It was only a matter of time before Liliana “Glamma” De La Vega (Rita Moreno) met her great-grandson Mateo, and her presence in “Chapter Thirty-One” plays a big part in the episode’s exploration of the relationships between mothers and their sons. Jane and Mateo aren’t doing too well thanks to his 8-to-10-month sleep regression, which keeps the Villanueva household up all night due to his constant waking up and crying, and it’s having a detrimental effect on Jane’s new job as a teaching assistant. Meanwhile, Liliana is secretly dealing with her husband coming out as gay after 47 years of marriage, and she confides this news only to Jane, imploring her granddaughter to keep it hidden from Rogelio. That dysfunction is still pretty minimal compared to Rafael’s dynamic with his mother Elena, who is actually the crime boss Mutter and injects her son with a sedative at the end of the episode.
These are plots with very different messages and tones, but they are united by the shared idea of mothers seemingly doing what is best for their sons. These mothers are acting with various degrees of selfishness, with Jane on the very low end. It’s actually Jane’s fear of being selfish that is preventing her from being authoritative with her son, and she feels guilty putting her own need for sleep above Mateo’s need for comfort from his mother when he wakes up scared and alone in the middle of the night. Jane isn’t the only person affected by Mateo’s crying, though, and Alba has no patience for Jane’s insistence that they try other methods of getting Mateo to sleep soundly.
These attempts at various sleep-training methods are presented as sports plays that receive commentary from Lee Reherman and John Salley playing themselves, a clever narrative device inspired by Jane’s position assistant teaching a literature seminar for college athletes. She wants to connect with her students—who have no interest in any of the material—by exposing herself to the sports world, and the sports world starts to bleed into her parenting experience. The sports commentary can also be seen as a representation of Jane’s sleep-deprived thought process, and the reality of sleep-training is contextualized as a sports play with running commentary because Jane’s mind is split between her kid and her class.
Jane needs to toughen up with both Mateo and her students, but when she decides to be authoritative with one of the university’s star basketball players, Matt “McBaskets” McNeil (Chad James Buchanan), she learns that her authority is far from the ultimate one in the classroom. When McBaskets plagiarizes his paper, Jane gives him an F that prevents him from playing in the upcoming game, which isn’t going to make the university’s donors happy so Jane gets a call from her superior demanding she give the student a pass. Jane refuses to let McBaskets slide by without putting in any effort, so she puts in extra work to get him to turn in a paper by challenging him to a basketball match.
McBaskets has to write his paper if Jane makes a basket, and while she’s never able to score when faced with his size and skill on the court, her moxie compels McBaskets to finally write his paper. Jane may not be able to exert her full authority in the classroom, but she also won’t allow herself to be completely stripped of it. She looks foolish on the basketball court, but it shows her commitment to guaranteeing her students learn, even when the university’s administration could care less. Through her parenting experience, Jane realizes that coddling people doesn’t help them learn, and that influences her teaching. When she stops comforting Mateo incessantly, he finally learns to sleep through the night, and when she’s persistent with McBaskets, he finally turns in his C-minus paper. None of this is especially selfish, either, although Jane definitely derives satisfaction from her sleeping baby and an active student.
Liliana tells Jane that she’s keeping her soon-to-be-ex husband’s homosexuality a secret from Rogelio because he’ll be devastated by the news, but she has a far more selfish motive. In a scene given great weight by Moreno, Liliana reveals that she’s been holding off on telling Rogelio because that’s the final nail in the coffin for her marriage, and she’s not ready to be alone for the first time as a grown woman. She went from living with her parents to living with her husband, and after nearly 50 years, Liliana is frightened of what the future holds for her. This plotline is bolstered by strong performances from Moreno and Jaime Camil, but it would hit harder if the audience had a stronger impression of Liliana’s relationship with her husband, which has barely been developed in the series. It looks like we’ll be getting more of that next week, and I’m excited to learn more about the De La Vega family dynamic, which is much more complicated than Liliana lets on at the start of the episode. Manuel being gay isn’t a recent thing, but something he and his wife have kept secret for decades, and this reveal adds an intriguing new wrinkle to explore next week.
There’s a firm divide between the events in the Villanueva home and those at The Maribela, and the developments at the hotel feel especially tangential when Jane isn’t involved in them. Last episode’s Petra cliffhanger is resolved when Petra and Rafael figure out how to prove Magda planted evidence to implicate her daughter in Ivan’s murder, and Magda ends up getting arrested again at the end of the episode. The Magda/Petra material is starting to get pretty repetitive, as are the twists that Rafael’s maternal figures are actually secret crime bosses, and these plots aren’t as rewarding as the more grounded events with the Villanuevas. These small victories have more personal impact than the grander story beats, and this show will only improve by finding ways to bring more emotional honesty to the sweeping, telenovela-inspired moments.
- Michael has a new girlfriend and he’s very committed to moving forward with Natalie instead of going back to Jane. Jane has difficulty coming to terms with this, but by the end of the episode, she knows that it’s time to let Michael go and start focusing her affection elsewhere. The final scene between Jane and Michael highlights the emotional depth of their relationship, accentuating the history these characters share as they decide to end it.
- Manuel De La Vega’s bucket list is also the list of rainbow flags indicating his homosexuality: See Bette Midler in concert, see Wicked on Broadway, vacation in Mykonos, get a place in Provincetown.
- It’s very smart how the small flashback detail of 2nd grade Jane not letting a fellow student copy her test informs her behavior in the present when one of her students tries to plagiarize his paper. “You’re only cheating yourself, you know.”
- Luisa and Susanna’s love connection is foreshadowed during the scene where they look up the Longbourne Lagoon. The shot with looking at the computer screen features a painting prominently displayed in the background, and the painting that has two ballerinas stretching into splits that nearly meet at the crotch. It’s like extreme, artful scissoring.
- I love how the sports stats for the Villanueva women get increasingly frustrated with being asked for age and weight.
- Rafael’s arms in his tight gray shirt during the kitchen scene are almost enough to send me to Team Rafael.
- “You need a distraction. Let’s look up Michael’s girlfriend.”
- “Ricky Martin might stop by for dessert.”
- “No way is my paper going to suck as much as you do at basketball.”