After last week’s heartbreaking twist with the death of Michael Cordero, it’s totally reasonable to be worried about how Jane The Virgin would move forward in the wake of such a monumentally tragic loss. The three-year time jump that immediately followed Michael’s death assured viewers that the series wasn’t going to wallow in grief and despair, but the writers can’t ignore the emotional fallout of Jane losing her husband so soon after they got married. “Chapter Fifty-Five” reveals that the show isn’t losing its bright, breezy tone with these new changes, but it’s also not completely disengaging with Jane’s heartache. Even after three years, the pain of Michael’s death still weighs heavily on Jane, but this episode is a success because it doesn’t let sorrow derail the series.
Jane The Virgin episodes begin with flashbacks, and with the time jump, there’s now a brand new period of time to explore in these opening scenes. “Chapter Fifty-Five” begins with a distraught Jane in her old bed in Alba’s home, still a mess two weeks after Michael’s death. “It will always feel different,” Alba tells her weeping granddaughter. “You’ll always feel different, but you will be okay.” Alba is the perfect person to lead Jane and the viewers into the next phase of this series, a widow herself whose love and empathy for Jane knows no bounds. There’s inspiring compassion and warmth in Ivonne Coll’s performance in this scene, and a strong sense that she understands exactly what Jane is going through and knows the best course of action to facilitate the emotional healing. “We need to let some light in,” Alba says to Jane, and after she pulls open the curtain, the script jumps to where we left off last week.
With the exception of “Chapter Two,” showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman typically only writes the season premieres and finales of Jane The Virgin, but she’s co-written the last two episodes to make sure the series stays on track for Michael’s death and the fallout of the big event. She joins Paul Sciarrotta for “Chapter Fifty-Five,” and they do exceptional work establishing the new status quo while maintaining the series’ main strengths. The time jump means there’s a lot of exposition to cover, and while there’s huge loads of information for the viewer to take in, the episode still moves at a brisk pace and finds room for powerful emotional moments. It also helps that the series has gotten us used to big chunks of exposition thanks to the Narrator’s constant recapping of past events, so it doesn’t feel all that different from past chapters.
Michael’s death isn’t the main focus of this episode; rather, the writers get right back to the parenting struggles that have grounded the series from the start, spotlighting Mateo’s ongoing behavioral issues and Jane and Rafael’s difficulty getting rid of them. We didn’t get to see Mateo’s terrible twos, but that phase has lasted through the last three years and is becoming a major issue at his school. Mateo’s teacher tells Jane and Rafael that he’ll need an aide to shadow him and keep him in line if he wants to stay at that school, but Jane begs for some time to find the root of his issues and hopefully whip him into shape. The sun and storm system Jane devised isn’t working, but they do see some progress when Rafael enrolls Mateo in martial arts, which has been great for his daughters.
The topic of discipline is one that parents have to deal with for pretty much the majority of their kids’ childhood and adolescence (and often into adulthood), and this episode does a great job exploring the various challenges in disciplining a child. Jane is reluctant to be too hard on Mateo because she doesn’t want him to think that he’s a “bad boy,” but it’s clear that he needs a firmer hand if he’s going to change his behavior. Martial arts is a step in the right direction and Mateo takes well to it, but it also teaches him new ways to be aggressive, which introduces a new set of problems when he’s not under strict supervision.
Then there’s the issue of Petra disciplining Mateo when she feels that Jane and Rafael aren’t doing enough, which is something I’ve seen a lot in my own family. There’s the impulse to correct a child’s behavior even when it’s not your own, which can be in opposition to how the parents want to raise their child. Petra thinks she should be able to discipline Mateo because she’s raised perfect little angels and done so much to help Jane and Rafael with Mateo’s schooling, and that creates tension that is very different from the more heightened conflicts that the trio dealt with in the past.
According to the cover of Ocean Drive magazine that now hangs in her office, Petra has become “Miami’s Most Marvelous Momtrepreneur” in the last three years. She’s the head of the PTA, her twins, Anna and Ellie (Petra got tired of the Frozen connection and stopped calling her Elsa), are exceptionally well behaved in school and their martial arts class, and she’s successfully renovated and rebranded The Marbella to make it a family destination that is specifically geared toward pleasing kids with an aggressive pirate gimmick. As is Petra’s wont, she’s romantically involved with a total scumbag, Chuck Jesser (Johnny Messner), who owns the adults only hotel next door to The Marbella, and their relationship is the least interesting part of this episode. Chuck is a total caricature, which fits the show’s tendency to put total caricatures in The Marbella’s storylines, but it also makes him a shallow character that feels out of place in this episode.
As I hoped, the big wedding this week is Rogelio and Darci’s, but the twist is that it’s strictly for the cameras. The filming of The De La Vega Factor Factor has taken a major toll on their relationship, and when they’re not being filmed, Rogelio and Darci can hardly stand each other. While I’m still rooting for them as a couple, I love how this development changes their dynamic, using their chemistry to make them compelling antagonists that delight in being nasty. Justina Machado and Jaime Camil are hilarious as they shift from doting affection on camera to unbridled bitchery in reality, but the passion in that hatred makes me believe that there’s a chance they’ll find a way to work things out and get back together. They still have a new season of their reality show to film, and a lot can change during that time.
The De La Vega Factor Factor has had consequences for other members of Rogelio’s family, specifically Xiomara, who is now publicly hated because of the villainous edit she received during the show’s first two season. An out-of-context clip of her spilling hot coffee on herself has been repeated over and over to give viewers the idea that she hates Rogelio and Darci’s relationship, and she’s had to deal with harassment on the street, Twitter, and Instagram because of Rogelio’s reality show. Xo is initially upset about the announcement of another season of The De La Vega Factor Factor, but she changes her mind when she finds out that Rogelio turned it down because he didn’t want Xo to be subjected to that harassment again. She knows that Rogelio cares about her and after everything he’s done to help her have her own dance studio, she can find the strength to deal with nasty comments if it means Rogelio gets to finally make the show he’s dreamed of: the American version of The Passions Of Santos, The Passions Of Steve.
Rafael has become Zen Rafael after his stint on prison, disengaging with the management of The Marbella, dating the owner of a greeting card company (Abbey Whitman, played by Friday Night Lights’ Minka Kelly!) for over a year, and becoming best friends with Jane. He’s also grown a beard that makes him extra sexy, despite people around him telling him it looks horrible because they are stupid. I know a lot of people are worried that the show is going to force Jane and Rafael back together now that Michael is gone, and while I definitely see that as a possibility, I hope the writers commits to having them as friends for at least the rest of this season. This relationship feels very healthy for them, and it would be refreshing to see the show keep their bond platonic.
When Jane’s boss picks her to read her new novel at the Miami Ones To Read event, Rafael is the person that forces her to get on stage when last minute anxiety takes over. That anxiety comes from the subject of Jane’s book. She’s not reading from the story about Alba that she wrote before the time jump, but from a new novel about her relationship with Michael, one that has the happily ever after ending that they were denied. Rafael threatens to take two Sundays with Mateo away from Jane if she doesn’t buck up and read for the crowd, and that threat is exactly what she needs to get her on stage.
Gina Rodriguez does remarkable work realizing the weight of Jane’s grief throughout this episode, and this scene is particularly impressive as that grief becomes fear and panic. She’s afraid of opening herself up by sharing this story with the world, but Rafael knows that she’ll be stronger after doing it. There’s a wonderful little moment between Alba and Xo when Jane starts reading as they realize what an admirable woman they’ve raised together, and it’s the influence of all the people around Jane (including the spirit of Michael) that has shaped her into the resilient, intelligent woman that stands at that podium.
Alba tells Jane that her life will be beautiful again in different ways at the start of the episode, and her words are reiterated by the Narrator at the end when we see the family brunch that Jane, Petra, Rafael, and their children have had every Saturday for the last three years. The flashback to Jane and Petra agreeing to these regular get togethers is a great showcase of the bond Rodriguez and Yael Grobglas have developed over the course of this series, and even though there’s constantly tension between their characters, there’s also an extreme respect for the struggles they’ve both endured. Director Brad Silberling beautifully composes the image of the family assembled around the table, and it’s a touching moment that shows how meaningful personal connections can help guide a person through devastating times.
The Marbella has had its grand reopening, Jane has had her reading and sold her book to a publisher, and now everyone can relax. Of course, that’s when everything goes to shit. While on a pirate treasure hunt, a group of children uncovers the vest-wearing skeleton of Petra and Rafael’s old foe Scott buried on the beach, continuing the trend of The Marbella as one of Miami’s most popular crime scenes while introducing a new mystery for the back half of this season. Who killed Scott? Where’s Anezka? What does this mean for The Marbella’s rebranding? In classic Jane The Virgin fashion, a big telenovela twist comes just as the viewer is getting comfortable with the new status quo, giving the story a big boost of momentum heading into the next chapter.
- Crossing out the “Virgin” in the show’s title and replacing it with “Widow” is one of the saddest moments of this episode, but it’s also extremely effective at reinforcing this major life change for Jane. Thankfully the Narrator is there to tell us not to be too sad, because Jane’s got this!
- The time jump means that the children now have much more acting responsibility, and the young actor playing Mateo plays a hyperactive brat very well. The twins don’t get as much screen time, and I think the creative team recognizes that they don’t quite have the acting skill to carry more dialogue at this point. That could very well change down the line, but for now I think it’s a wise decision to keep the focus on the adults.
- No update on Luisa and Rose this week, and I have no problem with that at all.
- Justin Baldoni and Minka Kelly together is too much pretty for one couple.
- There are some small moments with electronics in this episode that work very well to make the situations feel real: Mateo getting a hold of Jane’s phone before the wedding, the priest on his phone during the break at the wedding, and the child watching his tablet without the headphones fully plugged in at Mateo’s karate class (and the mom plugging coming over to plug them in).
- Swashbucklin’ Sean has the potential to be one of my new favorite characters on this show and I hope he continues to be a regular presence on the series.
- It’s great to see Professor Donaldson at Jane’s reading, having completely dropped the prickly advisor façade and embracing her affection for Jane and appreciation of her talent. They’re besties now!
- “As Rogelio once said (and also Charles Dickens): ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’”
- “‘Bad head?’ That’s the best you can do?”
- “When I look at you, it’s like I won the lottery. And the payouts will last a lifetime. But I also got it in one lump sum. The lump sum of your love.”
- “Who the hell goes to prison and comes out softer?!”
- “Everybody that works in television is a producer!” Cue a cascade of all the producers on Jane The Virgin, whose names pile up at the bottom of the screen. I love this joke.
- “Wow, admire his commitment to late modern Florida bro-chic. With classic douche accents.”
- “This country needs a Latino president, and you’re just the man to play one on TV.”
- “Are you sure? Because they’re also really mean to you on Instagram.”