Love triangles are a ubiquitous narrative device, but they’re especially popular on TV because the love triangle is fundamentally well-suited for episodic serial storytelling. So much of telling stories over long periods of time is about balancing the tension between how quickly things can change and how long characters can stay in the same place. Change too much, too quickly, and stuff immediately gets out of hand — characters begins to feel like bizarre cardboard cutouts (RIP, Revenge; keep a sharp eye out, Empire). Change too little, and hey, welcome to stilted sitcomsville, party of Good Morning, Miami.
The love triangle can be an ultraeffective way to cope with this challenge. It feels like plot is moving and characters are changing (first Guy 1, then Guy 2, then Guy 1 becomes appealing again), but it’s essentially a well-disguised version of stability. Exciting drama happens all the time, but the underlying structure of the plot is still in the same “love triangle” place it was before. Until that love triangle is fully resolved, characters are always going to be stuck in some version of a holding pattern.
And so while I was happy to see the developments of #TeamMichael last week, and while that episode was an all-around stellar hour of TV, I’m maybe even happier to see that Jane the Virgin looks like it might be finally exiting the love-triangle business, at least for a little while.
I say this all in spite of the fact that “Chapter Twenty-Seven” was certainly a weaker overall episode than “Chapter Twenty-Six.” Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the individual elements were classic Jane the Virgin fun, but sewn together as they were, the predominant effect was a bit Frankenstein-y.
So let’s break down our major plot threads this week: Jane and Xiomara are trying to move forward with Alba’s green-card status, Petra and Milos are getting married, Michael’s partner Susanna is spying on him at work, and Jane’s trying to navigate her realization that she wants to be with Michael. (AND ROGELIO HAS A FEUD WITH BRITNEY SPEARS.)
First, the green-card situation. Alba’s summoned the courage to apply for her green card, but in going over the initial paperwork, the Villanuevas realize that Xiomara — Alba’s sponsor — has an outstanding felony conviction for shoplifting an engagement ring, and that this could be an obstacle for Alba’s paperwork. This leads Jane and Xo to track down the Graffiti Artist Formerly Known as Zed, now awesomely known as Jon Snow. (Because he sells cocaine. But also because, like Jon Snow, he “watches the wall.”) Snow refuses to admit that he stole the ring and Xiomara took the fall for him, which would seem like a really, really obvious choice until you watch Gina Rodriguez make the pitch to him. I do not know how she does that, but she somehow makes copping to an ancient felony plea seem super fun and reasonable. Jon Snow holds out, but is sufficiently won over by Jane’s charm that he gives her a bar of medical marijuana-spiked chocolate. Gee, that’s not going to be unwittingly eaten by someone 20 minutes from now!
(Those someones are Xo and Alba, who then have to pull a mulligan on a meeting with the state’s attorney because they’re high as kites. But somehow this silly plot is resolved anyway, after they threaten Jon Snow’s sweet wall art and he agrees to admit to the felony charge.)
Elsewhere, Petra and Milos are getting married, and, look. There is a lot of implausible plotting on this show, but maybe nothing is less believable than the premise that Milos then books BRITNEY SPEARS to play at their wedding. Setting that aside, Jane and Rafael try to throw various wrenches into the works of this Sudden Wedding of the Century, all to no avail. Most significantly, Jane visits Magda in prison to try to dig up some dirt on Milos, and discovers that Milos moonlights as a Nigerian internet prince. Although Petra does agree to copy any suspicious files from his computer onto a flash drive Jane provides, she still goes through with the wedding.
The biggest issue this week is that Bachelorette Jane has decided to give Michael the final rose, and although a knowing Rafael does his best to delay her, the truth comes out. Rafael and Jane are both upset, but things remain civil until Michael comes charging into the Marbella during Petra’s wedding, insisting that Rafael tipped off his suspicious new partner Susanna about letting Sin Rostro baddie Nadine go free. A fight breaks out! Punches are thrown! Vases are broken! And poor Mateo, who happens to be nearby in his car seat, ends up with a bloody arm.
This traumatic event forces Jane to realize that while she wants to be with Michael, the current circumstances of her life clearly do not allow for her to be with the man she loves. (Because, apparently, Michael is incapable of being in the same place as Rafael without them going all HULK SMASH on the nearest flower arrangements.) And there is a lot that’s unsatisfying about this. It would’ve been nice for Jane and Michael to have a few brief moments of happiness before the split — and if they’d had those, the split would’ve been more meaningful. It would’ve been nice for the buildup to the Rumble in the Hotel Hallway to be more gradual so that Michael’s hulk-out didn’t feel quite as abrupt.
But although the means were not universally successful, I think the end was the right choice for Jane the Virgin. Even in the parts of season one where Jane was with neither Michael nor Rafael, her character has always been tilting toward one or the other of them. It would be really nice to have some space to see Jane outside of the love-triangle framework, to see her character actually moving beyond the imposed stasis of #TeamMichael and #TeamRafael.
And so we come, at last, to Britney Spears. Jane the Virgin is a series all about balance, and at its best, it’s able to pull off some remarkably agile footwork that keeps thoughtful, sincere character scenes in a careful equilibrium with the fun shenanigans that come along with the show’s telenovela trappings. This is obviously the role Britney’s supposed to be playing here. Jane ditching the love triangle, weeping, unable to stop flashing back to her child literally bloodied in a fight between her two dumb boyfriends? That is not lighthearted TV. You know what is? Rogelio feuding with Britney because he thinks she sabotaged his TelePrompTer. And it’s great. Britney’s fantasy dance number with Jane is fun, Rogelio’s crazed anti-Britney rants are delicious, and Britney herself does a solid job of pulling off the lyrics-laden reconciliation scene.
But this is the fundamental trouble with an episode like this: Individually, the pieces are full of promise and effective moments. Xo and Alba high on edibles? Fun! Britney versus Rogelio! SO FUN! Michael gets fired from the police department? Jane falling apart because she realizes she can’t be with Michael? Not as fun. And pieces of this that should feel weighty and striking, like the reveal that Xo’s felony arrest came on the anniversary of her father’s death, instead feel short-changed.
Love triangles are great for serial fiction. They give you friction and provide you with stability, and you get excitement, audience buy-in, character stakes, and all kinds of great bonuses. But the exit from this one was a little bumpy, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what this show can be without it. To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- On Jane’s “Toxic” dance with Britney: “You guessed it! That did not happen.”
- On the reveal that, in addition to being an internet scam artist, Milos has 2,000 pounds of live action grenades in a crate: “Wow. Talk about dropping a bomb!”
- On the final reveal that Nadine is in the car when Michael drives away after being fired: “Okay, you know what? This is way too stressful. I’m out.”
- And one of my very most favorite things about this show: its unapologetic politics. As Alba worriedly applies for a green card and her lawyer explains that there’s not much they can know for certain because the laws change all of the time, in red, white, and blue onscreen: “#VOTE #VOTE #VOTE.”
- Say what you will about the unevenness of this episode, it was a great week for #Rogelifans. “I’m DONE protecting Britney Spears!!”
- Xo accuses Rogelio of name-dropping Gloria Estefan. “I don’t drop her name. I mention people like Gloria Estefan, Alejandro Fernandez, and Oprah Winfrey because they happen to be dear friends of mine.”
- “It wasn’t an accident. It was premeditated! And you were the premeditator!”
- “Nobody has the passion of a #Rogelifan!”
- “I’m so sorry, Brit. Now that I’m megafamous, I know what a megatransgression that was.”