Jane the Virgin
From the start, Jane the Virgin has been remarkably adept at juggling one of the hardest things about long-running romance stories: namely, how to move between love interests. The first two seasons were fueled by a Jane-Michael-Rafael love triangle that had juice for a surprisingly long time, and season three was dominated by Jane’s marriage, Michael’s death, and Jane’s grief. We’ve now reached a tricky stage for a series that does a lot of stuff, but tends to do it all within a fundamentally romance-driven structure. How will it get Jane back into the space of serious relationships? How will it create tension in Jane’s love life without feeling like a pale shade of what came before?
The potential for a relationship with Rafael is one solid leg of a romance triangle. Jane the Virgin painstakingly avoided having Jane run into Rafael’s arms too quickly after Michael’s death, nimbly dodging through the emotional pitfalls of a character who’d potentially turn to her ex for comfort. But now the series needs to introduce some other candidate for Jane’s heart, and has to do it in a way that will make him feel like a legitimate, compelling contender. We were teased with Adam at the end of last season, so we’re prepped for the possibility. Still, how can you introduce a character who feels both new and already integrated into the foundation of the show? How do you make him feel like a long-foretold destiny?
Let’s talk about heterodiegetic narrators! Our Beloved Narrator is a comic relief, he’s a guide through the show’s many byzantine plot arcs, and he shapes our emotional responses to the show’s highs and lows. His position within the story is slippery. Our Narrator’s fungible position — he floats somewhere above the story, but he’s not fully all-knowing — means that sometimes he seems to have little idea what’s coming next, and sometimes he’s dropping hints about things that won’t come true for years. He’s also a narrative partisan: He’s very clearly on Jane’s side (and I think a close read would make a strong case for him as Team Michael as well).
Enter: Adam’s own narrator. I don’t have particularly strong feelings for Adam just yet, but having his own narrator-slash-cheerleader instantly shifts the power dynamics of the Adam-Jane relationship, and the show’s broader narrative frame. Suddenly, it’s not Our Narrator anymore. We have a Jane Narrator and an Adam Narrator, each vying for control over whose story gets prominence and whose perspective gets prioritized.
Just as it is with Adam, I’m not yet in love with his narrator. (My love is slow and hard-won.) But it’s instantly clear how useful this new narrator can be. As per usual, we’re dropped into the midst of some bananas Marbella-centric conspiracy where you’re not quite clear if you’re seeing Petra or Anezka, massive amounts of money need to change hands very quickly, and everything tilts around ownership of the hotel. It’s hard to keep track of what’s happening at any given point, but rather than Our Narrator stepping in with a witty metaphor or onscreen graphic, we now get Adam’s Narrator as an interlocutor. “I’m sorry, who is this rando?” she asks. “Is Whatsherface right? Does Rafael still love her?” “Are you serious?! You’re interrupting the date for Whatsherface walking through the hallway with papers?!”
And you can see why she might have a hard time following things. Petra once again imitates Anezka, trying to undo Luisa’s sneaky power play to buy shares of the Marbella. Anezka seems like she might be dead, except of course she isn’t. Rafael, Jane, and Petra have a complicated dance of who feels what for whom, who knows about whose feelings, and voice-mails and lost text messages and misunderstood cues. Jane and Rafael also have a disagreement about money, debating what to do about Mateo’s school and whether to tell him about their shaky finances. Rogelio is frustrated with Darcy, who’s pregnant with his baby and who goads him into breaching their custody agreement; Xo’s frustrated with the whole situation, which has taken the air out of her honeymoon phase. That’s not even including the parts Adam’s Narrator does know about — the letter, the apartment, the Jane and Adam backstory.
It’s a dizzying array of stuff, and a surprising amount of it lands. The Jane-Mateo-Rafael story is my favorite of the smaller threads; when Jane the Virgin focuses on issues of money and class and privilege, it is unbeatable. The moment when Jane and Rafael finally come to a head over the trust fund is especially great, and rooted in the deepest parts of their characters. Their different experiences with money and privilege are what’s always driven them apart, and it’s so believable that this is what would separate them now.
For the stuff that’s harder to follow, Adam’s Narrator is an effective way to help us navigate through the usual snarl of conspiracies and evil twins and drug lords and bank accounts in the Caymans. She’s also a new facet for Jane the Virgin’s perpetual self-interrogation, a vehicle for thinking about genre and the craft of the show. She wants to know why we’re getting “misleading push-ins” and “long glances” at certain moments, why other bits of the story keep interrupting each other, why some characters’ feelings get prioritized over others. “Wait,” she asks Jane’s Narrator, “what’s with the slow-motion push?” (“For the last time, I’m shaping the story!” he tells her, snappily.)
Meanwhile, Adam’s Narrator is also shaping the story, which is the most interesting aspect of her presence. Rafael’s side of the love triangle has the benefit of time and familiarity and, let’s be honest, it has Rafael’s physique. That’s hard to compete with. But if Adam has his own representative in the story, championing his needs and pushing for his happiness, the playing field starts to look a lot more level. It’s a really persuasive way to suggest that Adam and Jane might actually be meant for each other. Even if we’re not rooting for Adam yet, someone is.
That’s why Adam’s Narrator makes a strong case for him as a love interest. It’s not necessarily anything she says, or the comic-book-inflected medium she gives to his story. It’s her mere presence. That said, the most persuasive point in Adam’s favor has nothing to do with his narrator, Jane’s googly-woogly response to him, or the rad beanie he was rocking when Jane was 19. It’s that when he goes to play a song for Jane, I flinched in anticipation of an awkwardly sincere love ballad, and instead I heard Jane’s love cue. That is some powerful stuff.
Anyhow, Rose is in prison killing a large bald man? To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• One of my favorite minor things about Adam’s Narrator is the possibility for debate about the actual look of the show. She’s already critiquing the way Our Narrator presents us with specific camera shots, and I love the exchange where they discuss Adam and Jane’s reunion. “There were fewer cranes, honestly,” Adam’s Narrator says, wryly. “I don’t care,” Our Narrator responds.
• I am super into this new narrator idea and will be interested to see where it goes, but here’s my one concern: From the perspective of sheer density and the weight of self-awareness, two narrators is a lot of look. Is it sustainable? At some point, will it tip over into being too much?
• I was so relieved to see the small moment where Xo talks about her disappointment spending her honeymoon getting into Twitter wars rather than taking a trip to Hawaii. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The main reason this show works as well as it does is that it can really sell the smaller, conversational scenes, and that it uses those opportunities for important emotional moments rather than forwarding the plot.
• Good on Rogelio for coming around to the necessity of making nice with Darcy! It’s not a surprise — of course Jane the Virgin would make sure Rogelio does his best to be a great father — but his attempts to respond nicely to Darcy are particularly good work by Jaime Camil. “Art is very subjective!”