Last Monday, I spent the day on a beach in Fort Lauderdale. It was the sixth day of a weeklong vacation in southern Florida, and I made sure to take advantage of the sunny break from my usual winter habitat. This week, I’m back in Chicago. 19 inches of snow fell yesterday. This is not southern Florida. But for one hour on Monday night, I’m back in the tropical environment I left behind. I’m in a colorful, warm world by the beach, dramatically different from the gray urban landscape outside my window.

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Jane The Virgin is a sweet pocket of summer in the dead of winter, the perfect piece of escapism to combat seasonal affective disorder with bright visuals and breezy storytelling. The show’s skillful balance of telenovela-inspired fantasy with grounded emotional drama and a self-aware sense of humor makes it one of the most refreshing shows each week, but it never sacrifices substance as it provides a lighter alternative to the primetime soap. Some heavy stuff goes down on Jane The Virgin—this week a character is buried alive in cement by his wife—but it’s all approached with a cheeky point of view that keeps the show from ever taking itself too seriously.

There are certainly serious moments, but those tend to be the ones that have the strongest roots in reality; as the story moves into heightened telenovela territory, the scripts become more irreverent to balance out the exaggerated drama. “Chapter Twelve” officially marks the start of the second half of the season, and the episode jumpstarts the narrative momentum with some shocking reveals and significant status quo changes that alter character dynamics for the final 10 chapters. We finally learn the identity of Sin Rosetro after Emilio Solano is murdered by his fiery-haired wife. Milos returns to reveal Magda’s deception to Petra in an absurdly over-the-top fashion. Rogelio finds himself without a job when he’s killed off on The Passions Of Santos. The playing board has once again changed dramatically, but that’s part of the thrill of watching this show.

Every week I wonder how long the creative team can keep this rate of success going, and each week I am pleasantly surprised by how the creative team keeps this rate of success going. A lot of it comes down to the aforementioned balance of telenovela fantasy, grounded emotion, and clever humor, and it’s fun to see how the show reacts when one of those elements is exaggerated. In “Chapter Twelve,” the telenovela fantasy is turned up as Jane becomes fully embroiled in the behind-the-scenes drama of The Passions Of Santos, finding herself a pawn in a plot hatched by Rogelio’s devious assistant Nicholas.

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Jane is tasked with writing El Presidente’s final episode, an utterly ridiculous plot development considering that she just started writing for telenovelas last week, but this show is a fairy tale and fairy tales move fast. This daunting task ultimately strengthens Jane’s bond with her father by having them create something meaningful together, but it’s the inspiration for the death scene that really gives the main Jane story emotional weight. The episode’s opening flashback shows young Jane trying on her grandma’s earrings when she is told not to and losing the pieces of jewelry, and the words of forgiveness her grandma told her as a girl are the driving force of El Presidente’s dialogue when he’s killed by his son. It’s a great way of showing how a creator’s personal experience informs her work, and helps ground the entire storyline by connecting it to Jane and Alba’s more relatable relationship.

The death scene works becomes it comes from a real moment of emotional truth for the writer, and that shines through in Rogelio’s performance. But writing for TV isn’t just about emotional truth. When Jane is struggling to write the script, the spirit of Santos tells her that she needs to embrace the telenovela fantasy instead of trying so hard to be real, and it’s easy to imagine him speaking directly to the Jane The Virgin writers’ room during that scene. Don’t fear the telenovela aspects. Lean into them and find out where that takes the story. Then explore the reality of these new circumstances created by the big sweeping fantasy.

The final act of this episode leans heavily into telenovela exaggeration, starting by cutting back and forth between Santos’ death scene and Milos’ staged attack of Petra in front of Magda. Milos slits Petra’s throat before the episode cuts to a commercial break, and it’s a huge shock because it’s impossible to know whether or not this show would make that kind of drastic move. The throat slitting is all a ploy to get Magda out of her chair, and a very-alive Petra kicks her mother out of her apartment when she finds out she can walk. It’s a fakeout, but it’s a fakeout that works because this show has established an atmosphere where huge developments can come out of nowhere.

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While on the topic of huge developments and fakeouts, Rose’s secret identity as Sin Rostro isn’t the biggest surprise—her behavior in the last few episodes was very fishy, and Emilio Solano was too obvious a candidate to ever by Sin Rostro—but revealing her double life by having her bury her husband in cement is definitely unexpected. And so dramatic! There’s that first moment of impact showing the stream of cement smashing into the victim, followed by the shot of a submerged Emilio grasping for freedom from his concrete coffin. There’s an element of overkill to Rose’s plan, but it feels right for a telenovela femme fatale to go big.

With the reveal of Sin Rostro’s identity, Jane The Virgin answers one of this season’s big questions, but if past episodes are any indication, this development will likely introduce a brand new slew of mysteries to be explored in next week’s episode and beyond. The show still refuses to stay in any one place for too long, but it’s settled into a confident rhythm that means no matter how quickly the plot moves, it doesn’t lose sight of its ultimate goal: telling entertaining, emotional stories about what happens when telenovela fantasy intersects with everyday reality.

Stray observations:

  • Huge thanks to Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya for filling in on last week’s episode, allowing me to enjoy my evening in Jane’s home state without writing obligations. I still ended up watching Jane The Virgin anyway because I need my Jane fix.
  • The Latin Lover Narrator is like having a friend watching with you that always has something clever to say and also remembers little details that you may have forgotten from past episodes. He’s both entertaining and helpful!
  • What is it about Bridget Regan that makes her such a sought-after actress for deceptively deadly women? You can currently find her killing people on both Jane The Virgin and Agent Carter.
  • Rogelio’s vision board is hilarious, with magazine cutouts that include “I love my hair” and “This millionaire scores a million” and pictures of Angelina Jolie and Jon Voight, whose relationship is what Rogelio aspires to with Jane. (“Only we will not be estranged, and I will be the much more famous one!”)
  • Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez really makes Jane come to life in the little moments when she doesn’t have any dialogue, like when she sees Petra crying in the stairwell. Her facial expressions depict Jane’s entire thought process in that moment: the initial surprise, the realization of just how bad her luck is, the question of whether or not she should help, the resigned acceptance that she needs to lend a hand if she can. This all happens over the course of a few seconds, but it’s the little details that add texture to a performance.
  • Michael is suspended from work this week, and he may as well have been suspended from the episode because he doesn’t have much to do.
  • How are Jane and Rogelio able to immediately piece together Nicholas’ plot after seeing him in costume? Tele(novela)pathy.
  • “Well, there’s a lot wrong with Petra, if you want to know the truth.”
  • “Did your salad come with croutons again?” Dina: “Let’s hope not.”
  • “When I act, I suck in my gut and stick out my chin. You know, like this.”
  • “I made a vision board, but I wouldn’t think it would manifest so quickly.”
  • “So do you want to have sex?”
  • “You can’t have The Passions Of Santos without Santos! Then it’s just Passions. And that show failed!”
  • “Is that supposed to make me feel better? That you meant to throw acid at my mother?”
  • “I have been told I have perfect features for 3-D.”
  • “Forget the worst of times. It was, straight up, the best of times.”

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