In its fifth and final season, Jane the Virgin is telling a story it really hasn’t told before. Bringing Michael back from the dead in a dramatic amnesia twist was one major telenovela box the show hadn’t checked yet, so in some ways that story completes a big trope of the genre that the show hadn’t tackled. But the story it’s telling now is a far more typical human experience, and it’s also one that somehow we’ve never seen Jane experience before. She loves someone, and they have no interest in being with her.
“Chapter Eighty-Nine” gives us a Jane we’ve never seen, a Jane who does not deal well with rejection. She has very little experience with it, after all. She’s long had her choice of romantic partners, or she’s been neck-deep in grief, or she’s been slowly trying to put things together with someone who’s roughly on the same page. But we’ve never had a Jane like this, someone who’s still intensely in love with Rafael, and completely adrift because Rafael doesn’t feel the same way in return.
She does not handle it well. She drives by his house. She texts him too much. She tries to find a subtext in his benign communications that’s not there, ignoring the words he does say about what he wants. In the most disastrous moment, she tries to make a big romantic gesture by setting up a picnic in the house Rafael’s trying to sell, completely ignoring that this is his place of work and he’s been very articulate that he doesn’t want this. It is not a good look for Jane.
Jane may not realize this, but Jane does. The show itself calls her Jane the Stalker, it gives her GPS the voice to demand that Jane make a U-turn when she’s on her way to intercept Rafael at Mateo’s school, and most directly, it has Xiomara ask Jane to imagine what this scenario would look like if she were male. Idling in a car next to an ex’s house? Disrupting an ex’s professional life? These would be the siren warnings of an episode of Law & Order: SVU, and when Xo points this out, Jane gradually comes to her senses at least a little. Even then, though, Jane’s still in the grip of terrible thoughtlessness up until the point where she blows off writing the proposal for Rogelio’s new show and has to face his bitter disappointment in her. She can see how much she’s hurt him, and that’s really the only thing that shakes Jane out of her completely ill-advised obsessive behavior.
From one perspective, all of this makes sense. Jane’s had no experience with rejection, and she sucks at it. She’s so totally done with Michael, so fully ready to move on and get her life back on track, that it’s impossible for her to imagine that Rafael couldn’t be feeling exactly the same. And the entire Michael disruption was so surreal, so utterly out of the blue, that you could almost imagine the reverse being true as well. If he popped into their lives and messed everything up in the space of a day, surely Jane should be able to wipe him out of their lives in the same period of time.
From the outside, though — from Rafael’s deep sense of betrayal and distrust, from Xo and Alba’s point of view watching Jane lose the plot a little — that’s not how this works. And from even further outside, from the perspective of viewers watching Jane become so inept and thoughtless and bumbling, it’s much harder. The default assumption of Jane the Virgin has almost always been that it’s on Jane’s side. There have been a few brief exceptions. She hasn’t spent the past four seasons being perfect in every moment, and has occasionally had moments where she can’t see past her own concerns. But she usually comes around much more quickly, and the primary motivation of the show has always been Jane’s happiness. It’s a show that runs on the assumption that more than Team Michael or Team Rafael, we are Team Jane.
So what do we do with a turn like this, where what Jane wants to be happy cannot happen, at least not in the time frame she wants? (Or maybe not ever?) And even harder, the show is challenging itself to be critical of the way its heroine manages this moment, which is something that makes absolute sense in reality, but rubs against the show’s deep telenovela roots. Is it possible to believe in a real-world situation where Jane’s behavior might not be flattering? Yes. Is Jane the Virgin, a show where Jane is the heroine who we cheer for, structurally designed to question its own protagonist? It’s a harder sell, even after Jane makes sure to repair Jane’s relationship with Rogelio by the end of the episode.
On a broader scale, it’s fascinating to imagine the rest of the season being a story about Jane pursing rather than being the pursued love interest. But it’s also hard not to look back at the first seven episodes and think about a few moments I wish we’d had, moments that never materialized. It would’ve been good to see Michael and Rogelio together, in part because I think it could’ve further cemented our understanding of how much Michael has changed. Although Michael’s continued love for Jane means that when she chooses Rafael it feels more like a choice, it might have also helped if Michael had been similarly ready to say good-bye. The sense that their farewell wasn’t mutual lets a lot of those feelings linger more than they perhaps should.
It might have also been nice to see Rafael have a conversation with Jane that was more like the one Petra has with J.R. in this episode. Petra has a heartbreakingly difficult talk with J.R. about how much Anna and Ellie have been traumatized by the violence they’ve seen, and how strongly she feels about putting their welfare above her love for J.R. (Happily, J.R. commits to making an effort to bond with the girls before Petra and J.R. have to call it quits; Anna and Ellie seem like tough nuts to crack but I am praying very hard that J.R. figures it out.) But this is the sort of conversation I can’t help but wish that Rafael had been able to have with Jane when they broke up, something that let him express how hurt he was, while still giving him space to be more generous to what Jane was experiencing. It might’ve been easier to come back from Montana and feel full bore pro-Rafael if he’d been just slightly more of a mensch, you know?
The thing that works best about this episode is also something that gives me hope for the future. Whatever else is going on, Jane and Rafael are still doing their best to parent their son together, and the sweetest moment in “Chapter Eighty-Nine” is probably the one when Mateo realizes that one rhyme for “heart” is “fart,” and Rafael cheers. Ugh! I just want them all to be happy together so they can sit and do word flash cards and laugh at rhyming potty words together!
Meanwhile, Luisa’s pie-providing neighbor is following Rafael and trying to work his way into the Solano family, which means Sin Rostro is back to her old tricks! And Alba and Jorge are in love! To be continued!
From Our Narrator, With Love
• While working through my continuing feelings about Jane and Rafael, I didn’t have much chance to consider Alba and Jorge, but they are so sweet, and I just want Alba to finally be happy with someone again. Especially since Jorge, while prepping for their immigration marriage interview, suggests that they probably have sex three times a week! “I’d say that’s impressive for your age!” Our Narrator chimes in.
• How did Jane the Virgin book Justin Hartley for a cameo! How did they book him and then he sits in a tanning-booth pod the whole time! Our Narrator’s “Yeah right. Hartley doesn’t do cameos” crack was very good, though.
• Leave it to Petra to get poor Pammy the Parrot — a woman who has done no wrong and whose ultimate phobia is of taking off her parrot head to find a real parrot underneath — arrested for fraud. “Put her in a cage on account of her … fowl play?” Oh, Narrator, you do make me smile.
• It’s very sad that The Passions of Steve and Brenda was not ordered to series. Why can’t we have a television show about the first husband and wife co-presidents who have a gold-covered Murphy bed in their heart-shaped presidential office?! And yet, the idea of Rogelio getting CGI to age himself down like Benjamin Button does not seem good, while Jane’s idea that they stick Rogelio in a space suit and turn the show into This Is Mars is hilarious.
• Thank goodness Jane managed to apologize to Rogelio with an appropriate #Romorse basket. My favorite touch were the family photos with images particularly flattering to Rogelio. That’s real love.