Photo: Kevin Estrada (The CW)
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Thus far in its final season, Jane The Virgin has been primarily concerned with obstacles and complications, but there is light on the horizon. Jane closed the book on her relationship with Michael after his return from the dead, even if Rafael remains reluctant to reconcile; Xo’s cancer treatments are done, allowing her to return to the life that was put on pause; Alba’s unrequited love with Jorge was reciprocated, clearing the path for their wedding; Rogelio’s pilot didn’t get picked up, but the network is open to retooling; Petra and JR are back together, and newly aware of the work needed to get the twins onboard with their relationship.

But as is expressly clear in an episode both about the writing of a telenovela and built around a meta-commentary on story structure for good measure, Jane The Virgin is not ready to reach its final resolution. There are still ten episodes left after “Chapter Ninety,” and the inevitable cliffhanger promised by the Latin Lover Narrator was never in doubt. From the very beginning in the show’s own pilot, the series explored the tension between huge, high-stakes drama and a grounded story about family. And so even if the episode hadn’t had the narrator map out the turning points in the episode, we’ve learned by this point that whatever resolution is reached by the end of the episode will be disrupted by the latest development in Rose’s evil plan.

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And yet if I’m being honest, I’ve always struggled with this. As much as I’ve consistently admired Jane The Virgin, I’ve never fully accepted that it was necessary to keep the show’s high-stakes, telenovela plot going in order for the show to succeed. I look at an episode like this one and feel like the stakes are already plenty high. When Jane discovers that her father was the only reason the publisher agreed to release her first novel, it destroys the core of her self-confidence, and threatens the relationship with her father that she wanted so desperately when she was a child. Why do we need the looming threat of Rose’s nefarious schemes? Why must the drama of choosing when to introduce your son to his problematic aunt carry ties to an evil supervillain working from behind bars in order to serve this story?

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But I’m aware that this is “Chapter Ninety,” and this ship has sailed, and I realize part of the process of this final season is my coming to terms with this choice. And as I sat down to write about the show for the first time in three years, I was reminded that as much as I’ve been frustrated over the years every time Rose reared her beguiling head, it has rarely diminished the storylines happening around it. The fact that the looming threat of her stooge breaking into Rafael’s house exists doesn’t take away from the emotional core of this episode. It may add extra anxiety to Luisa meeting Mateo, but it’s ultimately amplifying rather than defining the stakes of this complicated family. It’s possible Jane The Virgin is building to one last telenovela twist to end all telenovela twists, but the core of the final season seems to be coming down to the family stories that showcase the show at its best.

Photo: Kevin Estrada (The CW)

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Here, that’s Jane’s relationship with her father. While Jane and Rogelio’s relationship has always been a key part of the series, it doesn’t always get as much focus as the other relationships: they don’t get as many porch discussions, and Rogelio’s side of the narrative has an entire workplace comedy engine to serve that sometimes places him at a distance from Jane’s emotional journey. The rewrite of The Passions of Steve and Brenda into This Is Mars is a way for the final season to bring the two characters together, but it isn’t just about showcasing Jaime Camil and Gina Rodriguez’s dance moves. It’s about acknowledging and ultimately complicating a relationship that still bears the scars of its own telenovela origins. No amount of love can ever change the fact that Jane grew up believing her father didn’t want anything to do with her, and Rogelio lived with no idea he had a daughter at all.

The show has reminded us of this occasionally—most recently in Rogelio’s anxiety over Baby’s attachment to Esteban—but it’s understandable that Jane forgets when she realizes her status as a published author was only because her father made a deal with the publisher. It’s a revelation that shatters the thing she’s most proud of, which she just celebrated as an anniversary and which gives her the confidence to keep writing through writer’s block. Jane defined herself by her status as an author, and so to learn that he had gone behind her back to make this happen for her is a betrayal. And in light of River’s refusal to sign onto This Is Mars with Jane as the writer due to the apparent nepotism, his deal with the publisher reads to Jane as a belittlement of her talent, and she lashes out at his father with the greatest weapons in her arsenal (a facial disfigurement for Steve and giving Brenda more monologues, naturally).

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But as Alba prepares for a quickie marriage to Jorge—not just to have sex—the episode piles on the lengths that parents will go for their children (or vice versa), especially if they weren’t able to be there for them. Xo stresses over planning the perfect wedding for her mother, who sacrificed so much for her and was so crucial to her recent recovery. Does she realize that she’s stressing her mother out, and missing that she has no interest in waiting three months to marry Jorge after he proposes? Of course not, because the complications of parent/child relationships blind us to those truths in times like these. Their emotional moment as they prepare for the wedding is an awakening for Jane, who forgives her father and just admits that it requires her to “recalibrate” her identity as a writer. And after her conversation with her father, and his assurance that his career is too important for him to trust her with This Is Mars if he didn’t believe she was a great writer, she begins the recalibration project and is inspired to get to work writing—not This Is Mars, however, but rather the story of her relationship with her father.

I’d argue it’s the first scene that truly feels like this is Jane The Virgin’s final season, and my reaction does not bode well for my emotional stability as the show continues to wrap up its story. It was so emotional that it makes me worry Rogelio won’t live to see the end of the series given how final the montage of their journey so far feels, even though I know he was on-set filming on the final day (for coffee cup-related reasons). As noted, I don’t think the show has ever really organized itself around Jane and Rogelio’s relationship, at least a tier below the love triangles and the multi-generational Villanueva women, but when you see it all strung together like this it’s a great example of the show’s ability to channel Camil and Rodriguez’s comic and dramatic chemistry over the course of its run, and the beginning of what I imagine will be plenty of similar emotional moments as the final season continues.

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Photo: Kevin Estrada (The CW)

We see echoes of Rogelio’s relationship with Jane in Petra and JR’s latest obstacles with the twins. There’s a fairly typical “new love interest struggles to interact with children” core to the storyline here, but the conversation they have afterwards becomes an interesting meditation on the role their own upbringings play in how they understand parenting. Similar to how Rogelio is trying to make up for his absence in Jane’s life, Petra spoils her children because she had nothing growing up. But for JR, who chose not to pursue children because of how difficult her own childhood was, she finds their entitlement troubling. It’s a refreshingly honest conversation about class privilege that finds the two searching for a middle ground—I don’t know if the couple is necessarily “endgame” at this point, especially with the introduction of the job in Houston, but I think their reconciliation has done some good work to sell me on a relationship that the show rushed into the first time around.

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We don’t know if we’re saying goodbye to JR, but “Chapter Ninety” felt like the start of a long farewell. The choice to so consciously mirror elements of the pilot—the flower, the makeout session interrupted by the flower—and give Alba a magical realism musical number of her own at her wedding started what I imagine will be a season-long celebration of what made the show so special. And yes, that’s going to occasionally be interrupted by Rose’s plot to destroy Rafael’s family. And yes, that’s probably still going to annoy me. But in the end, the good has always outweighed the bad, and no amount of moustache-twirling is going to change that as the show heads to the finish line.

Stray observations

  • I realize the show is from Jane’s perspective, but Justin Baldoni’s acting choices (or Gina Rodriguez’s direction) were wild in this episode for me. His warmth toward Jane was almost aggressive, which I didn’t think was possible, and I don’t really know what the episode was going for. The show just established that Jane had misread some signals, but it’s hard to read his general demeanor toward her as anything other than love, right? I found it very strange, so I’m wondering if anyone else had a similar reaction.
  • Speaking of Rodriguez’s direction, I liked the choice to have a few key lines of dialogue start in the previous scene when there was thematic overlap. A simple little technique, and one that obviously originates at the script level, but it made for some good transitions thematically.
  • I don’t know why we needed both the musical number and the animated Jorge and Alba sequence, given they did basically the same thing, and the less said about the #Jorgasm hashtag the better.
  • How does Steve get his tail, though? We better find out.
  • As someone who screens the pilot for students every semester when discussing genre, the callbacks were very apparent, but I’m curious how they landed for everyone else.
  • I really fundamentally do not care about the Rose storyline, but I particularly found it galling how the show tried to make it seem like Luisa was working with her, which we all know is 100% not true. There’s really no reason to believe she’d work with Bobby, and I imagine that will become clear pretty soon.
  • As you’ve no doubt noticed, Oliver was unavailable this week, but I enjoyed getting a chance to drop in to reflect on the show’s journey, and wish him and all of you the best as the rest of the season unfolds.

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