These first episodes of Jane the Virgin’s fourth season have built toward a Rafael breakdown, and we may finally be there. “Chapter Sixty-Eight” also includes stories about Rogelio trying to find a name for his new daughter, and Jane trying to negotiate Adam’s newfound panic, and Luisa infesting the Marbella with termites and then fumigating the place so she can burn it down without killing anyone. But the primary story is about Rafael, and it’s a mixed blessing.
Rafael’s downward trajectory into dickish, desperate, will-trade-sex-for-business territory happened pretty quickly, but we have gotten some emotional explanations for why. Rafael has always wanted security. His father turned out to be a criminal (and wasn’t even his father), his ex-wife has betrayed him several times over, his mother was a crime lord, his sister is in an ongoing relationship with a crime lord, and he’s had to deal with all of that, plus Jane, plus having had cancer. Through it all, his financial world has been the one thing that’s always been secure. But now he’s lost that, he’s lost his relationship with Petra, he’s grown further and further from Jane, and his sister has kicked him out of the hotel that’s always been his home. That is … a lot.
It’s no wonder the guy is falling apart and lashing out, and it probably shouldn’t be surprising that he’s clinging to Katherine Cortes. She clearly wants him, and she’s offering to help him restore the thing about his life that’s always been fundamental to his identity. His self-worth is all tied up with his wealth. Without his money, Raf is a mess.
When you lay it all out like that, Rafael’s actions make a lot of sense. He’s sensitive about his relationship with Katherine because he hates himself, but he doesn’t see any other way to get his money back. And he’s especially sensitive about Jane, whose family remains a bedrock of love and support for her. Unfortunately, Raf is still on the outside of that Villanueva bubble: They’re trying to support him and love him, but it’s hard to feel loved when you hate yourself.
All of this comes to a head in “Chapter Sixty-Eight,” when Rafael spends too much time day drinking with Katherine to pick up Mateo from school; says horribly ill-advised, mean things to Jane; and generally hits Peak Asshole. Again, when you lay out his history, a lot of that makes sense. You start to feel for him rather than find his behavior simply reprehensible.
The problem is that Jane the Virgin is so jam-packed with stuff that it’s pretty easy to forget Rafael’s whole story. When you’re also trying to establish Adam as a realistic love interest, serve up some Rogelio/Ryan Gosling feud goodness, and also remember that Jane has a career — not to mention Xiomara’s dance studio, Petra and Anezka, and Luisa and Rose — it’s just not surprising that Rafael’s twist into breaking bad feels under-supported.
In the long run, I don’t think it’ll matter too much. Jane the Virgin has a solid record of having meaningful “wow, that was some stuff that happened, huh!?” conversations after the fact, which can do a lot of work to give these big character turns stronger emotional scaffolding. Anyhow, Rafael just got run over by Katherine’s car, so I imagine that whole relationship is, ahem, on the skids.
Still, the Rafael story in these first several episodes points to what a tenuous place he holds within the bigger Jane the Virgin storytelling universe. He’s been a catch-all figure for the show’s many threads: He’s a romantic figure when it needs one; he’s a friend for Jane when she needs support; he’s a parent when an episode wants to talk about issues of co-parenting and child-rearing; he’s caught up in the many telenovela plots whenever it’s time to dive into the drug-lord criminal conspiracy; and he’s the face of wealth whenever the show wants to consider economics. On the one hand, it’s remarkable Rafael is flexible enough to contain all of those multitudes, and it’s seriously impressive that he can do all that and still be as coherent as he is. On the other hand, sometimes he’s just not very coherent.
That is the issue with his story so far this season, because my sense is that I’m supposed to feel deep frustration with him, but also concern for him. I’m supposed to hope that he comes to his senses and finds himself again. But as Rafael hurls cruelties at Jane, and then Jane and Petra get so worked that they’re literally throwing down in a children’s ball pit, I’m mostly ticked. It’s reasonable to step back and see how this all fits together, but it’s also reasonable to say, “Wow, that guy needs to get his act together because this is not a good look.”
So, where does that leave us at the end of episode four? Jane and Adam agree to stay together in spite of his panicking — Alba the wise owl (#owlba!) points out that it’s unfair to expect Adam to immediately leap into Mateo’s life and not feel overwhelmed by that responsibility. Owl-ba also manages to get through to Rafael, who tries to break it off with Katherine before she tries to break Rafael off from his own legs. Xiomara decides not to go into business with Slutty Crystal, but does manage to communicate to Rogelio her admirably self-realized concerns about falling too deep into a new parenting role and losing track of her own goals. And, of course, Jane and Petra go full GLOW in the Marbella Kid’s Club.
Finally, after countless animal-themed photo shoots and trials of names including Amada, Fiona, and Delilah, Rogelio and Darci decide to name their daughter Baby. It is … not my favorite? But then Rogelio announced that her middle name will be Michaelina, in honor of his best friend Michael, and suddenly I was catapulted back into the greatness of this show.
That happened a lot during this episode. For instance, I continue to have little idea what’s going on with Anezka, Magda, Luisa, and Rose. The Marbella needs to get burnt down so Luisa can collect the insurance money so Rose can trigger her prison escape; but how the Cortes deal fits in, or what side Magda and Anezka are on, or who’s currently blackmailing who — all of these details feel pretty amorphous. And yet, when inhaler-huffing, hotel-burning Carl was revealed to be a figment of Luisa’s imagination, I outright gasped. What?! To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• In his ongoing, increasingly wounded efforts to include Xiomara in baby things, Rogelio tells her that holding a newborn for a few minutes can help reduce stress. Narrator: “Yeah, I’m guessing he didn’t hear that from a stay-at-home parent.”
• Ugh, termites! “As we all know in the animal kingdom, it’s kill or be … [horrible sound of a foot squishing a bug].”
• It’s not exactly a Narrator effect, but I just love how this show uses texting. The device of drafting texts and then deleting without sending them is really, really effective, and it does such great character-building work. Even the texts that do get sent are perfect: Rafael’s misspelled “lunch” texts give you a better sense of where he’s at than almost anything he says in the episode.
• “If you don’t believe you’re a bear, I won’t believe you’re a bear.”
• “Ryan Gosling has a daughter named Amada and I don’t want to make the notorious Gosling/de la Vega rivalry any worse.”
• “I will handle the Gos, and stomach the wrath of another ruthless Canadian — for the baby.”
• “You don’t need Slutty Crystal; you have Slutty Rogelio.”