Despite all the work Jane the Virgin does to make sure we can follow its big, broad telenovela story, there are moments when that telenovela identity can still feel like a millstone around the show's neck.
It's not that "Chapter Forty-Three" trips itself up telling those big, melodramatic stories, nor is it the case that the episode's big reveals are unsatisfying. It's the end of the season! I'm glad we can see Mutter shackled to a pipe in a secret tunnel under the hotel Rafael purchased with illegal money and then lost after his half-brother blackmailed him and the failed fake FBI raid didn't work. That's a fun, ridiculous, nonsensical sentence to write! Even more thrilling, the implicit promise of Petra's suddenly discovered twin is finally bearing fruit — she and Magda have a plan! It's been in the works for a full year! And I have no doubt it will turn out to be delightfully eeeevil.
Nevertheless, "Chapter Forty-Three" feels a little more scattered than usual, a little less neatly tied together. The individual pieces are solid enough: We finally get some motion on the Derek/Mutter/Fairwick plot, Jane's stress of being torn between her wedding and Mateo's birthday, Mateo's illness, and especially Rogelio's sudden discovery of the importance of a unionized workforce. But unusually for this show, I found Jane's motives in trying to drive a wedge between Petra and Rafael to be a little underwritten. And, like Jane caught between far too many obligations, "Chapter Forty-Three" tries to meet a few too many goals.
So let's take a look at what works really well, and sing the praises of Rogelio's Cesar Chavez moment. There was so much to love about this plot. First, the crew gets the idea to unionize after watching Rogelio suggest the phrase "¡Sí se puede!" to Chavez. Next, Rogelio doesn't immediately dismiss them in anger and instead agrees to try working on the crew for a week. He ends up being good at working on the crew, and of course, he ends up defending them from the heartless network execs. Yes, there are some bumps along the way with the light-bulb incident. And yes, I kept losing track of how this fits into the timeline. Is the wedding now on the same day? Earlier? Something about Michael's mom?
Still, it was undeniably delightful to watch Rogelio's honest (and surprisingly successful) attempts to understand exactly what his crew has to go through. I was warily concerned that he'd roll out one lighting cable and then try to fix it all with celebrity. But as his shirt got dirtier and dirtier, and as the crew threw him additional obstacles (namely Esteban, who needs the lighting changed for his best angles), I grew more and more pleased with Rogelio's ability to take it all in cheerful stride.
The Mateo plot also works well. Distracted by her wedding and the birthday party and her book and Rafael, Jane doesn't realize how sick Mateo is until he's really quite sick. (Also, toddlers can go from healthy to seriously ill in less time than it takes a parent to pull out the thermometer, so there's that.) After a long run-up to the party, with Beyoncé Bobby getting swapped for the Dyno-mites, and piles of birthday invitations stacking up next to wedding favors, everything comes to a halt as Jane and Rafael spend the night with Mateo in the hospital. It feels absolutely right that the Villanuevas and friends end up celebrating by bringing everyone to the hospital and sweetly singing "Cumpleaños Feliz." The Dyno-mites never seemed like Jane's style, anyhow.
And knock me down with a feather, but I was also pleased with the Mutter plotline, which at last seems to have concrete stakes! Mutter and Derek blackmailed Rafael for the Fairwick to access the tunnels underneath, where the money was hidden. I'm not sure how they knew that giving Rafael access to insider-trading money would help him buy the Fairwick, and I'm really not sure how that would be the most efficient way to get into some tunnels. But sure! It ends up with Michael and Susanna very dramatically discovering Mutter handcuffed in the bottom of a hole, so I'm fine with it all.
The closing reveal with Anezka and Magda is even better. If you're going to have twins on your show, one of them should have a secret plan. Them's the rules. More important, I thought I had completely imagined that scene from last week's episode with Anezka pulling off a Petra wig, so I was glad to see my memory validated before the end of "Chapter Forty-Three."
It's a testament to Jane the Virgin that it's unusual for so many disparate plots and tones to not really meld together. In this case, unfortunately, the sum was something less than the collection of its parts. I love that Rogelio story to bits, thought Mateo's birthday was absolutely effective, and even enjoyed the soapy dramatics! Adding Jane's run-in with a publisher, her not-quite-good-enough romance novel, her rivalry with Petra, those perpetually shifting wedding timelines, and a performance by the Dyno-mites? That's a lot to gel.
All that said, it is worth noting that while most of the Jane/Petra stuff did not work, I really appreciate the final note they landed on — namely, with two opposing but completely understandable perspectives on the nature of morality. It says so much about how well these characters are developed that Jane can insist there are firm rights and wrongs, and Petra can state with absolute conviction that the world just does not work like that, and both sides are not just reasonable, but highly sympathetic.
You've probably noticed that I'm writing around the final, major development in "Chapter Forty-Three," but the time has come to address it. And I'm honestly not sure how I feel. Through the trauma of staying overnight in Mateo's hospital room, Jane and Rafael bond over their son's first year, and we realize that Rafael still has feelings for Jane. We watch as they marvel at the memory of Mateo's birth, and that telltale Jane the Virgin glow warms Rafael's heart once again.
I'm worried about this. I'm worried about a story arc where something happens to Michael, and then Jane ends up reuniting with Rafael over the course of the next season. I'm worried about it because it will take a lot to accept Rafael as a fit partner for Jane, and because I don't want Michael to die, and because the whole idea just makes me sad.
Yet, I cannot argue that "Chapter Forty-Three" didn't do a great job with its Rafael-feelings-rehabilitation project. Jane's insistence on breaking Petra's hold on him is a little befuddling, but Rafael's response to sitting on a hospital sofa next to his sleeping son and the mother of his child … I'd fall in love with the person sitting next to me, too. Justin Baldoni does a nice job of playing Rafael's anguish, especially after tracking down some curly fries and listening to Jane's off-handed, "Oh, I love you!" response. Although I'm nervous, Rafael's feelings make absolute sense.
Oh boy, you guys. Next week is the finale and I am EXCITED! And ANXIOUS.
To Be Continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- About the potentially ruined wedding, "I wonder who is freaking out more, Jane or Rogelio? Just kidding — it's Rogelio."
- "Rogelio has a debilitating fear of heights. And leprechauns, but that's less pertinent."
- "This job STINKS, Cesar Chavez!"
- Rogelio's initial attempt to win over the crew (the full Ro-Cho offensive) includes a gift basket for Jerry with beef jerky and multi-colored gaffer tape. Which sounds like a pretty good gift basket, frankly.
- Jerry strikes a deal with Rogelio. He asks, "Deal?" and they shake hands. Rogelio: "De … eeeaaaar GOD, the CALLUSES!"
- "These shorts are amazing! It's like a purse, but in pants form!"