Monday, February 13, 2017

REVIEW: 'Jane the Virgin' - Jane's Life is Different Now But Still Full of Love in 'Chapter Fifty-Five'

The CW's Jane the Virgin - Episode 3.11 "Chapter Fifty-Five"

Working in publishing isn't what Jane thought it would be, until she learns about a showcase for up and coming writers. Petra decides to rebrand the hotel, but quickly butts heads with the rival hotel next door. Rogelio and Darci have made a new arrangement which has put a strain on his relationship with Xo. Jane and Rafael try to figure out the best solution to Mateo's behavioral issues.

Jane the Virgin's unique worldview is one of its most endearing qualities. This is a show that can expertly balance extreme moments of comedy and drama. It's often doing so many things at once. Every episode could have such in depth analysis about the way it presents its story. The light, breezy, bright and colorful tone the show sets is so powerful. It would be so heartbreaking for that to be lost in the aftermath of tragedy. This show has dealt with many tragic moments previously - like Mateo being kidnapped and Michael getting shot. And yet, Michael's death is something new for the show. It's the death of a major character. He has been such a prominent fixture in the show and the characters' lives. His absence will create a void in this universe. That void could swallow the show whole as it forces everything to be emotional and somber. There is plenty of that in "Chapter Fifty-Five" as the show depicts the aftermath of this tragic turn of events. By setting the majority of the story three years in the future though, the series is also able to maintain its light comedic elements as well while never undercutting the emotions of Michael's death. That's a tricky balance to pull off. And once again, Jane the Virgin shows it knows what it's doing. It knows how to avoid any potential narrative traps that may have been set.

Of course, the hour's most emotional moments come when Jane and her family directly deal with Michael's death. It's so chilling to see Jane in a huddled mess at the Villanueva house just wrapped in the grief. It's important that Alba is the one comforting her in that moment. They don't like it at all but they are now both widows. That's now something new they have in common. It's heartbreaking to watch but Alba is the only person who can help Jane through this difficult time. She comforts her in saying that life will continue. Jane will need to be strong for Mateo. It may be sad and dark right now but the love and life will return once more. However, things will be different. Such a major lose will have an effect on Jane for the rest of her life. That's because Michael meant so much to her. But she'll also have to find a way to move forward and be strong. She'll have to allow life to grow and embrace the change. Things will be different now. There is no disputing that. The show then does a very smart thing in showing just how different Jane's life becomes because of this. It's still a very loving life but it's one still filled with problems that have defined this family for three seasons now.

Because of the time jump, a lot of this episode is also pretty expositional. There is a lot the show has to do to catch the audience up on what has been happening in these characters' lives in the three years since Michael's death. Mateo, Anna and Ellie are now all toddlers which represents new changes and challenges for Jane, Rafael and Petra as parents. Rogelio and Darci have done two seasons of their reality show. However, they're just pretending to be in love for the cameras while behind-the-scenes they can no longer stand to be around each other. Similarly, there is tension between Xo and Rogelio because of the reality show. Xo has been painted as the crazy ex-wife and is getting trolled everywhere she goes because of it. Meanwhile, Rafael went to jail for two years and came out more zen. Plus, he's been in a relationship for over a year with a woman named Abby (played by Friday Night Lights alum Minka Kelly) who the Narrator keeps forgetting about for some reason. And finally, Petra is in charge of the Marbella and is getting ready for its grand re-opening as a kids resort. It's because of all of this necessary exposition that this episode doesn't get an A grade. But it really is just such a minor part that is needed to make the big emotional moments work as well as they do.

All of this change is important. It's meaningful to see the different life that Jane is living without Michael. She still thinks about him every day. She still looks at his picture and listens to his final voice message to her all the time. That's endearing because it's a message about oranges and shows that he knows a disagreement might be coming because of the oranges. That seems so simple now. Jane would give anything to go back to that moment. But she is still surrounded by life and love right now. She found a way forward by bonding with Petra once more. Those two have always had such a complicated relationship. They get close only for something to come in between them and force them back into adversarial positions. But now, they needed to rely on each other in order to get through some tough and uncertain times. Jane didn't know how to move forward without Michael while Petra didn't know how to be a parent without Rafael. So they made the effort to have brunch once a week. It was the two of them forming a new family tradition. It's such a new dynamic for the show. And yet, it's a meaningful one because it shows that Jane and Petra have so much love in their lives. These challenges truly did test them. Things are different now. They are still complicated as well. But it's so moving to see them truly embrace and depend on this love together.

It's what's necessary too because life continues forward. Mateo is still growing up. This show still does such a great job in depicting the realities of parenting. It was just a few episodes ago that Jane was worrying about Mateo not having enough words in his vocabulary. And now, she and Rafael are dealing with something completely new. They are dealing with an energetic toddler who behaviors poorly a lot of the time. This hour does such an interesting job showing Mateo at his worst and most frustrating as well as his happiest and most sincere. It shows that parenting can be a struggle but it can be joyous as well. Mateo acting out in school doesn't have to be the only thing to define him. Yes, it's those big moments that cause Jane and Rafael to worry about his future. But there are a number of sweet moments with him as well. If only he had more of those, then Jane wouldn't have to worry so much. But he is acting out. It's not a problem Jane can hope to fix in just two weeks either. It's going to take more effort than that. This hour is about accepting that. It's not inherently a bad thing that Mateo will need a behavioral aide at school. Jane wanted to prove the teacher wrong and fix the problem. But there's only so much she can do. She and Rafael have differing opinions of what to do. But it's also important that neither of their solutions work. Mateo is still acting out. So, that will be a frustration for the future. However, Jane and Rafael are willing to face it head on.

Plus, Jane and Rafael have a really interesting dynamic right now. For the longest time, their relationship was defined by romance. Either they were dating or Rafael was pining after Jane. This season he had his moment of clarity and decided he was no longer in love with Jane. That was good because it allowed the show to relax and enjoy Jane's marriage with Michael and all the firsts that came from that. With Michael dying, that could be seen as the show re-opening the door for Jane and Rafael as a couple. He was there for her in the moment she got the tragic news. Three years later though, Jane and Rafael are just best friends. They know each other better than almost anyone else. Yes, that could take the turn for the romantic at some point. Hopefully not this season though because this dynamic is really compelling. It particularly strikes a cord when it's up to Rafael to convince Jane to read her novel about Michael in a showcase. She was so confident to be considered for this reading. She got the slot and was excited about it. All of the family showed up. But then, she was hit with the reality that she would be sharing her story with Michael to the world. That's scary. It was probably cathartic for her to right this book. She even gave the protagonists the happy ending she didn't get herself. But it's still deeply rooted in her relationship with Michael, which is still so emotional for her to talk about. Rafael is there for her in this moment as a friend. A forceful friend who pushes her to do this. But a friend nevertheless. It's a rousing success too. It may be the thing that leads to her getting published - which is exactly what Michael wanted for her all along.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter Fifty-Five" was written by Paul Sciarrotta & Jennie Snyder Urman and directed by Brad Silberling.
  • The fight between Xo and Rogelio isn't as emotional or nuanced as Jane and Alba's was earlier this season. That's mostly because it's introduced and resolved in this episode. But it's also great that they both apologize to each other for their mistakes while also refusing to let themselves hold each other back from what they want.
  • Rogelio and Darci fighting is a surprising development as well. They have been getting along so well lately too. Sure, Rogelio blows up every once in awhile. But they've managed to come back to each other every time. That's what will likely occur with this development as well. That just means Rogelio will have to commit to Darci and having a kid with her.
  • Petra's romance with the rival hotel owner next door is the one story that just doesn't work. The guy is just too over-the-top and broad. It's nice that Petra is getting some sex and no longer lingering on Rafael. But this guy is just too much of a creep to take seriously.
  • Meanwhile, the Marbella's grand re-opening doesn't last a day before everything goes awry. That happens when a bunch of kids discover Scott's body buried on the beach. The Marbella really has become a prime murder location. This new mystery will fuel the next batch of episodes as questions will persist about what Scott and Anezka were up to during the time jump.
  • With Mateo, Anna and Ellie being toddlers now, that means the show will be able to do more with them. The new actor playing Mateo seems very comfortable with that while the new Anna and Ellie largely just behave and nothing else.
  • It wasn't until the end of the episode that I realized the audience didn't get an update on Luisa and Rose. That wasn't particularly bothersome at all. That's a story that desperate needs some new energy.
  • And lastly, Jane and Professor Donaldson are friends now. That's just terrific. Seeing her support Jane at the showcase was an excellent detail.