Seven minutes, twenty seconds.
That’s how long Gina Rodriguez commands the screen in the breathtaking, heartbreaking, longest-on-TV-in-more-than-40-years monologue in the first quarter of “Chapter Eighty-Two,” Jane the Virgin’s fifth—and final—season opener. (According to the Paley Center for Media, which The CW consulted on the question, in the 1970s both Maude, starring Bea Arthur, and The Practice, starring Danny Thomas, featured their main characters speaking for an entire episode—she to her therapist, he to a cadaver.) Seven minutes, twenty seconds of Jane Gloriana Villanueva unraveling, re-raveling, thinking, joking, planning, unplanning, falling apart, putting herself together, considering Mateo, considering Rafael, philosophizing on the definition of marriage, philosophizing on the mystery of the brain, philosophizing through mouthfuls of Alba’s arepas, getting free of her restrictive PANTS, man, her PANTS, just processing, processing, processing the unreality of Michael (Brett Dier) coming back, amnesiac, from the dead. Seven minutes, twenty seconds. One-sixth of the episode. On Gina’s shoulders. Alone.
Jane the Virgin has given us plenty of memorable, even shocking, scenes before—I mean, the whole reason Jane is reeling in “Chapter Eighty-Two” is because “Chapter Eighty-One” hung its cliffhanger on one of the series’ greatest—but this long-take monologue, written by series creator Jennie Snyder Urman and directed by Rodriguez herself, is something else entirely. It is a flag in the ground; it is the setting of a bar; it is a flex. It is two artists, each killing the game, demonstrating not only the creative powerhouses they have become individually over the course of the last four years, but also the depth of the trust and goodwill that they, along with the rest of Jane’s cast and crew, have worked so tirelessly to cultivate. After four impressively ambitious seasons, Jane the Virgin is not just a series that can make such a massive monologue dynamic enough to keep an hour-long episode’s energy flowing, it is one whose audience—despite having waited nearly twelve months for the story of Michael’s return to be fleshed out—will devour every single plot-free second of emotional unraveling Gina Rodriguez is willing to give them.
That said, the remaining thirty-four minutes “Chapter Eighty-Two” deliver more than enough plot for Season Five to build on, and not all of it hinges on Michael’s miraculous return. There is, for example, the broken hearts/smoking gun Petra (Yael Grobglas) and JR (Rosario Dawson) were left with at the end of “Chapter Eighty-One,” after JR shot the person who’d been terrorizing Petra for months—despite the fact that the two women had just had a devastating break-up. In a narrative move that seems obvious in retrospect, it turns out that the answer to the cleverly framed question #JRShotWho? is Petra’s minor mafioso ex, Miloš (Max Bird-Ridnell), who has used the Internet troll farms he owns/operates to orchestrate a shadow takeover of Luisa’s (Yara Martinez) controlling share of the Marbella, which she apparently put in a trust benefitting baby ferrets that he created specifically to target her. (“Only I am baby ferrets!” Miloš crows to a horrified Petra and JR. “Just like Cambridge Analytica Facebook project!”) Miloš’ goal with this scheme was, of course, to take over the hotel and put Petra in jail as revenge for her putting him in jail, but now that she and the woman she loves have him over a barrel, he is willing to give Petra back those shares in exchange for his freedom. (“You are really dating?” Miloš exclaims incredulously when he sees how Petra and JR look at each other. “Now I know why you didn’t love me! You are lesbian!”) Petra has grown enough as a person these past few years to hesitate only momentarily at this offer, but that hesitation is enough to prove to JR why they can’t work, a decision she holds to even after Petra proves her emotional growth by tricking Miloš into sticking around long enough for the cops to arrest him. (Telling him as they do, “By the way: I’m bisexual. It’s you.”) Rosario Dawson has been so terrific as JR that it seems impossible that this is the last we will see of her, but as far as character growth goes, her leaving is a great place for Petra to start the final season.
And that’s really all the plot in “Chapter Eighty-Two” that doesn’t have to do with Michael’s return. Everything else—from Jane’s family’s excitement over the proposal Rafael (Justin Baldoni) had planned for her before Rose (Bridget Regan) revealed Michael’s survival, to the interruption of the big move they’d planned to make with Mateo the next day, to Rafael’s peace with Luisa, to Rogelio’s (Jaime Camil) excitement at the revival of his and Michael’s bromance, to Rafael’s breakdown to Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) over his fear of losing Jane, and finally, to Jane, and who she is now that Michael isn’t dead—everything else has to do with Michael. Or, rather, Jason, as Michael has apparently gone by ever since Rose, using “electroshock therapy focused on the hippocampus and the temporal lobe,” erased his memories and dropped him off in a field in Montana.
As an experienced viewer of television, the return of Michael/Jason all but ensures that the love triangle Jane the Virgin rotated around in its first three seasons will end up back in play. Your mileage will absolutely vary as to how excited you are for that to happen: As much as I adore Brett Dier, I find love triangles exhausting in general, and this one exasperating in particular, so count me as negative excited. But on every level beyond romance, the slow-talking, dog-loving, horse-wrangling, Petra-ogling, Jane-judging blank slate that is Jason is a compelling wrench to throw into a narrative whose ultimate shape fans had assumed they had finally started to get a sense of. Sure, the fact that amnesiac returns from the dead are par for the course in the soap operas/telenovelas gives Jason’s appearance the same retroactive kind of no duh-ness that the revelation of Miloš as Petra’s tormenter had, but as is always the case on Jane the Virgin, it is the complex emotional realism built around the telenovela tropes that matters in the end. As is proved not only by The Monologue, but also by Rogelio’s dead faint at his charm failing, Rafael’s insecurity over his and Jane’s relationship, and Luisa’s agreement to throw in her lot with the Villanueva-Solanos to get to the bottom of Rose’s scheming, the complex geometry of emotions that Jason’s arrival kicks up are some of Jane the Virgin’s most compellingly realistic yet.
“Chapter Eighty-Two” ends on something of an up note. Jane remembers the thesis of the eulogy Rafael stepped up to read when she was too wrecked to finish—Michael was the man she loved because he was her best friend before anything else—and races to Rafael’s new job in a yellow dress—echoing the one she wore to Michael’s office in the pilot episode—to assuage—in another pilot parallel—Raf’s anxieties by declaring him the one for her. This seems like an excellent turn of events for Raf fans like myself, but as the Latin Lover Narrator warns us when the scene switches to Rose handing out orders to a team of inmates, it would be a fool’s errand for any of us to try and predict what twists and turns the story of Jane’s life will take in this final stretch.
That grim warning in mind, I’ll see you all back here next week. In the meantime, I’ll be watching The Monologue on repeat, doing my own scheming as to how to get the #EmmysForGina campaign rolling.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.