There’s a lot of talk about “girl power” right now in relation to how entertainment companies try to appeal to female audiences and whether these attempts are genuine representation or empty pandering. It makes sense for this to reenter the cultural conversation as the 20-year nostalgia cycle aligns with the Spice Girls’ ’90s heyday, but the world has changed a lot and the rise of social media has made people far more vocal when media fails to create thoughtful, complex, distinct female characters who actually reflect today’s society. And there’s still a lot of media that fails. Jane The Virgin succeeds, and it’s a big reason why the show is so compelling.
The Villanueva women are the core of the series, offering a multi-generational examination of the challenges women face at different points in their life. Some of these challenges are extreme—accidental artificial insemination, getting pushed down the stairs by someone pretending to be paralyzed—but most of them are relatable problems that the show loads with high stakes. Yes, “Chapter Eighty-Seven” has a recovering amnesiac discovering a crime lord’s evil Craigslist called “The Satin Road,” but it also has the Villanueva women dealing with family drug issues, chemo-induced menopause, and sham green card marriages. The episode is explicitly about the extensive change these women have experienced over the years, and while those changes might leave them in miserable states this week, they highlight the series’ focus on developing these characters and giving them new dimensions.
“Chapter Eighty-Seven” is written and directed by men, but the presence of women behind the scenes, particularly the central controlling force of showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman, gives writer Rafael Agustin and director Eric Lea plenty of insight into how to depict these stories with depth, precision, and empathy. The episode also has its fare share of silliness, from Alba’s slow-motion sexual fantasies about Jorge to a climactic “tatas and tooshies” dance competition at a lesbian bar. Throw in some intense thriller aspects with major developments in the Sin Rostro story and you have a jam-packed episode that navigates a lot of different storytelling styles with ease.
No secret stays quiet for long on this series, and “Chapter Eighty-Seven” rapidly addresses last week’s Rafael cliffhanger when Mateo and the Twins tell Jane that Rafael is taking pills in secret. The car scene is an excellent showcase for the Twins, leaning into their advanced development to mine both humor and tension from their reactions to their father’s drug use. They cracked their iPad’s parental controls and have been watching a lot of inappropriate shows, exposing them to the opioid crisis and convincing them that their father is hooked on benzos. She knew Rafael wasn’t going to take the break well, but she didn’t think he would start popping pills.
Things only get worse when Rafael catches Jane snooping through his medicine cabinet, and when she brings Petra in for help, Jane ends up with another person telling her to mind her own business. Rafael and Petra don’t want to talk to Jane about what’s going on, but when his kids are telling her that their dad is on drugs, Jane has plenty of reason to be concerned. But Rafael isn’t hooked on Benzos. He’s taking antidepressants, and he doesn’t want Jane to know. He’s trying to hold on to his mental health but Jane’s presence makes that impossible, so he has to set a firm boundary once all the cards are on the table. He’ll see her when she comes to pick up Mateo in a few days, establishing a new dynamic that draws a clear line between the separated parents.
As Rafael actively pushes Jane away, she’s pulled back into Michael’s orbit. An early scene with an unfortunate speakerphone mix-up informs Michael about all of Jane’s reconnection anxieties, but once they’re together, they slip back into that casual old dynamic without any effort. Michael needs to talk to Jane because he’s remembering new details about Sin Rostro, which forces them to look back at their final days together. There are new discoveries about unsent emails, but more importantly, Michael tells Jane that he didn’t stop investigating Rose when he left the police force. Jane finds out that Michael left the force because she didn’t like it, and hearing that her husband abandoned his career for her leaves Jane feeling guilty but also peeved that he continued to do police work.
Michael left his job to appease his wife, but he didn’t mind. He was willing to do that for her to reach their ideal future. Jane and Michael’s final scene this week is a bittersweet acknowledgment of how perfect their married life was, with Brett Dier capturing Michael’s deep appreciation for what he had and his longing to get it back. That will never happen because they are different people now, but his feelings remain the same. And when he takes Jane’s hand, that feeling is the same, too, awakening memories of past romantic moments. They still have the spark, they just need to escape the ghosts of their past to see if they can be together as their new selves. Michael suggests that Jane join him for a trip to Montana and she agrees, setting up a trip into cowboy romance next week.
Xo and Rogelio are trying to recapture a different kind of magic, with Xo’s nonexistent sex drive preventing them from getting intimate. Xo learns that she’s in chemotherapy-induced menopause, and even though it’s a good thing because it lessens the risk of her cancer returning, it’s a big blow to Xo, who has always been desperate to hold on to her youth. She’s devastated, but luckily she has her post-menopausal mother around to lift her spirits by giving her tips on what she can do to rev her engine again. After freaking out in a sex shop, Alba has become very comfortable discussing tools for self-pleasure, enthusiastically telling her daughter, “There’s a vibrator out there for every woman.” And the vibrator ends up working! It doesn’t get Xo to a point where she’s ready to have sex with Rogelio, but it gets her to experience erotic pleasure again so she’s moving in the right direction.
I love it when this show gets horny, and this episode actually gives us the hashtag #Jorny because it’s so sexually charged. Much of that comes from Alba, who is still all hot and bothered by Jorge in the house. When I spoke to Yvonne Coll last year, she enthusiastically praised the show’s writers for making Alba a sexual person, breaking stereotypes of older Latinas to create a character who is true to life. Alba’s sex drive is strong in this episode, and while it’s played for comedic effect at the start of the episode as she lusts after Jorge from afar, it becomes a more important part of the dramatic storytelling when Alba helps her daughter work through her menopause panic.
Coll exaggerates Alba’s horniness so that it’s all the more impactful when she’s pulled out of her romantic haze by the sudden appearance of immigration agents in her home. The way she sensually eats strawberries while watching Jorge do squats in the living room is hilarious, and she gets even more animated when giving Xo a vibrator lesson, gliding her hands side to side as she talks about lubricant. This behavior is a total contrast to how Alba behaves around the immigration agents, becoming much more subdued as she switches to English for her dialogue. The visit goes well, but it’s a cold splash of reality that forces Alba to come clean with Jorge about her feelings for him. She’ll help him get his green card, but once this is over, she can’t have him in her life. He looks disappointed but understands, and hopefully this will quell Alba’s desire.
Like the Villanueva women, Petra has undergone huge changes. Petra started as a manipulative, power-hungry evil wife and is now a bisexual mother of twins who considers her old rival one of her closest confidants. Nobody could have predicted back in “Chapter One” that one day Petra and Jane would be grinding up on each other in a lesbian bar while an eager crowd chants for them to kiss, but that’s how far these characters have come. The journey to the dance floor begins when JR’s BFF, Leona (Zelda Williams, daughter of Robin Williams), helps Petra with a tech issue at The Marbella. In a mirror of JR and Jane’s dynamic, Leona does not jive with Petra at all, but Petra is desperate to impress her girlfriend so she agrees to go clubbing in an attempt to sway Leona to her side.
The club is a disaster and Petra has no idea how to act around Leona and JR’s other friends. It’s only when Jane arrives that Petra is able to gain some ground, and after a quick argument about friends needing to support each other in times of need, Jane joins Petra to shake it for the crowd. It’s an effervescent moment of women letting loose and forgetting their issues for a few moments on the dance floor, building to a cheeky fakeout when the camera closes in on Jane and Petra’s faces getting closer and closer together before the two women break apart cackling. It’s a great time, but it doesn’t solve the Leona problem. When Petra confronts her about her attitude, Leona explains why she doesn’t like Petra and it’s impossible to argue with her grievances. Petra broke her best friend’s heart and ruined her career, and she doesn’t trust Petra not to hurt JR again. This is very justifiable resentment, but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Leona because we’ve been put in a position to suspect any new characters as agents of Sin Rostro.
I mentioned this TV Guide piece on Petra’s fashion in the “Stray observations” a few weeks back, and it’s a fantastic deep dive into how costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin ties clothing to character and works with the actors to further develop character style over time. This week’s episode emphasizes how important Kunin, along with head of makeup Shauna Giesbrecht and head of hair Michelle Elam, are in reinforcing emotional states in each character’s appearance. Jane and Michael are trying to take their relationship back to an earlier point in their timeline, and they’ve been styled to look like their younger selves. Hair plays a big role here, with Jane pulling back two thin braids to achieve a more girlish look and Michael finally getting a haircut and shave to drastically increase his cute factor.
Rafael’s scruff and gray, oversized shirt reveal a man who has stopped putting the care into his appearance that he used to, and all it takes is one look for Jane to know that he’s in a bad place. Petra’s difficulty finding club clothing ties into her difficulty assimilating into queer culture, and while she ultimately settles on a cute, unfussy spaghetti strap top, her first instinct is a one-shoulder number that would look way out of place at The Truck Stop. Makeup adds layers to the Xo story, and when we’re taken into Rogelio’s fantasy, Andrea Navedo doesn’t have Xo’s cancer makeup and is back to her former glow. That’s not the woman Xo is anymore, and the design team accentuates the episode’s driving theme of change in their work.
- For the first time in a long time, I’m actually digging this Sin Rostro storyline. The show is making her genuinely scary, and this episode does a really good job creating a foreboding atmosphere. It’s another good reason for Jane and Michael to get out of Miami!
- One of my favorite jokes in this episode is that when Petra is told to write her name with her butt while dancing, she defaults to Times New Roman as the font. It also gives us some delightful Yael Grobglas physical comedy.
- Jane Villanueva’s best friend is Lena. Jane Ramos’ best friend is Leona. Coincidence?
- Alba’s sexual fantasy subject of choice: Barack Obama.
- Rafael needs to watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and realize that antidepressants are so not a big deal.
- “Who am I kidding, it’s not even sexy in slow motion.”
- “My bad, that’s Shelley. Rose had a lot of masks.”
- Dennis: “Memories are notoriously unreliable.” Narrator: “I think I said something like that once. But I can’t quite remember.” Love a good dad joke.
- “If Jane likes them, they’re wrong. Get me a new pair.”
- “Strumming your lady guitar.”