“Chapter Thirty-Two” opens on a shot of the teenage Jane Gloriana Villanueva sitting on her couch with her new laptop computer, but rather than the simple fade in that typically kicks off these flashback prologues, the image of Jane is sketched on a blank white screen, starting with black-and-white pencil and gradually filling in to become the final photographic image. It’s a graceful visualization of the Latin Lover Narrator’s introduction to “a portrait of the writer as a young woman,” offering a literal hand-drawn portrait of Jane before jumping into the action, but it also represents the transition Jane is going through as an adolescent making a commitment to her art for the first time. The laptop gives Jane the means to form her identity as a writer, and the episode sketches her into being to emphasize the theme of artistic expression from the very first shot.
That theme courses throughout Micah Schraft’s script as Jane hits new highs and lows in the process of writing her novel, getting swept up in waves of inspiration, lamenting waves of orange juice, and fighting off waves of attraction to the various men entering her life as she tries to get back into the dating scene. After that opening flashback, the plot jumps to the present to show Jane getting hit by inspiration in the middle of the night, immediately rushing to her laptop to work on her novel. The quick cuts and on-screen text create a sense of dynamic excitement while the music score of cheerful bells, triumphant strings, and an angelic choir heightens the euphoria, and the rush of positive stimuli sets up the Narrator’s punchline: “A night like this is just the best feeling in the world. Well, to a woman who’s never had sex.”
Drawing that connection between Jane’s writing and the sexual pleasure she’s denied herself by staying a virgin is important for this episode, and her rush of creative inspiration comes at a time when she’s been heavily deprived of intimacy with a romantic partner. She’s not concerned with Michael or Rafael drama, which has freed her thoughts, and in her need to find the deeper satisfaction she got from her romances, she inspires herself to find a pleasure substitute in her writing. She’s doing great until Mateo starts crawling for the first time, and while Jane is enthusiastically responding to this new milestone, she’s not watching her laptop, which tumbles from the table when Mateo pulls on its power cord.
The laptop falling is bad, but it becomes a catastrophe when a pitcher of orange juice falls with it, soaking the keyboard and causing a total system crash. Without a working laptop and nervous that she’s lost all her writing from the night before, Jane gets blocked up again, and as her writing inspiration withers, she finds herself tempted by the prospect of romance. Lina pressures Jane to start dating again when she witnesses the flirtation between Jane and the guy fixing her computer, and she secretly creates a profile for Jane on the dating app Cynder to get her back in the game. Jane isn’t into it at first, but when she’s faced with a choice between checking her Cynder profile or working on a story that won’t come out, she opts for the former.
As someone who has always been focused on relationships, Jane doesn’t do casual dating well, and she can’t go on a date without imagining her suitor as a potential father for Mateo. That’s a reasonable thought for a new single mother to have, but it means she’s looking for more commitment than a lot of men are willing to give, and she’s consistently disappointed throughout the episode. Jane’s writing inspiration returns after her series of bad dates, and she gets a new chapter down on pen and paper while on the bus to the computer store. Jane’s writing inspiration is high when her romantic prospects are low, but that may change given the new object of her affection: Professor Chavez. All it takes is one sex dream for Jane to get hot for her advisor, and her new attraction should lead to some fun, awkward interactions in the future (and maybe some loving for Jane because Adam Rodriguez is hot).
Visual elements are constantly used to inject humor into the story on this show, often through cheeky on-screen text and graphics, but also with more spectacular flourishes. Having the bus’ electronic ticker say, “EN ROUTE TO COMPUTER STORE,” is a goofy little detail that also reflects Jane’s eagerness to get to the computer store. When Michael explains the history of the flash drive he gave to Nadine, crudely animated versions of the cast appear on the screen to create a tonal contrast, but also to visualize to the various past deceptions for any new viewers. These are examples of on-screen text and graphics for smaller laughs, but one of the funniest moments of this episode has more imagination behind it: Adriana Chavando’s extended close-up.
Rogelio has to offer his female costar a gift to keep her on the show after his decision to hire his mother as his manager blows up in his face, so he gives Adriana a much sought after extended close-up. The camera slowly zooms in on Adriana’s face as the shot holds for far too long, and the actress has to maintain her overly dramatic performance for the entire time. The moment gets funnier the longer it goes on, and the impact of the visual is heightened by the bright magenta lighting, which turns up the intensity while creating a slightly manic atmosphere when combined with Adriana’s expressions. The lighting, performance, and camerawork all combine to create a hilarious moment, and Jason Reilly does remarkable work invigorating the story with his first-time direction on this series.
Two characters in this episode, Alba and Manuel, speak only Spanish, which is a big deal when it comes to representing the immigrant experience. I come from a bilingual family (Romanian instead of Spanish), and I’ve spent a lot of time in rooms where not a single word of English is spoken. My mother’s family came to the U.S. to flee Communist Romania, and most of my relatives that immigrated here still speak their native tongue when they’re around each other. Romanian is the default with them, and to any strangers, the language is the first indicator of the connection they share. Having Manuel speak to Liliana and Rogelio solely in Spanish creates a stronger sense of familiarity between the characters, which helps compensate for the lack of definition given to their family dynamic in the past.
The De La Vega plot hits much harder this week, and there are some powerful moments as the family comes to terms with Manuel’s homosexuality. Manuel’s absence from his son’s life is an important plot point, and the reason Manuel stayed away from Rogelio’s theater productions and TV rehearsals was because he was afraid of being outed by the gay men he may run into in those environments. Castulo Guerra fully realizes Manuel’s shame in his performance; it’s not shame about being gay, but shame about lying and letting his lies keep him out of his son’s life. Rogelio responds to his father’s shame with understanding, realizing that his father has suffered enough and choosing to be supportive rather than offended.
The power of understanding and empathy is the major message of the De La Vega plot: Manuel thanks Liliana for being the force that pushed their son to be a success; Liliana shows her support for Manuel by having the writers of A Través Del Tiempo send Rogelio’s character to the Stonewall Inn riot (the comic highlight of the episode); and Xiomara and Liliana bury their animosity during a heartfelt chat underneath a poster of Rogelio. The two women finally find common ground in both their love for Rogelio and the stresses of being a mother, and by expressing sympathy for Liliana, Xo gains her blessing to marry Rogelio. The major emotional thread of “Chapter Thirty-Two” runs through the De La Vega plot, and the cast brings a lot of depth to the material while still embracing the humor that defines Rogelio’s world on this series.
- Rogelio’s co-star Adriana Chavando almost meeting El Chapo is a reference to Kate del Castillo, the Mexican actress who plays Rogelio’s first wife Luciana, actually having a connection to El Chapo in real life. Del Castillo helped set up El Chapo’s recent interview with Sean Penn, and is currently under investigation by the Mexican government on suspicion of money laundering. It’s like a real-life telenovela!
- Petra’s story doesn’t get much attention this week, but the short time we spend with her is very effective at detailing her fear as she starts to experience minor complications with her pregnancy. Petra expresses how nervous she gets when people tell her everything is fine because they said the same thing before her miscarriage, and Yael Grobglas does really great work capturing Petra’s panic and pain in that moment.
- Nadine hiding a microchip in Michael’s flesh is ridiculous, but it’s actually fairly plausible in the context of this series.
- Prediction: Liliana created the “It’s another beautiful day to be Rogelio” song, and Rogelio made his mom’s tune his ringtone.
- Who is Pablo Alonso Segura?
- “Chewel’s gum oozes with flavor!” I would have no problem with more quick flashbacks to Liliana and young Rogelio.
- “You’ll recall Rafael was injected with a strange liquid by his mother.”
- “Uh oh. Looks like Kris is starting some trouble for Kim.”
- Liliana: “I told them you don’t pop in peach.” Rogelio: “This is actually more of a coral, and I do look good in it.”