Well! Rogelio may have had some trouble with his tear-away apron costume this week, but Professor Chavez’s shirt certainly didn’t. And thank goodness for that.
But let’s set Adam Rodriguez’s table-clearing moves aside for a moment. Last week, I wrote about how my favorite shape of Jane the Virgin is light on the criminal conspiracies, and “Chapter Thirty-Two” puts more emphasis on the Nadine/Mutter/Michael secret-drug cabal than I usually prefer. Nevertheless, this episode pulls off its dramatic plot more successfully than the show often has in the past, thanks to a significantly simplified story arc.
Part of what can plague Jane the Virgin’s elaborate, twisting criminal schemes is precisely their elaborate twistiness. It’s not hard to see the upside to this kind of byzantine plotting — surprises lurk around every corner, and identities are often mistaken. This is the stuff of fun, bongo-music-scored revelations, which can be so satisfying when it works well. But there’s a downside, too: When so many identities are swapped (Luisa is kidnapped by Rose, then Mutter, then Mutter is Luisa’s mom, now she’s Rafael’s mom, etc.), so many relationships are betrayed, and so much stuff happens, these plots are emptied of any meaning. After all of this, I don’t particularly care who Mutter is. She’ll likely turn out to be someone else in the next episode.
This is why it can be tricky when Jane places too much emphasis on the crime plots. Stunning revelations are the weekly bread and butter, but none of the good surprises are related to the crimes. It’s created an odd inversion for a TV show: If the lead character kisses someone, it’s a major event worthy of spoiler warnings and breathless network promos. But if your delinquent crime-lord mother stabs you in the neck with a syringe while looking for a thumb drive — eh. Same old, same old.
Jane the Virgin has two different strategies to tackle this problem, and though both are effective, the one it used more for “Chapter Thirty-Two” works best. One option is that the show defuses and clarifies the tortuous plotting with fun narratorial intervention: drawings onscreen, rapid-fire expositional language from Our Beloved Narrator, arrows pointing this way and that, and onscreen captions. There is some of this in “Chapter Thirty-Two” with the onscreen people drawings — but in the even better option, Jane the Virgin just simplifies things.
Rafael quickly recovers from his Neck Syringe Issue, and although the aftermath gets quite a bit of attention, the general plot arc is direct and easy to follow. Michael’s partner, Susannah, commands that he retell his time with Nadine in Mexico in order to retrace the potential path of the thumb drive — after all, Nadine was the last person to have it. He recalls their meetings and the final day of Nadine’s life, and then finally realizes that he’s had the computer chip this whole time, embedded in a wound Nadine made in his leg. The success of the whole scheme is, as Nadine kept saying, “on you.”
This is hardly simple, of course, but by Jane the Virgin standards? “Where’s the thumb drive? Oh, it’s in my own leg!” is practically Goodnight Moon. And it works — the revelation is fairly obvious, but it gets the benefit of some gore and some good Michael scenes. Plus, it’s much more memorable than that whole business of tracking Mutter in some Alpine village with a bottle of wine.
Petra gets the shortest plot this week, and she continues to have a relaxing and totally normal twin pregnancy, which inevitably lands her on bed rest, scoring some solid bonding time with Rafael.
Meanwhile, Rogelio is still dealing with the fallout of his mother and father’s separation. His father is determined to move out and find happiness with his partner, Carlos, which leaves Rogelio with the task of keeping his mother occupied. Rogelio’s solution is to return to the glory days of his youth and rehire his mother as his manager while he works on his new telenovela, Tiago: A Través Del Tiempo.
An aside about Tiago — we don’t get much of it here, but the word from Jane the Virgin’s panel at the TCAs was that this telenovela is basically Rogelio as a Doctor Who–type who bops in and out of history and presumably has some star-crossed-lover relationship. There are just a few bare hints of what could be to come. If “Judy Garland died tonight, and it’s time we fight for our rights!” is any indication, I want so much more, please.
While this is going on, Jane’s career and love life are all tied up together. Inspiration finally hits her in the middle of the night, and she happily writes an opening for her romance-novel thesis … only to lose it all to a disastrous fallen cup of orange juice when Mateo takes out her laptop in his inaugural crawl around the room. This premise is, sadly, so plausible that I had to deal with some PTSD flashbacks of an Apple store employee tipping my dead laptop upside down as I watched beer drip out of the keyboard.
Ever-helpful Lina shows up at the Computer Junction and clues Jane into the fact that Computer Dude is flirting with her, which leads Lina to secretly sign Jane up for a CynderDate profile. This whole premise goes about as well as it ever does — Jane has a bum date with a guy that seems to go well, but actually turns out to be a disaster. Jane then bumps into Computer Dude, who is similarly underwhelming. He takes her to the skate park, and although Jane kisses Sk8er Boi, he then reveals that he already has a girlfriend. Should’ve swiped left, Jane!
Jane’s inspiration finally returns on the bus to go pick up her fatefully broken computer, and she rewrites her lost chapter even better than before. And while online dating may not have worked out, Alba gives Jane a sweet little message about how important it is to find the time for relationships and to insist on higher-quality partners than poor, dumb Computer Dude. This discussion also leads Alba to surreptitiously look up someone called Pablo Alonso Segura — but that will have to wait for later.
Also for later: the wedding ring that Liliana gives to Rogelio, hopefully to give to Xiomara. Liliana’s tenure as the Kris to Rogelio’s Kim is predictably catastrophic, but it’s nice that the feud between Liliana and Xiomara won’t get dragged on any longer. Those two women deserve to enjoy each other.
And so we come around again to Jane and Professor Chavez, and Professor Chavez’s handily flimsy shirt. It may only have been a dream, but boy, he can come talk to me about grilled-cheese sandwiches and magical realism any time. Plus, there aren’t enough romance plots that include the line, “Your brains are so hot.” To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- Lots of computer puns about rebooting and refreshing this week. But the most interesting and narratively thoughtful bit of voice-over was Our Narrator’s reminders that hardship is relative, and that it’s not a competition. I talked a lot about how troublesome those crime plots can be in and of themselves, but it’s also been difficult that they are kept so separate from Jane. It’s really nice to see the show at least attempt to give us a frame for viewing these two pieces that are part of the same show, even one as underdeveloped as a few throwaway Narrator lines. More of this, please!
- “You’re trying to seduce me into forgiving you with a perfect blend of savory and sweet breakfast items!”
- “Is that a new ‘or else’ look?!”
- “It’s actually more of a coral. And I do look good in it.”