Every great TV show excels at some particular thing — a type of story it tells especially well, a kind of plotline it constructs with unusual excellence. The Americans is great at stories about the Jenner’s marriage. (Okay, that show is so good at everything, but still.) Fargo? Stories about the inexplicable. Friday Night Lights did some of its best storytelling about fatherhood and masculinity; Girls is especially good when its characters feel alien in their surroundings; iZombie does a fantastic season finale.
Jane the Virgin is bafflingly good at stories about trauma and recovery. It uses this skill in two ways. First, the show incorporates its many bananas telenovela plots without losing the underlying emotional thread of its narrative. See, for instance, the initial premise about Jane experiencing a truly incredible pregnancy, then being forced to cope with it and the earthquake it sends through her life. Mateo gets kidnapped, Rogelio’s held hostage, Abuela gets thrown down the stairs, Petra’s paralyzed, Michael gets shot, and a dozen other more shocking things have happened in three seasons. The show can be unbelievably eventful.
And then there’s the second approach: Jane the Virgin also uses its skill in telling stories about trauma to do exactly that. It’s great at showing us what it’s like when characters need to pick up the pieces after a stunning event. Time and again, the show gives us usually horrific events, and then it uses the aftermath as fuel for narrative and emotional growth. Rather than discarding grief immediately so the show can return to a status quo, it becomes a core element of Jane the Virgin’s thematic preoccupation.
Last week’s episode featured the most traumatic story Jane the Virgin has ever told, and it put the biggest strain on the show’s ability to simultaneously pivot away from a huge event while also respecting the impact it would have on each character’s life. The time jump is an especially important (and scary) move: It catapults the show forward, enabling Jane the Virgin to introduce new stories, but it also runs the risk of moving past Michael’s death more quickly than its audience is ready to accept.
“Chapter Fifty-Five” does an outstanding job fulfilling both needs. First, for the stories that don’t belong to Jane, it is undeniably refreshing to reset everything and start from a clean slate. Rafael spent some time in prison and no longer has to be stuck in that narratively muddy “do you like me, do you feel sorry for me, am I still bad?” place. Three years in the future, he’s more confident, he’s got a beard no one likes but Mateo (… also me), and he comes off as a more centered, secure co-parent to both Jane and Petra. I imagine it must be quite freeing to finally feel like he has a family that isn’t shadowed by his father’s criminal legacy.
From a character standpoint, less has changed for future Rogelio. He’s still yearning for American breakthrough stardom for an adaptation of The Passions of Santos — gotta say, Rogelio, The Passions of Steve is not a great title, buddy. He hasn’t become a father again, and his relationship with Darci has become a complete sham to support the ratings for their wildly successful reality show, The De La Vega-Factor Factor. In the short term, this entangles Rogelio in all kinds of shenanigans relating to fake weddings and reshoots, but from the broader perspective, it actually does a nice job of rewinding Rogelio to a place we haven’t seen him in since season two. He’s clearly being set up as interested in Xiomara again (although she’s still with Bruce), while his relationship with Darci seems to have forced his hand on the question of children versus a relationship. Ultimately, when he had that choice with Darci, he couldn’t agree to have children with her because he couldn’t see them as a long-term happy couple. Sidebar: No wonder Darci is pissed at him! She agreed to have kids, which was clearly her primary goal. They get locked into a reality show. And then he backed out, leaving her stuck with no kids and no way to pursue that goal because she’s stuck in their reality contract! I’ve always wanted Rogelio and Xo to find their way back to one another, but wow, Rogelio. These seem like some pretty bad moves on your part.
Inevitably, future Petra is the one who’s entangled with the show’s necessary telenovela developments. They come in the form of the delightfully dastardly neighboring hotel owner, Chuck, and the episode’s big closing reveal — Scott’s body, buried under a Marbella beach in the vicinity of a carefully disguised property line. R.I.P., Vests, I guess. You were always pretty gross so I can’t say I’m mourning this turn of events, but it is nice to have a new murder plot to chew through. Even better, though, Petra is finally in a new place emotionally. Sure, she’s banging Chuck the Bro-iest Hotelier. But she’s also a much more secure mother, and even better, she’s thrilled to finally have the rebranded Marbella as something that’s hers, that she made herself and is wholly her own.
So then … Jane. A surprising amount of this episode feels breezy and refreshing, like a fun restart to the world this show has built for so long. But the Jane portions are really where “Chapter Fifty-Five” shines. They give us the everyday challenges of Jane’s life now, but they’re also clear and unflinching in depicting her grief. Parenting Mateo is hard. It’s obviously the dominant element of Jane’s life, and we get to see the challenges of that, the clear evidence that Jane and Mateo are deeply bonded to one another, along with Jane’s all-too-understandable fear that she let her grief damage him.
The other best part of the episode is seeing how Jane’s family and friends have pulled through to support her since Michael’s death. It’s tear-inducing, but not surprising, to see Xiomara and Alba smile over how strong Jane is. It’s quite nice to watch Rafael help Jane stand up and get through the public reading of her romance novel about Michael. And the best of the best is clearly Petra, who retains a completely believable aloofness now that she’s more secure as a mother, but who has obviously grown much closer to Jane since Michael’s death and Rafael’s imprisonment. The weekly brunches and the moments when Jane and Petra are honest and vulnerable with one another are just so, so great.
“Chapter Fifty-Five” doubles down on Jane as a figure of resilience and strength, reminding us that the show exists in a world where real tragedy happens, and where humanity can withstand that pain and move forward. The flashbacks to the interim time after Michael’s death are crucial, because they refuse to ignore how much pain Jane has endured. Acknowledging that is vital. But moving three years in the future also lets Jane the Virgin start telling the story it needs to tell to help Jane really recover. Quite simply, she refuses to be the object of your pity. She has always been the main character in her own life, and now, she gets to learn how to heal and become that character again.
Also, someone wants to buy her book! And Mateo’s going to get an aide to help with his impulse control, and Xo’s going to have to put up with another season of the De La Vega-Factor Factor, and Rafael has an apparently forgettable girlfriend. And, of course, there’s the body of Scott, buried on the beach. To be continued!
• I’m liking the early evidence of how Our Beloved Narrator will cope with Mateo the Toddler. “You’re a BAD HEAD!” “Bad head? That’s the best you can do?”
• It seems Our Narrator will continue playing games with exactly how omniscient he is. When presented with evidence that Rafael did go to prison, he chuckles, “And I knew that. I was just messing with you.”
• Gotta love the Narrator’s description of Chuck’s sleezy hotel: “Late modern Florida bro-chic, with classic douche accents.”
• Lest you doubt that Jane the Virgin got less dedicated to #resisting, let it be known that our Narrator says “#supportPlannedParenthood.”
• Mateo may be struggling a little, but Rogelio’s always got his back, especially when it comes to Darci. “You do NOT talk about Matelio, you diabolical shrew!”
• In spite of its terrible title, it looks like we may indeed get The Passions of Steve. As Rogelio’s own face on a banner tells him, “This country needs a Latino president, and you’re just the man to play one on TV!”
• It’s very nice of Xiomara to resign herself to another season of Twitter abuse so that Rogelio can say yes to the studio’s De La Vega-Factor Factor offer. “Are you sure?” Rogelio asks. “Because they’re also really mean to you on Instagram.”