I’ve been dithering on the episode-by-episode rankings for the past several episodes. The recent run of episodes have been fantastic, and yet, I’ve been holding out on handing out a five-star ranking for a while. “How will I make a distinction when they hit one that’s really great?” I thought to myself. WELL.
“Chapter Seventy-Seven” gives us the aftermath of Xiomara’s biopsy, Petra dressing up as the tooth fairy, the long-awaited reveal that Krishna isn’t just a mild-mannered assistant, Petra stanning for JR, Narrator joking about side characters, an actual frame narrative (!), a very happy Luisa, some dunking on HBO’s Confederate, and Brooke Shields with no eyebrows! Which you’d assume would look weird, but it looks so, so much weirder than I’d ever have thought? This show is a gift.
As I’d suspected, Xiomara has breast cancer, and Jane seems prepped to get deep into a story about her diagnosis, treatment, and how this will affect the Villanuevas. Much of the episode is spent waiting for word about the biopsy results, and when Xiomara finally receives the call, she tells Rogelio and Jane that the results were clear and she’s actually fine. I say this not in a negative way, at all: The real situation was immediately obvious. There was never any question that she was withholding the truth to protect Rogelio’s important work meeting, and there was never any doubt that she’d have to tell everyone the truth soon.
It’s funny to describe a twist as predictable, or inevitable, or transparent, and to mean that as a compliment. I knew immediately what was coming, and that’s a good thing. Jane loves a surprise, but it’s almost always more interested in the aftermath, and twists that truly come out of left field are more likely to alienate an audience anyway. There’s no way the show would’ve introduced the potential for a cancer story as just a tease. If this show wants to hurt you, it won’t mess around and then undo everything and say “gotcha!” It will hurt you, and it will do so deliberately, carefully, and very thoroughly. From the looks of “Chapter Seventy-Seven,” we should all get ready.
The first time it hits is early in the episode, as Petra’s twins cheerfully destroy Mateo’s entire worldview by telling him that the tooth fairy isn’t real. Petra has been parenting them with “radical honesty,” which, to be fair, does seem to include an honest account of exactly how privileged they are. (They don’t care about tooth fairy money, because “we’re very fortunate.”) But they use their knowledge to crush Mateo’s tooth fairy enthusiasm, and also, oh by the way, everybody dies. Mateo is still focused on the tooth fairy, but with the cloud of Xiomara’s biopsy hanging in the room, all the adults grow still, because they’re suddenly thinking about Xiomara’s biopsy. Rogelio leaves because he’s so upset.
This is exactly how it happens with kids, of course. One second you’re dodging tooth fairy mythology and the next, you’re walloped with some offhand comment about mortality and you’re stuck there with your mouth hanging open, nearly weeping. The moment I knew for sure that Xiomara would have cancer, and that this plot would stick around for a while, was not when she finally announced it near the end of the episode. It was here, when Rogelio sat on the bed and his whole body was nearly shaking, and he told Jane that he was just so, so scared. Jaime Camil played it absolutely right, and it’s such a notable shift from our usual Rogelio antics. Instantly, it’s apparent not just that the show will take this very seriously, but also that its characters and cast have enough depth and talent to completely crush it.
When Xiomara does finally tell them at the end of the episode, and they all get down on their knees in prayer? Ugh. My heart.
In the midst of all that, we also get Rogelio’s efforts to convince River to join his Santos project. She seems surprisingly willing to go along with the project, but then we realize she’s just doing it so she can land a role on HBO’s Confederate. Rogelio and Our Narrator are understandably nonplussed. There’s so much great stuff packed into this little subplot, including every single shot of Brooke Shields with no eyebrows because Rogelio burned them off with an over-enthusiastic Bananas Foster. Fields’s efforts to get the role of “Racist Lady #6” on Confederate are amazing, but it’s also just fascinating to watch a TV show where a female character marks up a script to improve an underwritten female character. Immediately, we can see that Rogelio has no idea who the Brenda character actually is, and I love the idea of Fields as a difficult but valuable creative partner.
Speaking of Jane the Virgin’s continuing ultra-meta-narrative preoccupations, I am delighted to note that this episode actually is a frame narrative! (Because of how television episodes work, I am hesitant to say that this retroactively makes all of Jane a frame narrative and Our Narrator a frame narrator, but it’s open for debate.) In going through Luisa’s records to find information about his birth parents, Rafael stumbles on the deposition that Luisa gave immediately after accidentally inseminating Jane, and Luisa’s voice becomes a storyteller in this episode. Our Narrator turns it into a little motif on the theme of side characters and changing perspectives, and from the broader view of this series, it’s nice to get some interiority to Luisa that goes beyond “she is off her rocker most of the time.”
What’s more, when Rafael does finally track Luisa down, we find her happy, sober, and self-possessed. She’s gotten rid of all of Solano Marbella money — it’s locked in a trust benefiting embattled ferrets or something — and she is finally free of Rose. She’s calm. Of course, Rafael then has to make a choice between protecting her or selling her out to Rose so he can get more information about his family. I am really hoping Raf makes the right choice on this one, but it’s an interesting place to put him. He’s been the good-to-bad-to-good-again swing character for so long. Will he still fill that role now that he’s in a serious relationship with Jane? How far can the show press our newfound trust in him?
It is so fascinating and impressive to see how far these characters have all come since their original instantiations at the beginning of this show. I would never have imagined Rogelio weeping at Xiomara’s diagnosis, or Rafael not exploding at the information that all his money has gone. I could never have predicted that one of my favorite scenes would be Petra sneaking into Mateo’s bedroom dressed as the tooth fairy. She felt so bad that her daughters ruined Mateo’s tooth fairy mythology, she somehow found a wildly over-the-top fairy costume (featuring pointy ears and lace mask!), snuck into Jane’s house, and threw on a weird British-y accent in order to spot Mateo a $20 bill for his first lost tooth. I am overcome with love for her, and if JR doesn’t shape up and realize what a gift she has in Petra’s affections, I will be very displeased.
Let’s see, anything else to say? Oh right! Petra’s meek and mild-mannered assistant Krishna, the long-suffering target of Petra’s workplace abuse and her constant, quiet shadow for a long time now, is actually the blackmailer! She planted the screws! She tried to get Petra put away for murder! It was Krishna! And she just jumped out a window while also reminding Petra about her dry-cleaning! To be continued!
It’s nice to see Our Narrator has been brushing up on children’s books lately. “And,” he says, “in other terrible, horrible, no good very bad news …”
When Petra gets a text from JR: “Ooh, a text from one of her very favorite side characters … or should I say … side piece.”
When Jane finds Luisa’s deposition, Our Narrator helps with some hand-holding. “In other words,” he tells us, “it’s our origin story, told by a side character.”
All of Rogelio’s responses to River’s Brenda criticisms are gold. “I will happily adjust the character. You want a smaller bosom? DONE.”
That poster for Feud: Rogelio vs. River! I want it for my bedroom wall.