Friday, April 20, 2018

REVIEW: 'Jane the Virgin' - Jane and Rafael Face a Bombshell That Will Change Their Lives in 'Chapter Eighty-One'

The CW's Jane the Virgin - Episode 4.17 "Chapter Eighty-One"

Jane believes she and Rafael are in a good place until she realizes he is keeping a secret from her. Alba's big day has finally arrived, and Jane, Xo and Rogelio are ready to celebrate but Alba has other plans. Petra and J.R. make a decision about their future that neither of them saw coming. River spends the week with Rogelio in order to help them be believable as a married couple, but she soon starts to take her role too seriously.

Jane the Virgin has always worn its telenovela influences and appreciation on its sleeve. In almost every episode, The Narrator reminds the audience that this is still a telenovela after all. There have been so many dramatic plot twists that would seem impossible for the show to keep grounded in some sensible way. And yet, the creative team has always found a way to make every dramatic twist land with sincerity while never losing sight of the characters and how genuinely they take all of the upheavals in their lives. As such, I have confidence that the creative team will be able to spin this latest twist in a compelling and interesting way at the start of next season. Upon immediately learning what was happening, I was filled with dread because it's something that could go wrong in any number of ways. It may actually be one twist too far for the show. It has always pushed the boundaries. It has gotten away with a number of insanely ridiculous things. It still manages to surprise the audience at every turn while showing off a mastery of the craft and appreciation for the audience's awareness and intelligence. This could still be a disaster. One that I'll dread throughout the upcoming hiatus. And yet, I'm still very excited to see how the show resolves this latest telenovela twist. It's something so completely common in that genre. It's the show once again pulling out all of the stops in order to tell a satisfying story in that vein while still being true to a family drama. It's something the show can only do once. As a show heading into its fifth season, it's good to know that it can still surprise us. This latest twist also happens on top of a really entertaining and wonderfully executed finale.

"Chapter Eighty-One" opens with a flashback to Alba at age 23. She is enjoying the Fourth of July with her husband, Mateo. Upon seeing the fireworks for the first time, she decides to stay in America and become a citizen while raising their child. It's a major celebration that also sets up a tradition for the Villanueva family. It also further highlights that Jane doesn't like surprises. That's not shocking or new information. Since the very beginning of the series, it has been known that she had a very meticulous plan for her life that was thrown off completely because she was accidentally artificially inseminated. This season has done a wonderful job in showing just how far the characters have grown since the beginning. The family dynamic is stronger than it has ever been before. The characters have an awareness of their faults and are constantly working to break their patterns while still giving into temptation from time to time. It's so lovely and magical when Rafael just supports Jane in her writing. She feels the need to write and map out what could be her next novel. She is feeling inspired right now. She needs to type. But Rafael is planning a huge surprise for her. He is getting ready to propose to her. It's such an exciting moment. The family is incredibly supportive of the decision as well. But it also sets up a pattern of big surprises happening in this finale. That's the central theme of this hour. A lot of shocking things occur here. It could be self-indulgent and one twist too many. But it's also incredibly resonant with the characters because it still has a number of stories that touch upon the history of their relationships with each other while still playing into the telenovela conventions.

Of course, the show only really teases one huge surprise that it is purposefully keeping from Jane and the audience. For most of the running time, the show lives in the moment and allows the surprises to play out as everyone is becoming aware of them for the first time. The only one that is handled differently is the huge cliffhanger at the end. Rose called Rafael at the end of the previous episode to say that she had a bombshell that would completely change his life. The show absolutely delivers on that end. It's not overhyped at all. As such, the speculation is high throughout this entire episode about what could possibly be so huge coming from Rose that forces Rafael to have a depressing and alcoholic spiral once more. It was previously teased that Rose knew the identity of Rafael's biological parents. She would only share that if he told her where Luisa was. He wasn't willing to betray his sister like that even though he then had to find peace with not knowing anything about his parents. And now, he is forced into sitting down with Rose once more. He doesn't want to do this. He just wants to keep avoiding her. But she makes her continued influence known. She still has power even in jail. But after that meeting, Rafael becomes a different person. Alba amusingly points out that this is the part in the telenovela when Rafael learns he's actually Rogelio's long-lost son which would make him Jane's brother. That thought certainly crossed my mind. Of course, that's silly and laughed off quickly. Plus, Rafael has sex with Jane in order to deflect from the burden of this secret he is now keeping.

It's only through hindsight and understanding what the secret is that it's clear to see the pain that Rafael is feeling throughout this entire episode. He completely throws away his plan to propose to Jane because he learns that Michael is still alive! That's such a bombshell surprise. It is so completely unexpected. When Michael died halfway through the third season, the creative team told the audience that it was a story that was going to stick. Him being revived now has the potential to ruin all of the hard work the show has put in since his death. Plus, it means he has a lot of explaining to do about why he would abandon the love of his life in such a tragic way for many years - with Rose somehow knowing that he was still alive too. All of that is just speculation for the future. Right now, it's better to live in the moment and see how this news changes Jane and Rafael's relationship. This season has been able to explore their bond in a genuine way. It's been thrilling to watch them fall in love again. They've had their difficulties too. But it's been so exciting to see them break from past patterns and force this dynamic to flourish in new and surprising ways. Jane doesn't allow Rafael to push her out of his life when things get tough again. She stays in the apartment with him even though he doesn't want to talk about this life-changing news. He understands that it has the potential to ruin his happiness in this world. He knows what Michael means to Jane. He has always fought with self-doubt about being her second choice in life. He has always been plagued with thoughts that she is only with him now because Michael is no longer alive. And now, Michael miraculously is somehow. That's devastating to Rafael. And yet, he also knows that he can't keep this from Jane. She walks into that apartment expecting a proposal. Instead, she sees her dead husband. She was so willing to commit to Rafael right now. But instead, she is once again faced with the two greatest love stories of her life.

All of this also ties into Alba's celebration of becoming an American citizen. The glimpse of her younger self at the top of the episode reminds the audience just how long she has wanted this and how long she has lived in fear of being deported. That was a fear that her entire family carried for all of these years as well. They were afraid that this family was one wrong decision away from being torn apart. And now, it's so moving to see Alba take that stage and be declared a citizen of this country. It's so freeing and emotional. She has wanted this for so long and now it has finally come true. She is living the life and freedom she has always wanted. It's magical. She then promptly ruins the surprise party her family has planned for her because she wants to go check on Jorge after learning he's sick. He's not sick. He's at the surprise party back at the house. Jane has to ruin the surprise in order to get her to go. Once there, she delivers such a powerful speech. It's in English too. That's a profound moment because she is delivering this message for all to hear. She is so appreciative of everyone who has helped her along her journey to this moment. It's been a wonderful and complicated life. It has been building to this point. It's such a rich tapestry of emotions. It's very passionate and touches everyone in the room. It leads to such immediate inspiration for Jane and her novel. She decides to expand the scope to bring in even more details of her family's lives and the powerful emotions that bonds them together. The first phrase she types for this new story also happen to be the first words the Narrator said in the very first episode of Jane the Virgin. That's certainly an interesting tease that could see the show taking a very meta turn in the next season. But it also rushes back to the telenovela component of the story as well. Alba learns that Jorge's mother is dying and he can't visit her because he's undocumented and may not be able to return to this country. So, she decides to marry him. She claims it's just a business arrangement. It's even amusing how she doesn't want God in the ceremony at all. But it's also bound to flourish into something more as well because of the history between the two of them.

And finally, there is so much drama happening with Petra and J.R. Petra is also reflecting on how much she has grown as an individual and member of this family over the years. She attends Alba's surprise party even though she is the only one who can tell that it isn't actually a surprise to her. She is so good at reading people. But now, the show reveals that the audience and J.R. haven't been so good at reading Petra in the aftermath of Anezka's death. Petra has always asserted that she didn't kill her sister. Now, it's revealed that she actually did push her over the balcony. She claims that it was still self-defense because Anezka threatened to hurt Anna and Elsa. Petra's maternal instincts kicked in and unfortunately sent Anezka spiraling over the balcony. But that's still murder. And now, J.R. believes that it's just another case of Petra masterfully manipulating someone in order to get what she wanted. She believes that Petra tricked her into falling in love with her just so she was willing to throw away her entire legal career just to ensure that this case was thrown out for good. Petra can never be investigated for this murder ever again. But it's so absolutely devastating to see this epic fight between the two. It comes right after they declared their love for each other as well. It's clear that all of this was real and genuine with Petra. She's been so afraid of these emotions and exposing her true self to J.R. And yet, she did that and got love and happiness in return. That is until this moment. But the story still ends on a massive cliffhanger. It always seemed inevitable that the show would center some kind of cliffhanger around J.R. to pay homage to the most infamous one of all time on Dallas. The "Who Shot J.R.?" mystery is legendary. Of course, the show simply couldn't repeat that same story because it would be redundant while also potentially playing into Bury Your Gays stereotypes. So, it was also expected for the show to find some twist on that formula. It does so wonderful here by J.R. getting a call from Krishna saying that she wasn't the blackmailer after all. She was just blackmailed into taking responsibility. The actual culprit has sneaked into Petra's room and is now holding her at gunpoint. J.R. storms in and tackles the unknown assailant to the ground before shooting him or her. As such, the new mystery "Who did J.R. shoot?" is going to be another fun guessing game over the hiatus.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter Eighty-One" was written by Jennie Snyder Urman & Paul Sciarrotta and directed by Gina Lamar.
  • It's fascinating that Xo's cancer storyline mostly takes a backseat here. That has been such an emotional and grounded story over the last couple of episodes. It ends with no clear resolution. But it doesn't have some big dramatic twist to it either. She's just continuing to go about her life. She is feeling happy about her family's accomplishments while still being drained from all of the chemo.
  • River Fields spends the week as a part of the Villanueva family as well. That too could feel like an unnecessary plot device in an episode already overstuffed with stories. And yet, it also builds to a really genuine moment where she realizes just how important family is to Rogelio. He would absolutely do anything for them. As such, that's very endearing to her and makes her see her new onscreen husband in a new light.
  • The show is already gearing up to go into production on Rogelio and River's adaptation of The Passions of Santos next season. Of course, they have yet to shoot a pilot. But it seems inevitable that it'll happen. Meanwhile, it seems likely that Jane fleshing out the story of her new novel could make her realizing that there is just too much ground to cover in that form. Perhaps a series would be better to tell the story of the Villanueva family. Perhaps she's been the omnipresent Narrator all along.
  • I really do hope that Brooke Shields and Rosario Dawson return next season to continue in their roles as River and J.R. They were just fantastic additions this season. I know that they are still busy and in-demand actresses. But these roles have offered them fun and dramatic material that they rarely get to work with elsewhere. They are both showcased well here. Plus, they have fantastic chemistry with the rest of the cast.
  • I'm really curious to see what the show's plan is if Brett Dier's CBS comedy pilot gets picked up to series. It's allegedly getting buzz and seeming likely to go for next season. That could create a scheduling problem for him doing this show again full-time. Of course, his pilot was created by Gloria Calderon Kellett (who also does Netflix's One Day at a Time) who is great friends with the Jane the Virgin team. Both shows have shared actors in the past for recurring parts. So, it could be worked out.