Oh, Jane the Virgin. You knocked me one way with Jane and Xiomara, and just when I thought I was down, you snuck around and clipped me from the other direction with that sneaky final surprise. In the game of TV plot twists, you win this round.
Aside from the really sneaky thing that I will get to, "Chapter Thirty-Nine" is the rare episode of Jane the Virgin that's light on plot. (Rather than the usual 11 out of 10 on the plot scale, this was more of a seven.) Instead, it makes room for a long-festering and heart-breaking confrontation between Jane and her mother.
Jane the Virgin is no stranger to the "way too many twists and turns" model of storytelling, and is one of several shows (Empire, Scandal, Quantico, etc.) that cram a half-dozen hours of story into a tight 42 minutes. Heck, even a plot-light hour like this one features stolen property and deception and accidental insider trading and, as I've mentioned, a whopper of a final twist. But the bulk of "Chapter Thirty-Nine" is about Michael's relationship with Rogelio, and Jane's relationship with Xiomara.
This is a show that loves to keep its stories straight and tie everything together with a silky-toned narratorial bow, and it does so by perpetually drawing parallels between various plots. This week, we're presented with mirrored bachelor and bachelorette parties for Jane and Michael, both colored by the same problem: Michael doesn't want Rogelio at his bachelor party, Jane doesn't want Xiomara at her bachelorette, and yet they both end up dragooned into events they don't like by overbearing parental figures.
Michael's bachelor party is deeply uncomfortable for both him and his buddies. They greet Rogelio's swag bags, five-course meal, wine pairings, and spa trip with a disdain that is honestly a bit puzzling. What, Rogelio's painstakingly selected rosé is not good enough for you? You don't want his awesome light-up compacts? Their loss, obviously. (The steam room and the lavender V-neck "Michael's Getting Married!" shirts are probably too far, I will admit.)
It quickly comes out that Michael and his friends don't want Rogelio there, and he is both hurt and responds quite graciously about it. Of course, Michael's friends don't feel up to a bar now, and instead happily sign up for the next stop on Rogelio's Clearly Awesome Bachelor Party Plan: the two-hour massage. With their faces smashed into massage tables, Rogelio and Michael have a very sweet heart-to-heart about their feelings. Rogelio accepts that coming to (and organizing) the bachelor party was overstepping, Michael reaffirms how much he respects Rogelio's opinion, and the whole thing is adorable.
Jane's party, organized by Lina and Xiomara against her wishes, does not go so well. She's accosted in the middle of a public lecture by a stripper dressed as Don Quixote (okay, okay that is pretty funny), then dragged onto a party bus she explicitly did not want. Things start to look up when they get to the karaoke bar, but Xiomara steals everyone's phones in the name of preserving the experience. In the inevitable shenanigans that follow, Xo ends up leaving a horrible voicemail on Jane's professor's phone, leading to Jane enlisting Rogelio's terrifying step-daughters, Victoria and Valeria, to steal the phone back and delete the message.
The voicemail gets deleted and everything's okay — and from there, the plot splits into two branches. In the first, Jane exchanges endearing text messages with Michael, they meet up for the joint after-party at the Marbella, and Jane is finally able to relax and have a good time. Plus, she does some solid drunken freestyling, which reminds me that Gina Rodriguez has hung out with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Resolving a very minor issue with their wedding vows, Jane and Michael instead decide to exchange vows on the spot. The scene is almost unbearably sweet. It is heart-warming and lovely and everything we would want for Jane.
It is so nice, in fact, that it does make one seriously fear for Jane and Michael's future. In the Jane universe, happiness does not last very long. I look toward the end of this season with fear in my heart.
While Jane and Michael are a paragon of bliss, the other story branch is far more devastating. Michael tries to keep Xiomara away from the after-party, but somehow Xo ends up drunkenly making out with the guy Lina had her eyes on. Jane is disgusted — not because of this one act, but because of the cumulative grievances and potent exhaustion that comes with needing to parent your own parent. Xo apologizes, but thanks to our Narrator, we can see that she's given exactly the same excuses many times before, and Jane is just done with it. "I don't want your apology, Mom. I want you to grow up," she tells Xo, before throwing down the clincher. "At this point, you are just a cautionary tale."
Frequently, Jane the Virgin weaves together plots that bounce off one another — a conundrum at the Marbella resembles a parenting issue, a drug-kingpin suspect ties into the same theme as Rogelio's mess, and so on. "Chapter Thirty-Nine" gives us several variations of the parent-child relationship, all of which rub up against and artfully play off one another. Michael and Rogelio and Jane and Xo are the major poles of this structure, but we also get Lina considering her potential future when looking at Xo, as well as Xo curling up next to Alba and seeking a parent figure. We even see it again in Jane and Michael's vows, as Jane describes how much she craves someone who lets her feel safe.
This is the type of thoughtful and deeply felt character development that allows Jane to balance out its over-the-top melodramatics. Maybe you'll get stuck in the neck with a syringe, or your mother will kill a henchman in your apartment, or you'll find a new half-brother, or you'll get kidnapped by a deranged fan — but those things come and go. The breakdown between Jane and Xiomara feels like a bomb, and its ramifications will be felt long past the next episode's first commercial break.
That's not to say this episode is perfect in every way — I still have very little idea what Derek is doing here. I understand that he has to get pulled along in the background until his plotline blows up, but it feels like he's been hanging out back there for quite awhile. Also, Rafael does a bit of drunken insider trading, which is yet another reason why it's not a good idea to get drunk and mess around on your phone. (Sidebar: Someone also did this on Billions. Just how easy is it to have some drinks and illegally make 5 million dollars? It never seems to happen to me, is all I'm saying.)
"Chapter Thirty-Nine" is built around doubles and mirrors: Victoria and Valeria and their twins fashion blog, Jane and Michael's mirroring bachelor/ette parties, Xo's doubled apology, and the parallel paths between Jane and Lina. I suppose this means I shouldn't have been as surprised by the final reveal as I was, but nevertheless … it was so surprising. Petra, who appeared to be dyeing her hair and getting on a bus far away from her twins, actually did none of those things. It was her twin sister … DUN DUN DUUUUNNNNN. All right, Jane. Pat yourself on the back. You got me this time.
To Be Continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- "C'mon, Jane! Are you going to let down this group of faintly familiar ladies who are apparently your very good friends?!"
- On not-Petra's new brunette-and-hoodie-look: "I don't know about you, but I'm not onboard with this make-under."
- "Honestly I don't know what's more shocking: Petra abandoning her children, or Petra taking a bus."
- On Michael's vows: "Sorry, but remember: He wants these to be private. You'll just have to take my word for it — they were perfect."
- "You will be glowing for the wedding, Michael. You may not even need a spray tan."
- "I thought you liked being pampered! Men these days. They just don't take enough time for themselves."
- On feeling badly that Michael doesn't want him there: "I understand … if I were a normal dad. But I'm a COOL dad!"
- "You're massaging my heart right now, Michael!"