Major spoilers ahead for Monday night’s episode of Jane the Virgin.
Reports of Michael Cordero’s death have not been exaggerated. After surviving a shot to the chest in Jane the Virgin’s season two finale, Jane’s husband, played by Brett Dier, met his end in a decidedly less dramatic way in Monday night’s episode, collapsing from lingering medical complications after taking his LSATs. The show had hinted that Michael’s death was coming as early as its first season, with the promise that Michael would love Jane “until he drew his very last breath.” But still, this was a gut punch. To better process it all, Vulture caught up with showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman to discuss the timing of Michael’s death, her note to Jane fans about the decision, and where we’ll find the rest of the cast after the three-year time jump.
So, obviously, we have to start with Michael. You had hinted at his death in the first season, but I was feeling safe after he was shot and had recovered. Why have his death happen now?
In our storytelling, we had foreshadowed it quite heavily, so the surprise we had left was when. It was part of the overall question we were asking, certainly at the beginning of this season: How does knowing the end affect the journey? Because we had hinted at it so many times, I still wanted some sense of surprise dramatically. I wanted that moment of a day you think is a regular day and you say good-bye to someone and you don’t realize it’s the last time you’ll see them. The show lives on these big giant explosions of plot and emotion. Michael’s death, I didn’t want to be sensational.
Then you skip ahead three years into the future, which makes it feel like we’re already looking back on the memory.
Yeah, we don’t live in the aftermath because of how devastating it is, but we do go to the aftermath quite frequently. The second half of the journey is filling in Jane’s recovery, the process of grieving for all the characters. That is where we mine all of our dramatic material for this back half of the season. Underneath it all is Michael. Our show always starts with flashback, you know. It used to be to Jane’s youth. For the immediate future, it’s all flashing back to those three years, and how she put her life back together.
At the end of the episode, the show’s titles move from Part Two to Part Three. Part One ended when Jane’s son, Mateo, was kidnapped. What is the arc for Part Three?
In my mind, it’s a three-part narrative and this is a giant seismic shift that happened around our midpoint. So, you know, they’re not equal thirds. We started off our show with this cataclysmic event for Jane, who thought her life was going according to plan, and then she was accidentally artificially inseminated. From that, everything changed. This is another turning point to our series, where everything and everybody changes again.
It’s an important moment in the evolution of this woman, who believed so wholeheartedly in romance and in happily ever after. How does one move on from this overwhelming loss and believe in magic again?
In the note you wrote to Jane fans, you said you felt sorry for having Michael’s death happen in the midst of people’s despair over the political climate. Do you think the show has a responsibility to be optimistic?
Well, I know it’s what people expect when they turn on Jane, and so I felt so sad that you’re gonna go into the episode as an escape. I would have written more about that, but I wanted the note to be about Brett. I just can’t say enough about him and how amazing he’s been in the show, as a character and as a person. But I do know because of all the tweets I’ve gotten how Jane has been a bright spot. Obviously, when we had written this, this was not happening in the world.
And you’ve been very open about talking about Trump on the show, along with consent and immigration and other issues.
Yes, yes, yes, and we will continue to. The show definitely has a point of view and a perspective on all of that. We will continue to look at that and dramatize the way it affects our characters.
Let’s talk about Brett. You said it seemed like Michael was going to die a lot earlier, but he so inhabited the character that you kept writing for him. What was it like to kill him off?
Oh, it was impossible. It was really, really, really hard. It was something I knew we were going to do early on, but that’s why I put the line in, to force myself to stay with the course of the story that I wanted to tell as a whole piece. It’s testament to Brett how hard that was. Every time we would get close to this, there would just be this ugh feeling in the writers’ room, just overwhelming sadness and then five pitches about alternatives. We would look down all of those roads and really think through them. We would always come back to the same thing in terms of the larger scope of the story.
Before Michael’s death, Jane was happy and stable. For the show to continue, you need instability.
Yeah. It’s a telenovela and these giant sweeps happen. Then, I just know Gina can carry that and she can play all that. She will give it all this emotional honesty.
Whenever Gina Rodriguez cries onscreen, it’s always powerful.
Cry, and also smile, I know. She has this smile that just makes you feel her so intensely, so the moments when Jane smiles after Michael are really meaningful to me, because I know that she can take the audience through this journey.
The cast has posted a lot of good-byes to Brett online. What was it like saying good-bye on that last day?
Oh, it was terrible. We didn’t film the ending on the last day. We filmed them in the Ferris wheel. There’s just an overwhelming love for Brett on our set and with our cast and crew, so it was really sad and hard. Everybody knew this was coming, so everybody had enough time to emotionally prepare, but it sucked. It still sucks. We all watched together last night and we all just miss Brett everyday, so it sucks. There’s no other way around it.
Maybe there can be a flashback or two where he returns?
Oh, for sure. For sure. Exactly. In her fantasies. And you will feel him, I will say, very, very much, as we continue.
You also introduce all these other changes: Rafael’s going to jail, Rose is back, and there’s a marriage coming. It feels like a big remaking of the show, compounded by the three-year time jump. What were you trying to accomplish?
This, at its core, is a soap, and you have to continually shake things up so that they don’t get stale. Part of what we do on Jane is follow emotional story lines, so people move slowly through things. We don’t just change people automatically. At this point in the story, I wanted to be able to come in and find everybody in a different place. Everybody has major changes, even the Marbella. As painful as it is for the writers throughout — because of Michael — it’s also been very inspiring to write the second half because there’s so much new stuff. It’s given a real jolt to our storytelling that I’m excited for people to see.
In the early days of the show, you used a love triangle. But now, you have to find a different plot structure.
Exactly. I like telling parenting stories, too. A 4-year-old is really different than an 18-month-old or a 4-and-a-half-year-old. The next episode that comes is like a second pilot, because everything’s different, except that you already know the characters. The dynamics and the tensions are all different.
Did you have to spend a lot of time finding the older Mateo?
Our casting directors are just magical. We brought a few kids to read with Gina, and Gina texted me after meeting this little boy Joseph, and said, “It’s Joseph — it’s always been Joseph!” The kids on the show are closer to my kids in age now, so I can really work out some of my parenting anxiety on the show.
On a practical level of the telenovela, without Michael, you’re less close to the police and detective story lines. Are you still going to tie Jane to all of that?
Yes, and you’ll see that in the next episode. It has to do with Michael’s friend Dennis, whom you met at the beginning of this season. He holds the detective mantle going forward because we have a new big mystery coming at the end of the next episode, in addition to the ongoing Sin Rostro drama that’s happening.
You talked about Part Three as if you’re going into the second half of your story. Do you have an endgame in mind?
I have an endgame in mind. Especially with this story, I felt originally we have to keep our end in sight, even from the earliest moments. So, I have an endgame in sight, I will say.
On a lighter note, the plot with Rogelio and all the penis puns was very funny.
[Laughs.] Well, you will find Rogelio in a very different place when he returns. There have been some big developments in his life as well.
It seems like reality TV could be quite a challenge for him.
Reality TV is a challenge for Rogelio, definitely.