This episode had a wrinkle that surprised me: It publicizes Michelle Obama’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative. Gina Rodriguez also stars in a PSA for the program, which aims to raise awareness about the millions of girls around the world who do not have access to an education.
And I have to say, that made me leery.
I’ve mentioned before how amazing and unusual it is for a series to be so involved in political advocacy (#VOTE #VOTE #VOTE), but there’s a difference between a show giving voice to political stances that arise out of its own world, and a show that becomes a preachy soapbox. It’s fresh and potent for Jane the Virgin to remind us about the flaws in our national-immigration policy, if only because Our Dear Narrator makes that commentary feel like an aspect of the series’ identity. But to have this sort of thing come from the outside … I feared a Nancy Reagan situation.
I was wrong. This episode was pretty great.
A lot of that success had to do with the episode’s major narrative device: a series of time jumps that allow us to race through four months. Not only does this work well within the episode, it also lets Jane the Virgin skip through the side plots it’s been straining to keep balanced this season. The Petra/Magda/Milos hand-grenade situation is reduced to exactly what it should be, for my taste: a series of largely humorous vignettes in which Petra proves quite capable of disposing of thousands of explosives, and Magda ends up with a hook for hand. (Honestly, though, I didn’t even realize the hook was new. It seemed so plausible for her to have had a hook all this time.) In order to get there, Magda is released from prison, but not before she mentions offhandedly that she thinks a red-haired lady in the kitchen was trying to poison her.
The Passions of Santos ends, and Rogelio ends up accidentally pitching a brilliant comedic telenovela version of Mad Men. The Sin Rostro bit disappears completely, along with Michael. Though that’s bad news for #TeamMichael supporters, it’s great news for the show. As I mentioned last week, relief from love-triangle stasis is a good thing for everyone.
In Michael’s absence, the time jump does a lot to restore Rafael as a desirable character. He’s finally able to give Jane what she’s been asking for all along — time to figure out who she is, and a chance to adjust to motherhood. We get to watch Rafael co-parent and support Jane’s career at school without pushing her into a romantic relationship. We also get to watch Rafael kill at baby music class — one of the few things he and I really have in common — and generally become a thoughtful, encouraging, reasonable father and human being. This is great for Petra, who, as we learn, is having twin girls! Poor Petra also has hyperemesis gravidarum, which is a solid place to start if you’re going to launch her sympathy tour.
Aside from sorting through the minor story lines, the primary utility of the time jump is to illustrate something I think most people generally believe, but television doesn’t often portray with much precision: the intense near-impossibility of being both a mother and a student. (You could probably substitute “student” for “also anything else,” or just “being a parent,” full stop, but there’s a specificity and value to Jane’s schoolwork.) As we saw in the last few episodes this season, Jane charges into grad school with the determination and persistence that has always defined her character; she’s confident she can figure out how to balance school with parenthood. And, of course, she can. We know she can, she’s Jane Gloriana Villanueva! But watching these challenges slowly wear her down feels both obvious and revelatory.
During her grad-school orientation, Jane gets kicked out of the classroom for taking a call from Mateo’s pediatrician. She decides to go on the writer’s retreat for school, and as a result, misses the appointment where Mateo gets fitted for his plagiocephaly helmet. She’s heartbroken, but finally connects enough with her classmates to make a new friend … only to then realize she’s forgotten to bring one of the bazillion pieces of her breast pump, and needs Rafael to bail her out. Then Mateo refuses to nurse, meaning that Jane has to pump constantly in order to maintain her milk supply, which leads to her falling asleep in class, which lands her on academic probation. And then she gets MASTITIS.
There is so much that’s amazing about this sequence. It’s stunningly, effectively detailed. Do you know how many characters have uttered the phrase “clogged duct” on TV? In my experience, that number is probably zero. How many babies have worn plagiocephaly helmets? How many shows have depicted mothers struggling to pump milk? Right. Zero-ish. It’s incredibly worthwhile, validating, and normalizing to represent these issues as an ordinary part of life. It also leads to a healthy discussion between Jane and Rafael, in which Rafael convinces Jane that it’s time to stop pumping and start Mateo on formula — yet another conversation I’ve rarely seen before in fiction.
But most importantly, this time-jumping device allowed Jane the Virgin to do valuable political work without even seeming to. The White House’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative gets name-checked by imaginary big kid Mateo, and is tied directly to the episode through Jane and Rafael’s discussions about Mateo’s trust fund. Still, the bulk of Jane the Virgin’s advocacy in this episode is shown, not told. Presumably, the aim of “Let Girls Learn” is to support girls in situations that are much more life-threatening and culturally antagonistic than the ones illustrated by this episode. Even a mother as well supported and well equipped as Jane Villanueva struggles to go to school, though.
The time jumps have one additional narrative benefit: They allow Jane the Virgin to fast-forward into a stealthy, seasonally appropriate Thanksgiving episode. It’s a lovely place to land, allowing us to skip right to an older, helmet-free Mateo, to a more advanced place in Petra’s pregnancy, and to a classic round-the-table scene of everyone giving thanks.
Of course, that also means that the last few minutes of the episode jump us back into telenovela plots. Rafael asks Jane on a date … and she says yes! Michael is back from his hunt for Sin Rostro with Nadine! Jane’s grad-school friend Wesley is pumping Scott Who Loves Vests for info about the Solano family! Captain Magda Hook killed Milos’s flunky Ivan to cover up a secret! To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- Poor Rafael will be the father of three children without having had any sex to create them. “#RafaeltheVirgin”
- “And thus Petra, too, was grateful. And briefly all was right.”
- And in case you didn’t get enough of the politics before, our narrator throws us a hashtag during a discussion of Rafael’s net worth: “#richgetricher”
- I shortchanged Rogelio for the political stuff this week, but oh man — Hombres Locos. I’m dying. #mylastdayassantos #theworldweeps
- While Jane worries about the effect of wealth on Mateo’s character, Rogelio presents him with his own Matelio director’s chair! “This is just so he knows how important he is.”
- “Thank you, grips, for everything you’ve … gripped. Gaffers. Thank you! For all of your … gaffes.”
- Hombres Locos: “a faster-piece, if you will,” starring Don Juan Draper.
- And what is Rogelio thankful for this holiday season? “Health and hair. Always, health and hair.”