Monday, February 6, 2017

REVIEW: 'Jane the Virgin' - An Unexpected Twist Destroys Jane and Michael's Plans for the Future in 'Chapter Fifty-Four'

The CW's Jane the Virgin - Episode 3.10 "Chapter Fifty-Four"

When Jane realizes that she and Michael are both stressed out, they decide to recreate their first date to help them relax. Rogelio makes a big scene on the red carpet of is film premiere and his rant goes viral. Rafael wants to set a good example for his children leaving him to make a big decision with the ultimate sacrifice. Bruce's daughter finds herself in trouble leaving Xo and Bruce to discuss the future of their relationship.

It has been said many times already but it's still so remarkable how great Jane the Virgin is on a consistent basis. It's hard enough to produce 20+ episodes a year. Throw in the difficult of blending different genres together. It would almost be impossible. And yet, Jane the Virgin makes it look effortless on a week-to-week basis. This show does so many things well. It still hasn't produced a truly awful episode of television yet either. Sure, some plots haven't been so great. But at the core of every single episode is a solid emotional through-line that mean something to the characters and is so much fun to watch. It's impeccable writing that moves with such confidence. The mastery is so impressive - even in an episode like "Chapter Fifty-Four" which builds to a truly devastating ending. It's such a shock to the system. And yet, all the signs were there pointing to this event occurring. There was hope that things wouldn't end this way. The show is even playful with that concept. And yet, the series sticks to its convictions and avoids the conventions of normal storytelling rules and rhythms.

Jane the Virgin kills off Michael in the middle of its third season. Then it jumps forward in time three years to show Jane getting ready for a wedding and Mateo as a toddler. It's so completely unexpected. And yet, the show has been preparing the audience for this moment for a long time. Once again, it all comes back to that time in the first season when the Narrator mentioned that Michael would love Jane until his very last breath. That set the ticking clock towards his demise. It made it okay to end the second season with Michael marrying Jane but getting shot before having sex with her. A lesser show would have played into those telenovela conventions to keep the basic premise of the show alive by killing him off then. And yet, series creator Jennie Snyder Urman never saw Jane's virginity as this sacred thing that couldn't go away until the end of the show. In fact, this season shows just how smart and bold the show is because it kept Michael alive. He survived a bullet to his chest. And thus, Jane was able to have so many firsts with him. She had sex for the first time. She moved out of her abuela's house. She was moving confidently into the future with him. It was a powerful and moving time for both of them.

And yet, the show also loves messing with Jane's plans for the future. This episode shows how every major character is planning for their lives in the longterm. Jane gets a tip on a new job and sees it as the stepping stone to being a published author one day. Michael is committed to going to law school and just needs to pass the test to make that a reality. Xo is conquering her biggest problem in her relationship with Bruce by being a good influence on his dynamic with his daughter, Tess. Scott and Anezka make their blackmail of Petra and Rafael known to get what they want - which is just to live happily as newlyweds and to see Anna and Elsa again. Petra is figuring out how to bond with her daughters again and is successful after a night alone with them. Rafael has to choose if he'll plead guilty or not for covering up Emilio's crimes. And lastly, Rogelio has to commit to Darci's new reality show after his plans for the indie film launching his American career fall apart. There is a lot of messy things happening on the show. Plus, the person who shot Michael in the first place - Rose - is back and dating Luisa once more. Of course, she's disguised as yet another person. So that'll keep things complicated in the future. But the characters more or less are figuring their lives out. So now is a perfect time for the drama to mess up all of those careful plans.

In hindsight, the episode itself was really pointing out that something devastating was about to occur. The Narrator has always been a crucial character of the series. It's through his perspective that the audience sees everything in this story. It allows things to go from playful to magical escapism to emotionally devastating so easily. The show has a lot of fun changing things up in the style and mood of an individual episode. And here, it just seems like the Narrator is having a ton of fun making fun of the unreliable narrator trope that is certainly having a moment. Unreliable narration can be an entertaining way to tell stories. Despite their flaws, USA's Mr. Robot and HBO's Westworld use it quite well. But on Jane the Virgin, the Narrator has never really lied to the audience. Sure, he has given the audience pieces of the story out of order. He's also set up certain expectations. But most of the time, it all happens in service of the greater narrative. This episode basically confirmed that he is a reliable storyteller. He's informing the audience of the story of the Villanueva family knowing exactly how everything goes for these characters in the long run. He has that knowledge. And now, it's just time to reveal that Michael's time in Jane's live has come to end.

Further attention is also drawn to Jane and Michael's story because the Narrator also brings up the idea of memories. It's a simple premise at the start of the episode. It opens on Michael as a child being too sick to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. It's an event that Michael says he remembers exactly because it was so traumatizing. But that's just set up for Jane explaining a theory about how memory works. The theory states that the core events stay intact but the peripheral details became foggy as time goes along. The production design than mirrors that feeling exactly. It highlights the love Jane and Michael feel towards each other while also cutting away the everyday details of life in their apartment. It's setting these moments up to be the final ones Jane will have with Michael. All of that makes perfect sense knowing that the episode ends with Michael's death. In the moment, it just feels special because it's the show actually capturing the moments of love between the two. Michael acts with excitement upon learning that Jane may be pregnant again. Jane knows exactly how to help Michael deal with the stress of his upcoming test. It shows that their final moments together are ones filled with love and pride. Jane loves what Michael is trying to do with his life and she'll support him no matter what - just like he has always done with her.

Of course, it's devastating when Jane gets that call in the end. It's heartbreaking to watch as the halo around Michael's heart slowly dims down. That's been a stylistic choice the show has used on a number of occasions to show the love between two characters. And now, it's so sad to watch it fade away in such a sudden and unexpected fashion. This isn't the life Jane had envisioned. The audience saw that way back in the season premiere. She planned for a life of happiness with Michael with more children and growing old together. Again, it just makes it more special that the two of them got to spend a little more time together. Jane has really grown so much this season. That's all because of Michael. Yes, his shooting was rough for them for a long time. But they survived all of it together. And now, Jane will have to find a way forward without this shining light in her life. The show will have to do so as well. Of course, the time jump makes it seem like the creative team has a strong plan in place for what to do next. The jump forward means the characters will be in completely different places in their lives. It also means the show will be able to get back to the comedy faster too. Michael's death could swallow the show whole with grief and sadness. I trust that the show will still get into those tough emotions of what his dying means for all the characters who got to know him. After fifty-four excellent episodes that do so many emotions well, the show has earned my trust. It's comforting to write these feelings down in this review. Michael may have been too good at times. But he really was such a great character. He was the true love that Jane deserved. He was so special and will be missed very much.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter Fifty-Four" was written by Jennie Snyder Urman & Micah Schraft and directed by Melanie Mayron.
  • Jane's pregnancy scare turns out to be nothing. It just shows how great and supportive Michael is despite all the stress he's under. Plus, it shows the series won't go the conventional route of having Jane get pregnant with Michael's baby just as he dies. That really would have been too much. And yet, it's also sad that they never had kids together.
  • Rafael is at Jane's apartment picking up Mateo when Jane gets the call. Him comforting her in the worst moment of her life could be seen as reigniting that aspect of the love triangle again. However, the show has done more than enough this season for that moment to be seen as a friend selflessly helping someone he loves when she is suffering.
  • Michael complaining about not feeling alright is another sign of what's to come with him too. And yet, it's explained away as him eating some bad chicken or nerves before the big test. It's only something to be worried about if it persists afterwards. Of course, it is a serious problem though.
  • Jane and Michael's love will be hard to replace as will Michael's bromance with Rogelio. Michael's death will be hard on the whole family. They'll need to rely on each other in order to get through all of this.
  • It's nice to see Rafael and Petra working as a team. Well, they at least have the same goals right now. Petra wants to make sure that her daughters grow up better than she did. That means keeping Rafael rich. Of course, she's still Petra in trying to scheme to get him out of jail time.
  • Fatherhood has had such a huge effect on Rafael as well. He's still in the midst of an identity crisis right now with the knowledge that he's not actually a Solano. But he also wants to be a good dad and set an example for his kids that they'll one day be proud of.
  • How will Michael's death affect Jane's love for romance novels? That has been such a core definer of her character. It's been fantastic for the audience to see her succeed and fail in her quest to write a novel. She fully believes in the love and optimism that the genre represents. She had that too with Michael. But with him gone in such a tragic way, will it change her perspective on the genre? Or will her writing be the thing to help her cope with what's happened in her life?