All it takes is one look. As a flustered Jane rushes through The Marbella, a bark from Jason’s dog, Bo, catches her attention as she looks toward the exit, where her eyes meet with Michael’s and she knows, instantly, that her husband is back. In that moment, all her other obligations disappear and she rushes to catch him before he goes back to Montana. With one look, Jane The Virgin puts a giant crack in the stable, happy life Jane has created with Rafael and Mateo, sending Jane back to a crossroads she’s been at multiple times before. “Chapter Eighty-Five” rebuilds the love triangle that was at the core of the series for two and a half seasons, and while writers Carolina Rivera and Liz Sczudlo do strong work making this an organic, believable shift for the series, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the narrative is moving backward.
I still have faith that the creative team is going to find new wrinkles for the Jane/Michael/Rafael dynamic, and this episode gets us back to the triangle smoothly, relying on honest emotional connections to create conflict rather that doubling down on fantastic telenovela plot twists. The pain comes from the love that still exists between Jane and Michael, and when they catch up on all the wild happenings of the past 4 years, they fall back into a groove that reminds Jane of the happiness she lost and thought she would never have again. Yes, she could have a happy life with Rafael and Mateo, but there would always be the question of what marriage with Michael would have been like had he survived. Now Jane has the chance to find out the answer, and she doesn’t want to let go of this unbelievable opportunity.
Gina Rodriguez gives an incredibly textured and complex performance in this episode as Jane is yanked in all these emotional directions. She accomplishes a lot nonverbally, like that first moment of recognition with Michael where her physical energy changes to reflect a new sense of urgency fueled by emotional desperation. If Michael is back, there’s only one thing for her to do: stop him from leaving. Michael sees this and gets off the bus to Montana, reuniting with his wife despite all the ways it complicates both of their lives. Brett Dier gets to turn on the Michael charm again, and it is potent. It takes no time to reignite Jane and Michael’s chemistry during their relaxed, tender catch-up conversation, but those good vibes dissipate when Michael declares that he’s still in love with her.
“Chapter Eighty-Five” is a demanding script for Rodriguez. Capturing the mix of confusion, relief, and panic when Jane reconnects with Michael is already a big challenge, but then the rest of the episode has her moving between emotional extremes. There’s drunken giddiness during Jane’s day-drinking session with Petra, which becomes zanier as Jane tries to convince a mailman to let her break the law and retrieve the divorce papers she sent out. That screwball comedy is a total contrast from the sorrow that overtakes Jane at the end of the episode. She can’t commit to divorcing Michael even though she knows that will wreck Rafael, and when Rafael tells Jane he doesn’t want her to spend the night, Rodriguez projects a profoundly disappointed sadness.
You get the sense that Jane knows what Rafael’s reaction will inevitably be, but that she was hoping he would understand these circumstances and empathize with her struggle. Michael turns Rafael into a giant asshole, and Rafael recognizes how harmful this is to his personal well being and his relationships with others. I sympathize with what Rafael is going through right now and the frustration of being put back in a situation he thought he had escaped forever, but there are extenuating factors here that don’t justify his aggressive and cruel response. This is a situation to approach delicately instead of making Jane feel like she’s being malicious when she’s trying to cope with a personal crisis, and if Rafael keeps acting this way, he’s just going to push Jane closer to Michael.
While everyone is celebrating Michael’s resurrection, Xo is increasingly aware of her mortality as she reaches her final day of chemotherapy, which coincides with Grandparents’ Day at Mateo’s school. She refuses to skip the event, and goes one step further by choreographing a dance for her and Mateo to perform. It’s absolutely adorable, but it’s one step too far. Xo passes out in the parking lot as she, Jane, and Alba make a rushed exit, learning the hard way that Xo needs to take her time as she tries to get back to her old self. We don’t spend too much time looking at Xo’s role as a grandmother, so this is an enlightening storyline that adds definition Xo and Mateo’s relationship. When Xo dies, she doesn’t want Mateo to remember her as sick and tired. She wants him to remember her as strong, vibrant, and fun, and given that those have been Xo’s key characteristics for the entire series, it’s fascinating to see how her cancer has changed her outlook and pushed her into a morbid headspace.
The Villanueva women are all in precarious situations this week. It was a bad idea for Alba to enter a sham-marriage with Jorge when her feelings for him are genuine, and even though Jorge has been very clear about the separation between them, she can’t keep her emotions in check. The romantic letters Jorge sends to Alba from Mexico reinforce the fiction Alba has created in her mind, and she doesn’t listen to the people around her as they try to temper her expectations. Scenes between Rogelio and Alba are always notable because they speak only Spanish when they are alone together, spotlighting how language informs emotional storytelling. The level of comfort between the characters increases with the language shift, strengthening their personal connection so that Rogelio’s words of caution have greater impact.
Everyone tells Alba that she shouldn’t get her hopes up with Jorge, and sure enough, when he gets back from Mexico, he leaves all of his letters’ passion on paper. The heightened language was a suggestion from his sister to sell the marriage, and it’s hard to accuse him of leading Alba on when she knows that he is playing the part of a husband and doesn’t have actual feelings. The bigger issue is that Alba isn’t emotionally equipped to maintain the illusion without becoming legitimately invested in the relationship, and now that Jorge has seen his mother, Alba needs to cut ties to protect her emotions.
There’s one relationship that on the upswing this week: Petra and JR, whose reunion unfortunately coincides with Magda’s return. As much as I enjoy the ridiculousness of Priscilla Barnes’ performance as Petra’s one-eyed, one-handed evil mother, I’ve lost interest in Petra/Magda stories, which have gotten very repetitive over time. Magda shows up with some ridiculous scheme that derails Petra’s life, and she usually needs to do some kind of damage control to show the people in her life that she’s better than her family. In the case of “Chapter Eighty-Five,” that person is JR, who returns to the series after Jane’s butt-dial suggestion reopens lines of communication between Petra and her ex-girlfriend.
Like the season premiere, “Chapter Eighty-Five” uses Petra’s subplot to add goofy moments of levity to a tense episode, but bringing back faces from Petra’s past isn’t very compelling. Whether it’s Milos or Magda, we keep getting variations on the same theme, and hopefully now that JR is back in the picture the show will spend more time focusing on Petra’s present and future. Rosario Dawson is a charismatic actor and engaging scene partner, and now that she’s back, she should start interacting with the rest of this show’s exceptional ensemble.
- Great use of the Narrator to propel the storytelling at the start of the episode, building excitement by eagerly anticipating the moment when Jane discovers Michael has his memory back.
- The overarching theme of dreams and nightmares works well in this episode, and starts with a funny flashback to young Jane dreaming that Lorenzo Lamas is her father.
- I was really nervous that Jane was going to get back on the electric scooter after she’d been drinking, but thankfully the mailman was on foot.
- I need a .gif of Rosario Dawson proudly smiling while wielding an axe. That’s a powerful image.
- Petra’s greatest nightmare is turning into her mother, giving us a flash forward where Yael Grobglas plays a cartoon old person. She always commits to these silly bits and looks like she’s having a lot of fun.
- “That will get you one synthetic eyelash. But not to worry. I will cover the other nineteen.”
- Jane: “I’m sorry. Michael got his memory back, and Rafael is mad at me because I won’t mail the divorce papers and my had her final chemo today so there’s just like a lot going on.” Narrator: “Excuses, excuses.” Petra: “Excuse, excuses.” Narrator: “Hey, that was my joke!”