Jane the Virgin
This is a really fun episode, so allow me to dispense with some very brief unpleasantness right up top. I’m tired of these winking Honey Bunches of Oats ads. In a lineup of breakfast cereals, I’d probably pick Honey Bunches of Oats in my top ten. I just wish it weren’t polluting my Rogelio experience.
That aside, there is so much excellence happening in “Chapter Fifty-One” that you can basically forget the product placement. It’s been a few weeks since Jane the Virgin pulled off a thoroughly cohesive themed episode, and I’d be happy to see one in almost any iteration. But this Hitchcock-themed episode was even better than I’d expected, and takes full advantage of Jane’s proclivity for narrative self-consciousness. It’s chock-full of jokes about the rules of suspense, third-person omniscient narrators, and Hitchcockian conventions. There are dolly zooms. We get Rafael’s silhouette falling into a Vertigo joke. Our Beloved Narrator even makes a crack about adding birds to the convent for extra Hitchcock goodness. Basically, it is designed to make me happy.
As is always the case for the best Jane episodes, there’s a solid story underneath that theme. “Chapter Fifty-One” has all the silliness and playfulness the show can do so well, particularly in the Rogelio subplot with Darci Factor, High Dollar Love Dealer. The Hitchcock jokes are winking and fun, and manage to pull off some of the same suspense Our Narrator so carefully explains. (It’s not that suspenseful, but to create any tension at all while Our Narrator is simultaneously picking apart the narrative mechanisms that generate anxiousness is pretty impressive. It’s like laughing at a joke while someone explains precisely why it’s funny, which seems impossible.) Underneath all of that, Jane the Virgin still manages to keep its characters grounded and moves ahead with relationship developments.
The best of these is Jane’s concern about religion and Mateo’s religious education. Part of what makes the episode work so well is how seamlessly it weaves together Rafael’s convent flashbacks, Alba’s Catholic guilt, Jane’s co-parenting tensions with Rafael, and Jane’s lingering trauma over Michael’s gunshot wound. That is a lot of stuff. Somehow, it all fits together in the episode’s larger preoccupation with religion, sliding easily back and forth between Jane trying to negotiate with Rafael to take Mateo to church, her own religious dilettantism, and an art-theft plot. That last one is the part Jane the Virgin tends to struggle with the most; the melodramatic, implausible telenovela stuff tends to hang out in its own little bubble, becoming a separate show in the bigger narrative universe. Here, it’s remarkably well-integrated into the bigger story. Even while Rafael is uncovering the Big Suspenseful Envelope Secret, Jane’s out in the chapel realizing that she’s had a crisis of faith.
If there’s a subplot that doesn’t quite mesh with everything else in this episode, it’s Catalina. It’s not her fault, really, or even the fault of the series. It’s just clear that she’s in a slow-building holding pattern, waiting to find her place in the bigger telenovela story. Jane’s discovery of her Very Obviously Villainous Bag of Cash and Jewels gets deflected a bit too easily. Jane’s detection of the charity-gala-chair position is a little undermotivated. Catalina herself doesn’t feel as fully formed as your average Jane the Virgin character usually is. When the Dos Equis Guy look-alike shows up at the end, the episode clearly signals that the Catalina character will be shifting soon, and it’s not as though her holding pattern mars the rest of the episode. Right now, she just seems a little left out of the fun.
So while Catalina’s hanging out and Rogelio’s trying to get matched up with Denise Richards, Jane, Michael, and Rogelio finally make progress on the Mutter plot we’ve been teased with from the beginning of the season. The bank account from Mutter’s Bible belongs to a convent, which Michael learns has been receiving a monthly deposit from Mutter for years. This triggers memories from Rafael’s youth, and the discovery of the convent’s involvement in his father’s art theft. (Psst, Past Rafael: Chances seem pretty good that the giant stash of Renaissance art your father kept hidden in a storage cage was not obtained legally. Just a heads-up.) It ends with Jane and Rafael on a tour of a Miami convent, and Rafael’s subsequent, Hitchcockian meeting with the Mother Superior. All while Jane conveniently gets some spiritual counseling.
The telenovela side of Jane hasn’t gotten this much development in a while, and it’s to the show’s credit that it doesn’t feel like a sudden left turn from the rest of the season. The Hitchcock theme helps quite a bit with this: Although the plot is more baroque than many of the season’s other stories, Our Beloved Narrator does a lot of heavy lifting to keep the convent story within a familiar tonal range. He plays around with suspense over the act break between commercials. He pumps up the more suspenseful elements. Most interesting, Our Narrator takes responsibility for the suspense structure himself, as though he’s listening to Jane tell Michael about the “bomb under the table” theory and suddenly decides to build the rest of the episode in that genre. Rather than being unmoored, the telenovela element becomes part of the Narrator’s job, making it distinctly Jane-ish instead of something random happening in a garage somewhere. It’s a super-smart move for the show.
The telenovela plot is also aided by the time spent defining Rafael’s motivations. He wants to protect his father’s legacy, and he hid the stash of stolen art because he didn’t want to further damage the public’s (or his own) understanding of who his father was. Even more movingly, Rafael decides to come clean about the stolen art when he exits the convent, and he does it for Mateo’s sake. He wants to break the corrupt generational cycle of the Solano family. Hmm …
While that’s happening, of course Rogelio ends up agreeing to have a baby with Darci Factor. It was a given from the moment she came onscreen, played by Justina Machado. When you cast an actress who can play that well against the charisma volcano that is Rogelio De La Vega, obviously you’re going to keep her around as more than a one-off stunt character. Plus, she’s amazing as a high-roller matchmaker. She got Denise Richards, an Olson twin, and a Duggar! (Which one, though?! I am dying to know which one. I’m betting Jana.)
At the episode’s end, we finally get the reveal Our Narrator teased earlier in the episode, and Rafael so cruelly withheld: The contents of the envelope that will change everything. It’s a birth certificate, revealing that Elena is not Rafael’s mother. Shortly after she lost a baby, the convent gave her baby Rafael. Rafael is not actually Solano! What does it mean?! To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love:
- Like Jane, Our Narrator is also over Catalina. “Blah, blah, blah, we get it. You go to fabulous places and know fabulous people.”
- “See this? What’s in this envelope is going to change everything,” says our Narrator, really getting into the Hitchcockian spirit.
- “Oh, gee, I’m getting vertigo! Stop spinning!”
- I love when Our Narrator is disappointed in the characters, as he is about Rafael covering up his father’s theft. “Duuuude,” he says, sadly.
- It just wouldn’t be Jane the Virgin without Our Narrator throwing in a little political reality to keep us all in check. Catalina promises that she’s sending money back to her family in Venezuela, and we get an onscreen hashtag reminder: #Venezuela #helpneeded
- Finally, my most favorite: Jane tells Michael she’s going to shift a chapter to a third-person omniscient narrator to help build suspense. “AGREED!” shouts our beloved third-person Narrator.
- On Catalina: “I don’t know how you can stand her. Just the other day I was telling Gloria Estefan what a shame this name-dropper Catalina is.” “Did you tell Oprah, too?” “No, just Gayle.”
- Rogelio’s looking for someone special. Someone with #roominthewomb. “I’ve heard that thing about beauty being skin deep,” he tells Darci, but “I have to look at that skin. So let’s double down on that.”
- In response to Darci’s rule that he can’t instantly make love with one of her matches: “You should prepare the women for the devastation they will feel once they learn they won’t be able to immediately make love to me.”
- Rogelio greets Darci’s proposal with suspicion. “You’re not trying to pawn me off on Chelsea Handler again, are you?”