If you read last week's recap, you know that I liked the way Jane the Virgin kicked off season three. The show had written itself into a very particular, cliffhanger-y place, and due to the nature of that cliffhanger, it had to spend the first episode caught in some narrative limbo. The episode used the flashbacks well, and it hit a useful place between emotional and grounded.
But because the episode was so focused around one specific plot and one very limited "either/or" binary outcome, I missed a little bit of the hectic excess of Jane's usual style. I missed that sense of 15 pounds of plot stuffed into a ten-pound bag, which somehow works and makes more sense than you would've ever thought possible. Thankfully, "Chapter Forty-Six" is Jane the Virgin back in full force, operating with all the speed and tonal breadth the show is so uniquely capable of exhibiting.
A brief flash of all the stuff happening in tonight's episode: Michael recovers from his gunshot wound, Jane deals with the trauma of his injury and anxiety about his return to work, Rafael and Jane look for a preschool for Mateo, Mateo has a biting problem, Xo worries that Alba knows about her abortion, Anezka-as-Petra looks for dirt on Rafael and sleeps with Vests, Rafael thinks he's finally over Jane, Rogelio wants to crossover into American media, and Tiago seduces and inspires Emma Lazarus. All that, plus the continuing sexual tension between Jane and Michael, and a few meta-jokes about the nature of montages and the fact that Alba's actually had a job this whole time.
In other words, it's a lot. And yet, the episode still finds time for lots of thoughtful dialogue about how things have changed for these characters, about their fears and their concerns, and about who they are as people. The best of these is the remarkably endearing conversation Jane and Michael have as he prepares to go back to work. Jane's worried about his safety, about Mateo's behavior, and about the fact that Michael accidentally slipped and told her, "I love you, mom." It's an honest, heartfelt, and impressively reasonable discussion. She knows he's offered to quit his job just to make her happy; he admits that's true. They both acknowledge that the happiness of the other person is vital. And then, in order to help Jane accept him going back to work as a cop, Michael asks her to be honest about her own trauma — and she is. She tells him she can't sleep because she's had too many nightmares about discovering his body lying in the Marbella hallway. He says they'll walk the hallway together.
This sort of thing is exactly what Jane the Virgin excels at, and it's crucial to what makes the series work while it constantly spins so many plates. It's honest about the emotional reality of living in its world. Jane's Marbella hallway nightmares are vivid and believable, and they parallel Jane's emotional trauma from Mateo's kidnapping. They also talk about the strange dynamic that led them to this strange asexual maternal place, being open and generous and compassionate toward one another. And then, as part of an off-handed response to Mateo biting, Jane tells Michael that what happened was really terrible and he didn't deserve it. She was talking about the bite, but Michael's been trying to comfort everyone else during his recovery, and he finally breaks down as well. If Jane is trying to model good emotional responses for Mateo, Jane the Virgin is similarly modeling how we discuss trauma, how we make space for conflict in relationships, and why we must be frank about the things we need to be happy.
Those ideas pop up over and over again in this episode — it's the real crux at the center of Xo and Alba's plot, as they struggle to come together after Alba learns about Xo's abortion. The abortion itself is treated with brief, fascinating frankness. It happened, Xo told Alba she had the stomach flu, and most importantly, Xo has no guilt or regret about it. In a very small way, it's one of Jane's intensely political acts. There is no debate about it. By the time you know the issue is on the table, it's fait accompli. The resolution that Xo and Alba find is its own political statement as well: They do not have to agree on this issue to love one another. They can be close, they can love each other, and they can both respect that Alba's choices do not need to be the same as Xo's choices.
The episode illustrated that idea with the delightful, long-awaited return of Tiago, as our beloved time traveler seduces Emma Lazarus and basically writes her Statue of Liberty poem for her. In the historically inaccurate Statue of Liberty Poem Contest, Rogelio stands up as Tiago and shouts down a judge who worries that Lazarus's poem will make America seem "way too welcoming." Jane the Virgin is not shy about its political leanings, but as Rogelio pontificates on the importance of cultural diversity and America's identity as a country defined by immigration, the show's stance on immigration policy is neither preachy nor self-serious. Rogelio's inspiring speech, after all, immediately transitions into one about his own career aspirations. But it is just one more reason for me to sigh with relief that this show is back on TV. I'd happily fling myself into an alternate Tiago political reality for the next several weeks.
It's a marvel that Jane the Virgin can take a plot that seems dull and judge-y (cultural diversity! reproductive health!) and turn it into something much more compassionate. The peak of this in "Chapter Forty-Six" is Jane and Rafael's search for Mateo's preschool, which ultimately lands them in a very hippy-dippy "name your feelings" kind of place. I will be honest: I was concerned. I remember not liking this plot on New Girl, which had an almost identical setup. Here, Jane and Rafael are sent to the "Compassion Corner," where a teacher prods them to resolve their differences in an actually thoughtful way. And then they do. It's goofy, and Jane the Virgin acknowledges that. It's also fundamental to the episode's underlying theme: It's important to be honest about your emotions while also recognizing someone else's right to have theirs.
Finally, I do want to note that in the midst of all of this honesty and good feeling, I am feeling a tiny bit anxious about Petra. I miss her, guys! I'm so sad that she's locked away in her own body, and no one is even close to freeing her! She needs to hang out with her daughters and reconcile with Rafael and also give Anezka a stern talking-to! I suppose I'm not sad that Anezka seems to have a pleasurable relationship with Vests, but … really, Vests? Of all people? More seriously, the show has done so much to give Petra complexity and nuance. While I do love that image of the one time Anezka did catch both rabbits, I'm wistful for the way Petra balanced out Anezka's wide-eyed goofiness.
I hope that we'll get Petra back soon. In the meantime, we have a much bigger milestone looming on the horizon: Michael has been cleared for "normal" activities. Say "good-bye" to Jane the virgin?!
To Be Continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- I wasn't bowled over by this week's recurring patient/prescription gag, but I did love the way Our Narrator goofed about Alba's job — a point of some minor criticism in the past. She's a home health-care aide! That's why she's been wearing all of those smocks!
- The joint Our Narrator/Rogelio collaboration on the self-aware montage bit is similarly effective: Rogelio complains about montages as trite, cheap ploys, while the Narrator watches Jane speed through the early days of Michael's recovery. I'm with you, Tiago director: Sometimes a montage is just useful.
- About Jane's apparently imminent deflowering: "Friends, I'm not messing around this time." Please do not betray my trust on this, Narrator!
- The premiere episode was full of serious, emotional stuff, and as though to restore balance to the Jane universe, episode two gives us a bounty of Rogelio silliness. Esteban's vegan-smoothie-in-a-mason-jar-containing murse! Rogelio's "urine trouble" PPSA!
- I so love Rogelio's terrible surfer-dude American accent. "Thanks girl! I'm going full Daniel Day-Lewis!"
- Rogelio's popularity in Mexico, according to him: Tom Cruise + Justin Bieber + Juanes.
- "I want to feel the amazing curse of fame in my new country!"