Last week’s episode dropped cancer into the lives of the Villanuevas, and if left behind a whole lot of wreckage. Xiomara’s diagnosis consumed nearly every moment of “Chapter Seventy-Eight,” and now, Jane the Virgin is leaping ahead a little into the aftermath of her mastectomy.
Xiomara is recovering at home but still in pain, and resists her family’s attempts to get her up and out of the house to keep her recovery going. There’s no question that her cancer is still the dominant story here; it is the primary focus of everyone’s attention. I don’t know how this plot will play out, but the moment when Xo “plays the cancer card” by opening her robe – revealing the complicated, clinical system of drains she has attached to her chest to reduce her post-surgical fluid buildup – well, that suggests Jane the Virgin will not take a soft-focus approach going forward. It is a powerful, powerful scene.
But “Chapter Seventy-Nine” also starts to show glimmers of the inevitable next stage, the part where everyone is still concentrating on Xo but also juggling the rest of their lives. This shows up most directly when Alba realizes she mistook the date of her citizenship exam. She needs to study, but doesn’t want to tell Xo what’s going on or worry her for any reason. This feels … a bit specious, and you can see from the very first moment that keeping this secret is a bit of a strawman plot. (I also can’t understand why someone recovering from surgery wouldn’t want to help someone else study for an exam, with flashcards and memorization and stuff. That seems like an ideal pastime! But clearly this is me thinking about myself.)
Still, the set-up creates enough tension and cross-motives to let the Villanueva women walk through a full range of emotional responses to their current family crisis. The living room, where Xo has settled onto a chair, vibrates with buried stress. Alba is so worried about her, Jane is worried about both of them but also distracted, and Xo is frustrated that both of them are hovering and she hates feeling weak and pitiable. When they do sit down and have a family meeting about the hidden citizenship exam and Alba’s fear that Xo isn’t recovering fast enough, it’s a welcome reckoning. Not just because we always look for that moment when the secrets and unspoken tensions finally get expressed, but because Jane the Virgin is able to have that meeting in a way that doesn’t wipe away all the underlying stress. They are all still very worried about Xo. They are all still furious with Alba for hiding this exam and for trying to downplay it. The meeting doesn’t make any of that go away, but it does let them all say those things out loud so they can work on stuff together.
Jane the Virgin is a show about many, many, many things. But its simplest, most pervasive theme is this: Stuff gets better when you figure out how to talk about it.
It’s also so great and smart that Jane lets Rogelio just mess things up in a big and totally understandable way. He made this big show about wanting to be a stay-at-home parent for his daughter, and now he’s embarrassed that he’ll have to go back on that huge declaration. He’s actually so embarrassed about it that he then doubles down on his discomfort and tries to blame Xiomara’s cancer for his own mistake. Oof, Rogelio.
One clarification, though: Rogelio’s grand gesture to stay at home with his daughter was not really a mistake, nor is it now an unforgiveable betrayal for him to be working on Passions of Steve. It feels that way because, yes, he’s reneging on his promise. That is a frustrating inconvenience for everyone around him, and Rogelio may be fine with railroading his PAs, but he hates disappointing his family. Of course he’s embarrassed. But these things happen! You want to attempt to do this thing, and you’d love if you’re great at it, but it turns out you really are not! That’s how life goes sometimes, Rogelio. It is for sure how parenting goes.
As with most of us most of the time, Rogelio tries to cover up his embarrassment rather than own it right away, and predictably, it doesn’t go well. Here’s that fundamental Jane the Virgin theme coming around again: It gets resolved when Rogelio sits down to have an honest discussion with Darci about his feelings. She owns up that she wasn’t being honest either, and they promise not to weaponize each others’ weaknesses against one another. It’s certainly not a declaration of love and devotion, but it’s a weirdly moving thing to say to your mortal enemy/the mother of your child! They should make “we promise not to weaponize each others’ weaknesses against one another” Valentine’s Day cards.
The smaller stories are similarly relevant to the “just talk it out!” theme. Petra and JR need to have a conversation about whether or not they’re going to be serious, which they do manage to do by the end of the episode. But until that happens, there are several awkward interactions between JR and the rest of our beloved Villanueva circle, including, most notably, JR not liking Jane. She calls her basic! And Petra laughs! Happily, because Jane is also not going to weaponize people’s weaknesses against them, she pulls the immensely brave and quietly subversive move of just straight-up announcing to Petra that she loves her. She loves her! Jane loves Petra, in a platonic but very real way! Awwwwwwww.
Jane also tells Rafael that she loves him. (Not platonic this time.) It’s an important moment that kinda flies under the radar, buried under Xo’s cancer story, Alba needing to ace her exam, and Rafael feeling defensive that Jane is still writing about Michael and hating himself for feeling that way. While I continue to be impressed with the show’s willingness to dig deep into something as difficult and sad as a cancer story, and delighted with JR and Petra’s relationship (plus Rogelio’s well-meaning antics, and politics, and everything), it’s also fascinating to watch how Jane is shifting around the romance arc that has defined it from the beginning. Turning Jane’s declaration that she loves Rafael into a small moment – a moment that’s noted by the Narrator, but also allowed to slide away quickly – is such a canny way of juggling the immense pressure of the show’s fairytale love arc. Letting their love story build quietly in the background seems like a move that’ll pay dividends when the show pulls into its endgame story. I bet we’ll get some good mundane squabbling over living together, too, which I’m always here for. Please argue about family budgeting software, Jane and Rafael.
Meanwhile — whoops! — Magda says she actually did see Petra kill Anezka, so I guess those murder charges aren’t going away as fast as Petra thought. To be continued!
• Our Narrator continues to enjoy goofing about Petra’s relationship with JR exactly the correct amount. Jane says that she’s curious about JR because she “makes Petra giggle!” Narrator: “She makes her do more than that!”
• Petra does not want to go bowling with the kids, and complains that the balls are so dirty. Narrator: “Petra is SO over balls.”
• Bless you, Narrator, for responding to the family call for more communication with, “Ladies! Let’s get IN-FOR-MATION!”
• This episode also contains the most merciful thing Our Narrator has ever done, which is to let us celebrate Alba becoming an American citizen by swapping out our portrait of President Trump with a winking, cheerful Obama.
Let’s see, did I miss any Rogelio things? OH, RIGHT! He tries to steal Nanny-to-the-Stars Felicia away from … MARIO LOPEZ. Who charges up to Rogelio on the playground and accuses him, accurately, of trying to nanny poach. Then, when Rogelio does manage to win Felicia over with the promise of a three-episode arc on Passions of Steve, he responds to the inevitable “Bye Felicia!” by yelling, “Later Slater!”