After the worst episode of Jane The Virgin thus far (which wasn’t really all that bad, because this show has had a phenomenal track record), I was nervous that this show was losing its way with the three-year time jump after Michael Cordero’s death. It brings me a lot of pleasure to say that Jane The Virgin returns from its three-week break with renewed confidence and a clearer sense of direction, one that gets back to the foundation of what makes this show so satisfying. “Chapter Fifty-Seven” struggled because it focused on tearing down new relationships that were never given time to fully develop, but tonight’s episode spotlights character dynamics that have been a part of the show from the very beginning.
The main plot involves the rivalry between Petra and Jane, which has gone through many stages over the course of 58 chapters. Their relationship is a tangle of emotions regarding motherhood, class, and their respective romances with Rafael, and even though they’ve made some major steps toward friendship, there’s still a lot of tension between them. After the time jump, that tension has primarily come from how they deal with parenting, and Petra has become a supermom to two smart, gentle angels, while Jane is overwhelmed by her hyperactive, impulsive, attention-craving son. The opening flashback of this episode revisits the scene when Rafael went to prison and Jane reassured Petra that she could handle being a mother while Rafael was away, and in the two and a half years since then, Petra has made a drastic improvement while Jane is still struggling.
There are a lot of different reasons for this: Petra didn’t have to deal with the emotional devastation of losing her husband like Jane did, and while Rafael was in prison for nine months, he wasn’t dead like Michael. That loss took a huge toll on Jane, and she’s had to deal with that lingering grief while figuring out life as a working single parent. Petra also has no problem paying people to do things that she’s not all that interested in, whereas Jane wants to do as much as she can herself because she thinks that’s what it means to be a good parent. The class difference plays a big part in this contrast, and even though Jane has Rafael to help take care of Mateo, she doesn’t have the wealth of Petra.
The tension between Jane and Petra boils over this week when Jane signs up to be room mom, a role that Petra already holds. They decide to work together to figure out plans for the future of their kids’ class, but they quickly realize that their very different stances on issues makes collaborating extremely difficult. They decide to hold a runoff election so the other parents can decide who is better suited for the job based on their stances on certain issues, which gives the episode an election theme that informs how the Narrator presents the story and allows for a silly debate sequence that pokes fun at last year’s campaign mess.
I’m fairly exhausted with all things political right now, but writer Merigan Mulhern does a good job keeping this conceit light and fun while also grounding it in the well-reasoned concerns of both Jane and Petra. This is Mulhern’s first script after working as a writers assistant on Jane The Virgin for the last two seasons, and she exhibits a very strong understanding of the show’s tone and style while also giving the episode a strong emotional foundation. Petra is definitely in a more antagonistic role in the main plot, but she’s not a total villain, and she’s still doing good things for the school and the kids, even if her plans are more costly (that’s what all the fundraising is for).
“Chapter Fifty-Eight” is the best Rogelio episode we’ve had since the time jump, and he offers some very valuable insights into Jane and Petra’s relationship by exploring how it fits in the telenovela framework that is at the core of this series. The two women have a classic telenovela rivalry—rich vs. poor, blond vs. brunette, Czech vs. American—but the best rivalries aren’t about the rival, but what the rival brings out in the hero (preferably in the fifth act). Mulhern knows this, and she focuses on the insecurities Jane and Petra bring out in each other and uses that information to create a compelling story that shows both women that they’re stronger than they thought they were.
Seeing Petra’s flawless kids makes Jane feel like a bad parent to Mateo, so she’s overcompensating and stretching herself thin to make sure she’s giving him everything he wants. When Mateo says he wants her to be in school more, Jane rushes to become a room mom, but Rogelio makes a good point that if you asked Mateo if he wants Jane in school more or if he wants chocolate, he’d probably say chocolate. Jane can’t let Mateo dictate her behavior, but it’s hard for her to let go of that need to be everything he wants her to be because she’s an overachiever and he’s not developing at the rate she wants him to. She thinks if she’s satisfying Mateo’s every wish, he’ll become that perfect child, but she needs some outside assistance to help her gain a better handle on what his issues are and how she can best address them.
We meet Mateo’s new aide Alex (Deniz Akdeniz) this week, and he’s a huge improvement over Carly, less concerned with school gossip and very fixated on finding Mateo’s problem areas and offering solutions to Jane and Rafael. Akdeniz exudes compassion and warmth, and while Jane doesn’t agree with him wanting to go in cold, without much information about Mateo, it’s hard for her to argue when he clearly knows what he’s doing. He wants to draw his own conclusions about Mateo’s behavior before getting input from the parents, and after a day with Mateo, Alex already has some tips for how Jane can quell his need for attention: reward good behavior, and ignore bad behavior. That’s difficult when the bad behavior involves Mateo cutting a piece of Jane’s hair off, but this style setback leads to a new revelation for Jane about her own attitude.
When Jane decides to own this new look, she realizes that she’s been guarding herself from the world ever since Michael’s death. The universe rewards her with a barista’s number when she opens up and tries something different, and even though Jane doesn’t think she’s ready to get back into the dating scene, her final scene with Alex shows that she’s at a healthy emotional place to move on. Her grief counselor told her that she’d be ready when she could get through the story of Michael’s death without crying, and that’s exactly what happens when Alex asks her about Mateo’s family history. Jane and Rafael both have emotional moments when Alex assures them that Mateo’s issues don’t stem from the trauma of Michael’s death or feeling abandoned when Rafael went to prison, and Gina Rodriguez and Justin Baldoni do great work in this scene capturing their characters’ relief as they let go of fears that have been lingering for a long time.
Jane isn’t the only Villanueva woman ready to get back in the dating game. I’ve been anxiously awaiting a meaty Alba plot, and we get a great one this week as her boss at The Marbella gift shop, Jorge, becomes newly single. Alba has had a crush on him for years, and his new relationship status finally gives her the opportunity to make a move. Unfortunately, Alba doesn’t know how. She’s disheartened when she gets no response to her tepid first attempt at flirting—the slight graze of her pinky against Jorge’s when they’re both behind the cashier counter—and Xo makes it her mission to give her mom a makeover that will show Jorge a sultrier side of Alba. Seeing Alba all done up with sleek hair, bold makeup, and a form-fitting blue dress (complete with a boob window) is a wonderful reveal, and Ivonne Coll is clearly delighted to play this sexier Alba. The actual meeting with Jorge is a disaster because Alba slips and falls while adjusting her fake eyelash, but the sight of Bombshell Alba compels Jorge to finally ask her out.
The final moments of “Chapter Fifty-Eight” feature some big moments for two couples. Xo and Bruce hit a major roadblock in their new engagement when Xo realizes she still has feelings for Rogelio. This could feel like unnecessary backtracking, but the script and Andrea Navedo’s performance make it obvious from the start that Xo is having trouble accepting the fact that she’ll be marrying Bruce. Initially she thinks it’s because their relationship doesn’t have the excitement and passion it once had, but there’s more keeping Xo from truly committing to him. When Jane tells Xo that not having kids isn’t a deal breaker for Rogelio anymore because his relationship with Mateo has filled that void, Xo begins to realize that she still has lingering feelings for her ex.
Bruce also realizes this when he asks Xo about her relationship with Rogelio while doing a mock cross-examination for Rogelio’s upcoming trial, and when he confronts her about it, Xo isn’t able to tell him what he wants to hear. She doesn’t know if she still wants to be with Rogelio, but not knowing isn’t a good enough answer for Bruce. The importance of Xo’s relationship with Rogelio really comes through in Navedo’s performance during the cross-examination, and as she talks about the pain of not speaking to Rogelio for two years, you get a deep sense of the loss she felt when she didn’t have Rogelio in her life.
The romantic reunion of Rogelio and Xo is still a question mark, but Petra and Rafael’s reconnection is much more explicit. After spending the episode praising Petra for the lengths she’ll go to protect the people she loves, Rafael puts the moves on his ex-wife by brushing her hair out of her face, which naturally leads to sex. While I’m not sure if this is the best course of action for either person, I’m happy this is happening because it delays Rafael and Jane getting back together, which felt like something the show was rushing to in the last episode. There’s a lot of baggage for Rafael and Petra to sort out, and I don’t know if this is part of Rafael’s mysterious plan involving his former prison buddy, but right now I’m excited at the prospect of these dysfunctional lovers rekindling their romance and the ways that that will complicate the series moving forward.
- I’m trying to avoid the impulse to pair Jane up with whatever new man appears on the show, but Alex definitely seems like he could be a potential love interest.
- It looks like Insecure’s Yvonne Orji is recurring as Stacy! This is very exciting, mostly because Jane needs a new bestie and Orji and Rodriguez have quickly developed some very nice chemistry.
- Melanie Mayron directs this episode, and I really liked some of her choices in the Rogelio scenes: Showing Rogelio and Mateo getting fitted for suits side-by-side reinforces how Rogelio wants to mold Mateo in his image, and having a standing Bruce caught between a sitting Rogelio and Xo during the cross-examination emphasizes how out of place he feels when they’re together.
- Rafael as the new room mom makes a lot of sense, though I wonder if him being an ex-con will affect how some of the other parents react to his new role.
- Alba: “Well, I’m not going to show him my breasts at work!” Jane: “Agreed. But there are steps in between.”
- Jane: “The kids can see democracy in action, this time free from Russian intervention.” Narrator: “Ugh, don’t remind me.”
- “Are you ready to make everyone fall in love with me?” Horrible timing, Rogelio.