It’s amazing for a show in the midst of its fourth season to still surprise you. Especially a show that operates with a traditional season length rather than an abbreviated ten-episode run. We’ve now lived with Jane the Virgin for 69 episodes (nice), and still it manages to catch me off-guard.
This week, I was unsurprised by the Luisa-related twist at the end. Carl was real, and then he wasn’t, and then he actually was?! C’mon, that’s just some solid telenovela nonsense. I was also unsurprised that Lina came back for an episode, although I was certainly pleased. Jane the Virgin has always focused on Jane’s many roles, and I absolutely expected that “Jane the best friend” was still in the mix. I wasn’t even surprised by Rogelio and Xiomara’s vasectomy plot, although Xiomara’s frankness about how much Rogelio likes to use the pull-out method is a touch escandaloso, if you will.
I was, however, legitimately surprised by the news that Adam is bisexual. I should be clear, I was surprised and pleased: It’s an unexpected layer for that character, and one that’s fascinating to watch Jane the Virgin weave into Adam and Jane’s relationship. It’s also long overdue for Jane the Virgin to introduce a queer character who isn’t also an enormous mess. Although Luisa’s become pretty sympathetic in the recent episodes, the show has a dearth of gay characters with stable, happy lives. It’s long since time for more queer representation on the show, and I’m thrilled that it’s happening with such proximity to the protagonist. It’s easy enough to have gay best friends and gay villains — that’s a marginalized narrative position for a marginalized character. It’s a different thing for our heroine’s current love interest to announce that he’s also dated men.
“Chapter 69” treats it seriously. Adam is hurt and bothered that Jane might be weird about this, and Jane is weird about it. The decision to cloak Jane’s discomfort in her ostensible concern that he’s hidden something from her is a good one: It’s exactly the sort of thing you could imagine yourself feeling in response to something you didn’t know about your new boyfriend. Even though, as Lina insists Jane admit to herself, it’s not really about Jane worrying that Adam hid this from her. It’s about Jane’s discomfort dating a man who’s also dated men. The show lets Jane talk her way through her response, her surprise, and her completely plausible dual reaction of wanting to feel accepting of bisexuality, while still finding it confusing in personal practice.
There are moments when Jane the Virgin is so pointed in its cultural and topical story lines that it feels almost didactic. There’s a version of this show that’s like a book of manners: Here’s how to behave nicely when someone lies to you, and here’s what happens when you don’t. This is what good parenting looks like. This is why immigration issues matter. Here’s a little story about work/life balance. This week? Here’s a short dialogue about some questions you might have on bisexuality. Is Adam just a gay man who hasn’t come out yet? No. Does this mean he’s not going to be monogamous to Jane? No. Does this automatically mean Jane won’t be satisfying for him? No. Would it have been better if Jane had asked these questions at the start, or if Adam had been able to tell her about himself in a less defensive way? Probably, but these things happen. Jane and Adam have figured it out in the end.
It’s easy to forget because Jane the Virgin pulls off these moments in such an effortless way, but storytelling like this — stories that are obviously aimed at expanding their audience’s understanding — is really, really hard to do without sounding patronizing. Consider how many Very Special Episodes of sitcoms you’ve seen where some character Learns an Important Lesson About Cancer/Gay People/Drugs/Etc. We have sensitive antennae for being lectured about stuff, and generally our response is not “Hooray, someone’s teaching me a lesson!” If you’re bi, or if you’ve dated someone who’s bi, or if you’ve had some of these discussions before, maybe this scene did come close to tipping over the line into didacticism. For me, it worked.
The Jane/Lina plot is another place where this episode almost verges on being too pointed. It’s not hard to see the “Jane is the same as Danny!” discovery coming, and Jane’s relationship with Lina is much more “Yay, best friends!” than the intense complexity we saw between them last season after Michael’s death. Again, though, it works. It feels right to find Jane and Lina on the bathroom floor one more time. It feels right that Lina would want Jane to help justify her decision, just as it makes sense that Lina would be marrying someone like Danny.
And look, if Jane the Virgin wants to take a page out of children’s educational programming and start teaching me important lessons about life, it could do worse than to devote an entire subplot to birth-control options, the physical and emotional ramifications of a vasectomy, and the burdensome frustration of making birth control an entirely female responsibility. Even better when it involves Rogelio trying to find the emotional truth in a scene where he has to bid a devastated farewell to a giant kidney stone.
“Chapter 69” also continues the fallout of Bad Rafael. He weeps on the bedroom floor with Jane, who holds his hand and promises that they’re family and she’ll keep showing up. Rafael is even allowed a little redemption plot when he helps Luisa accept that she’s having a psychotic break. (She isn’t, but look, Raf’s intentions are good.) Even still, as Rafael’s breaking-bad turn gets more emotional groundwork, this arc still feels more like a service to the rest of the show than a genuine interest in Rafael as a character. It’s hard not to watch his fall and his redemption and see it as being about reviving him as a love interest for Jane.
Honestly, the best thing Rafael has going for him right now? Alba is on his side. Rafael has so few friends, and that list is even shorter if you exclude friends who aren’t lovers or former lovers. Knowing that Alba is rooting for him goes a long way toward keeping Rafael in the mix, although at some point, he’s going to have to figure out that the only way to be attractive again is to ditch the power-hungry, toxic-masculinity thing.
Let’s see, is there anything else of note in this episode? Ah, yes: Luisa concludes Carl is actually fake, she departs for a “wellness center,” and she signs the Marbella shares back over to Rafael. There was about to be yet another trip down to the county clerk’s office to file new ownership paperwork, except, whoops! Luisa can’t legally make those decisions if she’s not of sound mental status. So now the primary owner of the Marbella is … Anezka? And Carl actually was real? To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• Very glad to see Rafael wasn’t seriously hurt in the car accident, even though the consequences for his behavior with Katherine were, as our Narrator points out, “fast and furious.”
• The entire story about Lina and Danny’s joint bachelor/ette party is fun, and it works well for the compatibility vs. similarity story the episode is trying to tell. But my favorite thing happens at the beginning, when Jane says she’d originally had her favorite stripper booked for Lina’s party. Narrator: “He’s my favorite too!”
• “It’s so nice to be investigating a fake murder at the Marbella for once.”
• “I am not being neutered and that’s that!”
• Xiomara and Alba discuss Rogelio’s sense of masculinity, and Xo denies that Ro is overly obsessed with machismo. “He owns more makeup than I do! He’s campaigning to be the next Cover Girl!” #EasyBreezyRogelio
• It’s lovely that Jane the Virgin found a deeper note in Rogelio’s penis panic, to push past the immediate distaste for having a vasectomy. He’s worried about aging, which feels utterly, perfectly right for that character.
• “Stoney, only one of us can fit through the lady scientist’s urethra!”