More people should be watching Jane The Virgin. Seven episodes in, it has established itself as the season’s best new network show, maintaining a high level of quality and building storytelling momentum every single week. But its ratings haven’t been spectacular, so during this holiday break, feel free to tell your family and friends about this smart, colorful, hilarious, emotional new series. Maybe even show them a few episodes; they’re all streaming on Hulu.
Part of the fun of introducing people to Jane The Virgin has been hearing reactions to the concept. A virgin that is accidentally artificially inseminated and is now carrying the baby of a man she had a crush on five years ago? That’s a damn good hook. It sounds so silly on paper, but then I go on to explain how that crazy concept is just the launch pad for an immensely clever exploration of sex, religion, and class, wrapped up in the tropes of the telenovela genre. When it comes to new network shows, you rarely see the kind of confidence exhibited by this series, and “Chapter Seven” doesn’t lose any swagger and charm as it continues to do remarkable work fleshing out character relationships.
And there is a lot of fleshing out this week. After last week’s passionate cliffhanger kiss, David S. Rosenthal’s script for “Chapter Seven” dives head first into Jane and Rafael’s relationship by exploring Jane’s anxieties about the new romance, which are bolstered by Xiomara’s own worries about Rafael’s character. It all begins with a flashback to five years ago when Jane had that first kiss with Rafael at the café, which is followed by Jane and Xo’s conversation immediately afterward, where Jane describes the perfect chat that led up to the kiss as her incredulous mother listens. Xo thinks that Rafael sounds like a playboy and doesn’t want her daughter getting so emotionally attached to a guy that doesn’t share her level of commitment, and surely enough, three days pass and Jane never gets a call from Rafael.
Jump forward five years and Jane and Rafael are having their second kiss in a shower of white flower petals, a romantic moment that is interrupted by Xo’s arrival. Nothing stays secret for long on this show, and Jane’s mother is aware of the new affair just moments after it starts, which amplifies the conflict when Xo reminds her daughter of her past heartbreak thanks to the man she’s jumping into a new relationship with just hours after ending her engagement to someone else. This isn’t news to Jane, who starts worrying that she’s moving too fast almost immediately after she stops kissing Rafael, and that battle between Jane’s head and her heart becomes a major character point for Jane throughout the episode.
Xo sees a lot of herself in Jane’s passionate optimism, but that means she needs to take on Jane’s usual role and put everything in perspective for her love-struck daughter. There are five key issues with this courtship, each represented on-screen by an emoji that reappears whenever Jane thinks about her mother’s warnings. The emoji are a fun way of incorporating a different visual element into the show’s chyrons, and they also tie in to the plot. The phone is an important player in Jane and Rafael’s relationship; he didn’t call her back five years ago, but now he’s being very good about communication, which signifies to Jane that he’s a different person than who he was back then.
Class and religion are two of the central topics in this week’s episode. One of Xo’s red flags for Jane is that she and Rafael are from two different worlds, and that’s a big reason why Jane was hurt the first time five years ago. Rafael comes from a world of privilege that allows him to be frivolous without considering the consequences, but Jane has never lived her life that way because she had so much responsibility in her household. That added responsibility made Jane keenly aware of the mistakes her mother made that led to her situation, and she lived a safe life where she trusted her brain more than her heart.
Jane ends up in Rafael’s world when she goes to a bar he’s an investor in for her friend’s birthday, but as a sober pregnant girl trying to avoid her baby daddy, she doesn’t get the opportunity to enjoy herself in this setting. Rafael notices this, and decides to leave his world and explore Jane’s, which means leaving the club and going to Target to buy snacks and make out in the cookie aisle. “The Most Romantic Night Ever” is just Rafael and Jane sitting in front of a fire at Rafael’s place, talking about their pasts and sharing personal secrets, an elongated version of the afternoon they shared five years ago.
It’s innocent and it’s sweet, and Jane’s joy shines through in Gina Rodriguez’s performance. She beams when she’s around Justin Baldoni, and this episode gives Rafael the character development that makes him worthy of Jane’s affection. While in the bar, Rafael counters each of Jane’s emoji-worries, and ultimately says the exact things Jane needs to hear to let her heart take over. He wants to truly know Jane before their baby arrives, and while the timing isn’t perfect with her and Michael and him and Petra, they only have so much time to make this happen before a baby enters their lives to complicate everything even more. That time limit is extremely important, giving Jane a reason take a risk on Rafael before she has a kid and is forced to put her child’s needs before her own.
The Rogelio and Xiomara storyline also deals considerably with class when the two ex-lovers decide to go on a double date with new love interests to show how comfortable they are with their break-up. Xo brings the father of one of her dance students, who recently asked her out at his daughter’s behest, and he reveals that he’s a retired professional soccer player that is trying to have a normal life away from fame. When Rogelio sees how Xo fawns over Marcos’ down-to-Earth attitude, he tries to show how grounded he is by shunning the special wine he ordered for the table in exchange for the wine “normal people” drink. But Rogelio has no concept of what it means to not want fame, so he just ends up looking pathetic, then drunk and pathetic when he drinks too much “normal people” wine.
The subplot with the nuns at Jane’s school bringing people to the church by offering them hugs with their resident pregnant virgin is one of those plot threads that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does, but the show uses this absurd development to make insightful observations about religious faith and having hope in ideas that may seem impossible. When Jane realizes why random couples are coming up to her for hugs and blessings, she tells the headmistress that she doesn’t approve of this, and the nun responds by explaining that Jane’s pregnancy is still a miracle, even if it’s a miracle by way of medical mistake. The chances of something like Jane’s situation happening are incredibly slim, but maybe it’s all part of God’s plan, and maybe coming into contact with Jane the Pregnant Virgin can pass the good fortune to other women trying to get pregnant.
There are a lot of maybes in that situation, but that’s what a lot of faith is based on. It’s about belief in the maybes, the things that may not be explicitly true, but could be true. There’s no proof that Jane’s pregnancy wasn’t due to divine intervention, so maybe she really is some kind of saint for the 21st century. What matters most is that Jane’s experience is giving couples hope, and that’s what religion does for a lot of people. It gives them hope in a world that can seem utterly hopeless, and Jane is now a part of that whether she wants to be or not. The nuns are taking advantage of her to bring people to their congregation, but Jane benefits from this arrangement, too. When she shows up to school wearing her clubbing clothes from the night before, she’s able to make up for her inappropriate dress by offering a few hugs. What harm can it do?
The transitions in this week’s episode are exceptional, and they really push the script’s forward motion from scene to scene. When Xiomara turns down Marcos after he asks her out, a melancholy guitar tune plays, and that somber music carries directly into the next scene of Jane and Michael dealing with the fall-out of their recent break-up. After Xo lies and tells Jane that Rogelio is too dramatic to handle, the action cuts to a scene that is actually too dramatic to handle as we catch up with Petra, Magda, and their hostage, Ivan, who is tied to a chair and locked in a closet with a pillowcase over his head.
Petra is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in this show as she finds herself in over her head with all her deception and blackmail business, and the script mines a lot of humor from her interactions with Magda and Ivan. Yael Grobglas’ inherent softness emphasizes the humor of Petra’s attempts to be tough (one of the funniest moments of the episode is when she tries to daintily flick Ivan’s gag off his mouth), but that softness also helps Petra ingratiate herself to her hostage when she saves him from an allergy attack after feeding him chicken with peanut sauce on purpose. Petra is delicate but devious, and after she fixes the Ivan problem, she heads to Lachlan’s hotel room to put her plans against Rafael in motion, ending the episode with Rafael fired from his position at the hotel and sent to Mexico City by his father.
In terms of tone and aesthetic, this episode resembles early Bryan Fuller series like Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies, balancing drama and comedy in a world that is heightened but still grounded in reality. When the Latin Lover Narrator details the amount of time between Jane and Rafael’s first kiss (four years, nine months, and 23 days), I get flashbacks of Jim Dale’s Pushing Daisies narrator and his precise time measurements, and seeing Jane’s environment shift in ways that reflect her subconscious anxieties is a very Wonderfalls-y storytelling decision. Both of those shows were cancelled before they got the opportunity to really take off, and I would hate to see Jane The Virgin fall to the same fate. So please watch this series and spread the word, because this is the kind of show network TV needs more of. It’s bold and stylish, a crowd pleaser with real wit and heart, and it’s only grown more engaging with each new episode.
- Xiomara teaches children’s dance classes in her living room. So now we’re getting a little Bunheads flavor to sprinkle in with the show’s other Amy Sherman-Palladino influence, Gilmore Girls. This show is a perfect mix of so many good things.
- Where is Luisa? She has to show up again by the fall finale, right?
- After discovering that Jane spent the night with Rafael, Michael decides to get a little wild himself and has sex (?) with Nadine on the desk in their office. The attraction between Nadine and Michael hasn’t quite been developed enough to make this feel like an organic plot development, but the telenovela aspect of the show makes it easier to accept this random new romantic wrinkle. Which is worse? Jane’s rushed emotional commitment to Rafael or Michael’s rushed physical dalliance with Nadine?
- Rogelio is a mischievous goofball, but he has a dark side that comes out when he confronts Rafael after learning that he’s starting a relationship with his daughter. Seeing this more aggressive side of Rogelio makes me think that he has the attitude to potentially be Sin Rostro, which would really screw with this show’s family dynamic.
- Want more of Gina Rodriguez rapping? Watch this clip from Filly Brown, the 2012 film in which she plays an aspiring rapper.
- Jane: “It seemed so sincere.” Xiomara: “That’s what makes a good playboy. You never feel like you’re getting played.”
- “OMG! It’s him, it’s him!” Latin Lover Narrator is the best.
- “Apparently we both like pistachio ice cream and the color orange, so we’re perfect for each other.”
- “What you are about to witness is two creatures, who are inherently dramatic, attempt to behave like they are not dramatic.”
- “Though we all can’t be international superstars, we all must make a living, right?”
- “You know what’s not fun? Being the sober pregnant girl in a noisy nightclub.”
- “Ah yes. The classic ‘poison your hostage and then save him to earn his trust’ technique. Works every time.”
- “I’m going to tweet my 6.3 million followers with a hashtag #PLEASEFINDJANE.” The best thing about this line is that the #PLEASEFINDJANE hashtag stays on the screen for the rest of the scene.
- “1,454 retweets in three seconds. Don’t worry, Xiomara. My fans are on the hunt for Jane.”
- “I have sex with a lot of woman! Way more than you, I’m sure.”
- Xiomara: “Please? (Long pause.) Please can you leave?” Rogelio: “Oh! Sorry! I thought you were asking my permission to speak.”