A few weeks after Jane the Virgin’s massive paradigm shift, there are a lot of questions swirling about the show. How will the rest of the season feel? How will the show continue to respond to Michael’s death? Why the time jump? Will it ultimately work, or will viewers feel like the rug was pulled out from under them too quickly? I can understand a concern that the time jump cut off the mourning period for Jane’s fans, depriving them of the familiar scenes of a funeral, an extended mourning period, a bit of grief wallowing, and some beautiful eulogies. It can seem like Jane the Virgin is denying its audience the chance to get closure.
For me, the time jump works differently. I see it as its own, strikingly distinct way of depicting a grieving process in long-form storytelling. Rather than collapsing the aftermath of Michael’s death into one saccharine, lily-scented episode, Jane the Virgin parcels out the grief period. Instead of one lump of funereal mood and then a purposeful signal that it’s now time to move on, we jump backwards and forwards in time, catching a glimpse of Michael’s memorial service, checking in on Jane five months after his death, considering the source of her continued panic attacks, examining the relationships she’s formed in the intermediary period. It’s a device the show seems primed to continue for a good long while, if not through to the end of this season.
We got a strong suggestion that this might be the case in the previous episode, but “Chapter Fifty-Six” confirms that the time jump will be Jane the Virgin’s primary method of incorporating and processing Michael’s death. There are other stories here, most notably Rogelio and Darci and the slow implosion of The DeLa Vega-Factor Factor, Petra and Rafael coping with the discovery of Scott’s body, and Jane juggling her new book deal with her desire to quit her job. Throughout those classically Jane interwoven stories, though, we’re reminded of the gap in time and the things we’re still learning about how those three years played out. We learn about Jane’s ongoing struggle with panic attacks, we learn about the therapy she used to cope with them, we see the beginnings of her friendship with Dennis, and the way that relationship fell apart.
There are moments in “Chapter Fifty-Six” where I do feel the downside of the show’s decision to leap past that initial, traumatic post-death stage. Rogelio’s gotten a little lost, caught up in his ridiculous reality show and unmoored from the kind of person we once knew him to be. The episode tackles that problem head-on, of course, and his plotline is all about Rogelio actively working to be the kind of friend and father we know he is. But for him, that time gap is a little bewildering. Unlike with Jane, we haven’t had access to explanatory flashbacks that give us a sense of how Rogelio lost his way, or what would drive him to betray Xiomara. Instead, he explains it in this episode: He was simply jealous. Sure, that makes sense. But it doesn’t hit quite as strongly as it would’ve if we’d seen that story play out firsthand.
The time jump also has the slight negative effect of making me a wary viewer. While I trust Jane the Virgin, it’s hard to watch some of Jane’s scenes with Dennis and not feel trepidatious about what’s to come. I am definitely not ready to see Jane have an ill-advised, grief-fueled relationship with one of Michael’s co-workers. And Jane the Virgin knows that. By the end, Jane tearfully forgiving Dennis in the boxing ring suggests that the show may well be setting a course for future development of that relationship, but it also signals that we’ll get more groundwork and prep before they make any big move in that direction.
So yes, I do feel the loss of that “let’s all take a breath” period. It takes a while to adjust to the new rhythms of the time-jump setting. But even given the slight missteps with Rogelio, and my own commitment phobia about Jane leaping into new romantic relationships, “Chapter Fifty-Six” proves that the time jump’s benefits outweigh its detriments. I cannot get over, for instance, how nice it feels to have some new life in the Petra/Rafael/Marbella stories. Petra and Gross Chuck, owner of the neighboring Fairwick Hotel, are a surprisingly magnetic couple. The only way Petra can show her growing affection for Chuck is by trying to help him out of a potential murder investigation, which is so delightfully Petra. Her total willingness to use Chuck for sex is even better, and I’m enjoying the nascent dynamic of someone actively courting Petra for who she is. Oddly, I am rooting for Gross Chuck — and it feels pretty good?
Rafael, meanwhile, has been floating through these past few episodes as an Abuela-like figure, weighing in with pearls of wisdom when required, but not fully integrated into the mechanics of any drama. The final moments of the episode tell us that Zen Rafael won’t be around for much longer, but I’ve been happy to have him here for a bit. Maybe it’s that I really enjoy the beard, but post-prison Rafael works for me.
So the time jump is good for Rafael and Petra. It’s good for the overall tone of the show, which is more variable than it would be if we were all mired in angst. It’s even good for Mateo, who gets to skip straight to full sentences and shoelace tantrums. But even without the closure of a full funeral episode, and even without the linear progression of a narrative that follows Jane’s post-Michael trauma, the time jump’s biggest benefit is still its capacity to drive storytelling around Jane’s grief.
Grief sticks around. It continues to have an impact long after the initial loss; it has waves and sudden valleys. Jane the Virgin’s time jump lets the show depict that experience not just in the kinds of stories it tells — here, in Jane’s reluctance to feel optimistic about her career dreams, and in her resistance to Dennis — but also in the way it tells those stories. The time-jump structure makes it possible for Jane the Virgin to continually incorporate Michael’s death and Jane’s sorrow in new ways, reflecting her pain off of new stories and new themes. A moment where everything paused and the whole show stopped to grieve might’ve felt like closure, but the insistent denial of that closure is really the message here. The loss of Michael will continue to play a role in Jane’s life long after she’s outwardly moved on. We’ll be pulled back to a fresh recounting of Jane’s grief just as often as she herself is, and her reaction to Michael’s death will continue to have an active role in how she responds to events. At moments, the three-year jump still feels rocky, but two episodes in, I love what it’s done for the series.
In other news: Jane quit her job, and is now lounge manager at the Marbella! Rogelio got Darci to admit that she outed his betrayal to Xo, and now the reality show is collapsing! Petra moved Scott’s body to the Fairwick side of the property line! And best of all, Zen Rafael is up to some kind of murdery mischief with a prison buddy named Elvis! To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• At this point, I have no idea what is going on with Rafael’s girlfriend, who’s played by none other than Minka Kelly but is so remarkably unmemorable that Our Narrator can’t even focus on her long enough to stick her in the frame half the time. I am quite excited to see what the long game is for this whole situation.
• Lots of Narratorial Shenanigans in this episode, including acknowledgement of how stressful his job is (“Usually I’m like — so much exposition, how can I fit it all in?!”) and a tiny little story about how awkward it is to break up with a therapist (while Jane led with “helpful,” Our Narrator began by pointing out how expensive therapy is).
• The best and weirdest Narrator moment is the part where he points out how fake the DeLa Vega-Factor Factor is. They’re on honeymoon on a beach in Hawaii, which, our Narrator tells us, is actually Miami Beach. Which, he then corrects, is actually in California in real life. We’re breaking the fourth wall now?!
• I love the conceit of Rogelio on a reality show that’s completely fake. I like Darci. I am always happy about opportunities for “let’s use a TV structure to point out the metafictional nature of our own TV narrative.” But for whatever reason, probably related to my sense that Rogelio’s a bit unmoored, The DeLa Vega-Factor Factor just did not quite gel for me in this episode.
• What did gel, though, was the tiny scene where we learn that Petra and Rogelio both speak so quickly, and yet with such completely different accents, that they basically can’t understand one another. Hilarious!
• It looks like we won’t have to live with the awkward Darci situation for too much longer — thanks to the onscreen promo, we get a tease of Rogelio’s future project. I am so, so onboard for a Rogelio-headed Gulliver’s Travels.