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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Complicated domestic woes are the highlight of an uneven Jane The Virgin

Illustration for article titled Complicated domestic woes are the highlight of an uneven Jane The Virgin

Considering how colorful and over the top Jane The Virgin is, it’s surprising just how grown up the series can be. “Chapter Forty-One” deals with the types of problems faced by mature adults in the real world—job and budget woes for a growing family, work and family priorities for a new mom, custody agreements for separated parents—and the episode is at its best when it focuses on these grounded, relatable issues. This material is surrounded by the usual telenovela high jinks, but the majority of the episode is dedicated to Jane’s parenting struggle, which becomes even tougher when she’s hit hard by separation anxiety this week.

Jane is having trouble adjusting to her current custody agreement with Rafael, so the two of them decide to set some firm custody rules with the help of a mediator. This conversation forces Jane to think about what she wants for Mateo and how her wants compare to Rafael’s, and over the course of the episode she realizes that she can’t let her wishes get in the way of her son’s happiness. Along the way, Jane tries her hand at being a college application essay tutor and is forced to train Petra’s twin sister, Anezka, as a waitress at The Marbella, two seemingly separate plotlines that converge at the end of the chapter. Jane’s threads are tied together with the general theme of Jane teaching others and learning about herself in the process, and the rest of the episode would benefit from that same depth and focus.

Writer Joe Lawson makes his Jane The Virgin debut with “Chapter Forty-One,” and while he handles Jane’s domestic drama well, he’s less successful with the more fantastic elements of the show. Michael loses his job after a news article singles him out for botching the Sin Rostro case, but Lawson barely spends any time on this major development, leaving most of the Michael-related events off-screen. The police narrative isn’t especially engaging so I’m not too sad that we don’t see Michael losing his job, and this show has already had a scene of Michael getting (fake) fired this season, but Michael’s emotional arc in this episode would be stronger if the script provided more details.

Lawson’s use of on-screen text is more aggressive than the norm, and while some of these moments work—the scroll of various shitty things Petra has done on the series is my personal favorite—there are an equal number that don’t land. This show loves hashtags, but they get in the way if there are too many of them, and Lawson uses too many. The Big Lebowski hashtags are the ones that really bother me, and Lawson imposes a reference on the dialogue when it doesn’t sound like Jane is making a reference at that point. The hand of the writer is too visible during moments like that, and it pulls the viewer out of the story. It’s a small flaw, but it shows how careful the writers have to be when incorporating extra visual elements into the script.

Xo tries her hand at being an actress this week when she scores a part on Tiago A Través Del Tiempo as Eleanor Roosevelt’s jazz chanteuse lesbian lover (#historicallyinaccurate), and Lawson uses this to add a silent movie gimmick into the episode. During heightened moments, the visuals switch into 1920s silent movie mode, and while these interludes look fantastic thanks to director Gina Lamar and the show’s designers, they’re not integrated into the narrative as smoothly as other fantasies on this series. Last week’s Salsa Sophia sequences played a significant part in the narrative, but this week’s silent movie bits are mostly just an excuse for the cast to dress up in roaring ’20s fashion and ham up their performances, which is definitely fun, but doesn’t add very much to the larger story.

“Chapter Forty-One” isn’t the tightest episode of Jane The Virgin, but it’s still hugely entertaining and emotionally rich, showing that the head writers and story editors for this series have a very handle on what makes this show work. There are some silly elements in Lawson’s script, but they’re balanced by the more grounded content that keeps the script from going off the rails. Anezka is ridiculous, but she fits firmly within the tradition of Petra’s cartoonish relatives, and this episode manages to bring some extra depth to her by putting her in Jane’s orbit. Yael Grobglas’ exaggerated performance for Anezka makes Petra more believable by comparison, and that dynamic comes in handy as this episode softens Petra by having her show some remorse for the awful things she’s done over the past few years.


As long as this show commits to the reality of Jane’s personal situation, all of the craziness surrounding it is acceptable, and Lawson overcomes the flaws in his script by accomplishing this key feat. He embraces the complications of Jane’s present circumstances, and mines a lot of drama out of Jane’s attempts to simplify as life just get more and more challenging. The reality of growing up and starting a family is that it takes a while before life gets easier again, and Jane The Virgin has held on tight to that reality as it details Jane’s difficult first year of motherhood this season.

Stray observations

  • The Rafael/Derek plot continues to be one of this season’s dullest. The Mutter stuff has generally been far less captivating than the Sin Rostro material was in the first season.
  • Rogelio is falling for Dina but she’s still reluctant to commit to anything, despite their hook-ups becoming a regular thing. I like Judy Reyes and Jaime Camil’s chemistry, so I wouldn’t mind this becoming a regular thing.
  • This show has done exceptional work depicting texting on screen, and it continues to make really smart decisions with electronic communication by having Alba send Jane a video of Mateo. The low quality of the recording really sells the moment and makes it feel real.
  • I love seeing how the show tries to top itself with putting Rogelio’s face on things. This week: a giant rug with Rogelio’s face.
  • I can’t believe Jane isn’t shopping on Target’s website. Huge twist!
  • “Some things” Petra did: Cheat on Rafael with his best friend, stole Rafael’s sperm, tried to get him arrested for domestic abuse, covered for her mother after she pushed Jane’s grandmother down the stairs, held a man hostage, stole Rafael’s sperm again.
  • Michael has a new job as Rogelio’s chief of security! Michelio forever!
  • “Somebody’s crushing hard. But come on, is anyone shipping these two?” (#anezkafael #rafanezka #WhoAreWeKiddingPetraWouldKillThemBoth)
  • “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m a huge proponent of nepotism.”
  • “Now I must go and make love to the gorgeous Eleanor Roosevelt. #AnActorsLife. Boom!”
  • “And maybe it was because she missed Mateo so much, or because she was stressed out about money, or because she was responsible for training a woman who was currently pulling ice cubes out of a customer’s glass with her fingers.”
  • “Helping people with their college essays? Are you kidding me? That’s like a fun Saturday!”
  • “Then for the good of this country, I will make love to that lesbian.”
  • “How hard can it be to raise her eyeline just a couple of inches?” It’s very hard to do well, but hilarious when done badly.
  • “I float! You no hearing me!”