One of Jane the Virgin's favorite tricks is pulling together its story threads with a gimmick or theme. It's a canny strategy that doesn't always successfully tie everything into a neat little bow, but because the show avoids clichés that become too obvious or insincere, even the least successful attempts come off as incomplete or haphazard rather than truly damaging. The best ones, meanwhile, can be fun and silly while also communicating a meaningful insight about the series and its characters.
The silent-movie theme in "Chapter Forty-One" is definitely one of the better ones. It's so fun to watch Gina Rodriguez play with new costumes and personas (see, in particular, Bachelorette Jane and Salsa Dancer Jane), and Silent Movie Jane is as on-point and delightful as ever. Jane the Virgin has an absolute fascination with its own genre and storytelling, and last week's metafictional extravaganza was Peak Self-Awareness — I was happy to eat it up with a spoon. But in that episode, Our Beloved Narrator's commentary was mostly limited to himself and a few scattered lines of dialogue from other characters. Everyone was talking about the show without letting that commentary have much of an effect.
It's not so different here. We've yet to reach a point where Jane cocks her head and then scolds Our Narrator for misrepresenting her. But this silent-movie theme feels like a more thorough integration of metafictional playfulness. It's got fun costumes, new ways to tell stories, and parallels and resonances with Rogelio's Tíago. It's a vehicle for talking about genre and storytelling and laughing at itself. It even throws some solid snark at anyone with an anti-subtitle bias.
So, to quote Our Beloved Narrator: "Let's recap this bad boy."
First item on the agenda: Is Michael going to die? Boy, do I wish I could tell you the answer is "No! Definitely not! It's going to be fine!" But look, we're pulling into the final few episodes of the season. Michael and Jane are amazingly, unreasonably, gloriously perfect together, and their wedding is just around the corner. And if that foreshadowing weren't enough, this week, Our Narrator does some heavily ominous telegraphing. Michael, he reminds us, is in a dangerous line of work. Michael and Jane are so happy. And those two things together cannot be good.
That anxiety is temporarily settled with the revelation that someone in the police station has leaked details of Michael's Sin Rostro investigation. There's a very damaging front-page story about him in the newspaper, he gets fired, and this sparks one of the plot lines I love so dearly on Jane the Virgin. Worried about losing their new house (which they don't realize Petra owns), Jane picks up extra shifts at the Marbella and takes on a job "editing" a rich kid's college admission essay. This premise plays triple duty for "Chapter Forty-One" — Jane explores the ethically murky world of writing someone else's work, she has the hilariously tricky task of training Anezka, and she gets an all-too Jane opportunity to grapple with issues of parenthood and balance.
The essay-writing gig is fairly straightforward. Ready to pick up some more cash, Jane offers her services to edit a college admissions essay for Evan, a young, cis man who would love to be a drummer but is being forced into an econ program by his overbearing mother. This helps Jane recognize her own blindspots in raising Mateo, which nicely resolves some tension between Jane and Rafael about Mateo's custody agreement.
Although it's settled quite happily, the custody skirmish nevertheless exacerbates Jane's larger concerns about her current setup. She only has Mateo for half the week, and when she does have him, she's stuck working as a waitress and looking at whatever adorable videos abuela sends her. Jane the Virgin has previously dealt with this question of child care, most notably after Mateo is born and Jane worries about trying to go to school. Far from being tired ground, though, it's nice to revisit this question now that Mateo is a little older. Jane is right: It is different now that Mateo's more aware of her absence. It's yet another thing Jane the Virgin deals with that so few series consider. We don't just get one story about balancing parenthood and work — we get several, because for Jane, it's not an issue that comes up once and is then permanently resolved.
For now, at least, this problem is addressed when Michael gets a temporary position as Rogelio's head of security, alleviating Jane's financial stress. Oh Michael. You're so understanding and reliable and trustworthy. It'd be a shame if something were to happen to you …
Aside from highlighting her need for more parenting balance, Jane's increased work hours also land her the task of training poor, hapless Anezka. Petra's twin is baffled by American wastefulness, flummoxed by the idea that customers are always right, and completely lacking in hygiene boundaries. Jane finally whips Anezka into something more closely resembling a decent waitress, but her training is not enough to stop Anezka from taking Petra's side in the Petra/Jane/Rafael battles and coming up with a cruel plan to sabotage Jane's career as a student. The end of the episode finds Anezka pecking out a classified ad for Jane's essay-writing gig in her official school paper. It's a little implausible that Anezka, whose grasp of American culture is so fuzzy that she was blithely stealing wallets last episode, has somehow discerned that this would be a black mark on Jane's record, but she is Petra's twin, I suppose.
Over in Xo and Ro land, Xiomara requests that she be considered for the role of a silent-film actress on an Eleanor-and-FDR episode of Tíago. Rogelio casts her without question, which makes Dina bristle, and when Xiomara's inexperience inevitably becomes a problem on set, Dina confronts him about the situation. While it's a shame that Xo had to come off so poorly, this plot is really about exploring Rogelio's burgeoning feelings for Dina, and Xiomara's sadness at realizing that he's moved on.
All in all, "Chapter Forty-One" is a relative calm before the oncoming storm of season's end. It's a pretty delicious one, at that — there's nothing especially melodramatic here, and although the knowledge that something is coming gives the episode a palpable pressure, it also feels like Jane the Virgin is making hay while the sun still shines. There will be no time for silly silent-film title cards when things get crazy. There'll be fewer opportunities for Jane to think deeply about her work-life balance, and way less time for lesbian readings of Eleanor Roosevelt. Jane the Virgin can't stay like this forever — especially because Derek's in an elevator telling someone on the phone, "It's a go, let's take him down." But for now, I'll smile about Jane's happy engagement, her silent-film actress wig, Anezka's inept waitressing, and some metafictional shade about reading onscreen text.
To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- "I know, I know — a lot of crime lords to keep track of!"
- Ohhhh Michael: "Aww, isn't this nice? Things are so good. Alas, knowing telenovela structure as I do, I'm a little worried."
- Regarding Anezka's burgeoning crush on Rafael: "Who are we kidding — is anybody shipping these two?" #WhoAreWeKiddingPetraWouldKillThemBoth
- Jane thinks editing a college admission essay would be "a fun Saturday!" Narrator: "Only for you, Jane. Only for you."
- I laughed very hard at the list of Petra's misdeeds, followed by Our Narrator's coy aside: "Sorry, sorry — I forgot people don't want to read TV."
- From a silent-film title card: "Oh my! A fate worse than death! Rogelio has feelings for a writer!"
- On Anezka plotting to sabotage Jane: "Uh-oh. I think someone's wheels being turning."
- And finally, Our Narrator's response to Petra snapping back at Rafael: "Daaaaaaamn, Petra!"
- "We want to capture Eleanor [Roosevelt]'s inner beauty … but on the outside." And later: "Now I must go make love to gorgeous Eleanor Roosevelt." And later still: "For this good of this country, I will make love to that lesbian."
- Let's just underline that: Tíago gives FDR the idea for the New Deal after Eleanor Roosevelt's lesbian lover tells Tíago that men aren't really "her deal." WHERE IS MY TÍAGO SPINOFF SERIES?!
- On trying to fix Xiomara's performance "in post": "I dunno, special effects? I saw Jurassic World! Are there really dinosaurs? Noooo."