Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jane The Virgin tackles genre conventions in an especially clever episode

Image for article titled Jane The Virgin tackles genre conventions in an especially clever episode

“Who cares about a fight between a mom and a daughter, right?” This question posed by one of The Mystery Of Tiago’s producers is a not-so-subtle comment on the main conflict of “Chapter Forty,” an episode that focuses on the ongoing fight between Jane and Xiomara. The story is rooted in Jane and Xiomara’s relationship, but that’s not especially intriguing in a big telenovela way, so writers Jessica O’Toole and Amy Rardin surround it with subplots involving long-lost twins and buying hotels with dirty money acquired from insider trading.

These more far-fetched threads are easily the weakest parts of the episode, but thankfully the script doesn’t spend too much time on them. The writers admit that they’re using the most generic telenovela twists—Dina Milagro points out that “doubles are like telenovela 101”—and while I appreciate the self-referential humor, it doesn’t automatically excuse that giving Petra a twin sister is a lazy plot twist. The show already went the doubles route with Petra’s lover Roman Zazo last season, so it feels like retreading old ground even if the specifics of the situation are different.

Given Petra’s twin girls, Anezka’s introduction does make a certain amount of sense, but the episode fails to give her relationship with Petra much emotional weight. That could be because Yael Grobglas’ rough accent for Anezka prevents her from playing like a real character, and the broadly drawn Anezka has far more in common with her mother, Magda, than Petra, who has gained a lot of dimension over 40 episode. It’s possible that Anezka will develop into a more fully formed character, but Grobglas has a very big obstacle to overcome with that accent.

The Anezka plot doesn’t take up too much of this episode, though, and the writers succeed with the less fanciful material. I didn’t enjoy last week’s over-the-top party antics as much as Myles, so I was happy to see the show return to more grounded narrative territory with “Chapter Forty.” The Jane and Xo fight is reminiscent of their fight back in season 1 after Jane learned the truth about her father, but the context is different enough that it keeps the development from being too repetitive.

O’Toole and Rardin also find ways to tie this fight into Jane’s other big problems this week; Xo’s refusal to babysit Mateo forces Jane to accept Michael’s babysitting help for the first time, which increases tension with Rafael when Mateo’s first word is a “da-da” directed at Michael, and all of this stress starts to affect Jane’s school work. Her ice-cold advisor is back this week, and Professor Donaldson isn’t happy with Jane’s basic romance story about a salsa dancer getting ready for her wedding. She wants to see Jane’s work critique the romance genre in some way instead of just serving up a dated conventional narrative, but Jane isn’t able to do that until she fixes things with Xo.

The resolution of the Jane and Xo conflict comes via an unlikely source: Rogelio, who uses their fight as inspiration for an episode of The Mysteries Of Tiago. Dina Milagro dramatizes Jane and Xo’s story on the set Rogelio built for Jane’s wedding (because Rogelio needs to justify using the crew for personal reason), and watching actors perform their personal issues enlightens the situation for both Jane and her mother. It’s an exceptionally clever way of exploring how art allows people to put their own personal issues in context, and I love how the writers create a telenovela hall of mirrors with this scene, turning the story of their telenovela-based CW series into an episode of the telenovela within the show, using the same set but different actors that bring larger characterizations to the table.


It’s a very creative way to resolve Jane and Xo’s conflict, and the joy and relief of that resolution is heightened by the salsa dancing fantasy that follows it, pairing Gina Rodriguez with Dancing With The Stars’ Derek Hough for a thrilling routine that showcases our leading lady’s dance skills. (Last week it was rapping, this week it’s dancing. I wonder what other Gina talents this show will spotlight?) The sequence is very romantic, but instead of ending on Salsa Sophia’s kiss with her beloved, it ends with Sophia seeing her mother in the crowd, happy to see her daughter finally moving on.

Restructuring her story so it focuses on Sophia’s relationship with her mother is exactly the kind of change Jane’s advisor wants to see, and that focus on Jane’s relationship with her mother and grandmother is a big part of why Jane The Virgin is so much more than just a romance series. The flashbacks that begin each episode typically focus on Jane’s relationship with the women in her family rather than her love interests, and establishing the family as the main context has helped the writers give the series more depth. This series wouldn’t be as rich if it didn’t have the Villanueva women at its core, and this episode emphasizes how much Jane needs her mom by pulling them apart.


Much of the fun of Jane The Virgin comes from its willingness to engage with crazy telenovela conventions, but the strength of its storytelling comes from its dedication to relatable everyday problems. Rafael being threatened by Michael’s relationship with Mateo is a complicated issue that doesn’t have an easy answer, and that makes for interesting television. The main drama in tonight’s episode may seem small compared to some of The CW’s other shows, but this is the kind of drama life is really about. The surprise twins and salsa dance fantasies place this drama in a heightened context that adds to the entertainment factor, but ultimately “Chapter Forty” proves that this series is at its best when it stays grounded.

Stray observations

  • Where did Elsa and Anna go?
  • Like Anezka’s arrival, Rafael’s insider trading plot has come out of nowhere and doesn’t have as much dramatic impact as the writers want it to. I’m beginning to want Rafael and Petra to lose The Marbella. The writers should find a way to keep The Marbella set, but take Rafael and Petra out of the business end, which doesn’t make for very compelling stories.
  • That Dreft: Active Baby product placement is clunky as hell, but I will admit the Dreft-sponsored commercial showing various Jane and Mateo moments is super cute.
  • I am all about the Rogelio/Dina pairing, especially if it means more Judy Reyes on the show.
  • #Father-Zilla-Of-The-Bride (No punctuation in hashtags, Jane!)
  • Rogelio: “As Mark Twain said, ‘Art is holding a mirror up to nature.’” Narrator: “It was actually Shakespeare.”
  • “You’ve seen the movie Annie? Like that. Only no nice Miss Hannigan for us, and my Sandy was a rat.”
  • “Please, my writers have produced nothing but turds despite the many many motivating e-mails I sent them.”
  • “If the mountain can’t come to Mohammad, Mohammad will take seven different tiaras to the mountain.”
  • “You know you can’t mix genres like this!”
  • “Oh, right. It’s a set.”
  • “It’s better to show than tell.”