Jane the Virgin
Jane the Virgin is no longer a virgin! To my unending delight, “Chapter Forty-Seven” tackles the sex situation head-on, situating Jane’s emotional response to losing her virginity within the longstanding context of the show, her family, and her understanding of herself. Michael gets to be clueless in a believable way before once again redeeming himself as almost too good to be true. Jane gets to have a plausible first experience with sex while also articulating a human narrative about what sex can actually be like. All that, and Jane the Virgin pokes some heavily meta fun at the CW’s network identity. Plus Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
After some initial dilly-dallying over delays and people being around the house and lots of very silly sex puns that I’m legitimately surprised the CW got away with (“be gentle with my box”?!), Jane and Michael get down to business. The first time is … just okay. It’s not great for Jane. This isn’t surprising, but it is a relief: Michael and Jane’s narrative is relentlessly pushed toward perfection, so it was time for the show to address something that could be a real issue. It’s also unusual (and frankly, almost startling) to see a show as network-y and light as Jane the Virgin talk about what happened so baldly. Michael thinks they finished at the same time; Jane quickly tells Lina that she faked her orgasm and later admits as much to Michael. She could tell he was going to finish, she knew it would take her longer, and she got nervous. The sequence happens with none of the breathless self-consciousness of a Sex in the City episode, and none of the awkward suggestive pauses from your standard sitcom rhythm. Jane just says it, straight out — she faked it.
There aren’t that many moments in “Chapter Forty-Seven” where the language gets that explicit. The sex at the beginning and the end is elided with a cute animation of Michael and Jane in a rocket. It’s goofy and self-aware, but it also brings to mind all the ways films during the post–Hays Code era used visual metaphors to suggest sexual activity. Elsewhere during the episode, they talk around the physicality. Michael asks if Jane had real orgasms when they did “other things”; she’s clear that she did. (I’m also weirdly happy to learn Jane and Michael were doing other things this whole time! Good for them.) When he attempts to provide those “other things” and she still can’t have an orgasm, it’s communicated more through visuals than through clarifying language.
Nevertheless, the episode’s central problem — Jane’s sexual pleasure — is unmistakable. It’s also treated as a significant problem, given more time and serious narrative attention than Xo’s music career, Rogelio’s efforts to sell Santos to an American audience, and Luisa and Rose in a criminal sex submarine circling the Great Barrier Reef for months. It’s not surprising that Jane the Virgin would treat this issue with such gravity. The show has always been unusually open about issues relating to women’s bodies and women’s experiences, and it handles them with emotional candor. What did surprise and impress me, though, was the show’s willingness to dismantle the fundamentals of its own premise in order to explain why sex with Michael is so unnerving for Jane.
Of course, being told that your virginity is a perfect, beautiful flower that could only be ruined by sex would mess up a person. Of course being (partly) defined by your virginity would lead you to question your identity once you did have sex. Of course it would be difficult to allow yourself to take pleasure in something that you’d been taught was sinful. The flower metaphor that Jane the Virgin has used as its winking telenovela premise from the very first chapter also has real psychological effects. “Chapter Forty-Seven” tackles that issue directly, letting Xo validate Jane’s feelings of loss while also elucidating how those feelings are fueled by this dangerous childhood myth about herself.
That’s the first thing about Jane and sex that this episode does well, and it’s the most important one. But coming in at a close second is Michael’s willingness to actually look at the accidental sex tape he and Jane made (whoops, that was a mistake, huh?) and actually sit down with Jane to talk about what went wrong. It’s the (very) grown-up version of the silly conflict modeling Jane and Rafael did at Mateo’s crunchy preschool in the previous episode, modelling healthy communication as a means to sexual fulfillment. And the payoff is pretty great: It features an animated flyover of the Beijing Olympic stadium filled with perfectly synchronized cards that spell out “Tap That Ass.”
We’re talking about Jane the Virgin, so of course there’s other stuff going on, too. I love that this show decided to lean all the way into its absurd metafictional inclinations and have Rogelio try to sell an American adaptation of The Passions of Santos to the CW. He and his co-producer and ex-girlfriend Dina run into some trouble when the CW execs tell them that they’d want Rob Lowe to helm the project. Plus, through a classic Jane snarl of events, Rogelio ends up using his 20-year celebrity favor to get Gloria and Emilio Estefan to come to Xo’s showcase at the Marbella, rather than having them sign onto the Santos project. The long-term impact of all of this is that Rogelio only has six months to get famous enough to launch his CW adaptation, Xo’s not really sure whether she wants to pursue singing as a career, and Gloria Estefan is a good sport about showing up for a wind-in-her-hair gag and a litany of all of her accomplishments. Jane also gets to yell, “I just need you to stay out of this, Gloria Estefan!”
Hopefully, the long-term effect of this Passions of Santos plot is that the show has plenty of excuses to make jokes about the CW. Is it, like, a streaming thing? What channel is it even on? A superhero for every night of the week — what programming genius!
While the Santos adaptation is mostly wry CW jokes (which I am here for, obviously), the episode’s other metafictional conceit is more thematically useful. Gina Rodriguez is always great when she gets to play inventions from Jane’s fiction, but Alba’s estranged sister Cecilia is an especially perfect one. Rodriguez plays up the sex-kitten side of Cecilia with what looked like a remarkable amount of fun, and she also grounds the character when the inevitable turn comes. Cecilia actually behaved like a fully imagined person by the end, which is an impressive feat. And the episode uses Cecilia as yet another way to puncture the damaging virgin-whore binary that Jane internalized.
Finally, our telenovela plot, where Rose and Luisa have been hanging out 20 leagues under the sea this whole time. Luisa discovers what she assumes is Rose’s murder list, and although she’s tempted to stay with Rose — Jane has never been shy about the extent of these women’s attraction for one another — the episode ends with Luisa turning up at the Marbella and apparently telling Michael about everything. They realize that Luisa and Rafael’s mother were on the murder list, but by the time they alert the prison, it’s too late. Mutter is already collapsed on the floor, gripping a copy of the Bible.
That’s a big deal, I suppose, but let’s be clear: Nothing compares with Jane and Michael having sex, openly discussing the fact that it wasn’t perfect, struggling to fix it, dismantling Jane’s deeply held virginity-related identity issues, and then watching themselves on their accidental sex tape to figure out how they could make things better. And then, they have some great sex.
To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- Lots of great sex-pun hashtags this week. Jane and Michael being #docblocked during Michael’s recovery was good, but my hands-down favorite was Jane’s unfortunate experience with overpowered sex oil. #FeeltheBurn
- I’m just going to go ahead and credit Our Narrator with those sex animation sequences. Especially the second one, which featured increasingly hilarious heights of cartoony pleasure. They got eaten by a whale! And then blown out of its blowhole!
- If I give Our Narrator that animation, though, it means I also have to blame him for the animated image of Rose and Luisa and the Great Barrier Reef. I could be wrong, but is the Great Barrier Reef really that … circular?
- “Rejection is so hard, and I’m not equipped to deal with it because it happens so infrequently.”
- Rogelio’s truths about how to mediate celebrity favors are words to live by. “Canadian celebs you can ask for favors any time. Michael Bublé has washed my car twice!” Also vital: Rogelio explaining that Gloria and Emilio Estefan plus him is enough to equal Rob Lowe. That’s just “basic celebrity math.”
- It’s so hard for Rogelio to understand that Xo might want to do something other than sing, or to only sing for herself. “With no fame component?!” he asks, wonderingly.