The previous episode of Jane the Virgin left us with Mateo seeing his parents kiss each other, and “Chapter Seventy-Three” immediately tackles that problem and its inevitable fallout. Mateo desperately wants his parents to be together, of course. He’s 5. He can’t live with the uncertainty of Jane and Rafael “exploring romantic possibilities.” So inevitably, Jane and Rafael have to make a decision. Do they announce that they’re going to be together, even though they’re not actually sure that’s what they want? Even though Jane (and the audience) doesn’t really trust Rafael yet? Do they announce they’re not going to be together, even though they both want to try?
Jane and Rafael opt for that last one: To protect Mateo and relieve themselves of the pressures of their friends and family, Jane and Raf tell their family that they’ve decided not to date one another … and then they hop in a car and immediately start necking like horny teens.
So here we all are on the Train to Rafael’s Rehabilitation, and at this point it’s time to accept that the train is going to keep chugging along for the foreseeable future. The smartest thing Jane the Virgin has done on this front is to turn all our lurking, underlying concerns into the explicit text of their relationship. We’re experiencing some whiplash about how fast Rafael went from bad gross dude to desirable romantic hero? Well, so is Jane. So is Rafael, in fact. We’re concerned that he doesn’t have his life together? So is he. We’re not sure how to trust him? Neither is Jane.
Throughout the episode, as both Jane and Rafael struggle with needing to make their relationship clear for the sake of Mateo, they debate all their concerns and frustrations and desires. They say all the worrying stuff out loud. If you have worries about Rafael as the romantic lead of this show, Jane the Virgin’s strategy for supporting that turn is to make Jane say all of those things straight to his face and have the two of them talk it out. It’s smart, and I think it’s about as effective as you could hope for. It doesn’t hurt that the episode accompanies those bracing conversations with Jane fantasizing about Rafael in a faux-leather tank and studded collar. Nor does it hurt that Jane has the power in that fantasy, so we can watch her slap his ass and demand his obedience.
It works, mostly. And it’s completely fascinating to watch Jane the Virgin try to pull itself out of the unavoidable dilemma it’s found itself in. For most of four seasons now, Rafael’s been a handy telenovela tool, flipping back and forth between object of desire, point of tension, potential bad guy, and redeemable good guy. He’s been a jealous father, a humbled son, and whatever else the show has needed him to be. Now, it needs him to seem like a long-predestined fairy-tale lover, which is directly in opposition to many of the other roles he’s needed to fulfill in the past. It’s turned him into many, many things, and now Jane the Virgin needs to turn him into someone who’s been steady all along. I think it can do it, but wow, is it a tricky needle to thread. And in the meantime, I find myself in the slightly weird position of still not being completely onboard with Redeemed Rafael while also enjoying the ongoing redemption tour.
I found Rogelio’s turn as a new “danny” to be slightly less effective, although I’m hoping that story will get a little knottier in the next episode. For one, his entire “danny” persona comes off as a weird, unexpected misstep for a series that’s usually so surefooted when it comes to parenting stuff — there’s no need for his cute dad/nanny portmanteau, because what Rogelio is describing is just being a dad. A dad as a culturally unusual primary daytime caregiver, sure, but still. Just a dad. The main bulk of that story is much stronger, especially in the moments near the end when he gets bored or starts to question his own commitment to at-home babydom. How to fill his day, whether he’s put in enough time, what “enough time” would mean in a situation like this — I’m looking forward to the rest of that story. And my hope is that the answer will get a bit more focus than “please poop on me, Baby,” and then a swift … uh, release. I just need one solid scene where Rogelio really sits and explains all that he wanted out of this, and what exactly about it is hard for him. He could do it in his new therapy sessions!
It might have been backward week at Jane the Virgin, though, because while I was not overwhelmed with the Rogelio story, I was much more taken with what’s going on with Petra and her new pal JR. I like Petra realizing that Jane is her moral compass, and I love Petra refusing to let Jane off the hook, charging into the Villanueva house, and doing brunch anyhow. She’s right! It wasn’t ever about Rafael, and Jane shouldn’t just get to ditch brunch. It’s also perfectly Petra to try to get her lawyer’s mother a fancy doctor appointment just to prove that her affection isn’t entirely transactional, and the twist of Lawyer Jane’s mother really existing and really having Alzheimer’s was a nice turn toward complicating Lawyer Jane’s character.
But I’m most excited about the Petra story this week because I love the idea of Jane ghostwriting Petra’s book. It absolutely seems like the sort of terrible thing that could break their friendship apart, but I want them to spend more time together! If I’m honest, I’m very fuzzy about my ideal endgame for this series in a romantic sense — I could still take or leave Rafael, but I’m not sure what I’d prefer over him, either. But I do know that my ideal Jane the Virgin ending includes Jane and Petra as friendly, wary, eternally devoted allies. And I think Jane being forced to absorb some of Petra’s life story will only help with that, even if it drives them further apart in the short term.
It feels like an exercise in silliness to ever try to predict what Jane the Virgin will do in the future — Rafael as the endgame? Who knows! But as soon as Petra insisted in calling Lawyer Jane “JR,” I was overcome with the premonition that someone will shoot her and Our Narrator will get to say “Who shot JR!?” When this inevitably happens, my reward will be knowing that you all know how right I was. If it does not happen, obviously I expect everyone to forget I ever mentioned it. I’m also looking forward to the Rise of Krishna, which has to be coming one of these days. She has a small moment where she snaps back at Petra in this episode, and I was cheering for her!
Until then, who is manipulating JR?! Will Jane actually write a 50 Shades book? How long will Rogelio dedicate himself to zaddy life, and is it possible that Jane and Rafael could have a secret romantic relationship for more than one or two episodes? To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• Jane’s disappointing first book is not altogether surprising, but I appreciate the show taking a moment to explain how hard it will be going forward. “Very few women of color get published,” Jane says, “and when we do, we don’t get a second chance like our peers.” Narrator: “PREACH.”
• Not entirely sure that the Law & Order sound effects made sense here, but I did enjoy Our Narrator’s fondness for them. “Jeez, I gotta be careful not to overuse that!” he’d say, before hitting the DUN DUN button again.
• Hey Narrator, could we maybe get just a touch more of that Jane and Rafael Fifty Shades scene? Just … just a little? Maybe? Please?
• Rogelio’s “danny” is just never going to be my favorite, but he’s under a lot of stress. After all, there’s Darci just out there in public telling Esteban to “be the bigger man,” and then purring, “since you are …” Ouch.
• The best thing about Rogelio’s stint as a stay-at-home dad is unquestionably Darci schooling him on not posting too much about Baby on social media. She scares him off with the specter of Heidi and Spencer, and he is duly chastened.
• “If you take a selfie and no one sees it, do you even exist?”
• Xo’s work life has been the kind of flexible does-what-the-story-needs situation for a long time now, but it’s probably a good moment for Jane the Virgin to stop leaning on that so hard. Especially now that Rogelio’s taking a telenovela break for a bit — let the woman have a career!