This is the first episode since the Big Event that isn’t quite fully pulled together. Don’t get me wrong: A decent episode of Jane the Virgin is still head and shoulders over so much other stuff on TV, but the previous two episodes felt constructed with such care that the comparative shagginess of “Chapter Fifty-Seven” is noticeable. On the other hand, the previous two episodes also felt like the show was treating Michael’s death with kid gloves. Of course it was! But we’re moving into a new idea of what the status quo will be for Jane the Virgin, so it makes sense that we’re also shifting back into a stage where things are a bit looser.
In spite of the general lack of gel, “Chapter Fifty-Seven” has several strong pieces and little bits that stand well on their own. We get a return of thematic, stylistic playfulness related to Jane’s writing, now in the form of snippets from her novel. Although we’ve gotten hints about what Snow Falling is like — that it’s not her Venezuelan novel, but rather a work inspired by her relationship with Michael — this is the first we learn that it’s also a historical romance. The reenacted bits are fairly sharp; they’re fun, everyone has slightly shifted names, and Rafael’s character Rake has an absurdly massive handlebar mustache. (RIP Rafael’s beard.) It’s very hard to depict a writer attempting to edit a novel and give it any kind of fictional tension, or make it interesting to watch. To see Petra’s character Penelope repeat the same line over and over like a broken host from Westworld, and then realize it’s a problem with Jane’s inability to give that character motivation … the conceit is goofy, but it works.
Jane’s book also ties into the strongest parts of the series in the past few weeks, namely, her attempts to cope with Michael’s death. Jane’s fear of writing a strong love triangle because she worries it will come across as betraying Michael is believable, as is Alba’s kind rejoinder that the love triangle helped make Jane’s love for Michael even deeper. It’s a good reminder for the audience as well — conflict and tough choices are the things that grow our appreciation of the love stories on this show. Status quo does not make for interesting storytelling.
I’m also oddly into Jane’s new editor Jeremy Howe, fan of the Miami Marlins, all-around bro, and atypical editorial voice for a romance novel. Jane the Virgin is often good at putting strong voices inside of unexpected packages, especially when it comes to influences for Jane’s writing. It’s too soon to say whether Howe will rise to the level of Professor Donaldson, but I love the premise of Howe offering what turns out to be useful, insightful commentary, while also pointing out that her book gets “mad slow” in the middle and that it’s helpful to “beef up” the “baller love triangle.”
Outside of Jane’s book, “Chapter Fifty-Seven” is full of smaller pieces that all feel a little underdeveloped. We get the first week of Mateo’s new aide Carly, who ends up being a terrible gossip and someone Mateo doesn’t even like. We get Jane’s tension with other moms at school, who feed into her insecurity about Mateo’s behavior and her own parenting. We get Petra’s insecurity about her relationship with Chuck, including her embarrassment about being with him and her guilt over moving Scott’s bones onto the Fairwick side of the property line. We also get Rafael’s relationship with Abbey and his doubt about moving in with her, as well as a few hints about the mischief he’s up to with his former prison buddy.
Those threads do come together inside the device of the preschool fundraiser, which, as HBO’s Big Little Lies has prepared us for, is like all fundraisers for the private schools of wealthy children: strongly theme-based, over the top, multiple fountains. In addition to developing Jane’s tension with the school (including a nice scene of Jane, Rafael, Abbey, and the school director Gwen all washing dishes because no one thought to pay for enough staff), the Monte Carlo fundraiser also gives us an opportunity to appreciate drunk Petra (whose Czech comes out, of course). It’s Petra’s advice that pushes Rafael to later break up with Abbey, which Abbey, alas, overhears. She’s been surprisingly underwhelming for someone the Narrator has had such fun ignoring, and also for someone who’s played by Minka Kelly. I’m sure Abbey’s role will become clear soon, but right now she feels as unimportant as the Narrator keeps suggesting she is.
Even the narratorial frames meant to hold the episode together feel scattered this week. There were just too many: Jane losing and then refinding her voice; the returning conceit of the note cards (Jane’s card to the school director, Rafael’s “Moving In” card, the final pop-up card at the end), which never landed quite as hard as they should’ve; the returning jokes about gender bias and female authority figures; Petra’s obsession with bones … each of them potentially fertile thematic territory, but they feel jumbled together and disorganized, rather than helping to create a solid framework for the usual chaos of the show’s many plots.
As a result, moments that should’ve felt like meaningful payoffs instead lacked oomph. We get Petra and Chuck cuddling together on a sofa before Petra reveals that she moved Scott’s body, Rafael breaking up with Abbey, and Jane realizing that she needs to listen to Mateo, firing Carly, and finding common ground with Mean Mom Stacy. Each of those were circumstances that could’ve used more space to breathe, and a little more emotional investment.
My biggest ongoing concern about Jane the Virgin A.M. (After Michael) is that Rogelio continues to feel lost. It’s usually the telenovela’s murder-mystery shenanigans that feel as though they’re off in another part of the series, but now Rogelio, Xo, and Bruce seem to be on their own island, apart from the show’s emotional centers. Their love triangle setup is growing more obvious, particularly as Rogelio’s face registers deep despair while watching Bruce propose to Xo. In the wake of Michael’s death, Rogelio is the character who, after Jane, I most wanted to see mourn and come to grips with his loss. Instead, we’ve gotten some silly jaguar-lawyer sound effects and the ongoing legal battles over the DeLa Vega-Factor Factor.
Although “Chapter Fifty-Seven” is underwhelming, none of this feels like an irreversible error. The Rafael/Abbey/Rafael’s prison buddy plotline is spinning its wheels before the inevitable twist kicks in, and I’m still curious enough about Petra and Chuck to give that relationship more time. Even the Rogelio plotline feels like it could gain some depth and emotional resonance, once he accepts that he needs to do something about his feelings for Xo. When the show comes back in three weeks, I look forward to seeing it all start moving again.
In the meantime, I leave you with one major question: In the final scene of the episode, we see Abbey take the mysterious red notebook (which was discovered by Petra), then mail it to the police station. Michael’s cop friend Dennis receives the package and opens it, finding both the red notebook and a card that says “Surprise!” which suggests he should reopen the investigation into Scott’s death. But the card is a very elaborate pop-up card, depicting the two hotels, the beach, the kid’s club, and Scott’s corpse. That card would’ve taken so long to make. What kind of devious paper-crafting super-villain are we about to meet?! To be continued!
To Our Narrator, With Love
• I don’t really think the gender-bias theme worked, although it did let Jane the Virgin gloat a little bit about just how many women it casts as authority figures. I kept waiting for some twist on the idea, some tongue-in-cheek call out to how unhelpful the male characters can be. But it did give our Narrator some fun opportunities to feel aggrieved. “Maybe get a girl to narrate for you, then!”
• Still find it funny every time the Narrator forgets about Abbey. This time, he even forgot to leave her out of the “previously” segment!
• Jane takes Rafael’s advice to look up the history of Florida, but our Narrator was excited about the other option: “I was hoping she’d go with lozenges — a medicine and a candy!”
• Donald Shapiro, Rogelio’s shady lawyer with the jaguar sound effects, never quite hit it for me. But there is one classic Rogelio moment in this episode, when he misreads the setup for Bruce’s proposal as some hilariously convenient fateful arrangement that’d lead Bruce to be his attorney. “This is just kismet! What are the odds?!”