

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