The holidays have a reputation for being one of the most stressful times of the year, and that’s especially true for Jane Gloriana Villanueva in “Chapter Thirty.” In addition to the constant stress of being a new mother, Jane is dealing with the fallout of her break-up with Mateo’s father, Rafael, and financial issues at school caused by the meddling of her own father, Rogelio, and she’s finding it very hard to keep her cool. The episode opens with a flashback to Alba teaching a 6-year-old Jane how to stop her too frequent temper tantrums by having her granddaughter create an acrostic for the word “CALM” that will soothe her when she’s mad, a valuable anger management tool that Jane uses throughout the chapter. Whenever Jane feels enraged, she thinks of Cheese, Abuela, Lists, and
Monkey Michael Mateo to cool the cartoonish steam shooting from her ears, but by the end of the episode she learns that staying CALM isn’t going to solve her problems.
While Jane has certainly had her moments of anger in this series, she’s generally a nice, sweet, sunny person, and Gina Rodriguez is excellent at playing those qualities without making the character overly sentimental or sappy. She’s also excellent at playing the other side of Jane that doesn’t get quite as much attention, the self-righteous side that thinks she’s always right and gets irritated when people don’t act according to how she thinks they should act. That’s the side that gets a lot of play this week, but Rodriguez never pushes the negativity too far. She has the benefit of a script that does strong work establishing exactly why Jane is so enraged, and that specificity carries over to Rodriguez’s performance. It’s been a big week for Rodriguez, who scored her second consecutive Best Actress nominations for the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Television awards, and “Chapter Thirty” showcases the versatility and commitment that have garnered Rodriguez that attention.
There’s a lot of rich emotional material in this episode, but the script by Caroline Rivera and Paul Sciarotta has fun finding ways to approach this subject matter. Jane blowing steam out of her ears is a cartoonish way of visualizing the very serious feelings that Rodriguez evokes in her performance, and it keeps the tone light even when the stakes are high for Jane in those moments. Petra’s guilt over helping Magda cover up Ivan’s murder takes the form of Ivan’s ghost, who haunts Petra wherever she goes and toys with her nerves until she eventually confesses everything to Rafael during a meeting with their fertility doctor. (Unfortunately, Magda can tell her daughter is starting to crack and frames Petra for Ivan’s murder before she can be sent back to prison.)
The writers are always playing around with ways to incorporate different visual elements to bring a new dimension to a scene, like the star ratings that appear on screen during Jane and Rafael’s first session with their couple’s therapist. It’s a quick way of providing more information about the therapist while adding humor to the scene, and it’s all done with a visual language that is fresh and modern and rooted in Jane’s specific experience of checking the ratings for local couple’s therapists.
Another particularly delightful plot device of this episode stems from the short stories Jane writes to prepare for a contest that could help her pay for her tuition, and the script fakes the viewer out by setting up scenes with the cast that end up being Jane’s stories. Jane’s historical fiction starts as a flashback to Alba and Mateo on their first Christmas in America, her thriller has her following Rafael to the shady location he’s been sending money (in reality, it’s a charity for domestic abuse victims), and her sci-fi story involves Rogelio’s new intern becoming a shapeshifter. These short story transitions are goofy, but they’re important for Jane’s development as a writer, teaching her the skills that are a big part of what makes this show so enjoyable.
The contest is for a short fiction story in any genre, but Professor Chavez wants Jane to sharpen her talent, so he gives her genre assignments that push her in different ways. The historical fiction is to teach her how to create a strong sense of time and place, which this series has done very well with clearly defined spaces like the Marbella and Jane’s home and period-specific design details for flashbacks. The thriller is to teach Jane how to use the element of surprise, which is an essential part of this show’s DNA as the writers regularly send the plot twisting in unexpected directions. And the sci-fi is to teach Jane to break the rules, something this show regularly does as it rises above the primetime soap norm by combining over-the-top telenovela elements with grounded personal storytelling that is driven by honest, nuanced character emotions.
One of the main themes of this episode is parental abandonment, and it comes up in a number of different character threads. Rafael and Luisa are both dealing with mothers that left them, with Rafael’s mother briefly appearing for a tense conversation with her son before she talks to the police about Emilio Solano’s first wife. She’s called in because Michael and Susanna are moving forward with their hunch that Luisa’s mother is the crimelord Mutter, but her quick encounter with Rafael feels like it’s setting up something bigger down the line. Luisa has a much bigger part to play in the Mutter plot this week, and as she joins Michael and Susanna on the investigation, she starts to think about how her relationship with her mother relates to her relationship with Rose, which is still ongoing in an online capacity. She wonders if her mother being a psychopath is why she fell in love in Rose, and Susanna is clearly confused as to how she’s supposed to handle these major emotional confessions from a woman she hardly knows.
Jane is also dealing with abandonment issues, and during her therapy session with Rafael she realizes that she has such a big issue with his lying because she’s still not over her mother lying to her about her father’s absence for all those years. Rogelio feels guilty about this, too, and laments the loss of the person that he used to be able to express these feelings to: Michael. The Michael and Rogelio bromance subplot is very silly, but it’s also pretty heartbreaking when Michael tells Rogelio that he should move on, largely because the two actors have such great chemistry together. Rafael may be Mateo’s biological father, but Michael is a bigger part of the Villanueva family, and even though he’s not physically present during the Christmas festivities, he’s there in spirit thanks to his reparation of the wooden angel Jane’s grandfather made for the top of their tree.
That Christmas scene is the emotional high point of the episode, partially because of the very sweet moment with the angel, but more importantly because it finally gives Alba her green card, a huge character moment that is given significant weight by the performances of the cast when Alba announces the best Christmas gift she could have received. Ivonne Coll brings the most gravity to the scene as she’s overwhelmed by the joy of finally getting her green card after so many decades of living as an undocumented immigrant, and that joy spreads to the rest of her family as they gather around her in congratulations. Between Mateo’s health and safety and Alba’s green card, the Villanueva family has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, and all the stress melts away in those moments of gratitude and love around the Christmas tree.
- This week’s Jane The Virgin hits close to home because my sister just gave birth to my first nephew last week, so we’ll be having our first Christmas with the next generation. While nothing as dramatic as Jane’s experience happened with my sister, her car was stolen during her 38 hours of labor, so she’ll always have a great story to tell.
- Jane and Professor Chavez are totally going to have a steamy affair and I cannot wait.
- Rogelio’s apartment has a giant painting of him as El Presidente with his leopard. It is amazing.
- Rogelio’s CALM: Cell phone, Avocado mask, Lavendar, Mirror
- Jane’s Christmas gifts as a 6-year-old: an outer space puzzle and a Home Alone videotape.
- Oh god the only thing worse than Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” is a CW-approved cover of “Wonderful Christmastime.”
- “You can always count on your mom to help out with childcare, or to bleach of a murdered man off your floor.”
- “It’s another beautiful day to call Rogelio! Leave me a message. I’ll call you back!”
- “Whoosh!” I love Jane’s face when she realizes that she’s laying it on really thick for Professor Chavez.
- Jane: “I feel angry. That after our son was kidnapped by Sin Rostro and my ex-fiancee Michael rescued him, that Rafael decided to pay someone off to lie to the police.” Rafael: “And I feel angry that Jane doesn’t realize I had no choice. That she was blinded by Michael and I was trying to protect my family.” Being Jane and Rafael’s couple’s therapist would be so exciting.