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Jane The Virgin heads to Montana, takes a big step forward

Photo: Paul Sarkis (The CW)
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Romance isn’t the defining element of Jane The Virgin—that would be the Villanueva women sitting together on the porch supporting one another—but romance has always been a huge part of the show. And “Chapter Eighty-Eight” looks like it just might be a defining moment, if not the defining moment, for the romantic arc of the series. Unless there are more twists in store (and that’s always a possibility on this show!), this episode seems to firmly close the door on the Jane-Michael-Rafael love triangle the fourth season finale reopened, and set up a new narrative drive for the last 11 episodes of the series. The rest of this final season won’t be about Jane choosing between two men. It will be about Jane fighting for the man she knows is the love of her life: Rafael.

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As a piece of a season-long (and in many ways, series-long) narrative puzzle, “Chapter Eighty-Eight” excels. Jane and Michael’s tender, goofy trip to Montana lulls you into thinking the show is just extending and expanding Jane’s love triangle situation. So when the quiet of Montana allows Jane to realize that what she actually wants is to be with Rafael, the emotional rug pull lands all the harder. Jane’s breakup with Michael is beautifully, poignantly portrayed, as is her big romantic monologue to Raf. Positioning the latter half of this final season as one in which Jane is the active romantic pursuer is both a reversal of traditional rom-com gender tropes and a nice way to make this final run of episodes feel distinct, even as Jane The Virgin is in many ways retreading old ground. So, yes, as a piece of the larger narrative, “Chapter Eighty-Eight” succeeds. As an episode in and of itself, however, it’s kind of a mixed bag.

As your regular reviewer Oliver Sava has smartly observed in these reviews, Jane The Virgin operates on three tonal planes: Rogelio’s telenovela comedy, the Marbella soap opera drama, and Jane’s emotionally grounded storylines. Because this whole hour is devoted to Jane and Michael’s trip to Montana, it has to encompass all three tones at once, which leads to some unevenness at times. The Western-inspired “telenovela ranchera” premise is fine, if not hugely inspired. (I did laugh at the ever-increasing ordered list of Michael’s best friends—first his dog Bo, then his horse Shelby, and finally his human friend Keith.) But every time the episode devolved into the silliness of Jane practicing to lasso a bull or Michael’s rivalry with Charlie (Haley Lu Richardson—Brett Dier’s real-life fiancée), I was aching to get back to the complex emotional matter at hand.

Photo: Paul Sarkis (The CW)

Jane The Virgin has always excelled at finding the emotional truth behind big soap opera twists, but Michael’s amnesia storyline might finally be a bridge too far for the series. Brett Dier’s modulated performance does an excellent job selling Michael 2.0 as a kind of hybrid person, yet this episode can never quite rectify the Jason/Michael duality the show has set up, even as it delves into the life Jason had been leading for the past four years. For every really lovely scene—like the under-the-stars camping conversation, in which Michael openly admits that he doesn’t really know who he is anymore—there’s a moment of weirdness, like Jane’s impassioned defense of Michael to Charlie—as if Jane doesn’t know better than anyone that Jason was an entirely different person with a very different sense of morality.

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Weirdest of all, “Chapter Eighty-Eight” seems to hinge on the assumption that if Jane weren’t in the picture, Michael 2.0’s automatic choice would be to stay in Montana and continue living Jason’s ranch hand life. At one point Jane even asks Michael if he could ever see himself living in Miami again, as if the idea of returning to the place where his parents and friends live, and where he built a life for 20+ years is this kind of outlier option and not a pretty normal thing for someone in his situation to consider doing. In the end, the specifics of what Michael 2.0 wants for his life ultimately don’t matter all that much, since Jane realizes that her heart belongs to Rafael no matter what. But the shakiness of how this episode handles Michael’s point of view is part of what holds it back.

Since “Chapter Eighty-Eight” is all about the importance of honesty, I should probably go ahead and acknowledge that I’ve been Team Michael since the beginning of Jane The Virgin. So, admittedly, it’s a little hard for me to untangle my personal sadness at the show choosing to step away from that relationship from my critical quibbles as to how the show got to that endpoint—which are two separate, although, of course, not unrelated things. If this really is the end of Michael’s arc, I definitely have some bigger questions about the value of bringing him back from the dead just to use him to stir up drama in Jane and Raf’s relationship. Hopefully the show has more in store than that, even if he’s no longer a romantic option for Jane. Dennis’ question about whether Michael would ever want to return to the police force was notably left unanswered last week.

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Photo: Paul Sarkis (The CW)

Thankfully, for all the bumps in how it handles Michael, this episode does incredibly well by Jane, which is the much more important thing. Her beautifully written, fantastically performed breakup monologue crystallizes a whole lot of things that have been true of her character for a while now, but which the show has never quite put so eloquently before. Michael’s death taught Jane to let go of the careful planning and organizing that once defined her life. (Not completely, of course, this is still Jane we’re talking about!) She’s learned to follow her heart more than her head, and this time around, in this strange situation she’s found herself in, her heart is leading her to Rafael. Now that she’s found her true love interest, her romantic heroine quest can truly begin. And, crucially, it starts right there on the porch with Xo and Alba by her side.

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Stray observations

  • Many thanks to Oliver Sava for letting me fill-in this week while he’s busy! This was a pretty heartbreaking episode for me to write about, if I’m honest, but it was nevertheless a joy to get to weigh in on one of my favorite shows on TV.
  • Though Andrea Navedo doesn’t have a ton of screentime in this episode, “Chapter Eighty-Eight” does an excellent job making Xo feel like an active, empathetic presence via her texts. Jane The Virgin does texting better than any show on TV.
  • I loved the detail that Jane quickly took to mending a broken fence because “Villanueva women know how to fix stuff.”
  • Jane negotiates a deal that if Michael replaces Charlie’s prized chickens, Charlie will agree not to shoot Michael or Bo if they accidentally wander onto her property. But then as Charlie is riding away she says, “If that mutt ever steps a paw on my property again, I’ll turn him into an area rug.” So, uh, I guess Jane just totally failed there?
  • I would watch Brett Dier’s Yogi Bear impression on a loop for hours.
  • If this really is Michael’s last proper appearance on the show, his final words to Jane are, “I just want you to be happy.” Oof. As the Narrator puts it, “Michael, you’re killing me here!”
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About the author

Caroline Siede

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.