This episode is supposed to be surprising — and it isn't. There are a lot of twists and turns, but each one feels less like a bombshell and more like a familiar return to old patterns.
The most obvious example of this is the Mutter plotline, which continues to dot Jane the Virgin like those rock-hard sugar pearls that decorate Christmas cookies. They're noticeable and dramatic, but sometimes they don't match the texture of the cookie, and you wish you could just eat it without worrying about cracking a tooth.
This week on the Mutter-watch, Luisa reveals that she believes her mother is alive and that she's been talking to Sin Rose-tro online for six months. One of these revelations largely falls flat — other than Rafael's fury that Luisa would keep in touch with her nephew's kidnapper — but the other leads to a chain of plot developments that are somehow both shocking and utterly habitual. Michael puts together a few scraps of evidence which — amazingly — lead them to what appears to be Mutter's location, even though she's been missing for decades. Luisa gets excited and tearful about the prospect of being reunited with her mother, but … that woman is not her mother! Mutter gave them the slip long ago! Color me astonished.
The same is true for the Petra plotline, which sees Petra festering in her guilt about Ivan's death while bordering on an "out, damn'd spot" situation as she bleaches the floor. Her anguish builds and builds, until she finally tells Rafael her entire backstory: The stair pushing incident, the forced marriage, the grenades, the murder, the cover-up. And just as Petra and Rafael finally decide to turn Magda into the police — gasp! — Magda beats them to the punch and the police arrive to arrest Petra instead. Who could've predicted that?!
This may seem like unduly harsh criticism of an episode that, in many ways, is a strong hour of television. And on the one hand, it is harsh. Particularly for the criminal dramatics, where stunning and unpredictable twists are the primary task, it can feel tiresome when the revelations aren't especially revelatory.
But where the drug-lord hijinks felt predictable in this episode — and it was something of a letdown — that same predictability and familiar rhythm becomes something else entirely within the context of Jane the Virgin's character-centric storytelling. Let me demonstrate.
At long last, Jane the Virgin has touched on an issue that's been bothering me and many others: How exactly does the money work for the Villanuevas? How does Jane pay for school? As it turns out, Jane was the recipient of what she thought was a scholarship for promising graduate students, the Elodea Gale Vigor prize, and this was how she dealt with the troublesome issue of grad-school financing. But, of course, Elodea Gale Vigor is an anagram for Rogelio De La Vega. Once Jane realizes this, she also realizes that Rogelio can no longer support her studies, thanks to the Hombres Locos implosion. (Props to whoever came up with the name Elodea Gale Vigor, by the way. I would totally buy her as an old money benefactor, funding scholarships and throwing charity galas for PBS.)
From the moment that anagram unscrambles, this entire plotline enters a warmly foreseeable arc. Jane has trouble coming up with the money, eventually figures out a way to pay for grad school, and then confronts Rogelio about the scholarship. He admits what he did, and then Jane throws a little of that Elodea Gale Vigor back at him by allowing him to think he paid for the whole year rather than just one semester. Once the wheels are in motion, this little story is completely predictable — but that moment between Jane and Rogelio at the end is rooted in these characters trying to make up for 23 lost years, in their mutual discomfort with each others' financial lives, and in the fact that they love each other but don't have a lot in common. What could have been boring and unsurprising is, instead, deeply satisfying and unexpectedly effective.
This is also true for the other character-based plots this week. Jane's professor gives her some wacky writing assignments … and they turn out to be an exercise to push her to be a better writer. (He also kicks out Wesley. Auf wiedersehen, Wesley! You got kicked out because of a rule I don't think any school actually has, but I'm not even mad.) Rogelio fires his new intern JD … only to discover that JD didn't fail the Prince William test, and he's an amazing writer. Jane tries to track down Rafael's mysterious, nefarious secret accounts … and it turns out to be money he's giving to a domestic abuse shelter. There are zero surprises in these plot threads, but they are nevertheless gratifying.
The one major exception to my "no surprises" reading of this episode is the couples' therapy plot. Absolutely infuriated that Rafael lied about turning Michael into the police, Jane's C-A-L-M anger-management system proves to be an insufficient coping mechanism for her strong feelings. A heated chat conversation about who will get Mateo for Christmas leads Jane and Rafael into couple's therapy, and for me, this was the most unexpected element of the episode. I was expecting the therapist to be useless, and was thrilled to find her relatively helpful. But mostly, I could not believe how hilarious it was to see Jane and Rafael relive those earlier moments in the season with each other's voices. It was a good therapy exercise, and that's great, but even if it had been pointless, I want to see at least two or three more scenes where Jane voices Rafael. "Rules? What rules?! I don't like something, and BOOM! I just pay my henchman!"
Couples therapy aside, though, this episode is built around plot developments so familiar they feel like ritual. The clearest example of this was the Christmas segment. While Alba is nervously waiting for her green card, the Villanuevas realize the beloved tree topper carved by Alba's late husband is missing. Wouldn't you know it, a box arrives in the mail containing the tree topper, thoughtfully repaired by Michael. (Yes, I can feel you #TeamMichael shippers vibrating over there in the corner.) And at the same time, Alba gets her green card. It should be schmaltzy. It should be so on-the-nose and trite that it's silly. But thanks to Ivonne Coll's heartfelt performance, the scene is lovely. Although "desired object arrives just in time for Christmas!" is about as hoary a premise as possible on television, making that desired object a green card is quietly but impressively ground-breaking.
So here we are at holiday time, with everything wrapped in a tidy little bow. Except Mutter is still missing, and Petra's being arrested, and I bet we haven't seen the last of dumb, two-timing Wesley. To be continued — in January!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- On Jane's anger-management struggles: "You know what, I would tell you what Jane said next … but I'm a gentleman."
- On Luisa discovering information about Mia, her lost mother: "Momma Mia!"
- "Yeah, see, that's the thing about miracles. There are only so many of them. Or we wouldn't call them miracles, would we?"
- "Can I ask you something, celeb to normal person?"
- Constrained by his new budget, Rogelio orders a "pauper's pizza" — "just cheese."
- To win back JD, Rogelio suggests getting him "a wall of flowers. Like Kanye gets Kim!"
- C-A-L-M: Cell phone, avocado mask, lavender, mirror.
- And finally, whoever can figure out how to change my voicemail message to Rogelio's voicemail song will get three gold stars. "It's another beautiful day to call Rogelio! Leave me a message, I call you back!"