Jane the Virgin
When we last left this crazily delightful telenovela, Jane had just given birth, Xiomara and Rogelio pulled a Ross and Rachel in Vegas, Petra discovered that Rafael had another sperm sample left in the bank, and most disturbingly, tiny newborn Mateo Gloriano Rogelio Solano Villanueva had been kidnapped by Sin Rostro, a.k.a. Rose, Rafael’s ex-stepmother. The kidnapping plotline gave us season one’s most dramatic and upsetting cliff-hanger, and going into season two, my primary concern was how this would be resolved. It’s a very tricky line to walk. If Jane the Virgin dismissed the kidnapping too quickly, the human stakes of the series would become impossible to buy. If this kidnapping has no meaningful impact on its characters, then how can any traumatic event hold any narrative weight in the future? But of course, drawing it out is equally problematic. The longer Mateo’s gone, the harder it is to imagine Jane ever returning to this warm, absurdly plotted but emotionally plausible series with any semblance of credibility intact.
Happily, this first episode of season two makes several wise choices. The first is that Mateo is gone so briefly, he’s hardly even late for his next meal. Even before Jane and Rafael realize he’s gone, Sin Ros(e)-tro (who sounds suspiciously like Morena Baccarin) calls Michael, who’s glumly sitting in a bar, and informs him that she will return Mateo in exchange for a dragonfly brooch she last gave to Mostly Useless Luisa. What follows is a madcap sequence that does a pretty decent job of weaving together ridiculous high-jinks and real emotion: Michael figures out that the brooch was returned to Luisa, who, we learn, lost it mere minutes before they arrive, when her girlfriend (Juicy Jordan) chucked a huge box full of belongings into the hotel pool after accusing Luisa of being too attached to her exes. Michael and Rafael dive into the pool, goofily swimming past pink furry handcuffs in search of the brooch, until Jane locates it in the pool drain. Michael shows up at a church, where his ex-partner and Sin Rostro baddie Nadine is waiting to swap the baby, and Bob’s your uncle, Mateo is back in the Villanueva fold.
So this was the first excellent decision. One side note on that resolution, though, when Jane runs to reunite with Mateo: Look, I love you, Narrator. I think this show is so great, and a big part of that is because you add all sorts of winking, silly playfulness. You set the tone. You keep things grounded, but you also heighten the telenovela dramatics. You’re our guide and our stand-in. But please, DO NOT make fun of a woman trying to run to her kidnapped newborn infant mere hours after giving birth. “We’ll call it running, that thing she’s doing.” No. Not the time, friend.
The second smart choice in this episode is that the bulk of the narrative harnesses that ultra-trope-y kidnapping plot to segue into a boringly realistic source of conflict. Mateo’s lost 10 percent of his birth weight, and Jane is having trouble breast-feeding. Her lactation consultant is a little judgmental; Rafael’s having a hard time finding his place as a father; Xiomara thinks Jane should give Mateo a little formula, and Jane resists. That is to say, it is unbelievably quotidian. Don’t get me wrong — it is Jane the Virgin, after all, so there’s also a crowd of people outside Jane’s house who believe that Jane’s had a virgin birth and Mateo is the second coming (thanks for tweeting that Amber Alert, Rogelio). There’s also a whole side plot about Petra, and plenty of ongoing tension between Michael and Rafael, and oh, did I mention that the dragonfly brooch was full of information about what all of Sin Rostro’s evil plastic-surgery patients now look like?
But for the most part, Jane comes out of the kidnapping situation desperately wishing for everything to go back to normal, and she gets her wish. It is exactly the kind of plot that Jane the Virgin can pull off, because the unusually low stakes are grounded in the three Villanueva women, who are entertaining and fully formed and play off each other so well. It’s funny, too. The lactation consultant is so hilariously nonplussed by Jane’s, ahem, raw materials. The moment when Jane runs outside to banish the nuns and ends up shouting about her leaking breasts, “You want to see a miracle?! THIS is a freaking miracle!” feels legitimately celebratory. And Jane’s worry about her milk coming in is treated seriously — if anything, more seriously than the kidnapping. We get a much more universal experience to connect to Jane’s first days as a mother, and at the same time, a lot of Jane’s nursing anxiety is rooted in her worry that the trauma of the kidnapping will damage her relationship with her son.
Finally, the third, and perhaps smartest, choice in Jane the Virgin’s premiere episode: All the over-the-top absurdity of the kidnapping plot gets muffled and buried and then reappears, transformed, as Jane’s completely familiar and unsurprising fear that she is not a good mother. It’s not just that the cliff-hanger gives the premiere episode some good momentum, or that it then politely disappears in a timely fashion. Jane the Virgin actually manages to turn this melodramatic kidnapping into a useful way to build its characters, which is pretty unlikely and also super impressive. (It also delivers some surprisingly accurate advice about breast-feeding, rendering the episode not only funny and moving,but also potentially helpful. The hamburger thing. The hamburger thing is real.)
Despite the delicious, warm, emotionally meaty center of this episode, which is capped by a shirtless Rafael cuddling a tiny baby to his chest (mmmmm), this is still Jane the Virgin. There have got to be more outrageous shenanigans in here somewhere.
Oh, hey, look, Petra spends the entire episode walking around with a jar of sperm in her purse! That’ll do. It’s a plotline that’s mostly about spinning its wheels, because like Chekhov’s gun, a jar of sperm that shows up at the beginning of the episode is bound to end up inseminating someone by the end, and we’re all just waiting for Petra to order up that turkey baster from room service and get the job done. This does happen, inevitably, but not without Mostly Useless Luisa continuing her reign of ineptness by telling Petra that there’s still hope for her and Rafael. And, more dramatically, we end with Rafael’s assistant, Scott Who Loves Vests, who throws a wrench in the works by revealing that he knows about Petra’s sperm thievery.
To further tally up the supremely, fabulously silly side of this episode, it bears mentioning that the show generously offers us another chance to watch Rogelio and Xiomara be married by Chad Michaels impersonating Cher. Xiomara assures Alba that they’ll have the wedding annulled, but if that ends up being a simple, uncomplicated process, I will buy every last one of you a churro.
And finally, in the event than you did not pick up on the opening sequence’s suggestion that happiness cannot be guaranteed on this show (unlike Los Milagros de Mariana, Jane the Virgin has no theme song), we get a little Bond-villain-style coda. A long-haired woman in an alpine setting examines a tabloid picture of Jane and her miracle baby and orders a nearby henchman to go after her. In German, too, so you know it’s serious. To Be Continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
- On Jane’s desire to hear “two little words” about Mateo once he’s been safely returned – Doctor: “He looks great!” Narrator: “He’s fine! That’s what I was thinking, but ‘He looks great!’ works, too!”
- About Petra’s pluckiness, and also her purse full of sperm — “I’ll say this: The girl’s got spunk.”
- The stellar “con” side of Petra’s Have a Baby? Pro/Con List: pregnant, baby, motherhood, maternity clothes, seem like a psychopath
- On Xiomara and Rogelio’s ill-advised marriage — “Ooh if they could TURN BACK TIIIME.”
- “Jane has Matelio! Thank you for your prayers! #family #love #flove”
- “I never thought I’d feel anything but #blessed to be famous. But now? I’m feeling #cursed.”
- Grandfather? No. Abuelo? No. “Papa: Nice. Ambiguous.”