It’s always interesting to revisit a show’s pilot after a significant chunk of episodes have aired. What changed? What stayed the same? Did any cast members get replaced? Any plotlines get dropped? In some instances, shows are majorly rehauled after the pilot, morphing into something different as the writers explore new storytelling avenues. That’s not the case with Jane The Virgin, which comes bursting out the gate with an immensely confident and powerful pilot that has served as the blueprint for all future episodes.
By now, we should all know what happened: Jane Gloriana Villanueva was accidentally artificially inseminated during a routine trip to the gynecologist, an event that makes her life the stuff of telenovelas. That’s the major driving force of the series, but it’s just one of many plotlines introduced in “Chapter One.” In addition to the inciting pregnancy, there’s Petra scheming against her husband (assisted by Magda and the late Roman Zazo), Xiomara keeping Rogelio’s identity a secret, Luisa’s alcoholism and relationship with Rose (who’s identity as Luisa’s stepmother is kept secret), and Michael’s hidden criminal past with his brother Billy. It’s a lot for one episode to cover, but writer/showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman fits it all into one jam-packed script that moves at the brisk pace that has become this show’s standard speed.
This may be an ensemble-based dramedy, but it’s still primarily Jane’s story, and what makes this pilot so successful is its dedication to showing multiple facets of the central character and her personal relationships. This first episode focuses on Jane’s relationships with Alba, Xo, Michael, and Rafael, using the two women to establish the show’s emphasis on the intergenerational family dynamic and the two men to build the love triangle that will be the series’ main source of romance.
The soap opera elements of this pilot aren’t anything new for the CW, but it’s the things surrounding the soapiness that make this show stand out in the network’s slate of shows. To start, it features a predominantly Latino cast, and the script highlights that aspect of the characters by starting with a scene performed mostly in Spanish. That first scene also emphasizes the show’s focus on sexuality, beginning with a stern speech from Abuela Alba explaining how virginity is like a perfect, pure flower that, when crushed, can never be restored to its former glory. Xo doesn’t want her mother teaching her daughter this “lame” stuff, and that balance of prudence and promiscuity in the Villanueva household has given this show a well-rounded view of sexuality.
Jane is caught in a very difficult position after her accidental pregnancy: does she keep the child, give it to Rafael and Petra, or have an abortion? Of these three, the abortion is one that creates the most tension in the Villanueva household; Xo wants Jane to know that if she wants to have an abortion, that’s totally O.K., but Alba wants her granddaughter to at least go through with the pregnancy. Xo’s mindset comes from a place of sympathy for her daughter’s situation; she understands that having the choice of an abortion helps, even if it’s not a choice that Jane is interested in pursuing. Imagine how stressed Jane would be if she went through this situation and found out she had to have the child no matter what? At least with the abortion Jane has the choice to go back to the life she had planned before, even though there’s no telling how that procedure would personally impact Jane in the future.
Alba has slightly different motivations for wanting Jane to keep her child, using this freak occurrence to make up for a mistake that has shamed her for her granddaughter’s entire life. Alba told Xo to get an abortion, and that decision has been her greatest regret. She’s come to love Jane more than almost anything else (she’s second only to God), and she thinks that this baby will be the best thing in Jane’s life if she holds on to it. Ivonne Coll is phenomenal in the scene between Alba and Jane, and the pain she brings to Alba’s words make them all the more convincing for Jane. Unfortunately, that conversation is immediately followed by Michael showing up at Jane’s door, begging her not to have the child for the sake of their relationship. There are consequences no matter what Jane chooses, but having the abortion would dramatically impact Rafael’s life, and the compassionate Jane can’t abort the child that is Rafael’s last chance to have biological offspring.
None of the characters have changed much in the eight episodes since the pilot, but they’ve gained new dimensions that have made them more complex and intriguing. The show’s writers are able to delve deep into the cast because they are blessed with an outstanding group of actors that deliver layered performances from the very start, capturing the grounded human side of this exaggerated telenovela-inspired plot. There’s a reason why Gina Rodriguez is the breakout star of this TV season, and her performance in “Chapter One” captures a huge array of emotions that make Jane a real person trapped in an absurd situation.
Jane may be a virgin, but that choice tests her willpower and it takes real strength for her to overcome temptation. You can sense that Jane wants to go further with Michael based on her impassioned groan when she forces herself to stop making out with her boyfriend, and that struggle to keep a lid on her passion makes her more endearing. This show does exceptional work defining character motivations, and Jane’s conversation with Rafael at the hotel spotlights that strength as she opens up about her fear of raising this child. Jane knows that her mother loves her, but she feels like she derailed her mother’s life, and she doesn’t want her own daughter to ever feel that guilt. Xo isn’t at the hotel, but Rodriguez’s performance in this scene strengthens Jane’s relationship with her mother by making the audience feel the history between the two women. There’s a lot of love to their relationship, but also a lot of pain, and both Rodriguez and Andrea Navedo make this clear in Jane and Xo’s interactions.
Director Brad Silberling comes from a film background, and while he brings a certain amount of cinematic flair to this episode, he doesn’t go too far, making it easier for future directors on the series to recreate the look of the pilot with a smaller budget. The transitions are some of the visual highlights of this episode, particularly the shot that introduces the show’s hotel setting. As the Villanueva watch The Passions Of Santos, the camera moves into the television, then sweeps across the sunset-lit water as it shifts to the hotel, 8.2 miles from Jane’s house, but a world away.
That one shot smoothly navigates the show’s three different levels of reality, moving from the grounded environment of the Villanueva household to the heightened world of the telenovela before settling into the hotel location that occupies the tonal middle ground between the other two worlds. The coloring reflects these different planes of reality, with the Villanueva home dressed in subdued shades while the telenovela is bathed in the vivid warm hues of a romantic sunset. The hotel is colored with fresh pastels, giving the environment a beachside vibe that isn’t quite as dramatic as the telenovela, but also not the plain domestic setting that the Villanueva women occupy.
Jane The Virgin features one of the most evocative scores of any show currently on TV, and that’s because all the music by Kevin Kiner is built on themes composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, who won back-to-back Oscars for his work on Brokeback Mountain and Babel. From the very opening moments, the music plays a huge part in the storytelling, setting a wistful tone for 10-year-old Jane’s virginity lecture with the combination of guitar and woodwinds before transitioning to aggressive percussion when the action jumps to present-day Jane and Michael making out in her bed. When Jane finds out that she’s pregnant, there’s an extended guitar riff, signifying her trip down the telenovela rabbit hole through sensual music, and that bleeding of telenovela elements into Jane’s life is further accentuated by the use of Juanes’ “Una Flor,” the theme song for The Passions Of Santos that is repeated throughout the episode.
It’s rare for a show to debut as fully formed as Jane The Virgin. From the direction to the music, design, acting, and writing, every element of “Chapter One” works to pull the audience deep into this world in 42 short minutes. This show has a ridiculous concept, but the pilot understands that and works hard to define the reality of Jane’s situation without losing sight of the outrageous telenovela elements that are such an important part of the series’ personality. It’s a delicate balance that the show maintains remarkably well moving forward, and the continued success of the series is thanks to the strong foundation laid in this first episode.
- Our dear Latin Lover Narrator isn’t as involved in “Chapter One” as he is in later episodes, but he’s still immensely helpful at keeping the story’s momentum moving forward and making things clear for the viewer.
- Jane holding on to her crushed virginity flower for 13-and-a-half years is a bit strange, but it does make for a pretty wall decoration and shows just how dedicated she is to making her grandma happy.
- Rogelio is only in this episode for a brief period of time, and Jaime Camil doesn’t really get the opportunity to show the character’s self-assured smarminess. Based on Rogelio’s final interaction with Xo, you’d expect him to be a more serious figure, but I’m glad the show’s writers took him in a sillier direction because Camil is so good with comedy.
- This episode features a cameo appearance from RuPaul’s Drag Race alum and transgender advocate Carmen Carrera, who is one of the other servers at the hotel. What happened to that character? I’d love to see a trans female regular on this show, but I’m not sure if Carrera’s acting skills are up to par with the rest of the cast. They could be, but I don’t remember being impressed by her in the Drag Race acting challenges.
- Jane’s recipe for a kick ass grilled cheese: 1/3 white cheddar, 1/3 yellow cheddar, 1/3 grated American cheese. I will have to try this, it sounds quite delicious.
- The colors are great in the scene where Jane proposes to Michael at his work. The surroundings are gray and brown, which makes Jane’s bright yellow dress pop. It’s a nice visualization of the way Jane can brighten up a room when she steps into it, primarily thanks to Rodriguez’s natural charisma.
- “Of course I’m gonna watch, you guys got me hooked on these things. But you really have to know, telenovelas have really ruined romance for me.”
- “Everyone calls her Jaz.”
- “Ah, you’re doing it alone, good for you. It’s probably easiest that way.” I wish Yara Martinez was in more episodes of this show, because she’s great as Luisa. Hopefully she’ll be a bigger presence in the second season.
- “The best way to get over a man’s to get under a new man. Trust.”
- “I just found out her brother-in-law knows Paulina Rubio’s bassist so I have to kiss her ass. Hopefully I don’t get an STD.”
- Jane: “Crystal got fake boobs.” Xo: “Those are her breakup boobs.”
- “And the fact is: this sucks.”