Before we kick things off with the regular recap — which I am very sorry is delayed this week, thanks, football — a brief word. Recapping television doesn’t feel like the most vital activity to be doing these days, and it can be tough to look at something as fabulously bright and cheerful as Jane the Virgin and not feel guilty for losing yourself in the glorious escapism of it. If the world feels like it’s falling apart, what good is it to spend time watching, writing about, and reading about Rogelio’s rendition of “Beauty School Dropout?”
We all come back to our lives when we feel like we can, and seek escapism when we feel like we have to. But aside from its sheer, delicious, optimistic fantasy-world pleasure, it’s also helpful to keep this in mind: Jane the Virgin is a radical text. It uses telenovela trappings and bright colors and the suggestion of Rogelio’s penis as a happy, distracting facade for its steely-strong social and political viewpoint. It’s a show about evil twin replacements, and it’s also a show about a family of immigrant Latina women who work hard, worry about money, and contribute to their community. It is unabashedly, matter-of-factly feminist. It is unapologetically progressive. It depicts a vision of America that is exactly the opposite of the fear-mongering, xenophobic rhetoric that’s come to characterize our current political climate. Jane the Virgin is a balm, but it is also a razor-sharp tool that helps us understand ourselves as a nation.
So setting that aside, let’s get to this week’s most pressing issue: Rogelio’s penis. Sure, there are other things going on in “Chapter Forty-Nine.” There’s Jane’s argument with her abuela over getting in touch with her Venezuelan family members. There’s Michael and Rafael’s struggle to become friends and find some common ground. There’s Xiomara’s continued search for a new career. To be honest, this is one of Jane the Virgin’s least thematically cohesive episodes. It has a lot of moving pieces, and very little structure that ties them all into a single bigger idea. That’s unusual for this show.
Oh, and did I mention Petra is finally saved!? And when she wakes up, she covers for Anezka?! No. I had not mentioned that. Because I was distracted by Rogelio’s penis.
Let’s turn for a minute to the Petra-Anezka story, which has been a long time coming. Prompted by Jane’s suspicions in the previous episode, Rafael hangs out in Petra’s room long enough to prevent Anezka from administering the paralytic, and Petra finally emerges from her three months in hell. And to Anezka’s severe shock, Petra’s first move is to claim that she is, in fact, Anezka. It’s a strange and somewhat unsatisfying turn for this story — even motivated by having total control of the Marbella shares, it’s hard to imagine Petra being able to overlook Anezka’s horrible treachery so quickly. She plays along with the plot, breaking up Anezka and Scott (RIP #Scetra), and works to nail down the French buyer for the hotel, but her motivations are frustratingly muddled.
Until the last moments of the episode, that is, when Petra at last whispers in Rafael’s ear the truth about what happened to her. She’s happy to take control away from him. She’s happy to go on a rampage and wrestle herself a position of power. And she’s happy to do it because she was gone for three months, and no one even noticed. This is the Petra I understand, and the one I’ve missed so far in this season. She’s a villain, but she’s motivated by extremely pointed, understandable hurt. Rafael and her friends abandoned her, and so she is going to burn everything to the ground. You’re damn straight “the bitch is back,” Narrator. Let’s hope Anezka can grow those bangs quickly.
The other pieces of “Chapter Forty-Nine” feel scattered, tonally speaking. This flaw doesn’t harm the episode as a whole — each subplot is strong enough that it doesn’t much matter that we’re lacking a thematic through-line. But it does mean that Xiomara’s ongoing search for a new career feels like it happens on a different planet from Jane’s argument with Alba. The one thing that does tie these plots together is that they’re similarly built toward launching new arcs for the show. Xiomara’s new dance studio and Jane’s cousin Catalina are introductions to stories we’ll be watching in the near future. They feel more like pivots toward new stories than they do major plots of the week.
So it’s nice to get something more conclusory and solid with the Rafael-Michael story. It’s lovely that their relationship has continued to develop in a meaningful way, and while a short 14 seconds of panic over losing Mateo is a somewhat trite way to bring them back together, it works. It also creates an opportunity for the best part of this narrative, which somehow manages to take outright lascivious ogling at Rafael’s physique and turn it into a grounded, sympathetic note for his character. He had cancer, he tells Michael. That’s why he’s so intent on controlling his body. “I’m a dick,” Michael tells him, apologetically. It’s a great, worthwhile, perfect little moment.
Okay, phew! We’ve covered Xiomara’s new career, Jane’s cousin, Jane’s need for Alba’s approval, Petra’s return, Rafael and Michael … I must be missing something … oh, right, Rogelio’s penis. In his quest for stardom so that he can beat Esteban to the American market, Rogelio auditions for a part that will require him to, ahem, pull out the big gun. He worries it will make Jane uncomfortable, although hilariously, he doesn’t feel the need to ask permission from Xiomara or Michael because they’ve already seen it. And glory be, Rogelio gets the part. It looks like he’ll have to strike a bargain with his Tiago producers to make this happen, but oh, it will be worth it.
So Petra’s ready to take this whole thing down, Catalina is standing on Jane’s doorstep, and thanks to a convenient movie poster, Michael realizes that the message Rafael’s mother left in the Bible was likely the code for a bank account. To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- Our Narrator has to keep Rogelio honest. “You are five … six … years younger than me,” Rogelio tells Rafael, in explanation for his glowing skin. “YEAHHHH, RIGHT,” our Narrator retorts.
- Should we go spy on Michael and Rafael’s gym date, Jane asks her mother? No. “But we can!” Our Narrator chimes in, gleefully. Until the date turns bad. “Sorry, I just can’t watch this anymore!”
- Thank you, Narrator, for that little comment after Rogelio and Rafael quickly realize there are 12 numbers in a bank account: “Ah, rich guys.” #TheOnePercent
- I focused on the, um, part that it felt important to focus on in the recap. But let me now make a dedicated comment about the amazing, beautiful, life-giving wonder of Rogelio singing an adapted version of “Beauty School Dropout,” featuring lines from Jane and Alba. It was perfect. It was everything I never knew I wanted.
- Rogelio’s appreciation of Rafael’s body continues to entertain. “My god, those lats are unbeLIEVEable!”
- Rogelio’s striped SUV, with the R logo on it! So good!
- Let’s all hope, for Rogelio’s sake, that the movie won’t premiere at Sundance. “Finding a flattering parka will be hell.”