Becoming a parent brings a load of new responsibilities, pressures, and anxieties, but Jane Gloriana Villanueva isn’t just any new parent. Instead of having a child with the fiancé she loved and planned to marry, Jane the virgin was accidentally artificially inseminated with the sperm of a rich hotel owner she happened to have a crush on in high school (concise summary courtesy of ex-fiancé Michael), and her life has been a telenovela-inspired whirlwind ever since. As she dealt with the stress of an unplanned pregnancy, Jane met the father she thought was dead (international telenovela superstar Rogelio De La Vega), broke up with Michael, and started dating her baby’s father, Rafael. She cared for her grandmother when she was pushed down the stairs by Rafael’s ex-mother-in-law, who was pretending to be disabled, and comforted Rafael when his step-mother turned out to be a Miami crime kingpin. Jane has been attracting drama ever since that fateful day at the gynocologist, and just because she’s a mother now doesn’t mean she’s safe.

If anything, there’s more for Jane to worry about now that the baby is outside of her body and vulnerable to all the dangers of life. Worry is a natural feeling for a new mother, but most new mothers don’t have their newborns kidnapped by fake nurses working for crime bosses. Season 1 of Jane The Virgin (now streaming on Netflix!) ended with the abduction of baby Mateo Gloriano Rogelio Solano Villanueva, and while it’s a nightmare scenario for Jane and her family, it’s a thrilling event to kick off the second season.

Jane The Virgin had an exceptional first year by balancing heightened soap operatics with grounded emotion, complex characterizations, and a brilliant sense of humor, and tonight’s season premiere doesn’t change the winning formula. “Chapter Twenty-Three” proudly celebrates the series telenovela roots with an opening flashback showing a young Jane panicking because of a particularly nerve-racking cliffhanger on Los Milagros De Mariana, a clever scene that casts Jane as a surrogate for the audience that fears for little Mateo. Alba is a stand-in for episode writer/showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman, reassuring Jane and the viewers that things are going to turn out all right in the end, and surely enough, Jane is reunited with her son by the first commercial break.

A defining quality of this series is the rapid pacing, best represented by the jam-packed summary of season 1 that starts the episode. The running commentary by Anthony Mendez’s Latin Lover Narrator gives Jane The Virgin the best “previously on” recaps on TV, and his enthusiastic, expressive delivery builds excitement as he provides the necessary background information. The writers packed a whole lot of story in those first 22 chapters, and the 23rd is no different. In the first 10 minutes of tonight’s episode, Jane and Rafael learn that their baby has been abducted and get him back with the help of Michael, who is contacted by Sin Rostro and trades police evidence for Mateo. (Rafael’s sister Luisa also breaks up with her girlfriend Juicy Jordan in that time, but it’s a lesser development in the high-stakes opening.)

Advertisement

Last season’s telenovela twist gives this episode strong narrative momentum from the very top, but Urman doesn’t indulge the kidnapping plot too heavily, using it as a stepping stone to the episode’s larger narrative highlighting Jane’s panic about her baby’s health and safety. Jane is a compulsive planner, and the first thing she plans for Mateo is a strict nursing schedule that is severely compromised by his kidnapping. Nursing is the major topic of this episode, and once Jane has Mateo back in her arms, she starts worrying about her breasts. She’s extremely emotionally vulnerable after Mateo’s abduction, so when her son’s weigh-in after his return is lighter than his birth weight, Jane immediately takes it as a bad sign when it’s a totally normal occurrence for newborns. She can’t help but assume that everything is going wrong because things have already gone so horribly up to this point, and she becomes fixated on feeding Mateo as a way of making up for her maternal failure of giving Mateo to the impostor Nurse Helen.

The kidnapped baby part of the plot may be fantastic, but Jane’s emotional distress is very real thanks to Gina Rodriguez, who fully captures the mix of desperation and affection that drives Jane’s obsessive behavior. Her love for Mateo and the need to provide for him are so strong that she stops thinking about her own health, and Rodriguez’s performance projects that fragility despite the character’s best efforts to stay strong. Jane’s fear and self-loathing are warring against her ingrained duty to always fix things, and her body’s delayed production of milk just makes that conflict worse. Jane goes on an intense journey in this episode, and Rodriguez makes every emotional beat land: the devastation when Jane learns her son’s been kidnapped; the joy when Mateo is saved; the frustration with not making enough milk; the annoyance over the media circus that has gathered outside her house; the appreciation of her mother and abuela’s support; the confusion regarding the two sexy men vying for her affection.

Rodriguez proved in season 1 that she can handle anything the writers throw at her, and Urman gives her star a meaty script that shows off the full range of her talent. The depth of Rodriguez’s characterization brings out similarly rich performances from her costars, and Jane’s interactions with Xiomara and Michael are especially outstanding this week. Andrea Navedo’s performance highlights Xiomara’s dedication to being a better grandmother than she was a mother, and while Jane may playfully scold her mother for being a showoff by bringing up topics like “nipple confusion,” Rodriguez’s face shows that Jane loves that her mom is putting so much effort into helping. Xiomara will do anything for her daughter, and when Jane makes a tearful confession to her mother about all her feelings of inadequacy, Xiomara offers compassion without judgment (and also has no hesitation about stuffing Jane’s breast into Mateo’s mouth like a hamburger).

Advertisement

Michael makes huge strides in Jane’s heart this week, and Brett Dier just gets more charming and lovable as the character becomes more desirable to his ex-fiancée. Michael rescues Mateo by putting his career at risk, protects Jane from the religious fanatics and reporters that have gathered to see the son of the holy virgin, and offers helpful advice to Rogelio and Rafael when they don’t know how to deal with the Villanueva women, all things that Michael definitely does not have to do for the woman that broke up with him to be with a man she barely knows. Michael does it becomes he loves Jane more than anything in the world, and that intense affection shines through in Dier’s performance. Jane and Michael’s chemistry isn’t as passionate as Jane and Rafael’s, but their relaxed tenderness feels more appropriate for what we’ve seen of Jane’s character.

There’s a part of Jane that loves the over-the-top fantasy of telenovelas, but she’s a pragmatist at heart, keeping her expectations realistic and structuring her life in a way that makes her goals attainable in a reasonable amount of time. Jane may find herself thrown into Rafael’s crazy world of vengeful ex-wives and homicidal stepmothers, but she’s not comfortable there. She’s comfortable when she’s at home with her mother and abuela, and that’s the world Michael knows. Jane extends an invitation to Rafael to live with them so he can be close to the baby, but she makes sure that Michael understands that Rafael is only there as the baby’s father, sending an explicit signal that she’s romantically available and willing to rekindle their past romance. Of course, that’s before Jane sees a shirtless Rafael cradle their son, which definitely stirs up some feelings that keep that love triangle complicated.

And then there’s Petra, who is about to make the show really complicated by impregnating herself with Rafael’s newly discovered lost sperm sample. Petra is in the midst of her own personal drama at the Marbella, and the birth of Rafael’s son with Jane has sent her into an emotional tailspin that leads her to obsess about what she’s lost and what she stands to gain from using Rafael’s sperm sample. Yael Grobglas gives a wonderfully textured performance, and the joyful hope she shows in the flashbacks to Petra’s first pregnancy heightens the tragedy of Petra’s current situation. Petra’s behavior is despicable and she knows it, but she’ll do anything to get back to that moment of happiness she had with her ex-husband in their unborn child’s nursery. Yael Grobglas has made the show’s principal protagonist one of its most sympathetic characters by showing the vulnerability and pain underneath Petra’s pristine exterior, and much like the Latin Lover Narrator, I’m surprised at just how much I’m rooting for her.

Advertisement

In the midst of all this drama, Urman’s script still finds plenty of opportunities for comedy. As Jane charges out of her hospital bed to help rescue her abducted son, the theme song from Los Milagros De Mariana plays in the background, contrasting the fantasy of the song lyrics with the reality of Jane’s situation: She struggles to get out of bed after the lyric “She was strong!”, asks for wipes, pants, and a burp cloth after “She was armed!”, and tells Michael to grab adult diapers after “She was fearless!” The Latin Lover Narrator has a full arsenal of hilarious one-liners (many of which can be found in Stray Observations), and the on-screen text and graphics are valuable tools for adding humor, especially during Petra’s scenes. When Petra doesn’t know what to do with Rafael’s sperm, she makes a list of pros and cons that appears on screen, and when Rafael stands above his sperm sample, a cleverly deployed arrow summarizes Petra’s situation.

There’s always the fear of a sophomore slump with returning TV shows, but the consistent strength of season 1 suggested that as long as the creative team stuck with what worked, Jane The Virgin could maintain that quality in its second year. The status quo has changed for Jane, but the show around her hasn’t, and tonight’s episode is an immensely promising start to the second season that doesn’t lose any of the style, wit, and emotion that define the series.

Stray observations:

  • The weakest element of this episode is the congregation of people outside of Jane’s house, although I like to think that it’s a metaphor for the increased attention given new mothers. Jane just wants to focus on being a mother, but there are all these people distracting her.
  • I love it when the Villanueva women laugh together, like they do when Xiomara reveals that she and Rogelio were married in Vegas by a Cher impersonator.
    Fingers crossed that tonight’s Michael and Rogelio scenes mean that their bromance will get a lot of play this season. They’re wonderful together.
  • Justin Baldoni beefed up between seasons. The show may need to update the oft-used recap clip of Rafael taking off his shirt.
  • What was the language being spoken by the woman (Sin Rostro?) at the end of the episode? German?
  • “Just Gloria Estefan. She wants to know if there’s anything she can do.”
  • “And they all lived happily ever after. Well, except for Jane. And Rafael and Michael. And things are really screwed up with Luisa. And Xo and Ro. And don’t get me started on Petra. Anyway, let’s just enjoy this moment, because it won’t last.”
  • “Uh oh. Beer Goggles.” That graphic of shirtless Rafael superimposed over his bottle of sperm is unsettling and hilarious.
  • “I’ll say this: the girl’s got spunk.”
  • “Do you want to shut it down or do a tour of the morning shows and turn this into a book deal?”
  • “Ah yes. You’ll recall we left Petra on the hunt for a metallic canister filled with her ex-husband’s last semen sample.”
  • “Hurry up, Petra! Wait. Why am I rooting for her?”
  • “Come on, did you doubt Michael? He’s a mensch.”
  • “If I could turn back ti-ime.”

Advertisement