Yesterday on The A.V. Club, an interview went up with Jane The Virgin showrunner Jennie Urman detailing the process of adapting a telenovela for U.S. television, and it’s a must-read for fans of this show that want a look into the behind-the-scenes decisions that have made it such an intriguing new series. (And I’m not just saying that because I conducted the interview.) Urman details the different levels of reality the show operates on (three levels bridged by the Latin Lover Narrator), the reasons why each of the principal actors were cast in their respective roles, and what informs the series’ design elements, and the specificity of her answers reveals why this show has had such a strong, confident debut.
One of the key passages in that interview involves the philosophy of the writers’ room in regards to plot advancement: “We have a real ‘let’s go for it’ attitude with our storytelling,” Urman says. “We’ll have a secret, but then we’ll have people telling it. I think it’s interesting what happens after things come out as much as hiding them is. On our show, we don’t hold things too long.” That attitude has become one of Jane The Virgin’s defining characteristics, because good god does this show move fast. Take Luisa, for example. After weeks away, she reappears in “Chapter Eight” just in time for her malpractice court hearing, and by the end of the episode, she’s been committed to a mental institution by her stepmother Rose, who is doing damage control after Luisa tells her that she wants to make their lesbian affair public.
Speed isn’t always a good thing, though. Xiomara just started dating former professional soccer player Marco last episode, but their relationship ends before it ever really begins. Xo doesn’t feel the spark with Marco that she has with Rogelio—a literal electric spark that shocks Jane’s parents whenever they touch because this show is whimsical like that—so when she sees Marco becoming more attached to her, she puts their romance on ice before it can go any further. It’s a shame because Andrea Navedo and Nicholas Gonzalez have great chemistry, and I would have liked to see the show explore Xo’s relationship with a man that isn’t Rogelio. The two will probably end up together eventually, but there’s no need to rush it.
There’s a very thin line between quickly paced and rushed, and for the most part, this show stays on the side of the former, briskly moving forward but taking the time to allow emotional beats to land. The Luisa developments come very fast, but that’s for a good reason: Rose is on a tight time limit, and if she doesn’t make the first move, and make it very hard, she’ll lose her very wealthy husband. So she tells her stepson that his sister has had a psychotic break like their mother, and has Luisa committed so that any confessions of an affair on her part sound like the fantasies of a disturbed woman. (Now the show has an evil stepmother to go with Jane’s two evil stepsisters.)
Because the plot moves so quickly, events like Rafael sleeping with a random woman after learning that Jane is a virgin are entirely plausible. When Jane unwittingly delivers mimosas to the hotel room where Rafael is naked in bed with a strange blonde woman, it’s a huge shock that is totally believable because the show has done ample work foreshadowing this exact development through Xo’s warnings and Petra’s accusations that Rafael is the real monster in their relationship. We’re led to believe the worst of Rafael, especially after he reacts insensitively to Jane’s confession of virginity, and because this show twists so often, it’s entirely possible that Rafael would screw up his relationship with Jane so soon.
But he doesn’t. The woman is an escort hired by Petra to drug Rafael, and then put him in bed where Jane can discover him when room service gets a call for two mimosas. There’s no sex involved. It’s a cruel plot by Rafael’s resentful soon-to-be ex-wife, a personal blow after she already knocks him down a professional peg by ousting him as hotel investor. Rafael does eventually get his job back, but now he’s working under Petra, flipping their power dynamic and giving the devious blonde the upper hand.
Jane is devastated when she sees Rafael in bed with another woman, but in a surprising turn of events, the escort Candyce (Julie Marie Berman) ends up patching things up for the couple because she’s a believer in the legend of Jane the Virgin and her mystical miracle powers. Candyce has a son that she hasn’t seen in a while due to some bad circumstances, and she’s hoping that Jane could make a miracle happen for her with a hug and reunite her with her child. There’s no reason for Jane to offer compassion to this woman after what she just did, but Jane can see the pain Candyce is suffering and can’t just stand idly by when she could be helping.
Jane warns Candyce that her pregnancy wasn’t a miracle but a medical mistake and she doesn’t want to give any false hope, but she still wants to give Candyce a hug. And Rodriguez’s performance gives the impression that this is something Jane wants to do, not something she feels obligated to do in an awkward situation. You can see the sympathy growing inside Jane despite her best efforts to stay angry at this woman who was just hours ago laying in bed with the father of Jane’s child, and when she hugs Candyce, there’s a genuine sense that she wants the best for this woman. The scene between Candyce and Jane is one of those immensely tricky balancing acts that this show has gotten so great at, and Berman and Rodriguez do fantastic work navigating the emotional shifts of the script.
Abuela Alba hasn’t had much time in the spotlight over the last few weeks, but tonight’s episode brings her deeper into the plot by revealing that she’s an illegal resident of the United States. This makes her extremely anxious about any court cases involving her family, whether it’s for an unpaid parking ticket or for an accidental pregnancy. She fears that her illegal status will somehow come to light if the court digs too deep into her family’s history, and her worries are what ultimately persuade Jane to drop her malpractice case against Luisa. This storyline doesn’t get very much screen time, but it’s given immense weight by Rodriguez, Navedo, and Ivonne Coll, who does exceptional work capturing Alba’s concern. Jane and Xo don’t want to do anything that could risk Alba getting deported, and by fully realizing those high stakes for the Villanueva family, the show’s writers find a way out of the malpractice suit plotline.
After dealing with the escort business, Rafael and Jane reconcile, with Rafael telling Jane that he has no problem with waiting to have sex and that he’s willing to fight to keep her in his life. He also tells her that his shares of the hotel were put up for Luisa’s malpractice insurance, and the fact that he never told her this before reveals to Jane that Rafael put her over his money, a sign of true love according to Abuela Alba. When the two lovers touch, the same spark that flickered between Xo and Rogelio crackles in their hands, a clever way of using a recurring image to bond mother and daughter, but just because that spark is there doesn’t mean that things are going to turn out well for the couple. “Oh, if only it were that easy,” the Latin Lover Narrator says as the episode comes to a close, and based on how unpredictable this show has been, there’s no way of knowing what will stand in Jane and Rafael’s way in the future. And that’s a great thing.
- This week in exciting Latin musician guest stars: Juanes appears as a music producer friend of Rogelio’s that records one of Xo’s songs. Next week in exciting Latin musician guest stars: Xo’s idol Paulina Rubio will appear as herself!
- How many different emotions can Gina Rodriguez and Justin Baldoni evoke by repeating the word “fine”? Quite a lot, actually.
- Rodriguez’s acting is phenomenal, but one line reading in particular really stands out to me this week. After telling Rafael that people think she can perform miracles because she’s a pregnant virgin, she adds, “I can’t. Just to be clear.” Her facial expressions and body language in that moment are just so perfectly charming and nonchalant, even though she’s saying something totally ridiculous.
- Sin Rostro’s shipment this week is actually a man that may be a Serbian war criminal. An Eastern European connection immediately makes me think that either Magda or the still-unseen Milos are involved in some way.
- Some future plot tidbits from today’s interview with Jennie Urman (spoilers, obviously): we’ll be meeting more members of Rogelio’s extended family, including his mother and another ex-wife, and the second half of the season will see Jane moving on from her Catholic school to work in a new environment, which will bring some new characters to the show. And Rafael’s mother is on the horizon. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Salma Hayek as the former Mrs. Solano.)
- “There was one other thing: She also spent a great deal of time hugging churchgoers who thought she could grant miracles because she was a pregnant virgin.”
- “Who eats lobster every night?”
- “One more button, ma.”
- “Full disclosure: I tried it. Did nothing for me.” Looks like our Latin Lover Narrator has a bit of a wild side.
- Luisa: “Money is the root of all my problems.” Narrator: “Well, money and the fact that she inseminated the wrong woman with Rafael’s sperm.”
- “Don’t worry. I believe in you almost as much as I believe in myself.”
- “When I was in the sweat lodge, drinking my tea, throwing up, being guided by my shaman, I kept seeing your face.”
- “Why else do you think we did not make love in the sound booth?”
- Lachlan: “They don’t actually give awards out to shows like this.” Petra: “Well, you can’t tell anything from just one scene. There’s a larger story.” I love when this show gets meta.