Yael Grobglas as Petra, Justin Baldoni as Rafael.
“Chapter Thirty-Six” has so many plates spinning in the air all at once, surely at least a few have to come crashing down. In just one hour, we get a birth, a proposal, a kidnapping that leads to a pretend Stockholm syndrome, a failed police sting, a stolen-book concept, a moving moment of reconciliation between mother and daughter, a returning first love who’s bad luck, AND a pretty decent Frozen joke. How is that possible? How does it all fit?
Jane the Virgin often has tightly packed episodes, but it’s typical for at least one or two plot threads to be brief, silly, or relatively lightweight. This week was just wall-to-wall stuff, and almost all of it was remarkably satisfying.
Rogelio’s stuck in his own horrible staycation during this episode, isolated from Jane and the rest of the plotlines, forced to relive Lola’s creepy-stalker reenactment of scenes from his first telenovela, La Miseria. For an episode otherwise full of big emotion and lots of interwoven, crisscrossing plotlines, the Rogelio story is a bit odd. It’s stuck in a box all on its own, and it has to strike a very tricky tonal note somewhere between “this is a horrific experience and it would leave very real scars on any person’s psyche” and “this is a silly telenovela plot that is meaningless, so I don’t really care about these characters as people.”
So far, the Adventures of Rogelio and Lola the Crazy-Eyed Stalker are successfully finding that place. Rogelio’s commitment to method acting helps quite a bit, as does Our Beloved Narrator’s continual mediating presence. But ten days in captivity already strains the boundaries of reasonable expectations, even for a character like Rogelio who is always at least one-third telenovela himself. Here’s hoping he manages to slip Lola a better Mickey next week!
As for the rest of the episode, there are three major emotional moments that cap off the major plot threads, and it’s worth highlighting each in turn.
First, we get a truly moving moment between Xiomara and Alba, which feels like it’s been a long time in the making. There’s been too little Alba this season. It’s hard to blame Jane the Virgin, which has been doing a ton of stuff lately. But as Jane has moved away from the initial “pregnant virgin!” premise, Alba the conservative abuela has become less relevant to the story. So it was both unexpected and quite welcome to get this Xiomara/Alba development. With the incipient return of Pablo Alonso Segura, Alba is forced to confront her own regrets about her sexual past, and she sincerely apologizes to Xiomara for the sense of shame she’s instilled in her about being a normal, sexually active person. Huge props to Xiomara and Jane for being firm in their insistence that Alba is just wrong on this issue, and even bigger applause to Alba for admitting her own hypocrisy.
This scene between Xiomara and Alba is small. It’s not one of the big-action sequences we get in this episode, nor is it the stuff of TV promos. But it’s one of the major reasons why Jane the Virgin is such a worthy successor to Gilmore Girls.
The next major emotional capstone in “Chapter Thirty-Six” is the extended Jane/Petra birth plot, which ends in a moment of bonding between Jane and Petra that I’ve been waiting for since this season began. Petra’s trying to get Jane to help rescue Rafael from what appears to be a Jane-breakup-fueled bender. (Actually, he’s on a police sting to try to find his stepbrother.) While Jane tries to distract Petra, they somehow end up in a bookstore-signing line, and confront Jane’s romance-novelist hero about stealing her idea for a book. Petra’s water suddenly breaks, and Michael and Rafael are stuck together in a traffic jam that lasts for untold hours. Also, Petra can’t get an epidural.
This is Jane the Virgin at its most clichéd: water breaking at a dramatic moment in public, traffic jam, Jane stuck being Petra’s birth partner. It should be absurd. It is absurd. (Especially the traffic-jam thing. What were Michael and Rafael even DOING together in that car for so long? Isn’t Michael a cop? Can’t he call for a police escort?) But it creates the opportunity for delicious, sincere, plausibly human moments between Jane and Petra, all of which completely validate the manic melodrama. Petra teaching Jane how to be scary is awesome, if only because it gives Petra some of her best dialogue in a while. Jane trying to comfort Petra while she’s in labor is great, and Petra’s Czech insults are golden. (“GO INTO THE WOODS AND SOIL YOURSELF.”)
Jane the Virgin is not trying to sell us on Jane and Petra as best friends — after all they’ve been through, that would be ridiculous. In these scenes, they build a relationship that’s both believable and surprisingly heartwarming, based on support and appreciation and grudging mutual respect. And I love them for it. And I love that Petra and Rafael have no idea what Frozen is. It’s a silly joke, but it also underlines just how disconnected they are from the world. Welcome, Anna and Elsa! I wish you the very best of luck getting through 12th grade, at which point you can go to separate colleges and no one will ever know.
So Xiomara and Alba come to terms with the intersections of faith and sexuality and shame. Jane and Petra find mutual respect in the pain of childbirth and in the glory of taking down one’s enemies. And for our third knockout scene, we get one of the simplest and most romantic proposals I’ve seen on TV. It’s genuine and honest, and it sells me on Jane and Michael in a deeply satisfying way.
Jane spends much of the episode regretting that she ever broke up with Michael, and imagines a Sliding Doors–style alternate timeline where they get along with Rafael without any of tension. But Petra, in her infinite Czech-infused wisdom, points out that if Jane and Michael had been happy, they wouldn’t have broken up. Fresh from this simple but usefully freeing realization, Jane walks out of the hospital, hands Michael a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips, and says, “Yes” to his proposal so insistently and so joyfully that he hardly even has a chance to ask the question. This, at last, feels like the marriage proposal Jane deserves. It’s so effortless that all of the melodrama falls away. This is not a proposal on a wind-buffeted cliff, or amid a high-speed chase, or at the moment of great tragedy or incredible surprise. It’s easy, and sweet, and just insanely blissful.
Meanwhile, though, Rogelio’s getting a low-rent spray tan from a crazy person, Xiomara invites Pablo Alonso Segura back into Alba’s life (which Alba swears is bad luck), and Rafael’s stepbrother, Derek, checks into the Marbella. To Be Continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- From the “previously on” segment, Our Narrator summarizes Rafael’s recent events as “tough times for the Raf-ster.” Indeed.
- “And so they finally had sex! Lots and lots of sex! Just kidding! Jeez, why are you all so obsessed with that, anyway?”
- On Michael’s suggestion that he and Jane can keep waiting for marriage: “Bro, you just blocked yourself!”
- I love that Jane and Michael watch Scandal, but not as much as I love Our Narrator’s suggestion that we “Scandal our way through” the Derek plot. #TGIT
- On Rafael and Petra’s baby-name selections. “‘Let It Go,’ Jane.”
- Poor Rogelio de la Vega is in the middle of the performance of a lifetime. #rogeliodeladaylewis #rogeliodelabrando #rogeliodeladeniro
- This is a Narrator line, but: “Rogelio considers his oily T-zone to be his one facial flaw.”
- A few people in the comments last week pointed out that this #Rogelio plot bears some resemblance to the singer Selena’s, who was murdered by a woman who ran her fan club. It can always be a little delicate when fictional, more lighthearted stories take on tragic real-life events, but so far Rogelio’s story seems to be adapted enough that the loose connections don’t bug me. It might help explain the pantsuit, though.