I may have to start a new running section at the bottom of these recaps — a telenovela narrative theory guide, according to Jane the Virgin. As I've been mentioning regularly of late, Jane has a fascinating preoccupation with teaching its audience how to watch it. We've gotten sets-within-sets, we've gotten commentary on telenovela action sequences and repeating tropes, and we've gotten snark about subtitles and relatability. This week, we can add some solid jokes about telenovela plausibility and accuracy, a little genre history on the surprise twin trope, and a big dash of taste culture!
Seriously, this show is a entire media-studies syllabus crammed into one tightly packed hour of network television.
The theme of the week is Mother's Day, and if Jane the Virgin is truly concerned about whether or not its main characters are "relatable," its anxieties about the Villanueva family are unfounded. Jane, Xo, and Alba's cherished Mother's Day tradition is to gather around the sofa, eat ice cream, and binge-watch telenovelas all day. Heaven. This little bit is good character work, but it also lets Our Narrator crack wise about the genre's frequent use of twin tropes, as the Villanuevas gasp at the same dang plot twist again and again over the years. (At which point, Jane the Virgin swiftly cuts to Petra and Anezka, of course.)
Mother's Day feels like the cheesiest, most saccharine setup imaginable. At this point, it mostly exists in film and television to create a setting for family dysfunction, or it's a platform for a terrible Julia Roberts wig. The Villanuevas preferred Mother's Day celebration helps puncture that setup, even as Jane the Virgin dives into the dysfunctional aspects of the holiday. Petra invites everyone over for a Mother's Day brunch-turned-lunch, and the combination of uncomfortably extended family, layers of discomfort and dishonesty, and weird, ill-defined relationships drives Our Poor Narrator to drink.
The lunch's awkward moments also create a nice little forum for running through most of the big plot arcs of the episode. Let's skim through them as they occur in the course of lunch chit-chat:
Alba congratulates Rafael on buying the Fairwick hotel next door. Eep! As it turns out, Derek knows about Rafael's insider trading and is blackmailing Rafael into selling him the Fairwick for his own nefarious, presumably crime-lord-related purposes. Awkward!
Xiomara asks Rogelio how things are with Dina. Oof. After successfully negotiating a dinner with Dina's smarty-pants friends, and in spite of Jane's doomed Rogelio de Bergerac assistance, Rogelio and Dina are making a go of it as a couple. A little uncomfortable! And that's made even more uncomfortable, because Xiomara is now sleeping with Rogelio's telenovela nemesis, Esteban, after he helped her record her song for Tiago. Ouch!
"This feel a little weird to you?" Michael asks Rafael. "Wait until Father's Day," Rafael replies. Hoo boy! Rafael's under a lot of blackmail pressure, as I mentioned, and Michael's feeling adrift as Rogelio's security guard/unnecessarily well-informed technical advisor. Plus, of course, Rafael and Michael are still trying to negotiate the ins and outs of this unusual relationship with each other. Rough.
Meanwhile, Anezka and Jane reach for the same bagel and can't even muster a polite nicety to one another. Which makes sense — Anezka instantly admitted to Petra that she wrote the ad that got Jane kicked out of her TA program, but Petra (self-conscious and defensive about Jane's supposedly superior mothering skills), covers for Anezka and continues lying to Jane. Eventually the tension of this little showdown between Jane and Petra gets to be so much that poor Anezka ends up collapsed on the floor, convulsing in an epileptic fit.
It's an appropriate ending to a largely disastrous meal. At the hospital afterward, Anezka is so pained by the whole thing that she admits her wrongdoing to Jane and inadvertently drives the wedge between Petra and Jane even deeper.
It is to Jane the Virgin's everlasting credit that this plot isn't exasperating. After doing so much to humanize Petra, and then testing that by throwing her a crazy-new-twin plot, the show risks ruining the work it's done by demonizing her once again. It feels like a shame to drive her apart from Jane yet again. Anezka, hapless and perpetually stepping in at the wrong time, ends up acting as their saving grace — Petra might be alienating Jane again, but she does it out of love for her sister.
In addition to providing a little tableau for all of the tensions woven through this episode, the Mother's Day lunch also lets Jane the Virgin indulge in some straight-up sentimentalism. Rogelio makes a video to celebrate Jane's first Mother's Day, and it is absurdly mawkish (it uses Comic Sans!) but also quite touching. At length, everyone in Jane's life describes how amazing she is as a person and a mother, including her kindness, her ferocity, her obsession with lists, and her deeply loving nature.
I've got to say — I love overly emotional moments on Jane the Virgin. No other show does them so well. But I'm not sure that this level of explicit, documentary-style mushiness was actually necessary. The brief, genuine toast Anezka gives to Petra right afterward shows up how excessive the Jane slideshow felt. (Comic Sans!) After Petra's real struggle adjusting to motherhood, it's a relief to see someone stand up and say sincerely how hard it has been for Petra. She's made a lot of progress.
There are several plots that don't fully make it into the Mother's Day roundup, including Jane's loss of her TA job, Michael's dissatisfaction with his role as Rogelio's head of security, and the fabulous Columbus-themed crossover episode between Tiago and Fernando y Isabel — but my favorite is Rogelio and Jane's little prep session for Rogelio's dinner with Dina's smart friends. In that typically great Jane style, the scene describes and skewers at the same time. Jane's right: The Goldfinch, Marina Abramovich, and current affairs would make for a much more impressive dinner party conversation than Rogelio's conversation topic of choice, the Kardashians. And there is certainly nothing wrong with Dina's friends' desire to talk about Ta-Nehisi Coates.
However, this is exactly the kind of discussion of taste culture that Jane the Virgin tends to get caught up in, and fall victim to. As it so proudly informs us week in and week out, the show is a telenovela, full of unrealistic and melodramatic events. It's also one of the smartest, most socially conscious shows out there. Any group of people who wouldn't like Rogelio being his truest self at a dinner party probably wouldn't want to have a good time anyhow. But if they'd listened to him about the Kardashians — or about great telenovelas, perhaps — they might have learned something new, rather than just hearing platitudes about the Higgs-Boson.
Anyhow, that's my little soapbox for this week. Next week, we return to melodrama, because … Michael figured out how to crack Derek's alibi! Anezka pulls a twin-swap in front of the nannies! Mutter returned — and she hates Derek's scarves!
To Be Continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- On the Villanuevas' stunned response to a twins-revelation: "Don't act so surprised, Jane! It's a well-worn trope of the genre … but it still works every time."
- Derek walks into Rafael's office. "As my grandmother used to say — 'Ay! Not this guy!'"
- I just love it when Our Narrator gets politically saucy with the hashtags. During a swordfight between Tiago and Fernando, Fernando tells Tiago, "it is not appropriate for the leader of a country to discuss the size of his sword!" #RegisterToVote
- Our Beloved Narrator gets so drunk at the awkward Mother's Day drinking party that he starts slurring and gets all sentimental: "And while we're sharing about our moms, can I just say I have the greatest, most supportive, bestest mother ever?"
- And then he passes out and wakes up in the hospital with no idea what's happening. "Wait, what's going on? What did I miss? … Is Anezka dead?!"
- Rogelio, those smarty-pants glasses? They really work for you. A lot.
- "Some of my closest friends are not celebs! Stedman, for example!"
- On the Kardashians: "But there is SO MUCH to discuss! Kourtney's going through HELL with Scott!"
- Rogelio's thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates: "I assure you, I am open to all kinds of jackets."
- The updated special-skills section on his résumé: Cockney Accent, Advanced Side Saddle, Blistering Stares, Tantric Sex Expert