I am so, so glad that the end of "Chapter Forty-Eight" suggests that poor Petra will soon be released from her hellish imprisonment. This is a fine episode of Jane the Virgin, and a fine episode of Jane the Virgin is better than most other television out there. But even in the middle of details I liked — Jane and Michael's budget discussions, Rogelio pimping out Rafael to Jane Seymour, Scott's absurd Flamingo Fandango — I caught myself looking at Anezka-as-Petra and thinking, This would all be so much sharper if it were the real Petra. I miss her.
It's odd to miss a character we can still see onscreen, both because Yael Grobglas is still onscreen and because she's still playing Petra. She's just playing her as Anezka playing Petra, and it's a testament to her performance that the difference is so noticeable. What I miss about Petra, though, is a dynamic I'd come to appreciate within the series. Jane and her family, Rafael, Michael, Rogelio — they are all almost unerringly good. The show works because they are all so human. They make mistakes, they screw up, and they are occasionally jealous or petty, but they are trying their best.
The villains, meanwhile, are bad. Crime-syndicate-running, man-scarf-wearing, face-changing, murdering bad. Petra is really the only one who's wavered in the middle, flipping from somewhat bad to sympathetic, while retaining all of her biting, cruel qualities in the process. Anezka's fine, I suppose, when it comes to moral complexity. Luisa also has had moments of operating within a trickier middle ground. And of course, the fact that almost every character is a good, well-intentioned person is a significant piece of the show's charm. But Petra provides an important balance, and I've missed it in her absence.
Although it's not made entirely clear until the end, much of "Chapter Forty-Eight" is about maneuvering Jane into position so that she can finally recognize that this is not Petra. The house Petra has been subsidizing for Jane and Michael is the first card to get knocked over, which spurs the great Jane/Michael budget crisis. Next, it's the stooge from prison, who pushes Anezka into moving more quickly, ultimately blackmailing Rafael into handing over his shares for the Marbella. (I would say that I'd hoped this act alone would make Rafael realize that it wasn't Petra, but a cursory reminder of her history for the past two seasons disabused me of that.) We also get more development of Anezka's relationship with Scott, another clue to her real identity.
I don't know that it all necessarily needed to end with Jane in a ridiculous flamingo flamenco dress brawling with Anezka in the pool, but if that's what it takes to bring Petra back, I'm onboard.
As usual, Jane the Virgin grounds its more ridiculous telenovela premises with significantly more mundane story lines. Xiomara, fresh from the realization that she'd like to pursue a non-singing career, leaps at a full-time job as a bank teller and quickly realizes she hates it. It's not my favorite Xiomara story, and although the Young Jane gimmick works, it doesn't have the flair of the show's more fully formed, episode-defining narrative games. What saves this plot from being a simple "Xiomara hates working at a bank, so she'll move on to something else in a highly episodic fashion" time filler is the way Jane the Virgin draws it back to Xo's relationship with Alba. The idea that Alba's afraid they'll go back to arguing with each other now that Jane has moved out lends some useful emotional stakes to the narrative. Even more, it feels pleasantly generous of the show to dedicate some time to what Xo and Alba's lives will feel like after the protagonist has moved out of their house. I'm glad Alba has a job she likes, although obviously she's just been moved into place as a pawn for some elaborate gift-shop drug-mule plot.
There is also a very short story about Jane and Lina, Jane's sense of betrayal that Lina takes Scott's bribe, and Lina's subsequent come-to-Jesus chat about how much more financial security Jane enjoys. It was just a little piece of the episode, but I was glad to see it. It's nice that Jane the Virgin has maintained that friendship in a thoughtful way.
We also get to spend some time with Rogelio's initial bid for American market dominance: a Christmas movie based on a book by Jane's former writing teacher Jane Seymour. (I know her name is Amanda, but I spent a great deal of time watching Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman as a child. She is Jane Seymour.) Pimping out Rafael as a charity date for Ms. Seymour wasn't enough to really get me invested in that story, but I was pleasantly surprised by the unlikely "Rogelio babysits Luisa" scene. Of course it is delightful to spend a little time with one of Rogelio's previous novelas, Addicted to Love. More importantly, it is a relief to dig into Luisa's motivation and feelings other than "obsessed with Rose." Let's not forget Jane has humanized her before: She felt bad and made reparations to Rafael, but the show sacrificed that complexity for the sake of a season-ending twist. Luisa's now crawling her way back toward humanity, via Rogelio's acting technique. Good luck, Luisa. Maybe this time it will stick.
Inevitably, my favorite story of "Chapter Forty-Eight" was a Jane the Virgin special: Jane and Michael deal with an all-too-real aspect of living in the world, living together, and living after you get married. This time, it's the exciting and terrifying world of household budgets. Petra's failure to continue subsidizing their rental (because she is locked in her own immobile body like a horrifying, monstrous nightmare, can we please rescue her please) means that Jane and Michael need to tighten their expenses so they can stay in the house.
It's a completely mundane plot, and excruciating to watch if you are a budget-adverse person. Michael's filing system is not good. He's still got student-loan debt. Jane pushes back on his NBA season pass and his coffee. He realizes that Jane lied to him about a budget category because she was padding it for emergencies. They fight. It's one of the most normal, petty, familiar arguments you can imagine, and it's ideal for this show because budget fights are always (always!) about deep emotional issues that are being masked by lattes and hidden budget categories. In this case, it's the fact that Jane is still scarred by growing up with financial insecurity. Like the mythology of virginity that she so recently shed, it's understandable that Jane would continue to feel the emotional impact of her financial experiences in childhood. I'm glad they've decided to move into a smaller place. Let's just hope that sleeping in the same bedroom with a toddler won't lead to new frustrations.
But that's for another episode. There are four underlined words in Rafael's mother's Bible! (Angles guard the sun!) Anezka gave Rafael an ultimatum! And I really hope they are about to free Petra.
To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- Our Beloved Narrator is on my side in the battle to free Petra. When Jane finally puts the pieces together, his "about damn time!" made me do a little fist punch.
- I also appreciated his hopeful game of warmer/colder when Rafael began to wonder about not-Petra's odd behavior. "Colder! Colder! Yeah, whatever, I'm not getting my hopes up."
- Gotta love the Scott hatred our Narrator dishes out without fail. This week? #dicktator
- On the pool fight: "So yeah, that obviously didn't happen. Oh, my bad! It actually did!"
- We occasionally get little hints about what might lie in Jane and Michael's future, and I wonder if the Narrator gave us another one in "Chapter Forty-Eight." When they decide to move into a smaller place, and plan to go back to a bigger one once they can afford it, he says, "and friends, they really believed that would happen. But we're not there yet."
- Some excellent Rogelio moments this week. He tells Jane that she's not really a "value add" in his lunch date with Jane Seymour. He notes sadly when he doesn't get the Christmas-movie part that it's "how the cookie crumbles." He is delightfully wounded when Michael waves him off to go talk to Interesting New Cop Buddy. He looks appreciatively at the hot-pink flamingo getups. ("All the pink — I love it! So classy.")
- But my favorite Rogelio-ism is his courting of Rafael. He never noticed how handsome Rafael is! And now they can get a drink together, because they're not alcoholics! "Another blessing we share."