If anyone needed convincing that Jason (Brett Dier) is not Michael (Brett Dier), seeing him grab Jane (Gina Rodriguez) in “Chapter Eighty-Three” and kiss her against her will ought to do the trick. That he does so knowing she’s in a committed relationship, and after registering his thorough dislike of her, and having been so willfully callow as to demand half the money when he learns that Jane sold Michael’s car as a new widow… well, that’s icing on the trick cake that fate (Rose) has dropped in Jane’s lap. Even without all that, the fact is this: Jason kissed Jane, forcefully and without her consent. Michael not only would never, as the kids say—he would have any man he saw do that to a woman in cuffs. Jason, my friends, is no Michael.
But let’s back up.
After briefly slowing its signature plot-roll to swing for the emotional fences in the season premiere, Jane the Virgin returns this week to its full, plot-heavy strength. Where “Chapter Eighty-Two” found Jane—and Rafael (Justin Baldoni), and everyone else in the Villanueva/De La Vega/Solano family tree—rocketing from catatonia to hysteria and back again at the unreal reality of Michael’sJason’s return from the dead, “Chapter Eighty-Three” finds everyone pressing forward in a (Pollyanna-ish) attempt to regain some semblance of normality. In classically sly Jane fashion, though, this return to normal is signaled not by re-planting each character’s feet on familiar ground, but by shooting every single Villanueva/De La Vega/Solano—save Petra (Yael Grobglas), who had her own big moment of change last week—into some kind of major life transition.
Jane and Rafael’s big move in together is clearly the transition most central to Jane’s endgame, but before we get to discussing all the implications, great and small, of that part of the episode, please let us discuss Rogelio’s (Jaime Camil) big transition: the long-awaited first day of shooting on The Passions of Steve and Brenda, and with it the return of River Fields (Brooke Shields) and her glorious eyebrows. Yes, friends, Rogelio the telenovela diva is back! Back and disappointed, as it turns out that between the writers keying in on speechless confusion as the best first impression for Rogelio’s amnesiac President Steve to make, and River bribing the writers’ room with River Boats (!!) filled with her proprietary Ms. Fields (!!!) cookies, Rogelio’s big pilot monologue has been cut down to a simple, “What is going on?” Rogelio tries to use the truly amnesiac (and opportunistic) Jason as a trump card to trick the head writers into restoring his original speech, but when that plan backfires (Jason is not here to play!), he finds his line even further reduced, to a single, flatly affected, “What?”
Rogelio’s natural inclination to protect his ego at all costs leads him to stretch the word out to match the length of River’s big monologue—ruining take after take after take in the process—but Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), who Rogelio’s parked next to the director’s chair so she’s not left to recover from chemo alone, is having none of it. In a true testament to how much Rogelio has grown as a result of finding his way back to Xiomara, all it takes is one heated assertion from her that he’s not only embarrassing himself (and her), but also sabotaging his dream project in the process, for Rogelio to give the director the take she wanted all along.
Rogelio is not the only one forced to defy his natural inclinations in “Chapter Eighty-Three.” In two wildly different romance-adjacent storylines, both Luisa (Yara Martinez) and Alba (Ivonne Coll) must act against their heart’s deepest desires for the greater good. For Alba, this means asking Rogelio to use his connections (J. Lo, in the most emotionally resonant way she’s ever likely to be name-dropped on a TV comedy) to expedite Jorge’s (Alfonso DiLuca) travel visa to visit his dying mother, as having her green card husband move in with her and become something like a real-life partner when she knows he doesn’t feel the same way about her is too hard on her soul. For Luisa, this means putting her many years of therapy and hard introspection to work by partnering with Rafael and the police to come face-to-face with Rose (Bridget Regan)—her ex-stepmother/ex-lover/the woman who murdered her father and faked Michael’s death—for the first time since she was thrown in prison.
On a personal level, Luisa handles this impossible task with more grace than the last four seasons might have primed fans (and Rafael) to expect. She doesn’t rise to Rose’s bait, and gets the information about the Michael-kidnapping scheme Rose had originally promised in exchange for Luisa agreeing to see her. On a narrative level, neither of those victories amounts to much. Rafael, in his insecurity over Jane being given the option to eventually choose Michael again, does rise to Rose’s bait, and the answer to the giant question of why Rose did it in the first place turns out to be a completely random, completely deflating, “Michael just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The randomness of this reveal is antithetical to the spirit of the soap operas/telenovelas that shape Jane’s basic framework, but it is true to the tropey subversion the series has strung on that framework from the beginning: To have a master villain scheme to fake a character’s death and then bring him back, amnesiac, years later is so basic a soap opera move as to be unremarkable. But to give the characters whose lives that person’s return will destroy nothing with which to make sense of such a massive shift in reality—to make them grapple not with further villainous machinations, but rather the simple, meaningless chaos of life as we all live it—is the kind of beautiful, hard, human storytelling Jane the Virgin does best.
The possibility that life is chaotic and meaningless is, in fact, the emotional engine of Jane and Rafael’s big life change in “Chapter Eighty-Three.” Hooking back into the religious firmament of Jane’s life, the episode finds Jane returning to her deep roots in the Catholic Church—and, more importantly, Catholic guilt’s deep roots in her soul—in order to find some kind of meaning to cling to. She enrolls Mateo in Catholic classes. She spends hours on the phone chasing down lawyers to establish whether or not she and Jason are considered legally married. When it turns out they are, she spends hours more chasing down church officials to advise her as to how long a specific kind of annulment process will take so that she can avoid the eternal damnation promised to divorcées. With every other spare hour, she tries trick after trick after trick to trigger some Michael memories in Jason, but all that results in is the two of them growing to resent each other more—until Jason, mistaking an old NCIS: New Orleans plot for a recovered memory, triggers a panic attack in Jane, who realizes that the one thing she wants most in the world is for Michael not to be back, ruining the blissful happiness she and Rafael had taken so long to find.
Jane the Virgin has always excelled at building drama by having characters choose to tell each other the truth, even (or especially) when it would be less immediately painful for everyone involved to have the characters go instead for the easy lie. Jane’s realization, along with the Rafael’s parallel realization about his deep-seated anxieties over losing Jane to Michael; the horrifying truth of Jason kissing Jane when she tries to spend an evening getting to know him for him (at a square dancing bar, naturally); and Jane’s fear that the plan her religious upbringing once promised God had for her might be no plan at all, are exactly the kinds of truths that lesser shows would milk for cheap drama by having their characters hold onto them for multiple episodes. Jane, instead, sees its romantic leads coming clean to each other at the first possible opportunity, knowing that facing those hard truths will make their lives more complicated, and vowing to work through those brambles together when they come.
Of course, Jane the Virgin is still a telenovela, meaning the brambles presented by the end of “Chapter Eighty-Three” take the form of Jason lying about his dog eating his and Jane’s divorce papers (sure), and of one of Rose’s evil minions using a neighborly smile and a freshly baked pie to worm his way into Luisa’s safehouse (naturally!). But knowing what kind of show Jane is, we can be certain that even these broadest of soap opera strokes will rise to some kind of sublime.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.