“The best advice I got was to accept help when people offer it to you.” That’s not a quote from tonight’s Jane The Virgin, although it very well could be. It’s something my sister told me earlier today when she drove me to the train station after I babysat my three-month-old nephew on my own for the first time, and her words rang in my head throughout “Chapter Thirty-Eight,” an episode that deals with people putting aside their pride and accepting assistance when it comes to them. (My sister also said this while we were talking about our cousin having twins on her first pregnancy, another random little connection to this episode.)
Raising a child is hard; it’s physically, mentally, and financially draining, and even a person like Petra, who has the wealth to ease some of the stress, is still going to be faced with challenges in parenthood. There’s the impulse to try and do it alone, to prove that you’re that strong parent that can handle all the needs of a child and the pressure it adds to your life, but if you have the good fortune of people in your life that want to help make that process easier, don’t turn it away. Good fortune is something Jane needs with Pablo Alonso Segura bringing bad luck wherever he goes, but she has trouble accepting the help of Rogelio and Rafael because of the strings attached.
With Alba’s house requiring major rehab after a burst pipe brought about “The Flood,” Jane has lost the venue for her wedding and is pressed for options given the date is in a month and half. That burst pipe also motivates Jane to start looking for a new house to live in with her son and future husband, and Jane and Michael quickly learn that they won’t be able to find a home that fits their wishlist and their budget in Miami. Rogelio offers to pay for the wedding if he can bring a small army of personal friends that Jane doesn’t know, but it goes directly against Jane’s wishes for a small wedding made up of people that love her and Michael. Meanwhile, Rafael offers to pay the difference on a house that would keep Mateo closer to him when Jane and Michael find a place a half-hour away, but they’re reluctant about getting financially involved with a family member and don’t know what kind of strings are attached to the money.
Jane’s story deals heavily with financial stress, but Petra’s is focused on the mental stress of being a new parent. As we’ve seen, Petra is having trouble making an emotional connection with her new twins, and the situation isn’t improving. When Jane runs into a dazed Petra roaming the halls of The Marbella in the middle of the night, she offers a helping hand and suggests that Petra check out the new mothers’ group she went to when Mateo was born. Petra is reluctant to go alone and she not so subtly hints to Jane that she wants her there, so Jane of course tags along for the meeting, which ends with Petra storming out when one of the other mothers suggests that she’s headed into post-partum territory.
Writer Micah Schraft approaches these stories from an intriguing angle (one that is very appropriate for the day after Easter), and all of these fairly grounded storylines are presented in a Biblical context, with the narrator using Bible verses to describe events and the action occasionally stopping to present key moments as Bible illustrations. There are many great moments, and the strength of the script is evident from the very beginning of the episode. It starts with the narrator proclaiming, “Things are getting seriously biblical up in here!” before jumping into the flashback with Mateo (I) and Alba entering their new Miami home for the very first time over 40 years ago, and the first line of dialogue from Alba is (in Spanish) “Let there be light!” The history of the house and the Villanueva family is then rapidly detailed over the rest of the prologue, ending with the disastrous flood before diving into the present-day with Alba ordering two of everything off the breakfast menu at The Marbella, where the Villanueva women have relocated thanks to Rafael’s generosity.
That “two of everything” line is a wonderfully clever joke, and Schraft does exceptional work using the Bible to both inject humor into the script as well as intensify the drama. This is best exemplified in the scene in which Alba confronts the cheating Pablo Alonso Segura, which begins with Alba crushing the napkin flower he made her as the frame freezes to show her illustrated against an apocalyptic background with a Bible quote rewritten to emphasize the wrath of Alba. The transition out of that freeze frame reveals Alba in the same position but now she’s in front of Pablo instead of Jane and Xo, making for an extremely smooth shift that quickly builds up the momentum to Alba’s epic public takedown of Pablo.
Schraft has written some of Jane The Virgin’s best episodes, but a newcomer joins him in the director’s chair: Georgina Garcia Riedel. Last year, Riedel wrote and directed Ana Maria In Novela Land, a Freaky Friday-esque story about a woman switching place with a telenovela character, and she has a talent for getting passionate, telenovela-style performances from her actors while giving the characters an honest emotional foundation. “Chapter Thirty-Eight” doesn’t have very many of the exaggerated telenovela elements, but that doesn’t stop her from bringing some of that heightened quality to the visuals.
There are some very striking shots in this episode, but none quite as evocative as the one revealing the new venue for Jane’s wedding at the end of the Rogelio plot. After a conversation with Xo discussing how much this wedding means to Rogelio and how weddings are as much for the family as they are for the couple, Jane decides to let her dad pay for the event, and he consults with Xo to pick the perfect place. Well, technically build the perfect place. It’s not Versailles like Rogelio initially suggests, but for Jane, it’s even better. Rogelio has his crew build a replica of the Villanueva house in the TV studio, and pulling back the camera to reveal the set piece is a brilliant way of using the artifice of television to create spectacle on the screen.
It’s the boldest visual moment in Jane The Virgin’s history, and the creative team continues to have a lot of fun with the fake Villanueva house for the rest of the episode. While Jane, Xo, and Alba have their customary time on the porch swing (the first thing Mateo built to make the house feel like a home), Alba is distracted by beautiful guitar music playing in the distance, and they follow the sound to discover international superstar/award-winning flamenco guitarist/Rogelio’s 3rd best friend Charo. While the Narrator does say Charo’s “Cuchi! Cuchi!” catchphrase when she first appears, she never actually says it herself, and I love that Schraft chooses to spotlight Charo’s less well known, but highly impressive guitar skills. It’s a beautiful scene, ending the Villanueva story on a heartwarming note that sets a strong point of contrast for the final scene of the episode, revealing Petra packing her bags as she decides to run away from her new daughters.
Before Petra leaves, she makes sure to secretly help Jane and Michael score a highly desirable new property that is available in Miami, allowing them to move into a new, closer home without the help of Rafael, who only accepted the other place because Petra forced him. It’s great to see the show committing to Jane and Petra’s friendship, and it’s starting to feel like Petra needs Jane. That may be because motherhood has come relatively naturally to Jane, and as a woman that never had a strong mother figure, Petra is attracted to that quality in Jane. The post-partum angle is a very smart way of preventing the show from becoming repetitive with its second new mom story of the season, and it also provides an opening for Magda to return to the narrative in a meaningful way that doesn’t rely on a shocking twist. It’s just one of the many smart decisions in this episode, and the intelligence of the creative team is matched by its heart and style to deliver one of Jane The Virgin’s most compelling chapters.
- I hope someone asks, “Oh, like in Frozen?” every time Petra and Rafael introduce Elsa and Anna.
- All the talking inanimate objects in this episode remind me of Wonderfalls, Bryan Fuller’s quirky, short-lived Fox dramedy about a young woman who hallucinates inanimate objects talking to her. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a delightful one-season wonder.
- After babysitting a congested baby earlier today, I related hard to that montage of Jane trying to get Mateo to stop crying.
- Rafael wasn’t breaking bad last week, he was just pretending to cut off ties with Michael to get closer to Derek. That plot still doesn’t do much for me, but it’s barely a part of this episode.
- Magda and her hilarious accent return this week, and after her conversation with Petra, I’m confident in saying Magda is the worst human being on this show. Who else even comes close?
- So many hashtags this week: #ChampagneProblems, #MarbellaLiving, #BookAStay, #OHGODOHGODOHGOD, #videovillagepeople, #DontLetThemEatCake,
- “I am your savior.” The transition from Moses to Rogelio is glorious.
- “That’s not a wedding, that’s a game night.”
- “Yeah, gotta be honest. I’m falling apart here, Jane. I’ve got asbestos in my bones, creaks in my floorboards, and dust in my chimney.”
- “And as much as Jane hated to admit it, the snarky wallpaper made a good point.”
- “I never thought I’d say this, but I’m getting kind of sick of shrimp cocktail.”
- “He’s desperate for some wiggle room with his guest list, and by that I mean he wants to invite the actual Wiggles.”
- “Oh! They gave me extra chipotle mayo! I love it here.”
- “Are there any days you don’t wonder.”
- Rafael: “You’re with the twins.” Petra: “Well, it’s not like they can fend for themselves!”
- “And so, just as Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead, Petra Solano went to the mat for Jane Villanueva, in this, the year of our Lord, 2016.” The transition from Petra to angel is divine.
- Narrator: “Ooh, sounds like ‘running lines’ means ‘having sex.’” Adriana: “And then maybe we can have sex.” Narrator: “Oh, I guess it just means “running lines.”