Jane the Virgin Faces Every Character’s Worst Nightmare in “Chapter Eighty-Five”
(Episode 5.04)Photo: Richard Foreman, Jr./The CW TV Reviews Jane the Virgin
And with that, my friends, we return to the land of the Jane the Virgin Love Triangle, also known as the part of every season where I lose all confidence in my ability to assign objective ratings. Consider this 8.1 a begrudging compromise between the 8.7 earned by Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and Petra’s (Yael Grobglas) drunken decision-bonding, Petra and JR’s (Rosario Dawson) truth-bound reunion, and Jane and Michael’s (!) platonic catch-up montag. The 7.5 I’d prefer to give to everything else related to the return of the Toxic Triangle. I am very sorry, folks. I just hate it.
Fitting, then, that the underlying theme of this week’s outing is facing down your worst nightmare—and fascinating that, of all those who face their nightmares, it’s Petra alone who comes out better in the end.
First, the good, well, big, news: Michael (Brett Dier) has his memories back! Like, for real. If you had even a shred of doubt at the end of “Chapter Eighty-Four” that the flood of Michael-memories that hit Jason when his fishing rod knocked plaster snow down from Alba’s porch ceiling was going to stick, “Chapter Eighty-Five” quells any and all of them. Michael may retain Jason’s distaste for cubanos (“cooBAnos”) and slight high plains drawl, but in all the ways it really matters—investing in Jane’s hopes and dreams, marveling at Petra’s personal growth, everything #Brogelio—he’s Michael to the core. (The only reason my 8.7 wasn’t higher, truly, was that we weren’t given the Michael-and-Rogelio reunion scene we’ve all been dreaming of since Jason first showed up in Rafael’s apartment last spring.)
I may not like the love triangle that telenovela law dictates must follow (it is my own worst Jane the Virgin nightmare), but from both a storytelling perspective and just a plain old human one, Michael getting his memories back is a heart-expandingly good thing. Arguably, it dampens the lasting impact of the shock of his death, and undermines the series’ reminder that being a kind and decent person doesn’t guarantee anyone a happy ending, even (or especially) in Jane’s tropical-hued moral universe. Michael was good; he died. Jane is good; she was widowed. Life is just like that. But just because Jane the Virgin is so often about the chaotic, often unfair vicissitudes of life, that doesn’t mean that good people should give up on the possibility of good things happening to them. That is antithetical to Jane’s whole reason for being; Jane the Vigin is about the winds of chaos, yes, but it’s also about sweeping happily-ever-afters. It’s about happiness coming to those open to looking for it, and open to doing the work to keep it. Michael got his memories back, and he and Jane got to catch up on everything the best friends had missed in each other’s lives for the past several years! What a good, happy thing.
Just in case you remain skeptical about the storytelling value of reversing the emotional and interpersonal impact of Michael’s Big Death, Jane’s got you. As “Chapter Eighty-Five” makes clear from the moment Lorenzo Lamas threatens to take Little Jane away from her mom and grandma in the episode’s flashback nightmare framing device, nothing about having the best, most unlikely miracle come your way can protect you from the consequences that will necessarily follow. It may not be realistic, but the frank truth of Michael’s return from the dead puts the same kinds of compelling screws into the narrative as all the radical honesty for which I’ve so often praised Jane. Telling the truth opens up paths in the storytelling darker and more perilous than hiding it ever could: Bringing Michael back into the world, and giving him back his both his memories and his heart, does the same thing, as the last scene between Jane and Rafael (Justin Baldoni) confirms. It is a miracle; it is a nightmare.
Jane the Virgin has always been expert at disproving the prestige-TV theory that there’s any kind of inherent moral truth in dark, grim unhappiness. Jane is bright! Jane is upbeat! Jane is happy! But it has also demonstrated that there’s no inherent good to happiness, either. Being happy doesn’t necessarily make you a better person—see, in “Chapter Eighty-Five,” Jane’s implicit willingness to hurt Rafael and Mateo when she decides to explore what Michael being back means for her romantically. Nor does it necessarily protect you from the buffeting winds of despair further down the road—see Xiomara’s (Andrea Navedo) sober acknowledgment that just because chemo is working enough now to let her dance with Mateo at grandparents’ day doesn’t mean it will work forever. Being unhappy simply means you’re unhappy. Similarly, being happy means just that: you’re happy. You’re not better for it, or safer. That’s a much harder truth to swallow, but it makes for excellent, complex storytelling.
Which brings us to Petra, who, if she’s served any role on Jane the Virgin over the years, it’s as the exception to every rule. Generally, that has been to her disadvantage. She’s made bad decisions, yes—god, so many—but more often than not, they were a knee-jerk fight-or-flight response to a world randomly bent against her. When she has tried to make good decisions, especially when attempting to emulate (or out-good) Jane, she has been almost universally punished for it. For the most part, being happy never made Petra good—but neither did being unhappy make her safe. Until, that is, the number of Janes in her life doubled. Between opening up her heart to a non-competitive friendship with Jane Gloriana Villanueva and opening her soul to the hard work of a happily-ever-after romance with Jane Ramos (JR), she has found a way not only to be happy, but to also be both good and safe. Not that getting to this point was easy. In classic Jane the Virgin fashion, Petra’s first run of happy self-improvement under the glow of JR’s sun ended in the world bending back against her like always. But when she’s presented with the opportunity to rise above her old cheating ways in “Chapter Eighty-Five” by facing down the nightmare that is revealing Magda (Priscilla Barnes) to JR in all her matronly villainy, she takes it. She faces her nightmare, and as a reward for doing so, wins JR back.
Petra Solano: The glorious exception to every rule.
This early in the season, the nightmares that everyone but Petra is facing (Latin Lover narrator included!) are unlikely to work themselves out with any kind of haste. Xo’s cancer isn’t likely to leap straight into remission; Alba’s (Ivonne Coll) heart isn’t likely to stop glowing for Jorge (Alfonso DiLuca); Rogelio’s (Jaime Camil) dual allegiance to both Rafael and Michael isn’t likely to become any less fraught. As for the old Jane the Virgin Love Triangle? God, that’s just going to be hard and unhappy for ages.
To quote my beloved Latin Lover Narrator: And friends, in that moment Jane realized that THIS is her worst nightmare.
Me, too, Jane. Me, too.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.