Oh my God, Michael got his memory back. Or Jason got Michael’s memories back? Or Jason’s not there anymore? Or Michael’s still not there, but now Jason remembers what it was like to be Michael? Amnesia is very confusing. Anyhow, this is going to throw a major wrench in the works of Jane’s getting back to her normal life, and seeing that glowing heart in MichaelJason (or Michael? Or Jason??) gave me all kinds of feelings. But we can’t go into any of it because it happens right at the end of the episode. That dang fishing pole!
It’s fascinating to watch how “Chapter Eighty-Four” gets us ready for that moment, though, and to consider all of the pieces Jane the Virgin has been shifting into place to deal with the continuing fallout of MichaelJason’s presence. The first episode was pure shock. The second episode was mostly fallout, as Jane tried to reassure the people in her life that she still loved them and tried to feel out who this Jason person even was. “Chapter Eighty-Four” is a classic Jane the Virgin balancing act, one that refuses to rely on any one simple or straightforward emotional response from Jane or anyone else.
It would be easier for everyone — for Jane, for MichaelJason, and certainly for Jane’s audience — if MichaelJason were unremittingly awful, or if Jane outright hated him, or if she loved him immediately. It would be easier if she were River Fields’s character on The Passions of Steve and Brenda, declaring with full voice (but half a face) that she loves Steve no matter what, and will continue to fight for him even if he has no memory of their life together. But the first three episodes of this season have given us something much trickier. Jason is not terrible. He’s not Michael’s evil twin, he’s not cruel, and he’s not unlikeable. He’s just not Michael, and whatever Jane feels when she looks at him, she does not feel married to him.
He’s the kind of guy who wants to go fishing on a date. But in spite of Jane’s fury that he’s holding their divorce papers over her like bait, she does not feel nothing when he puts his arms around her. She cries when she sees him, she cries when she tries to say good-bye to him. He is still her dead husband, and when he walks into a room, she’s overcome with her memories of who he used to be. It would be easier if those emotions were simple, and if the show could just let it be, “Yay, he’s back!” or, “Boo, he’s back.” One of the biggest challenges of this return has been that it has left everyone, viewers included, a little uncertain about how to feel.
One of the other challenges of bringing Michael back (as Jason or as Michael), has been integrating that bonkers story into the insistently normal life of the show. The monologue represented one effort to do that, but we see that struggle once again when Mateo finally sees MichaelJason, shrieks, and then Jane and Raf have to somehow explain to him what has happened. They offer him ridiculous explanations of a ridiculous thing. Rather than being kidnapped by an evil drug lord and having his brain zapped until he lost his memory, Jane tells Mateo, Michael fell down and bumped his head. While Jane and Raf are looking at one another with confusion, unsure of how to communicate this extremely messy situation, Mateo interrupts to ask a question: Will either of them will ever fall down, bump their heads, and forget him? That comment is pure, unadulterated Jane. In the midst of something unbelievable, no one is allowed to forget the messy, difficult, and (in this case, completely reasonable) emotional responses that inevitably follow. It makes complete sense for a kid who’s just been informed that an adult can lose their memory to be petrified it will happen to his parents, but it would be such a small, simple moment to throw away. After all these seasons, it’s still impressive and still a little surprising that the show takes time to include it.
“Chapter Eighty-Four” also returns to a familiar strain for Jane, one that it hasn’t had much space for in the first two episodes of this season. Somehow Jane the Virgin starts with the topical issue of pay parity in Hollywood, pulls that thread through the silliness of Rogelio throwing a fit that River gets paid twice what he does, takes the silliness up several notches when Rogelio kicks River in the face and River has to perform with half her face paralyzed, and then miraculously lands somewhere back in the territory of the legitimately heart-rending. Rogelio makes the point that this has been his show from the beginning and pay parity is a race issue as well as a gender one, an assessment Xo and River both agree is fair. But then he gets introspective. “It’s always been my dream to be famous in America,” he tells Xo, “but why am I desperate for validation from a country that doesn’t seem to value or accept me?” That line is underscored by a cut to a scene with Jane, where she quickly closes her computer after reading news about Trump’s immigration policies. Somehow the goofiest plots on this show are always the ones that feel the most sneakily serious.
That idea holds true for my favorite moment of this episode — a high bar to clear in an hour that also includes River’s half-face acting, Ellie and Anna reading dual copies of Lean In, MichaelJason and Raf having a brief fantasy-sequence kiddie fight, and Jane and Petra’s fantastically passive-aggressive chat conversation about which pediatrician’s model to follow to help their kids get along. Mateo, Ellie, and Anna keep fighting, and Jane and Petra come up with a plan to stop the fighting by zipping them into a tent (a “neutral space”) and handing them a talking stick. It does not work. Instead, Jane and Petra find themselves in the tent, trying to talk through their feelings about the last several weeks. Petra’s honest: Jane hurt her feelings by leaving her out of the MichaelJason reaction loop, and Jane’s honest, too. Jane and Petra love each other, but they do not always like each other.
The dam breaks and everything comes spilling out. Petra tells Jane she needs to move on with her life, and not hold herself hostage to someone who feels like a stranger. Jane tells Petra she needs to butt-dial JR. Of the first three episodes of the season, where MichaelJason comes back from the dead, and Rafael is in anguish that Jane will abandon him, and Jane is confused to the point of a breakdown, this is the scene that has stuck with me the most. Jane and Petra sitting in a tent that’s been pitched in a fancy hotel penthouse, just talking through everything.
The highlights are all the same, down at the bottom. Jane and Petra’s tearful conversation, Rogelio’s frank question about why he wants approval from a country that does not value him, even Mateo’s little question about whether Jane or Raf will ever lose their memories and forget him — all of it is about Jane fusing its telenovela side with its emotional realism. It is always when the show’s at its best.
Also, did I mention MichaelJason seems to have gotten his memories back?! To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• Not much Narrator goofing this week, but we do get a little pay-parity hashtag (#5050by2020) and some pretty fun little dialogue inserts while Jane and Raf try to explain MichaelJason’s situation to Mateo. Our Narrator’s suggestion (“fried his brain”) makes about as much sense as “bumped his head.”
• The entire pay-parity plotline is so much better than it has any right to be, especially given its jokey starting point and the bit where Rogelio kicks River in the face so hard that she becomes partly paralyzed. But that scene when Rogelio has the heart-to-heart with Xo about why this matters so much to him? A top Rogelio moment for the ages.
• He’s still Rogelio, though. Xo points out that Bradley Cooper supported Jennifer Lawrence’s pay parity, and Rogelio is taken aback. “When did you become such a name-dropper?” he asks her. “It’s quite a turn-on.”
• River figuring out how to twist Rogelio’s pay parity to her own advantage by turning it into a People magazine cover that celebrates her wokeness? Rogelio’s right. She is good.