Jane the Virgin Has Trouble Reading the Room in “Chapter Ninety-One”
(Episode 5.10)Erica Parise/The CW TV Reviews Jane the Virgin
Before we get to anything else, let me open with a THEORY about one of Jane the Virgin’s biggest mysteries: Mateo (Elias Janssen) and our beloved Latin Lover Narrator (Anthony Mendez) are one and the same.
If this ends up being the case (I would bet cold, hard nickels on this ending up being the case), please don’t seek me out to praise my genius, or to discover if I have previously uncovered gifts of foresight we should all be exploiting for the greater good. If Mateo does turn out to be the Latin Lover Narrator (he will), I’ll only have been able to predict it because “Chapter Ninety-One” telegraphed it by implicitly paralleling their excitable, distractible, impulsively attention-hopping similarities from the first moment the Latin Lover Narrator mentioned in the episode’s cold open just how much trouble he was having focusing. By the time “Chapter Ninety-One” reached Mateo’s official ADHD diagnosis, and the Latin Lover Narrator responded to Jane’s (Gina Rodriguez) sobbing lament to Rafael (Justin Baldoni) that she wish she knew what it feels like to be in Mateo’s head with an enthusiastic “I’ll show you!” followed by a handful of several unrelated scenes from the story’s future crash-cut together, the idea that there might be people in the audience not connecting the brightly flashing dots is almost too silly to contemplate.
That said, I will be just as unsurprised if all those brightly flashing dots end up having been one giant misdirect, a big, finale telenovela twist revealing the Latin Lover Narrator to be the ghost of Mateo Sr. (ADHD can be genetic!), or even—taking into consideration the far-flung future gimmick that turned The Passions of Steve and Brenda into This is Mars—one of Mateo Jr.’s sons, or grandsons, or great-great-great-great-great grandsons (again: genetics), narrating the drama of his own family history for an audience watching sometime far in the future. (This, happily, would untangle some of ookier implications in how winkingly invested Mendez’s Narrator has been in every character’s sex life since Day One.) Knowing Jane the Virgin’s tricksiness as well as I do, I wouldn’t even be surprised if the reveal turns up someone even further afield. A descendant of Baby de la Vega Factor? Of Anna or Ellie? Of Luisa? Possibly Luisa (Yara Martinez), herself? I mean, she was the one who started Jane’s whole journey, mixing up her OB-GYN duties that one fateful afternoon—it would make all the sense in the world for her to be the one doing the emotional processing to wrap it all up. (My other Big Theory coming out of this episode: Luisa hasn’t given up on regaining her relationship with her family, but has instead embarked on a dangerous double-cross to take Rose down from the inside, as a way to prove herself to Rafael once and for all. Luisa gaining back her family’s trust and getting to learn about all the adventures they went through when she was in familial exile by diving into Jane’s novels and Rogelio’s telenovelas would be both logical and lovely.)
Of course, that’s all in the future. As the Latin Lover Narrator himself (herself?) reminds us in this week’s first minutes, though, it’s the present that matters most at, well, present. And that present finds Jane digging herself into a hole of overcommitment and the crushing, overlapping deadlines that necessarily follow. I’m certain I am not the only person whose stomach churned in oh god, it’s me horror as Jane made worse and worse decisions the deeper she dug (look, I’m working on it), so I am inclined to give the character the benefit of the doubt for everything un-Janelike that followed. But also… well, I mean, Jane the Virgin usually runs such a tight ship that it doesn’t occur to me to look up who’s credited with writing any specific episode. The off-ness of everything Jane was doing in the house tour scene alone, though—from not opening with an honest explanation to the prospective buyers about where Raf was and what limited help she could be while they waited, to her (her! Jane Villanueva! Queen of Lists and Plans and Research!) not knowing what “walkability scores” or “HVAC” were—sent me diving down an IMDb rabbit hole. Unsurprisingly (to me), the writer credited on “Chapter Ninety-One” has only led on one other Jane script before this one—the depressing, 30th birthday-themed “Chapter Eighty-Six.”
Now, “Chapter Eighty-Six” was the episode in which the return of The Love Triangle most disastrously blew everything in Jane’s and Raf’s lives to bits, so I’ve blocked most of it from my memory, but I do recall one note that I didn’t end up managing to fit in my review, about how weird it was that, in the episode following Petra (Yael Grobglas) opening up to Jane about how she thinks of her and Jane as sisters, and so was deeply hurt that Jane hadn’t confided in her about Michael, she only ended up going to Jane’s thirtieth birthday party as a way to solve a relationship problem with JR (Rosario Dawson). Not only that, she hadn’t even bought Jane a present—she just grabbed the gilded vase from the table next to her at the Marbella and thrust it at her assistant to wrap. Like Jane leaping to a big lie about why she was at the house to meet the prospective buyers instead of Raf rather than just being honest and finding other points of awkwardness to build audience anticipation for Raf’s victorious arrival as the wait dragged on, that just doesn’t track with where Jane’s characters are by this point in the series’ run, and that is just frustrating.
That said: The care taken with Mateo’s ADHD storyline, as well as everything having to do with both Rogelio (Jaime Camil) and Petra, was excellent. The balance between Jane’s personal life and her responsibilities as a parent has always been well attended to, and this development, especially with Jane and Raf’s new maxim to “plan when things are good [to] be ready when things are bad,” was no different. Petra’s commitment to making things work with JR, meanwhile—and JR’s eventual realization that she wanted to use the Houston job as a clean break, despite all the effort she had herself put into the revived relationship—was just as movingly rendered (with bonus fringed lycra!). And although I had expected we’d get at least a few fun This is Mars scenes before the season was out, I hadn’t anticipated them being rolled together with a #TimesUp reckoning for Rogelio featuring Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), Darci (Justina Machado) and River (Brooke Shields) serving as a hard-won panel of witnesses to his defense to convince The Passions of Santos’ creator, Dina (Judy Reyes), to be the new project’s head writer, despite Rogelio having shut her out of the development process to begin with. Plus, anytime Jenna Ortega’s version of Young Jane gets a chance to come back, I’m on board. (Mars pun absolutely intended.)
Ultimately, “Chapter Ninety-One” was a mixed bag. But Jane has built such a strong foundation, we have every reason to believe that even the most out-of-character moments in this final run of episodes will resolve into something great by series’ end. And if that end just happens to take place on Mars, one of Mateo’s descendants turning the last page in Jane Villanueva’s story? Well, you can definitely say I told you so.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.