Is there a network television series on the air right now that is as consistently excellent as Jane The Virgin? I watch a lot of television, and I can’t remember the last time I watched a season and a half of a show and never felt disappointed or bored by an episode. That’s especially impressive when a creative team is working with a 22-episode season, which all but guarantees some clunkers based on the law of averages, but that hasn’t been the case with Jane The Virgin. And this is a show that could so easily fly off the rails at any time. There are a plethora of plot lines for the writers to juggle, which occupy different levels of heightened reality depending on the characters involved, requiring actors that can modulate their performances to fit those shifts. The directors need to coax fully realized performances from the cast, while working with the designers to make clear distinctions between levels of reality, from the grounded domestic drama of the Villanueva house to the far-fetched soap-operatics of The Marbella or whatever telenovela Rogelio is working on.
There’s so much that could go wrong, but Jane The Virgin gets it right every single week. It accomplishes this by giving each episode a strong thematic through line across all plots—this week’s theme: crossing the line—and by rooting everything in believable, relatable emotions, making every crazy development feel real because the writing and performances are so honest. Writer Michael J. Cinquemani makes his Jane The Virgin debut with “Chapter Thirty-Three,” and the soap opera veteran is a great fit for this series, delivering an episode rich with tension and tenderness as characters find out how far is too far when it comes to personal relationships.
Cinquemani starts with the crossing of a non-romantic line, showing the Villanueva women getting ready in their crowded single bathroom back when Jane was a teenager. The flashbacks that start every episode are a great way of grounding the story before it gets wackier in the present, and that’s what Cinquemani accomplishes in this week’s opening by having Jane cross a line with her mother by telling her that they wouldn’t have to share a bathroom if Xo had a real job. Andrea Navedo captures the pain Xo feels in that moment, a feeling that dictates how she acts later in the episode when she’s forced to choose between work and pleasure and faced with the prospect of having more children with Rogelio.
Xo chooses not to go to the “small birthday blowout” Rogelio has planned for her 40th birthday when she’s offered another chance to sing at a club that fired her because she’s cancelled gigs too many times, and now that she doesn’t have to worry about providing for Jane, Xo wants to satisfy herself by pursuing her art as her work. After a wonderful performance of The Carpenters’ “Close To You” in Spanish, Xo finally gets the marriage proposal she’s been waiting for from Rogelio, but she’s reluctant to respond “yes” when he says that he wants to raise kids with her. Xo isn’t interested in having kids and wants to focus on herself for the future, which may be selfish, but it’s not a bad kind of selfish. It’s a totally reasonable kind of selfish, and after spending her entire adulthood worrying about her daughter, Xo wants to focus on herself and living the dreams she deferred to raise a child.
The engagement scene is an excellent example of how this show makes each plot thread pay off by the end of the episode, and the drama between Jane and Rogelio involving Mateo’s child care ties directly into Rogelio’s wishes for his future with Xo. The tension between Jane and Rogelio is the source of a lot of humor as Jane frets over her father’s babysitting ability, but the conflict is rooted in serious emotions for both father and daughter. Jane flips out on her dad when Mateo eats the diamond that Rogelio was going to set in Xo’s engagement ring, and while her anger isn’t completely justified (Rogelio was distracted by Jane’s phone call, after all), it’s easy to understand Jane’s frustration.
That frustration is depicted pretty accurately based on my personal experience with new mothers, and over the holidays, I got to witness the anger of a mother when her directions aren’t followed exactly. It wasn’t “swallowing a diamond” drama, but my sister’s enraged reaction when she found out our dad fed her newborn son without consulting her first showed me just how volatile new parents can be, and that volatility comes through in Rodriguez’s performance when Jane berates her father. She’s overly aggressive and not very empathetic, but she’s so swept up in her emotions that there’s no room for understanding, and it’s not until the next day that Jane realizes how harsh she was on her father.
As usual, Jaime Camil nails all his one-liners, but more importantly, he gives a genuine impression that Rogelio is trying to be the caretaker Jane doesn’t believe he can be, which makes Jane’s disappointment in him more heartbreaking. When the two reconcile, Rogelio makes it clear that he has a deeper fear he’s not good with kids, and Jane’s words of encouragement are part of the reason why he brings up the prospect of raising children during his proposal. He may not be good with kids right now, but he’ll learn the way all parents do. Unfortunately for him, Xo has no interest in having kids, drawing a line that forces Rogelio to reconsider his proposal.
There’s a firm line between Jane and her advisor, Jonathan Chavez, but after her sex dream at the end of last episode, Jane has blurred that line in her mind. And I don’t blame her, because Adam Rodriguez is hot. You don’t cast him if he’s not going to be a shirtless love interest eventually (see: his recent guest turn on Empire), and he has blistering chemistry with Gina Rodriguez, whose giddiness is contagious as Jane gets closer to her professor. The script builds up anticipation for any small personal interactions between them thanks to Xo’s list of signs she gives her daughter (which is a very good list of signs), and little movements like Jonathan scooching closer on a couch or touching Jane’s arm are given extra significance within that context.
Jane doesn’t do a very good job hiding her affection for Jonathan, starting with an awkward Freudian slip when she accidentally inserts Jonathan’s name into the story she’s reading in public. Despite knowing that he can’t pursue a romance with one of his advisees, Jonathan starts flirting hardcore, winking at Jane, offering personal details about his past, and finding moments to touch her. It could be interpreted as manipulative, particularly when Jonathan has Jane set up a meeting between his telenovela superfan mother and Rogelio, but the gentle charm of Adam Rodriguez’s performance suggests that he’s not trying to take advantage of Jane.
Knowing this show, this could be a fake-out and Jonathan could be secretly horrible, but at this point, he’s kind, thoughtful, and attracted to Jane, all qualities that make him a prime candidate for taking Jane’s virginity. There are some big developments this week, but nothing quite as big as Jane realizing that the promise of virginity she made to her grandma at 10 years old may not be realistic considering what her life has become, and when Jane decides to change her advisor, the line that keeps her and Jonathan romantically separated fades away and they plan on dinner together. Does this mean this show’s title will soon be moot? We’ll have to wait two weeks to find out, but if Jane’s going to finally lose it, she could do far worse than her hunky professor.
Not everything this show does is a home run; the crime boss threads have become a bit tiresome over time, but the show has wisely stepped back from them and mostly uses the Sin Rostro/Mutter narratives to add twists that have a dramatic impact on character dynamics. The weakest aspects of “Chapter Thirty-Three” involve Luisa discovering that her ex-lover/former stepmother Rose is actually the stepdaughter of Rafael’s birth mother, Elena, who remarried after she left Rafael’s father, and then sent her stepdaughter to marry her ex-husband so she could use The Marbella as a front. It’s a convoluted web of relationships, and Cinquemani wisely focuses on how this affects a single cast member, Luisa, bringing these outrageous plot points down to a more personal level. While pursuing a new romance with Susanna, Luisa tries to get a message to Rose to gauge if she’s still invested in their relationship, and by the end of the episode, Luisa finds herself rejected by both women.
The dissolution of the Luisa and Susanna romance doesn’t hit very hard because it hasn’t received much development beyond casual flirting and their big kiss, so it feels like it’s ending before it ever really began. Compare that to the power of Rafael and Petra’s romantic reunion in this episode, which has much more history and depth behind it. “Chapter Thirty-Three” explores Petra’s displeasure over being considered a trophy wife, an image reinforced by a hilariously ugly statue made in her likeness, and she works to prove that she has the skills to keep The Marbella afloat as the hotel’s drug lord connections continue to hurt business.
The flashbacks to Petra and Rafael’s early days highlight the transformation Yael Grobglas has accomplished with Petra’s character, and each time we check in with Petra in the past, she’s been changed by her love for Rafael. She’s cold and conniving when she first meets Rafael and plans to steal his fortune, warm and affectionate when she walks down the beach with him, and in pained confusion on her wedding day when Magda criticizes her for falling in love with her mark. Bringing all these shades to Petra’s character has made her very sympathetic, and seeing those snapshots of her past with Rafael helps sell the moment when they kiss in the pregnant.
That’s a remarkable feat when this season started with Petra stealing Rafael’s sperm sample and using a turkey baster to impregnate herself, but that’s the kind of magic Jane The Virgin performs on a regular basis. The series finds the real emotion that fuels the sensational telenovela-inspired moments, prioritizing character development to deliver consistently engaging and affecting stories with just the right amount of fantasy to make everything more unpredictable and exciting.
- I love how the blue is hyper-saturated during the IT scenes at the police department, which feels like a deliberate choice to reflect the look of CSI and its ilk.
- When it comes to product integration, Cinquemani does great work giving the Ford voice control system some hilarious lines to read, like all of Rogelio’s tweets (with their ridiculous hashtags) and my personal favorite after Jane’s
- #AwkwardSweaterKiss: “Now let’s get out of here. You kissed his freaking sweater.”
- #WAITINGFORGODOT-NUTS. Someone didn’t get the memo of no punctuation in hashtags.
- Maybe it’s because this show is on after Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but I could definitely use more musical numbers, even if they are just more scenes of Xo singing classic tunes in Spanish.
- “Did you say ins and outs?”
- “What’s that shade called? ‘Lusty Virgin’?”
- “Get to who this guy is…underneath.”
- “How could he not notice? You guys noticed and it’s not even your name.”
- “And from one secret mission to…Operation: Suss Out Whether Or Not Professor Chavez Might Be Receptive To A Relationship Between Two Mutually Consenting Adults, One Of Whom Might Be Jane.”
- “This happens all the time. No need to talk, just grab my arm and I will give you a tour of the set.”
- Jane: “I feel so…I don’t know.” Xo: “Horny?”