The Jane the Virgin finale was a stunner, rocketing back and forth between moments of delight and hilarity and surprising reveals. But even among its jam-packed slate of emotional scenes, one very small, unexpected sequence stands out as most likely to make you burst into happy tears.
In their traditional Catholic wedding ceremony, Jane turns to Michael and repeats her familiar vows. “I, Jane, take you Michael …” It’s sweet, and Gina Rodriguez’s performance of Jane has always been one of the many highlights of the series.
While Jane’s vows are beautiful, the runaway winner of “Most Likely to Make You Sniffle Surreptitiously While Muttering About Allergy Season” is Michael, who glances at Jane’s abuela for an approving nod before beginning his own vows. “Yo Michael te tomo a ti Jane …” Excuse me while I watch it one more time and complete my transformation into a facial tissue advertisement.
The amazing thing about this is that it’s a tiny part of the episode — it is not one of the big shocking surprises, it’s not something new we learn about who Michael is, it’s not even the big kiss at the end of the ceremony. And yet, you’re crying before you’ve even realized why.
Here’s why: It is a culmination of two years of painstaking work Jane the Virgin has been doing to acclimate you to its use of Spanish language. When this show first came out, its casual, unremarkable switching between Spanish and English was a point of critical attention. Since then, Jane’s bilingual dialogue has become a familiar, overlooked element of the series. It’s so commonplace to the show’s identity and tone that it’s easy to forget how fundamental bilingualism is to the its culture, relationships, and underlying DNA. We don’t blink when we hear Alba speak almost solely in Spanish, or when we get to Tiago scenes produced entirely with subtitles running underneath.
There’s no surer sign of how accustomed we’ve become to this than the fact that Jane now makes regular jokes about it. In an episode that takes silent film as a theme, Rogelio and the show’s narrator talk about no one wanting to read while watching TV, and we all chuckle. Subtitles have been taken for granted for so long on Jane the Virgin that we all forgot we were even reading them. By making Spanish an everyday, unexceptional, relaxed feature of the series, Jane the Virgin has slyly taught its audience to treat Spanish bilingualism (and the culture it’s woven into) as a familiar American norm.
There’s a lot going on underneath that scene with Michael’s vows. Michael has rarely (if ever) spoken Spanish on the show, so it demonstrates effort on his part — it’s a gift. And he looks at Alba before reciting the vows, which tells us that she’s in on it, and Michael hasn’t just gone off and done this on his own. It’s a gift to Jane because it shows respect and love for her grandmother. Some of our response also comes from Gina Rodriguez’s performance, and her instant, tearful gasp.
But even deeper than that, by having Michael unexpectedly read his vows in Spanish, Jane explodes that careful familiarization it’s been establishing all this time. Jane the Virgin’s use of Spanish has been stubbornly casual for so long that hearing the language in such a formal, staged setting forces us to think about a thing we’ve been taking for granted for dozens of episodes. It’s become commonplace to us, but it’s still personal to the Villanuevas. It often divides Alba from the rest of the world, it’s their shared language at home, and it’s a huge part of who Jane is. It makes us consider and appreciate the role Spanish plays in Jane’s family, in their culture, and in the culture of the show.
You cried at that scene because it told you that Michael is a great person who spent time with Jane’s grandmother to make a romantic gesture. But you also cried at that scene because it exposed a thing you didn’t even know you cared about on Jane the Virgin — how brilliant its informal, offhand, and serious depiction of the Latino culture and language is, and how we’ve come to accept it without thinking.
Like so much of this series, it’s a political act. Even more, it’s the best, most effective kind, cutting past all rational thought and lodging immediately in whatever part of your brain makes your eyes misty. It is, in one short, un-subtitled recitation of marriage vows, a perfect distillation of everything we love about Michael, and everything that’s revolutionary about Jane the Virgin.