Jane the Virgin
Leave it to Jane the Virgin to deftly combine stories about the fraught power dynamics in academia, frame narratives, chasing your dreams, being set up for your twin sister’s murder, and your lack of chemistry with your newly discovered cousin, Eva Longoria. What even is this show? How does it exist?! We are all so lucky.
[Dons very obnoxious narrative theory hat] Because I can only be who I am, I do need to talk about how we define frame narratives for a moment. Our Narrator defines frame narrative as a story that “allows one to tell multiple stories within a larger context,” and goes on to say that this story is “framed, by me, of course. Which means you see things in pieces, not the whole picture.” But from what we’ve seen so far, it’s a misnomer to call Jane a frame narrative. Frame narratives are called that because they set up separate narrators inside the outer narrative voice, like a nesting doll. In order for Jane to meet this definition, Our Narrator would have to introduce us to the story and then someone else would have to become the storyteller. For example, if Our Narrator said he found some journals, and then the voice of the journal writer took over the story, Our Narrator would be the frame voice surrounding the journal writer’s voice.
Maybe this doesn’t really matter and I should chill out. Or maybe it’s a clue. If Jane actually is a frame narrative, we’d have to conceive of the main body of Jane as having a separate narratorial eye than Our Narrator’s. We’d need to think of some pieces of Jane as being told by someone other than the Narrator (which did happen for a brief period during the Adam story, but isn’t something that’s obviously going on here). If we fall down the rabbit hole of saying that Jane is indeed a frame narrative, one option is that the Narrator is the outer frame, and all or some parts of the show we’re watching are being laid out by someone else (which we’ve seen hints of in his lack of omniscience at various points, but which would seem to contradict his own claim that he’s organizing all of this). The other option is that he’s actually the inner narrative, and the whole thing is being orchestrated by a voice we haven’t seen yet. Maybe it’s … a book or TV show written by Jane herself?
Whatever the case, I see the appeal of using frame storytelling as a concept for this episode. It lets Our Narrator discuss how he tells little pieces of story rather than one big narrative all at once. (I might call this kind of narrative fragmentary storytelling, or a mosaic narrative – the difference between it and a frame storytelling being that Our Narrator is still the storyteller of all the separate pieces, he just chooses to give it to us in mixed up little bits.) It gives us a nice thematic anchor for Jane’s story about Professor Chavez and the complicated mess of context versus the individual experience. It’s also a fun tie-in joke to Petra’s situation and her belief that her mother is framing her. Framing, who gets the control of a story, and who the story really belongs to? All great Jane the Virgin meta-narrative fodder!
Whatever we want to call it – a frame narrative, or something more like a mosaic story – the wild swings from Jane’s serious #MeToo-flavored trip into academia and Rogelio’s search for the perfect Santos co-star work really well. It’s so, so hard to tell a story about consensual sexual relationships that nevertheless have some underlying power imbalances (see also: Babe.net and much of the world for the past several months). Yet Jane waltzes into the Professor Chavez story as if it’s the easiest thing in the world to tell clearly and thoughtfully.
It’s laid out like this: Jane arrives at Southern Miami hoping to land a teaching gig that will tide her over until she can get regular writing work again. (Petra’s arrest for her sister’s murder has put a delay on Jane’s ghostwriting position, naturally.) The person who helps her apply for the job is her former professor and adviser, Professor Chavez, the guy who Jane very nearly had a sexual relationship with back in season two. It’s awkward because that entire relationship was awkward, but initially, Jane only thinks about it in terms of her own experience. Except then, she sees him kissing a current student and realizes that what he’s doing is not specific to her. It’s a pattern. It is “skeezy,” as Xiomara insists on calling it. Jane is very careful here: It is still possible for someone to behave appropriately according to the university (as Chavez has), and for someone to have consensual relationships (as all of these were, we assume), and for that behavior to still be “skeezy.” There are still tricky power dynamics here, dynamics that make his behavior worth addressing.
The story doesn’t end with Chavez being fired. It doesn’t end with Jane being hired, either. Its very realistic ending is that Jane says some veiled things to Chavez, who experiences no professional ramifications that we can see, and Jane warns his current girlfriend, Marissa. The closest that story gets to a satisfying end is the considering look on Marissa’s face when she listens to Jane.
Our Narrator gives us that comparatively serious story in one scene, and then quickly flips over to the world of Rogelio, where he’s doused himself in Eva Longoria’s custom scent (Eva by Eva Longoria) so that he can get into her mind and convince her to be his Santos co-star. Alas, their onscreen chemistry fails when the thing that initially wins her over – their distant familial connection – is exactly the thing that sinks their screen test. Turns out they’re first cousins, so Eva can’t bring herself to kiss him. Please let this mean River Fields comes back! Please!
The other major story is Jane’s secret relationship with Rafael, which continues to go swimmingly when it comes to the physical stuff, but which still has some kinks to work out on the partnership front. The resolution sees them both realizing they deserve to shoot for their dream jobs instead of immediately defaulting to the unhappy practical choice, and it’s really sweet. They decide to go public with their relationship, and they decide that Raf deserves just as much a chance to do what he loves as Jane does. All great!
But the best scene between them is at the height of their disagreement, when they’re both hiding in a closet to keep their hanky-panky a secret from Alba. They sit there in this dark closet, silent, exasperated, passing this phone back and forth to one another so they can type their rebuttals in this argument about Rafael turning down a bad job selling timeshares. It’s scenes like this that make the best argument for Jane and Raf together; Rodriguez and Baldoni are so great at selling the body language, the speed of their communication, and the way they predict each others’ responses.
Of course, while Jane and Raf are making up and rededicating themselves to their passion careers, and Rogelio begs River Fields to meet with him, Petra’s adorable crush on J.R. comes crashing down when J.R. confesses her initial treachery. I just want Petra to love someone she can trust! Until that happens, J.R. has gotten the troublesome balcony screws ruled inadmissible, and Petra is using J.R. to turn tables on whoever it is who’s framing her. To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• I am in love with how sexy things have gotten on Jane the Virgin this season, especially with Our Narrator’s frankness now that Jane feels more comfortable with herself as a sexual person. Jane and Rafael are interrupted by Xiomara, and Jane yells to Xo, “I’m coming!” Narrator: “Not anymore!”
• Look, I got down on Our Narrator for calling himself a frame narrator when I’m just not sure yet how that’s true. But I do love that he pats himself on the back for showing off “because [he’s] at college.”
• I am very, very here for Our Narrator taking Jane’s close reading of “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” too personally. “It’s precisely because the narrator doesn’t comment on every moment that the storytelling is so effective,” Jane tells the class. “FINE!” says Our Narrator. “I can take a hint!”
Obviously, everything with Rogelio and Eva Longoria is fantastic. But the bigger question going forward will be about the future between Xo and Ro – and really, it’s about Xo. She’s never known who she wants to be, not in the same dedicated way that Jane or Rogelio do. She’s never had the choice, really. But now that she has the financial security to look around and think about what she wants for a career, she feels like it’s too late. It’s a really interesting story to tell, and I hope Jane gives it even more time in the future. And I really hope Xo isn’t about to hook up with a dance instructor.