Welcome back from the holidays, Jane the Virgin, and thanks for returning with such a strong episode.
In fact, this is my ideal shape of an episode: The body of the hour is dominated by a couple of Jane plots, preferably ones that ground her in her family and her career. There's a solid #Rogelio plotline, ideally framed with some comedy-of-errors and liberally sprinkled with celebrity shout-outs. Michael and Rafael figure in somehow. And the criminal syndicate, face-changing plastic surgery, drug cartel, missing mother, kidnapping, and murder plots play a minor enough role that I don't have to struggle to follow them. Until the end, that is, when the Jane plots wrap up in a bow, and then everything takes a crazy left turn into Stab-You-With-a-Syringeville for the last four minutes.
"Chapter Thirty-one" is a terrific example of that structure. The Rogelio plot is a bit less zippy than I might've liked, and the sleep training plot is a shining beacon of predetermined story arc from the moment it started. But this is classic Jane the Virgin, all the way through.
The smallest plot this week belonged to Michael, who has a new girlfriend. Xo spots them together outside the Cubano truck, which inevitably leads to Jane social-media-stalking her while trying to sleep-train Mateo, which (less) inevitably leads to Mateo hitting his foot on Jane's keyboard and sending Michael's girlfriend a friend request. (Nevertheless, this has happened to me.) When Michael comes to talk to Jane about it, she tells him the truth … and also tells him she knows Rafael turned him in. Jane and Michael agree to be okay with one another, but also to have no contact. Jane unfriends Michael online.
Next up, Rafael and Petra. These two crazy kids just might be right for each other — their mothers are so alike! The episode begins with Petra desperately trying to find a way out of her mother's murder accusation — remember, Petra's mom murdered Ivan and accused Petra — but the evidence doesn't do much to help her. Rafael tries his best, but Petra ends up considering a plea deal that comes with an 18-month prison sentence. This is not great, given that Petra is pregnant with Rafael's twins, but they consider it while Rafael makes Petra a steak in the Marbella's kitchen. At this point, they discover that the knife Magda claims as the murder weapon has an M on it, and all of the Marbella's M-engraved knives arrived after Ivan's death. This seems … so incredibly obvious as a thing that the police would have checked? But never mind! Petra is free! Magda spits fury as she's dragged away to prison!
And now, Rogelio, whose mother is in town to visit. Liliana, played by the glorious Rita Moreno, soon reveals to Jane that Rogelio's father is not with her because he's revealed that he is gay. He's leaving her for another man. Jane is sympathetic, but also nonplussed to listen to her grandmother muse about what her grandfather's thoughts were while they made love. This news slowly trickles through the Villanueva women, who finally tell Rogelio. He is shocked — shocked! — to hear the news, but his father's bucket list does make more sense now: Bette Midler, Broadway, and famous gay vacation spots feature highly.
Rogelio then throws a dinner party for his mother and invites the gay men the Villanueavas can find on short notice, including Byron, that nice guy from Alba's church. (Alba, an elderly devout Catholic, has a perhaps implausibly progressive stance on gay rights. But I'm not complaining.) When Liliana figures out that Rogelio knows, she quickly breaks down — and not because she didn't think Rogelio could take it. Liliana hid it because once Rogelio knew, her husband would tell the whole world and her marriage would actually end.
On the porch outside, Rogelio and his mother share a nice little conversation that seems like it could be the end of this thread. Liliana admits that she's afraid of being alone, Rogelio promises that she's not, you get the idea. But the next day, Rogelio's father comes bursting through the door to tell everyone that Liliana's known about his sexual orientation for 40 years! Whoops!
The two main Jane stories are woven together thematically — by basketball, of all things, but it really works. In the first, Jane starts her new job as a TA for Great Books 105, a class she soon learns isn't full of eager English majors, but instead has a reputation as "Books for Ballers." (This is is too bad, but c'mon. We all took one class like this. My college physics requirement was fulfilled with a class about the life of Albert Einstein.) Jane does a stellar job reworking the course to appeal to her students, including what I can only assume is a spot-on simile between the Elizabeth Bennet/Catherine de Bourgh scene of Pride and Prejudice and the George Mason/UConn game. But she still has trouble with a student nicknamed McBaskets, who plagiarizes a paper.
At this point, let's pull in the other Jane plotline. Jane needs to sleep-train Mateo, and I am (unsurprisingly) in love with it. He's hit the eight-to-ten month sleep regression — he hasn't learned to fall asleep on his own — but Jane refuses to let him cry it out. From the start, Alba insists that this is the only thing that will work, but night after night, as Jane tries increasingly elaborate but ultimately unhelpful methods, Mateo wakes up every hour.
Jane the Virgin leavens this screaming baby plot by turning it into a SportsCenter–type show, with Lee Reherman and John Salley as commentators. "Typical rookie mistake!" they crow, as Jane goes in to pick Mateo up after only 2.06 seconds. The bit works, but it's great because it also acts as a mirror for the "Books for Ballers" plot — Jane brings in basketball to "jock" up Pride and Prejudice, and Jane the Virgin uses the play-by-play convention to frame this very traditionally female-oriented problem for a broader audience. The other nice moment of the thread is Jane's admission that she fears sleep-training Mateo because it is "selfish." "It's for him, not for me," she says. This is … not a thing you see TV moms talk about. All of the guilt associated with parenting choices, and the fear that you're being selfish, and the worry about how to balance your needs with your baby's — these are frequent topics of message boards and online essays on mom-centric websites, but they rarely appear on network TV. It's a lovely wrinkle.
The solution to Mateo's sleep training is tough love, and McBaskets needs a bit of that too. Jane initially gives him an F, but softens slightly at his woe-is-me-speech ( … I would not have) and offers to let him rewrite his paper if she can make one basket. This should be a lame sitcom-y stunt, but Gina Rodriguez plays Jane's athletic ineptitude as charming in a way that proves, yet again, that Gina Rodriguez is pretty outstanding at her job.
So that's it, everything is all nicely tied up. Except … Susannah's been chatting up Luisa all episode, and that's how we learn Luisa's mom Mia is actually dead, which means she isn't the crime lord Mutter. Guess who is? RAFAEL'S MOM. And she's IN HIS HOTEL ROOM. Rafael realizes at the last possible second but she STABS him with a SYRINGE. Never change, Jane the Virgin.
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- Our Beloved Narrator ties in a lot of Pride and Prejudice throughout the episode, to link with Jane's classroom text. The best detail is the P&P quote he stamps below Jane's meeting with Michael, which, interestingly, is not from any of the Darcy bits. "[Elizabeth] had never been more at a loss to make her feelings appear what they were not."
- As Magda is dragged away to prison, she warns direly, "wrong choice." Narrator: "It should be noted that these words will come back to haunt Petra. But you don't know that yet. Pretend you don't know that."
- And, because sometimes Jane the Virgin sees into my soul: "Oh my God. This perfectly encapsulates what's wrong with higher education. Privileging athletics and alumni contributions over academic rigor!"
- Everyone calls Rogelio's mother "Glamma." Of course.
- Glamma, on Rogelio: "When he came out, he didn't need sleep training. He knew how to sleep! He knew how to suckle!"
- "Oh good! Ricky Martin might stop by for dessert!"
- "Everyone knows how gay friendly I am! I'm on the cover of Out magazine, in an issue that also featured a very suggestive editorial spread with Neil Patrick Harris!"