It's time for us to talk about Target.
I'm not as allergic to product placement as I could be, although there are very thoughtful, persuasive reasons why sponsored integration into our content should make us all deeply uneasy. It's tough to take too hard a line on this — I'm as guilty as anyone of skipping commercials and generally undermining the old-guard economic model of TV production, but at the same time, I want the shows I like to be profitable so they keep getting made. The money's gotta come from somewhere; we all get that, and we all also understand that it's different for a show like Jane the Virgin than it is for The Voice or Game of Thrones. So for the most part, I'm not too bothered by the fact that Jane the Virgin has a highly visible sponsorship deal with Target.
This week, though. There is a difference between choosing Target as the place Jane happens to walk around when shopping for baby gear, and building an entire little subplot out of the Villanueva women's rules for Black Friday shopping. Like pornography, I don't know the exact definition of going too far in sponsored content, but I know it when I see it. This was too far. Please go back to artfully arranging the canvas Target grocery bags no one really uses into piles on the countertops.
Part of this episode's problem was the Black Friday plot, but even that could've been less troubling if the rest of it had some gangbusters plot elements to distract from co-opting Coach's inspirational mojo for base commercialism. ("Clear eyes, full carts, let's shop!")
So let's break it down. Rafael has to convince Jane that it'll be all right to hire a babysitter, which she begrudgingly agrees to do. Jane hires Chepa, perhaps the most overqualified and implausibly ideal sitter imaginable, only to sabotage the situation by micromanaging Chepa's bedtime routine. Eventually, Rafael negotiates a truce and Jane manages to hand over the baby.
At the same time, Jane's grad-school career goes through some ups and downs. She has too many drinks at the department Christmas party and alienates her preferred future adviser — the two drinks post-partum = six drinks pre-pregnancy rule is absolutely true, by the way — but manages to ingratiate herself the next day by bonding with her over breast pumps. As it turns out, though, Dr. Lorraine Bolton's advice on Jane's writing is completely useless, forcing Jane to go back to Professor Chavez, who she accidentally cc'd on an unfortunate email in which she refers to him as the Lord Emperor of Smug Condescension. His Holiness, the Archduke of Emotional Withholding does agree to be Jane's adviser after she uses a patented Jane Villanueva threaten-them-with-your-relentless-enthusiasm technique. And that's great, because Jane does not need an adviser who wrote a book titled Twelve Things Wrong We Did Before Dying.
In the hands-down best plotline of the week, Rogelio continues to struggle with his post-Santos career. Alas for Hombres Locos, which is finally and irrefutably shot down by a faceless Matt Weiner/Don Draper/Jon Hamm mash-up figure. (This is so tragic. Based on Rogelio's pitch, the loss of Hombres Locos is a clear loss for humanity.) Rogelio reveals he's invested all of his liquid funds in the project and will to have to downsize, which means giving up both New Pants Wednesday and his $10,000 "Smile Maintenance" routine. The prospect of this is so understandably horrifying that he agrees to appear on El Rancho de mi Corazon, a boring remake of one of his previous hits. Happily, he realizes the error of his ways and rides off into the sunset — quite literally, on a horse he steals from the set.
In a plotline that almost entirely fizzles, Magda and Petra pull a Weekend at Bernie's with Ivan's corpse. The only continuing utility of the Ivan situation is that it throws a wrench into Jane and Petra's burgeoning friendship. This is a development I seriously hope will be temporary. Jane and Petra are much more interesting as wary proto-friends then they are as enemies.
The long and short of it: These plotlines feel like emotional and narrative small potatoes. The real meat of the episode was Michael's reintroduction, the return of the Mutter/Sin Rostro plot, and the betrayal of Jane's grad-school friend Wesley, which ultimately ties back into the Sin Rostro stuff. Michael, as it turns out, wasn't fired; he's working undercover to get to Sin Rostro. During this time, Nadine took a bullet for him and died. Now, Michael's back on the Sin Rostro beat, which is good timing because Wesley's article on the Curse of the Solanos reveals that Luisa's mother was buried without anyone seeing the body and she's really alive, she's Mutter!
It's not that this wasn't occasionally engrossing, or that I'm not happy to see some movement on the Crazy Shenanigans of this show's Telenovela Machinery. But Jane the Virgin is at its best when all of the folderol is anchored by compelling inter-character relationships and Jane-centric storytelling. An episode like this one, where Jane's plots tread water and Sin Rostro gets all of the big guns, feels out-of-sync with itself. To take that five-sixths of an episode and then make the remaining one-sixth a Target ad? As Rogelio might write for Hombres Locos, "No es bueno, Bob."
I do want to highlight one moment that, for me, is Jane the Virgin at its best. Rogelio is such a wonderful character — he both embodies and comments on telenovela dramatics, and frequently he feels like the freshest, most vital part of any scene. But often, he's fairly empty, so it was stunning and lovely to see his very real fear of returning to his roots in poverty. Combine this with the revelation that Rogelio donned a jester suit and swallowed his pride so that Xiomara's song could be used for his archnemesis's show? It's glorious and unexpectedly moving.
Rafael wants to buy a house! Jane scrolls through the nanny cam to discover — in a premise the show is totally reusing — that Rafael hired Eric Wu to turn Michael in! Jane is TICKED! Luisa opens up her mother's coffin and discovers it's empty! To be continued.
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- First line of the episode: "What's up, my peeps?!"
- To the absolute credit of the writers, Our Dear Narrator does voice some of the unevenness here. Jane's struggling to rewrite her work, and Professor Chavez notes that while the sentence structure works, "the tonal shift is too jarring." Narrator: "He's right, that's just clumsy storytelling. Now — BACK TO THE POLICE STATION!"
- From the pitch for Hombres Locos: "But instead of cigarettes, [the carton] is filled with … cocaine! Then, Rogelito starts to snort the cocaine when, BAM, Don Juan Draper shoots him in the head. Then, he turns coolly to the camera, and says, 'I'd like to sell the world some coke.'" Five stars.
- Xiomara and Jane recommend selling property or cars to help cover his costs while unemployed. He can't — "They're all leased. Like Tyga!"
- "To make the role more challenging, I have decided to play it like I am suffering from Lyme's disease."
- Rogelio decides to bet on himself. "Who better to bet on?!"