Jane the Virgin
Oh, friends. This is one of those developments that at the time seems impossible and frustrating and hard to get through, and then once it’s done and you look back at it, everything about it feels inevitable. Even the rockiness over the past few episodes feels like some unavoidable hiccuping, unsteadiness that’s the result of fundamental unsteadiness in Jane’s ability to know her own feelings. The signals have been going every which way because Jane has been unsure, and it’s led to episodes that feel similarly uncommitted even though that strange unevenness is intentional.
And now, some clarity. This may be the single easiest plot summary I have ever tried to write for this show because it’s the only time I can remember that Jane has ever told a single story for an entire episode. Jane and Michael go to Montana to explore whatever connection they might have now. Jane can see what Michael sees in Montana, but every time she tries to imagine what their future would look like together, she feels guilty about leaving Rafael. Eventually she comes to understand that what she’s feeling isn’t guilt, because she still loves Rafael. Jane accepts that while she and Michael had something great, their time has passed. Jane returns to Miami alone, galvanized by her newfound self-knowledge and determined to win Rafael back.
There’s slightly more to it, of course. Jane and Michael have trouble getting to Michael’s ranch, and Jane is pretty underwhelmed by the travel, the hitchhiking, the roadkill, the cabin. There’s some misunderstanding about Michael’s work schedule (and Michael, my guy, you’ve got to be a little more clear on the lines of communication here). There’s a short subplot where Michael’s ranch nemesis Charlie tries to shoot him for trespassing, and then Jane discovers that Charlie is a woman, and has to broker peace between Michael and Charlie. There’s a very arbitrary 48-hour deadline imposed by Michael’s boss, forcing Michael to decide whether he wants to try to make a go of it with Jane in Miami.
But in terms of plot, “Chapter Eighty-Eight” is a very simple story, especially when measured against the usual standards of Jane the Virgin. All of its complexity comes in how carefully it has to hit each beat, how painstakingly the episode has to move through each emotional register in order to capture exactly how Jane moves from uncertainty to certainty. She is curious, annoyed, ready to call it off, buoyed by optimism, open to new experiences, and then, increasingly, she’s thinking about Rafael. What he’s doing, whether he’s okay, what it would be like if she and Michael both went back to Miami, what it would be like if she tried to have a long-distance relationship.
The careful and very tricky, very effective move of “Chapter Eighty-Eight” is not that any of the answers become easier for Jane. It would be too easy and too implausible if she just were no longer attracted to Michael — but that’s not the case! She is still drawn to him, which that fantastic bucket-shower situation is extremely good at conveying. (Also, huge props to Gina Rodriguez’s hilarious physical performance, jumping and grabbing for the dang bucket rope.) They are unquestionably attracted to each other, and it’s not hard to see the futures Jane imagines becoming real. It’s not hard to picture Michael and Jane showing up at Rafael’s house, all of them friends, going back to what their lives felt like years before. It’s not hard to imagine Jane trying a long-distance relationship, although it is very hard to picture that ever working out for any extended period of time.
So the problem is not their mutual attraction, and “Chapter Eighty-Eight” is careful not to reduce this decision to simple lifestyle preferences, either. Jane does not love Montana, but she’s not bad at Michael’s ranch lifestyle. She’s very game to try everything she can, and given how far all of this is from Jane’s wheelhouse, she does remarkably well lassoing bulls and repairing fences and mucking stalls. Even then, it’d be relatively easy for Jane the Virgin to chalk up their farewell to irreconcilable distance. She cannot move to Montana and take Mateo away from his father. It’d be fairly simple to make Michael insist on staying in Montana, and have that be the line that Jane cannot cross.
But “Chapter Eighty-Eight” doesn’t give Jane that way out, either. Michael tells her that he’d be happy moving back to Miami to be with her, that being with Jane is more important than staying in Montana, and that it’s a sacrifice he’d be happy to make so they could be together. It wouldn’t be the first time Michael had to give up something for their relationship to work (although seriously, it did not go well last time, so I’d probably ask them both to rethink this). It wouldn’t be ideal, but it puts the onus of decision-making squarely back on Jane. She cannot claim that the problem is Michael, or Montana.
Jane also can’t claim that the problem is that Rafael would be lost without her. This is the best thing “Chapter Eighty-Eight” does, something so sneakily smart that you could almost miss how crucial it is. Jane’s been so worried about what she sees as Rafael’s dangerous downward spiral; she asks Xo to check up on him, and last episode she asked Petra to check up on him. She just wants to make sure he’s okay. But for Jane, the real moment of clarity comes when she finds out that, actually, Raf is okay. He’s doing fine. He has not fallen apart. He’s upset, but his life without Jane is not in shambles, and he’s going to be able to move on.
This is what spurs Jane to action, because Raf being okay without her is the thing that fully brings home to Jane how much she loves him. She’s not beholden to him because he needs her, and she’s not stuck with him because her husband died and Rafael is the second choice who’s still alive. Jane goes back to Miami to be with Rafael because she wants to be with him entirely for herself, because she loves him, and because it would be better to attempt to repair things with Rafael and be rejected than to accept Michael when she truly loved someone else.
So Jane says good-bye to Michael, and shows up on Rafael’s doorstep to tell him that he was right, and now she knows what she wants, and what she wants is him. And, in a move that absolutely no one should blame him for, Rafael tells her that’s very nice, but it’s too late; he does not trust her anymore, sorry, have a nice night. Jane was not confident in her love for him, she stuck him in this torturous limbo, and now Rafael can’t trust that she’ll ever fully commit herself to him.
All of the uncertainty and shock and babbling self-doubt that’s defined Jane since Jason/Michael first returned? That’s gone now. Jane sits on the porch swing with Alba and Xo and explains what’s happened, but she’s not sad about it, and she’s not questioning anything she’s done. “Rafael is my destiny,” she tells them, and she is going to win him back. To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• The Little Jane on the Prairie, Telenovela Edition bit worked pretty well! Whenever the show has to make it through some significant emotional turning point, the self-aware telenovela framing is helpful in negotiating between the surreality of the plot and the more grounded emotions. In this case it also further supported Jane’s ultimate decision, because although the ranch telenovela looks great, it also looks very, very different than the telenovela of Jane’s life. The visual language, the tropes, the conflicts — everything about it is not the Jane we know.
• Just FYI, I am choosing to consider all tumbleweed in this episode as extra-diegetic tumbleweed supplied by Our Narrator for comic effect.
• My favorite little Narrator interjection this week was when Jane tells the story of Michael’s previous life to the other ranch hands. When she tells them that he was a detective, and not just that but “a great one,” Our Narrator has a slightly longer memory. “Well, that’s debatable,” he throws in.
• An episode sadly impoverished on the Rogelio front, but we did get one great scene. Leave it to Rogelio to be fully prepared to outfit Jane in FRINGE! FRINGE! [Shakes fringe on chest.] FRINGE! And several hat options!