Jane The Virgin has dropped a lot of bombshells over the course of two and a half seasons, but none of those compare to the final moments of “Chapter Fifty-Four.” After completing his LSAT, Michael Cordero suffers an unexpected heart attack related to his past gunshot wound and dies on a classroom floor, loving Jane until his final breath. It’s a moment that has been foreshadowed since “Chapter Ten,” when the Narrator told us that Michael would believe he and Jane belonged together until his very last breath, and ever since then, the specter of death has loomed over Jane’s boyfriend/eventual husband. He survived the gunshot wound at the end of last season, and it looked like he was finally out of danger as he settled down with Jane and Mateo in a new home and started pursuing a less risky career path. But this is still a telenovela and big, tragic events are going to happen.
Tonight’s script by Micah Schraft and showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman does exceptional work setting up Michael’s death so that it hits like a sledgehammer to the heart. In retrospect, there’s so much emphasis put on the evolution of Jane and Michael’s relationship and the value of memory that it’s clear something big is going to happen to the couple, and opening with a flashback to a young Michael establishes that he’s going to be at the center of that major change. At first, it looks like that moment might be a new baby for the Villanueva-Cordero family, and Michael is thrilled at the prospect of having a child with Jane. That turns out to a false alarm, but Jane’s late period encourage them to switch up their set timeline and allow more flexibility, something they decide during a romantic reenactment of one of their earliest dates.
The carnival sequence is a beautiful summary of the growth of Jane and Michael’s relationship, contrasting the awkward couple from four years ago with the relaxed, excited, intensely loving couple that exists today. Brett Dier and Gina Rodriguez are phenomenal in these scenes, with Dier in particular capturing how much Jane means to Michael in the past by fully embodying his anxiety over the prospect of asking her to be in a committed, monogamous relationship. He’s afraid that Jane isn’t interested even though she’s obviously enamored with him, but he can’t see that because his nerves blind him. Dier has always had a puppy dog quality to him, and it really comes through in this episode. In the carnival flashbacks you can sense his need for affection from Jane, but he’s not quite sure how to acquire it because of her preexisting relationship with Sam.
Jane is in the opposite situation, and Rodriguez is loudly telegraphing Jane’s strong feelings for Michael in the flashbacks and increasingly frustrated that he’s not reading the signs. When Michael does finally breach the subject of the status of Jane and Sam, you can see a joyful relief wash over Rodriguez as Jane realizes that Michael’s frigidity doesn’t come from a lack of caring, but from a respect for personal boundaries that he doesn’t want to cross if she’s not O.K. with it. The tension of the flashbacks is nowhere to be found in the present, and the actors are ebullient as Jane and Michael enjoy this stress-free moment before the LSAT. There’s so much compassion and delight radiating from both performers, putting the audience in a comfortable, happy mindset that makes Michael’s death all the more shocking.
The ferris wheel is an inherently intimate setting that forces two people to be alone in a tight space with no escape, but it’s also an effective metaphor for the wheels of time. It’s where Jane and Michael first made a commitment to each other in the past, but it’s also where they make the present-day decision to expand their family sooner rather than later. There are two great visual effects that heighten the impact of the present moment: The first is the memory spotlight that recurs throughout this episode, establishing this as an event that they will always remember the feeling of, and the second is the glowing hearts that have been a motif throughout this series, reinforcing the deep love they have for each other and how this moment deepens it.
The spotlight returns as Jane says goodbye to Michael before his exam, and this is when the dread kicks in. The Narrator establishes that this is a memory Jane returns to over and over again, and by the end of the episode you realize that is because this is the last time she saw her husband alive. So many moments of this episode are more powerful in the context of Michael’s final fate, and this one in particular is a big heartbreaker, not just because of Jane’s emotional connection to Michael, but because of how it connects to the flashback of a young Michael at the start of the episode. You get such a strong sense of this man’s life before his death, and while it’s extremely sad to see him depart the series, it’s hard to be angry when the exit is done so well.
The fading of Michael’s glowing heart when he dies is another devastating use of visuals, which is then followed by Gina Rodriguez’s soul-crushing reaction when Jane learns the news. She’s hit by total shock that causes the phone to fall out of her hands, and then there’s the wave of misery and pain as she falls to the floor screaming. She’s completely wrecked, and in that moment you know that this isn’t a fake out. The Narrator isn’t playing any tricks on us. Michael is dead, and Jane’s life will never be the same.
The loss of Michael is huge, but then the episode ends with a three-year time jump that adds another twist to the story. Jane is getting ready for a wedding, is still missing Michael, and Mateo is talking now, but beyond that we have no further details. This opens up a slew of storytelling possibilities for the future, and given this show’s outstanding track record thus far, I’m thrilled to see how these major events change the course of the series.
Other things happened in “Chapter Fifty-Four” beyond Michael’s death and the time jump, but the other plots seem inconsequential given the two big twists. Jane gets a new job opportunity as the assistant for a wunderkind publisher, a job she lands thanks to Michael’s assistance in helping her uncover fraud in a nonfiction novel. Does she keep the job after Michael’s death? Does she publish her first novel in those three years?
Rogelio has an outburst after his “full frontal Fassbender moment” is cut from A Sidewalk In Astoria (which also stars Lupita Nyong’o), and he’s forced to reconsider his acting aspirations when his admonishment of the film is secretly filmed and goes viral. This also has a negative effect on his relationship with Darci, but he smoothes things over by agreeing to launch The De La Vega Factor Factor (“This matchmaker’s finally met her match!”) reality TV series with her. Will they have a successful reality show in the future? Are they the couple getting married? (I certainly hope so because I’ve made my feelings for the De La Vega Factor very clear.)
Or maybe the wedding is for Bruce and Xo. Their story gets some forward movement when a drunk Tess shows up at Jane’s house, gets taken to Alba’s, then flees on Xo’s bike so that the Villanueva women have to track her down. Xo gets in Tess’ good graces when she convinces Bruce to be reasonable with how he punishes his daughter, and that opens up a conversation about Xo moving in with Bruce down the line. Will Xo and Bruce be living together next episode? Will that relationship dissolve the way it has in the past? Maybe Alba will be living alone, or perhaps she’s found a new man in her life and they’re living together.
And then there’s the craziness at The Marbella. Rafael is facing jail time because he lied to cover up his father’s involvement with stolen art, and he’s willing to go to prison in order to set a good example for his children rather than continue lying and scheming. Petra tries to dissuade him at first because she’s still nervous about being an unfit mother, but when she finally has a good night with Elsa, Anna, and Mateo, she encourages Rafael to do what is best. Will Rafael have served prison time when we see him next? Will he be in prison? And what the hell is going on with Luisa bringing Rose (now named Eileen and played by Elisabeth Röhm) back into their lives, this time with an elaborate plot that involves a woman being bribed with $10 million so that she’ll pass the very necessary medical tests Rafael wants to administer to prove her identity?
There are so many questions introduced by the time jump, and I can’t wait to get answers next week. I’m going to miss Michael Cordero and Brett Dier’s goofy charm, but I also admire this show’s willingness to go through with such a big event and accomplish it with so much emotion and thoughtfulness. I don’t know what Jane The Virgin will look like when it returns next week, but I’m confident in the writers’ plans for the future and expect the show to be just as wonderful as it has been for two and a half seasons.
- Urman posted a very thoughtful explanation of the writers’ decision to kill Michael over on the Jane The Virgin Tumblr, praising Brett Dier’s performance and crediting him with keeping Michael alive for this long. She also teases flashbacks in future episode while reassuring viewers that the show will be returning to it’s sunny optimism, and that the writers consulted with grief counselors to figure out the right time to check back in with Jane’s life that would allow them to maintain the brightness that is so essential to this show’s success. These writers know exactly what they’re doing, and that make it easier to accept Michael’s death.
- I love how this show rarely allows secrets to exist for more than an episode (if that), like Scott and Anezka proudly flaunting their marriage and the restored will that they now have to blackmail Rafael and Petra into giving them whatever they want.
- Jane’s “three years later” haircut is super cute!
- I really enjoyed how inside baseball this episode gets with the publishing world. Good thing we’ve got the Narrator here to guide us.
- Kudos to Dancing With The Stars’ Cheryl Burke for getting into old age make-up for a quick DWTS 2049 gag.
- Penis-related hashtags this week: #johnhancock, #cockadoodledont
- “I’ve been late once before. His name…is Mateo.”
- “I didn’t a glimpse of your penis tonight, but I did see a big dick!”
- Petra: “I was framed for murder and we figured it out.” Narrator: “That’s a sentence you don’t hear everyday.”
- Rafael: “It’s just that—her ex—killed my dad.” Eileen: “I know, but that’s only if you believe that death is finite.” Rafael: “Yeah. I do. So…”