“Inhala, exhala.” Jane The Virgin has emphasized the importance of taking a moment to breathe since the very first episode, and Jane needs a lot of those moments in “Chapter Fifty-Six,” which continues to explore the fallout of Michael’s death while bringing about a new major life change for the main character. Valentina Garza’s script opens with a flashback to Jane in therapy one month after Michael’s death, where she tells her therapist about her ongoing panic attacks and learns some tools to help her regain her composure during these episodes. After 90 sessions, Jane is panic-attack-free and comfortable with ending her sessions, but the sight of Michael’s old police buddy, Dennis, triggers Jane’s panic attacks again as she remembers Dennis’ betrayal after Michael’s death.
Jane The Virgin continues to slowly dole out new information regarding Jane’s coping process after Michael’s death, focusing on individual aspects of Jane’s grief rather than giving the viewer an exhaustive look at her transition into widowhood. Some viewers may want the latter, but I prefer the approach this series has taken. Jumping back into the regular sunny, energetic tone of this series has helped make the darker, drearier moments more effective thanks to the strong contrast, and it ensures that the series doesn’t get lost in the sorrow Jane experiences after losing Michael. The show hasn’t forgotten that pain, but it’s presenting it to the viewers as it affects Jane in the present. It’s not always there, but when it hits, it takes a big toll on her mind-set and behavior.
Jane’s past trauma rises back to the surface when she sees Dennis at The Marbella as he’s investigating Scott’s death, forcing her to remember Dennis’ involvement in her life in the months after Michael’s death. Jane’s reaction to seeing Dennis is a panic attack followed by an impulsive smack at his face, and over the course of the episode we learn why she has such an intense response to his presence. At first I was worried that Dennis tried to put the moves on Jane when he became a regular fixture in her life after the funeral, but the schism occurred because Dennis overstepped boundaries when he was trying to prove Michael’s innocence in a past investigation regarding his relationship with Sin Rostro.
Jane viewed Dennis taking pictures of Michael’s personal journals as a betrayal of trust, but when she confronts him about this at the end of the episode, Dennis makes a good point that he acted in secret because Jane wasn’t ready to learn about the investigation given her daily panic attacks. He’s not wrong. Jane was in an extremely precarious emotional state, and learning about a posthumous police investigation into Michael’s potential criminal ties would have done more harm than good. The resolution of this storyline is both very funny and very emotional as Jane takes on Dennis in the boxing ring before talking through her issues, and the final moments of Jane and Dennis together show how eager she is to keep Michael in her life however she can. Dennis’ memories of Michael kept him alive in Jane’s mind a little longer as she processed new information about him, and she lost that connection to her late husband when she pushed Dennis out of her life.
While Dennis reenters Jane’s life, her boss, Chloe, gets pushed out when Jane prematurely quits her job after finding out her new publishing deal will net her $50,000. Jane panics after learning that the payment comes in stages rather than one lump sum (something she really should know after three years in the publishing industry), and she scrambles to get her old job back while Rafael tries to convince her to come back to The Marbella as the new floor manager. Jane’s struggle makes a lot of sense, and she’d rather have a horrible job in the publishing industry than take a step back by working at The Marbella, even if it’s in a new position with more responsibility and higher pay. She’s afraid of failing as a writer and being stuck back at The Marbella, and while it’s a practical worry, Rafael wants her to remember the dreams she used to have as a writer. Jane tells him that she had a dream before, a statement followed by a quick montage of her romance with Michael, and it’s a heartbreaking moment that highlights how Michael’s death has significantly changed how Jane moves through the world and views her future.
On a much lighter note, Rogelio is on an apology tour this episode after Darci sends a video to Xiomara revealing that Rogelio knew she was going to get a villain’s cut in The De La Vega Factor Factor. Everyone in the Villanueva family is hurt by his lies, so he sends them all Ropology baskets, which fail to convince them that he’s genuinely sorry. Rogelio’s life has become a mess thanks to his reality show, and he learns that fame isn’t worth losing his personal relationships. This major moment of clarity comes after a conversation with Alba where she calls him out on the elaborate fantasy life he’s built for himself. He’s not actually married to Darci, they don’t have a happy life together, and in the process of gaining this fictional relationship, he’s sabotaged his most meaningful personal connections.
It’s always nice to have one-on-one scenes of Alba and Rogelio, largely because these they’re entirely in Spanish. This shared language strengthens the bond between the two characters, and in the case of this episode, speaking in Spanish removes the artifice that defines so much of Rogelio’s character right now. Rogelio’s personal and professional tailspin has come from his desire to be accepted by U.S. audiences in an effort to boost his profile, but his priorities change once he sees the damage his misguided ambition has caused. He leaves The De La Vega Factor Factor and fixes things with Xiomara by offering her a real explanation for his behavior, but Rogelio has a big obstacle to overcome before getting to his future project, a telenovela reimagining of Gulliver’s Travels called Los Viajes De Guillermo. He’s being sued for $10 million for breach of contract, and he’ll need to sort things out with Darci, Tripp, and The De La Vega Factor Factor studio before getting back in the telenovela game.
The Narrator plays an especially active role in this episode, constantly sidelining Rafael’s girlfriend, Abbey, and withholding key information regarding the aftermath of Scott’s body turning up on the beach outside The Marbella until the very end of the episode. The Narrator directly addresses the fact that he has to deliver a lot of exposition on this show, and the “Reality Check” conceit gives the Narrator plenty of opportunities to add more humor with his running commentary and the on-screen text. This episode has the most aggressive breaking of the fourth wall this series has ever attempted during the scene of Darci and Rogelio’s fake Hawaiian honeymoon; the on-screen text clarifies that it’s actually being filmed on Miami Beach, but then further clarifies that it’s actually Long Beach, where Jane The Virgin is filmed.
The Marbella drama is often the least interesting part of this series, but it’s the source of most of the show’s telenovela twists, which are responsible for maintaining the series’ momentum. The major conflict at The Marbella this week comes courtesy of Scott’s skeleton, and the police investigation into Scott’s death works out well for Petra and Rafael. The body was on The Fairwick’s side of the property, so Chuck Jesser has to take the brunt of the responsibility, but the police concluding that the death was an accidental drowning lessens the heat placed on Chuck.
But there’s a lot more going on with Scott’s body than Chuck and the police know. Petra moved the body over the property after it was discovered and is stringing Chuck along to diminish suspicion (though she could genuinely like him), and the more unexpected twist is that Zen Rafael and his prison buddy Elvis appear to have had some role in Scott’s death, suggesting that Rafael’s time in prison didn’t leave him as soft as everyone assumes. The mystery of Scott’s fate deepens considerably in the final moments of this episode, complicating the personal dynamics and opening a lot of storytelling opportunities for future chapters.
- I wonder what the big twist with Abbey is going to be. I have the feeling she’s being kept in the background because she’s doing shady shit in the background, but the series has used so many telenovela tropes, I’m not sure what to expect when we learn Abbey’s real deal.
- There’s an awkward scene of Rogelio and Petra exchanging comments about the other’s accent, and while it’s nice to see the pairing of Jaime Camil and Yael Grobglas, who rarely have reason to share scenes, the humor falls flat the longer the bit goes on.
- This episode provides two different acronyms for HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, tired (triggers for panic attacks); and heinous, appalling, lousy tyrant (words associated with Chloe).
- There’s lots of celebratory dancing in this episode, both imaginary (Petra and Rafael learning that Scott’s body wasn’t on The Marbella’s property) and real (Jane and Rafael after Jane gets her publishing contract). I’m all about the celebratory dancing.
- Jane’s first apology gift basket: vinyl records, Wes Anderson box set, rainbow sweatbands, hipster cat ears, pair of Alba’s vintage earrings, jar of artisanal mustard. Alba’s Ropology basket: yarn, portrait of Jesus, crocheted doilies, knitting needles, arthritis cream, tea cozies.
- “I just wanna do a show about a happy, well-adjusted, fake married couple.”
- “‘Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.’ —Deepak Chopra, via Suzanne Somers.”
- “Aww yeah! Someone’s got her quittin’ heels on.”
- “Maybe your parents didn’t hug you, or maybe you grew up in a prison like Bane from that Batman movie.”
- “Deep breaths, Jane. I’ve been doing it, too, and I’m definitely finding narrating a lot less stressful this episode. Usually I’m like, ‘There’s so much exposition, how could I fit it all in?’”
- “Tell me, I want to be factored in!” Rogelio and Mateo are very cute together.