Photo: The CW

What does it mean for a TV show to be “grounded”? It’s a word I often use in a positive context, and I think grounded stories tap into relatable human experiences and bring complexity and depth to the emotional lives of characters. Being grounded shouldn’t be every series’ top priority, but shows can always benefit from moments that make the world feel real and allow viewers to see themselves in the narrative. It’s a big reason why Jane The Virgin is such a successful blend of extravagant telenovela elements and more subdued family drama, but achieving the right balance is challenging.

“Chapter Eighty” celebrates the heightened nature of telenovelas in its Rogelio plot, which has him pushing back against River Fields when she tries to remove all of the telenovela tropes from The Passions Of Steve And Brenda in favor of more grounded storytelling. Steve no longer gets amnesia after hitting his head while exiting Air Force One. The maid is no longer his long-lost mother. The Oval Office is just an oval instead of a heart. River has final approval so Rogelio goes along with these changes to make sure the show actually gets made, but when he runs into a Passions Of Santos fan at the hospital, he realizes how important it is that the American adaptation stays faithful to the spirit of the original telenovela.

I love this scene between Rogelio and the nurse, and having the two of them switch from English to Spanish creates a quick connection between the characters and ties into the idea that Rogelio can’t let River’s vision strip the series of its cultural roots. Telenovela conventions might seem far-fetched for American audiences, but fans of the genre are expecting these over-the-top twists and turns because the bigness is what makes it so fun. Rogelio calls it “a pornography of emotions,” but River doesn’t really understands what that means until she experiences it herself. After accidentally eating one of Xo’s pot brownies, River is forced to stay with Xo and watch a telenovela, and she’s quickly hooked by the drama and decides that Rogelio’s vision needs to be the one for their TV series.

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As much as this episode praises telenovela exaggeration, the majority of the storylines go in the opposite direction, exploring struggles that regular people face every day. The toughest struggle comes from Xo’s chemotherapy, and she’s trying to stay positive as she starts her treatment. Amy Brenneman guest stars as Xo’s chemotherapy companion, Donna, and she makes the most out of her short amount of screen. It’s a small character, but Brenneman immediately makes her endearing and gives her a fun-loving, optimistic personality that is exactly what Xo needs as she undergoes a procedure that is going to constantly test her strength and resolve. They bond over their cold cap therapy and Donna lets Xo touch her fake breast in the middle of a restaurant, and Xo is able to push forward because she has a friend who is going through the same experience.

Unfortunately, Donna dies during a nine-week time jump, and while Andrea Navedo’s performance captures Xo’s immense loss and how it fills her with fear and dread, Donna’s death would be much more powerful if we got to spend more time with her. It feels a bit cheap to introduce this new character for the sole purpose of killing her off, but at the same time, it does put the audience in Xo’s shoes, where they meet this compelling new character and get to know her before she’s suddenly gone forever. This terrifies Xo, and she’s overwhelmed with anxiety that there is no finish line and she’ll never truly recover from this. It’s a painful scene, but it’s also therapeutic as Xo drops the positivity and lets herself express her deep-rooted concerns about her survival. She comes to the realization that losing her hair isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, and gives up her cold cap therapy because she doesn’t need an extra source of pain. It’s all very sad, but it’s also realistic, and this series isn’t shying away from just how traumatic this entire experience is for Xo and her family.

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While Xo is in chemo, Jane and Rafael are trying to save up for a new apartment, but a one-bedroom place in Mateo’s school district doesn’t come cheap. They successfully cut enough corners that they can pay the first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit, but a trip to the flea market ends in disaster when Mateo drops a $4,000 antique clock, forcing his parents to hand over all the money they’ve saved. In order to make some extra money, Rafael rents out his apartment and moves back in with Jane, Alba, and Mateo, but that arrangement takes a turn for the worse when Rafael sees Alba spank Mateo for trying to touch the stove. Rafael loses his temper and yells at Alba for spanking his child, and this creates a rift between the two of them that grow during the time jump.

The Alba/Rafael conflicts connects nicely with the Xo storyline, and when Jane asks her abuela why she won’t let go of her anger toward Rafael, Alba reveals that she feels like she doesn’t have control of anything and is trying to hold on to whatever authority she still has. That means enforcing a “no sex before marriage” rule for Jane and Rafael, and having zero tolerance for Rafael disrespecting her when he doesn’t agree with her rules. Seeing her daughter’s life in jeopardy has shaken Alba to her core, and instead of talking to anyone about her feelings, she’s let dark thoughts take over her mind and negatively influence her behavior. This conversation with Jane is a major eye-opener, and Alba realizes that she needs to mend things with Rafael so they can maintain a healthy family unit.

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There are two moments in this episode when Jane and Rafael visualize their dreams, and the different approaches to the two scenes enrich the emotional content. When Jane and Rafael visit their ideal apartment, Jane begins to imagine the life they would have there. She sees Rafael and Mateo reading together while she writes at her desk, and the family eating at a dinner table. Rafael’s dream relies much more on visual effects, and he takes Jane to the empty lot where a new hotel is going to be built once all the money is in place and the permits have been approved. The two actors are in front of a green screen, and the dreary environment around them transforms into an opulent resort space as Rafael tells Jane about all his ideas for the potential property. The effects play an important part in differentiating Rafael’s dream from Jane’s, and hers is much more attainable than Rafael’s.

There are a lot of steps that need to be taken to get to a point where Rafael’s vision is realized, and at the end of the episode he realizes that it’s more beneficial to make changes that will make Jane’s dream a reality because he wants those same things for his family. Rafael’s storyline builds on plot points that weren’t fully developed back in “Chapter Seventy-Five,” and I still don’t really understand what is going on with this real estate investment situation. All of Rafael’s interactions with Chad happen off-screen, and this thread comes across as an afterthought. There’s very little tension there, and it never feels like this is a legitimate path that Rafael is going to take.

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The resolution of Petra’s murder case is very rushed, and after Magda comes forward as an eyewitness, JR begins to have questions about what really happened on the night Anezka was killed. Petra wants her girlfriend to believe her when she says she didn’t kill her sister, and the swell of emotion compels JR to come clean to the D.A. about everything that has been going on with this case, including how she was being blackmailed to get Petra convicted. The case is dismissed with prejudice because of all the crazy shit surrounding it, and JR is going to be disbarred but she’s cool with it. She’s been living in fear that her past would eventually catch up with her, and she decides to take matters into her own hands and live with the consequences if it means keeping her relationship with Petra.

This is still a telenovela, though, and while the legal case of Anezka’s murder is closed, there’s still more information about the story that Petra isn’t divulging. She appreciates what JR does for her but this also makes her uneasy, and there’s some sort of internal conflict happening there that will probably be revealed in next week’s finale. Petra isn’t the only person with a secret, and Rafael receives a call at the end of the episode from Rose, who says she has news that will change his life forever. It’s a “classic Friday night cliffhanger,” and with only one episode left in the season, it’s entirely possible that Rose will drop a bombshell that legitimately changes the course of the series as it heads into its fifth (and potentially final) season.

Stray observations

  • I really liked the modification to the title this week, where the description just goes on and on to replicate the stream of writing inspiration Jane is feeling in the moment.
  • Rafael doing lunges in those tight white pants is too much.
  • Are Magda and Rose in the same prison? If so, I wonder if they’ve joined forces. That seems like something that could very easily happen.
  • Xo’s hair and makeup does a very good job showing the toll the chemo takes on her body. She looks so gaunt.
  • Xo: “It’s like a slushie brain freeze, minus the slushie.” Narrator: “Sounds like a poop sandwich, minus the bread.”
  • Jane: “No sex, no…” Nurse: “Going down?”
  • “Now that’s what I call ordering off the menu.”
  • “It looks like a double-breast poop emoji.”

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