It is a tiny bit odd to write a recap for this episode, where the central magical realism element is a fantasy figure of Jane as a critic. She haunts Jane throughout the episode, reminding her of the critical review her book got from a big romance novel publication, calling Jane derivative and sloppy, and generally preventing Jane from ever getting any writing done. The broader idea of the episode is precisely the inner tension she raises: how to deal with your own inner critical voice, how to balance criticism with self-confidence, how to stay resilient against something that feels like an attack on your creativity.
Jane has had such a hard time writing, she feels, because she can’t get over this one critical review. It’s completely tanked her confidence that she should even be a writer. How could this career possibly work when a reviewing outlet she respects thinks so little of her work? So, Rogelio shows Jane his solution to bad press: He keeps it in a folder inside a locked drawer, where he never has to look at it or process it or deal with it in any way. He also recommends Jane go to an improv class to loosen up and learn how to “yes and…” This sounds like my personal vision of absolute hell, but Jane is willing to try.
Jane turns her inner critic into a mediocre improv character – I so appreciated that she wasn’t suddenly awesome at improv – but the bigger message she pulls from the experience is much trickier and more thoughtful than Rogelio’s locked drawer. Jane refuses to land on the easier answer here, in no small part because “ignore all criticism, even constructive criticism, and be yourself!” is so easy to say and so antithetical to what it’s like to make most good art. Eventually, Rafael points out that while Jane has been obsessing over this bad review, the review actually had some useful advice, and it includes the crucial point that Jane’s writing has potential. The trick, Jane decides, is to listen to her inner critic, as long as she’s doing her best to pull out the useful advice and ditch the insults. In other words, there is a middle place between living in a criticism-free bubble and feeling so hung-up on your critical response that you’re totally stymied.
I do hope Jane will get her writing groove back soon. It’s hurt me to see her so off her game! Also, I couldn’t help but notice a few of the phrases she was struggling with during her critical breakdown seemed … familiar? “The silence was ominous” didn’t seem especially notable to me, but one of the other bits was, “which it was, because it was the moment her life changed forever.” That tone sounds distinctly … narratorial. Hmm!
Those core ideas of improv and criticism spin out into two other plots. In one of them, Rogelio accuses Xo of cheating on him (I was not a fan of this move), then becomes way too into trying to support her with her dance partner (fine), and then, after a huge blow-up with Xo, he allows his inner critic to speak to him (yesss). Rogelio listens to himself and is forced to admit that actually, he is exhausting to be around. And Rogelio’s inner critic is amazing. He has a mustache! He’s dressed all in lavender! He forces Rogelio to admit his true age! He’s fantastic.
The other use for that improv premise is both effective and so much better than I expected it’d be. First, Jane and Rafael finally tell their family they’re in a serious relationship. No one is surprised at this news, but Petra’s reaction is iconic: “Whoop de frickin’ do! Are you aware that I’m under investigation for murder?!” With this secret out of the way, their relationship feels more lived in, and the campaign to rehab Rafael is coming along nicely. One of the things that shakes out with their increased stability, though, is Jane’s worry that this will retroactively turn Michael into a stepping stone on her way to Rafael. She worries her relationship with Michael will be diminished by this new thing, and the improv pivot the episode pulls out to address this is so impressive: Rafael isn’t an endpoint on the journey, he tells Jane. It’s a yes, and. Yes, Michael and Jane were real, and now Jane will be real with someone else. Their relationship does not mean a negation of Michael. It means an addition for Jane and Raf.
For real, I had to pause the episode and just sit for a minute to process how effective that little rhetorical framing is. It’s so, so good.
“Chapter Seventy-Six” also has some major events on the Petra/JR front, namely them totally, seriously, doing it. And by “doing it,” I mean kissing quite a bit. And then also having sex. With each other. Eee! They initially play off their relationship as a cover story for the people who are blackmailing JR, but they both know it’s really a cover story so that Petra can pretend she’s not crushing on JR for just a little bit longer. Jane the Virgin plays JR’s story in a really thoughtful way, too: She tells Petra she’s not interested in being a gay guinea pig, but then sleeps with Petra anyhow (in spite of her obvious knowledge that Petra hasn’t been with women before). Then, she plays it very, very cool the next morning.
To be fair, JR is swiftly distracted by the threat that the blackmailers leave pinned to her unconscious mother’s clothing. Her brusque affect may not have been just an attempt to slow things down with Petra. But that was some of it, right?
There is one other significant event in “Chapter Seventy-Six.” After falling in her dance competition, a medical exam reveals that Xiomara has a lump in her breast. The episode uses it as a cliffhanger reveal, in a place that’s often reserved for something that will get you excited for what’s coming next. But this is not a fun cliffhanger. What’s more, it is odd and inappropriate to say that I’m excited that Jane might be doing a breast cancer story.
And yet I am. It’s precisely the kind of thing I have absolute faith Jane will tackle in a meaningful, serious way, and in a way that could give some new direction for Xo’s character. It has the best track record of any show on television for dealing with emotional fallout from trauma. I don’t know where Jane is going to go with this reveal, but it’s the first time a fictional cancer plot has made me think, “Yeah, I can see how this could be great for the show.”
So that’s “Chapter Seventy-Six.” Oh, and also Luisa bought the convent that has the only remnant records of Rafael’s birth mother’s identity! To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• Petra has a lengthy list of people who might want to take her down, including her mother, Rose, Luisa, Katherine Cortes, Chuck Chesser, Lachlan Moore (I barely remember who that guy even is), Milos, and Krishna. And also, the guy who plays “Pammy the Parrot” at the Marbella. Cut to – a guy in a giant parrot suit filling the frame and then walking out of the shot. Our Narrator: “What a seamless transition!”
• Our Narrator catches some of Jane’s self-critical vibe. “Honestly, it happens to me sometimes. I think it’s the pressure of telling such a fast-paced story. Like, should I tell you what Jane was feeling here? …Or not? [pause] I will. Actually, no, I’ll save it for later.”
• When Jane and Raf tell the family they’re dating, Xo says she’s known for a long time. “I know a sex injury when I see one!” she says. “Yeah you do!” Rogelio chimes in, and they high five. It’s adorable.
• I really feel Jane should’ve allowed Rogelio to send the first draft of his letter asking River Fields to be on his show. “Dear River: I am begging you, don’t miss out on the greatest opportunity of your career just because I accidentally got you attacked by a wolf.”