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Bad luck and future in-laws make a nasty combo on Jane The Virgin

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Family has been a constant theme throughout Jane The Virgin, and it’s back at the forefront in tonight’s episode, which spends significant time exploring the changing family dynamics within the cast. The most immediate change is the addition of two new babies with Elsa and Anna, and Petra is having a difficult time transitioning into being a mother after wanting to be one for so long. While Petra is reluctant to make a connection with her new daughters, Rafael is trying to build a relationship with his half-brother Derek Ruvelle, and the two have their first meaningful interactions in this episode.

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The plots in The Marbella are surprisingly grounded this week, with most of the soapy sensationalism transferring over to the conclusion of Rogelio’s hostage situation and the acceleration of the Pablo Alonso Segura plot. Alba is convinced that Pablo brings bad luck wherever he goes, and while there are some good things in this episode (like Rogelio being saved from Lola’s murder-suicide plan), they’re outweighed by the bad. Shortly after Pablo walks in the door, Jane learns that Rogelio had been taken hostage, and she tries to help her father work through his recent trauma while struggling to fix her reputation with Michael’s parents, who don’t trust Jane after what she did to Michael last year.

This is on top of the pressure Jane is receiving from her new advisor, Professor Marlene Donaldson (played by Melanie Mayron, who also directs this episode), to make sure her work passes the Bechdel Test, which is the only way Donaldson will accept Jane’s romance writing. The addition of a feminist advisor for Jane forces her to look at her writing from a different perspective, which also influences the Narrator’s commentary on what he’s watching, motivating him to comment on how well Sarah Goldfinger’s script does with the Bechdel Test. The results are not good, and the only times this episode passes are when Jane is talking to her advisor about her material and when she mentions how much she liked Where’d You Go, Bernadette to Michael’s mother, Patricia, and her book club.

The Bechdel Test thread is entertaining, but it doesn’t have much of a payoff. Ideally this is because the writers plan to do more with this idea down the line as Jane spends more time with Professor Donaldson, and after an episode that doesn’t do too well with Bechdel Test, I’d like to see one that really aces it. Goldfinger could be commenting on the test’s reductive criteria by creating a story featuring complex female characters with strong personal relationships who are constantly talking about the men in their life, but if she is, she’s not very assertive with her message. As Donaldson says, the Bechdel Test is a basic goal, and it’s one that Jane The Virgin accomplished a long time ago, but this episode’s script could do stronger work wrapping up that aspect of the narrative in a satisfying way.

Jane’s other plots this week deliver that satisfaction, and we get to see many sides of her as she deals with two very different parental situations. Michael’s parents get Jane worked up when they say they don’t want their son to marry her, and she goes through a wave of emotions as she tries to get Michael Sr. and Patricia to like her. First there’s the sadness of learning Michael’s parents don’t like her, followed by determination to change their opinions, fear when she’s interrogated at dinner, and a combo of remorse and affection when she goes to Patricia’s house and proclaims how much she loves Michael and how sorry she is for how she hurt him in the past.

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Gina Rodriguez does characteristically excellent work depicting Jane’s winding emotional journey this week, and one of her biggest strengths is her ability to capture Jane’s desperate need to be liked by others. That eagerness to please comes through loud and clear in Rodriguez’s performance, which makes it especially notable when that quality fades away, as it does in Jane’s final confrontation with Michael’s parents. Jane decides that instead of fighting for the approval of people that don’t respect her, she’ll be happy with the approval of the people that care about her, and it’s a major revelation for someone who has been trying to make others happy her entire life. Some people aren’t worth the time or the effort, and life is more fulfilling when you focus on those that are.

With Rogelio, we see the tender, supportive, unwaveringly dedicated side of Jane, and even though Rogelio’s post-traumatic breakdown forces Jane to miss her engagement party, she doesn’t leave her father’s side until she knows he’s O.K. Even with Rogelio’s wild vanity, having him miss the engagement party of his daughter and his mancrush for a dream interview feels a bit disingenuous, an overly convenient way of getting him away from the Villanueva home so that Jane misses her party and pisses off Michael’s parents some more. But it does work well as an example of how Rogelio retreats into his fame so that he doesn’t have to confront the devastating emotional impact of the last few weeks, and it’s obvious that Rogelio isn’t his usual self. Jaime Camil’s performance is so generally over-the-top that it feels like there’s something very wrong when he acts normally, and stripping Rogelio of his bravado brings a weight to his scenes that isn’t normally associated with the character.

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While all of this is happening, the Curse of Pablo Alonso Segura is gradually exerting its influence, and despite the trouble Pablo represents, Alba can’t resist her attraction to him. Marcelo Tubert and his majestic mustache give Pablo a bold presence on screen, and he has a sinister charisma about him that is appealing, but also dangerous. He’s a great match for Ivonne Coll, who turns up Alba’s intensity this week, first when she tells Jane and Xo about Pablo’s curse, and later when she and Pablo hit the dance floor to the song they made love to all those years ago. As the tension builds on the dance floor, the tension builds in the Villanueva house’s pipes, and the episode ends with a huge burst of water gushing from the living room ceiling. It’s an omen that suggests not only is Pablo’s curse real, it gets more destructive with time, and given this show’s tendency to shake up the lives of its characters, the Villanueva women should try to get to Pablo out of their orbit as quickly as possible.

Stray observations

  • Petra’s story is pushed far into the background of this episode, which is actually very clever considering it involves her not being active enough in the lives of her children. The script is denying Petra the attention that she’s denying her daughters.
  • Could Rafael be breaking bad? That’s a twist that might get me interested in his storyline, which is currently leaving me cold.
  • Xo thinks the term “archenemies” is “Archie enemies.” That’s adorable.
  • I’m shocked that nobody wanted to publish Professor Donaldson’s Gendered Politics And The Politics Of Gender, A Memoir. Academic and personal!
  • Jane shows off more of her goofy dance moves today, and I will never get tired of her excited little dance breaks.
  • “I’m embarrassed to be from Florida.”
  • “Abuela, there are like a hundred different environmental factors that go into an early frost.” Love Gina Rodriguez’s deadpan delivery of this line.
  • “Huh. Since when does Rogelio not rush out to open his monthly Cosmetic Crate delivery?”
  • “Please. Don’t let me die against a flat background, lit by unflattering light.”
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