Jane the Virgin
It’s time to talk about the love triangle. I’ve been avoiding it a bit because Jane has been avoiding it a bit this season — for the first few episodes, Jason showing up was like a bomb that dropped in Jane’s world, but hadn’t fully detonated yet. In episode four, we finally got the full return of Michael, and even then it took some time for that wave to hit Jane and Rafael’s relationship.
But we’re now back in a very familiar place for Jane the Virgin, full circle in a way that I’m sure is infuriating to many people, and probably delightful to some others. It is, once again, Team Michael and Team Rafael, the crucible this show was born in, the tension that defined this show for so long, for better and sometimes for worse. And much as I love Jane and what’s been happening this season, Michael’s return has also meant that Jane the Virgin could be building a final season that, for at least some portion of the audience, will just never work. (But the question is … which portion?)
Love triangles make for such good, delicious, tense, early-stage TV magic. The dynamics of three characters bouncing off one another are so much richer and more complex than just two people, and a love triangle inherently brings with it an expectation for movement. A three-legged stool is the most stable configuration; a love triangle is fundamentally unstable and it will tip one way or the other eventually. My organic chemistry is not great, but I think there’s probably a solid metaphor somewhere in there about covalent bonds and the inescapable instability of some chemical structures because of the electron fields and something about polarity but what I’m saying is, the power and the curse of the love triangle is that it’s built on volatile chemistry. We expect and need it to resolve in one direction or another (or for TV to embrace polyamory, but I do not see that happening on Jane). When a show is in its early days, there’s a lot of runway to play with that triangle, enjoy the tension of it, and then resolve the tension and move on.
A love triangle near the end of a show, one that really does feel like it could be pointed in the direction of either character, feels like something different. From the perspective of viewers who’ve felt strongly one way or another from the first episodes of this show — for the Team Michael or Team Rafael hardcore stans — the final season love triangle is almost guaranteed to spark rage. Once it resolves one way or another, and it must, there will be some segment of the audience who are disappointed. It’s unavoidable! If Jane chooses Rafael, there will be ride-or-die Michael fans who are bitterly upset and who question why he came back at all. If she chooses Michael, there will be OG Rafael stans who will sputter with fury about how much the show put him through, only to throw him away. It is a recipe for sadness!
From another perspective, though, the late-stage love triangle makes lots of sense. Resolving a triangle is always an ending of a sort, and it’s logical to harness all that conclusive energy to give the final season of a long-running show some resolution-y vibes. When you return to a love triangle from the beginning of a show, it also becomes referendum on all three of those characters, and on the show as a whole. It’s a yardstick for how far everyone has come and how everyone’s changed. It’s a way of taking stock. And depending on when the triangle comes to an end (because, c’mon, it absolutely must), Jane could still have time for the all-important closing segment, where we all have time to adjust ourselves to the end-game reality and accept the choice as fate. This season is 19 episodes long. There is still room.
I’ve spent most of this recap explaining nothing about what happens in “Chapter Eighty-Six,” but it’s useful to feel out the underlying structure of what I think Jane is doing in an episode like this. As it pushes Jane and Rafael even farther away, and it closes with a moment where Jane pages through a copy of Snow Falling and reads Michael’s notes about her novel, we’re seeing some insanely frustrating “haven’t we done this already!!” material, but we’re also seeing the show laying groundwork for how to measure who Michael and Rafael and Jane are now.
Michael, through the eyes of Jane’s attempt at a dispassionate narrator, is definitely Michael again, but he’s also different. He is slower to laugh, she writes. She is drawn to him, but she’s uncertain. Rafael is wounded and desperate and spiraling downward once again. My note for that final shot, where Rafael washes down his disappointment with a pill and a glass of brown liquor, reads: “NOOOO NOOOOOOOOOOOOO DARK RAFAEL IS BACK.” But that’s not entirely true. He may be despairing, and who knows what next week’s episode will hold, but Rafael also managed to get over his resentment enough to be a better co-parent, and to realize that he cannot poison his son’s relationship to his mother. I’m not sure if season one Rafael, playboy extraordinaire, would’ve had the self-possession to get to that place.
Jane, deep down, amid all of the grief and self-loathing and anxiety that she’s now a graying 30-year-old living with her grandmother, is a writer. Her former thesis advisor tells her that what she’s living through is also amazing material, and that however hard it may be, she needs to figure out how to make it part of her work. More than anything else, more than either of these two potential romantic partners, Jane the Virgin is about Jane the writer. It’s so nice to see her writing again.
Meanwhile, “Chapter Eighty-Six” also brought us: Petra and JR struggling to figure out how to trust one another again, a fantastic Darci/Esteban side plot, Rogelio’s anxiety that Baby doesn’t know him, Rogelio wanting to celebrate as many milestones with Xiomara as he can, Michael needing documentation about his death for the life insurance policy, Mateo lashing out at Jane for hurting Rafael, and also Jane walking in on Jorge and seeing his penis? To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• I cannot help it, I will always be a sucker for when Our Narrator talks about narrating. Professor Donaldson’s suggestion that Jane narrate her own life in a dispassionate, emotionless way was personally insulting to Our Narrator, and I am here for all of his exasperated responses. “Hey, narrators are not dispassionate! We have a clear point of view! Would you rather have Siri narrate this?!”
• The awkward conversation with Jane and Rafael that uses actual crickets in between lines of dialogue cracked me up. “I swear that wasn’t me!” Our Narrator insists. “Those are actual crickets!”
• Look, I am a human. If Jane walks in and sees Jorge naked, and then then Jorge comes into the kitchen and picks up a banana, and then Our Narrator says “He couldn’t have gone for oatmeal?”… I’m going to laugh.
Bless Rogelio de la Vega, doing his best and sometimes making a giant mess of things. He gets Esteban sent to Mexico and unwittingly breaks up Esteban’s relationship with Darci, but he manages to patch it back together. He throws a giant unicorn party for Jane, but through no fault of his, Jane can’t bear to go to the party and at the end of the night, the unicorn is somehow still hanging around the Villanuevas’ front porch. He wants to celebrate the end of Xo’s chemotherapy, but she can’t let herself feel like she’s out of the woods.
But he pulls it all together. He makes a #Rocovery basket for Xo, and Darci is happy again. Somehow, against all odds, it looks like he and Esteban might become bros? And even when he’s late for a party, Rogelio’s there to reassure Xo: “Don’t worry. I look amazing.”