I know we throw around the word epic a lot, but that’s often a failure to understand what that word really means. Because it’s about [a] lot more than dangerous battles and literal physical journeys through strange and distant lands. Genuine Epics understand the biggest journey is often from who you were to who you are, [a]long with all the ways we can stay true to our most moral and aching hearts. — Film Crit Hulk
A few months ago, that favorite mystery denizen of Movie Twitter, Film Crit Hulk, sat down with Nickelodeon’s beloved animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, for the very first time. For the AtLA fans among Film Crit Hulk’s followers, the slow-burn reaction thread that followed became a temporary obsession. Inherently kind, open-hearted, and filled with both humor and humility, AtLA is as close to the Platonic Ideal as a television series can get, and one of the deepest joys of being an AtLA fan is getting to watch someone you love and admire figure that out for the first time. To see Film Crit Hulk catch on to the series’ exceptional artistry early on and then to watch that admiration deepen and evolve over time was immensely satisfying, of course, but more satisfying still was having Twitter’s favorite big green critic reach the finale and articulate anew the two things AtLA fans know in their bones to be true: A) On every level, “Sozin’s Comet” is a perfectly balanced epic finale, and B) We are all endlessly lucky to have had AtLA in our lives.
For the last five years, Jane the Virgin has been making a serious play to join Avatar: The Last Airbender in the Perfect Series Club. Despite the wild surreality of its original premise—a devoutly Catholic twentysomething virgin is accidentally artificially inseminated by her ex-crush/current boss’s sperm during a routine gynecological appointment (chaos ensues)—Jane the Virgin’s exceptional artistry was also evident from the jump. Too, as any of its most passionate fans can attest, it’s been all but impossible for any new viewer’s admiration not to deepen and evolve as the creative swings taken by Jennie Snyder Urman have gotten bigger and bigger as the seasons progressed. Have there been some hiccups over the years? Of course. As much as it’s true that more Petra (Yael Grobglas) is always better, the goofy small-time villainy of her charlatan mom, Magda (Priscilla Barnes), was often too untethered from the rest of the narrative to be compelling. The Michael-Jane-Rafael love triangle, too, was old long before it got unnecessarily Frankensteined back into life in the final season, and ultimately left Rafael with less internality in the final season than he deserved. Overall, though, Jane, like AtLA, was from the start a firecracker that refused to go out.
Now, with the long-anticipated (and, given the absence of a true “Chapter Ninety-Nine,” slightly cheating) “Chapter One Hundred,” Jane’s journey is finally over. All the arcs that Urman set up along the way—from those tracing Jane’s, Rogelio’s and Petra’s professional ambitions to those following Rafael’s, Xiomara’s, and Luisa’s journeys to understanding their own hearts, to those invested in everyone (minus Michael’s dog) getting a happy romantic ending—have been wrapped up tight. All the mysteries, from Rose’s villainous endgame to the Latin Lover Narrator’s true identity, have been solved, and all the various interpersonal injustices, from Magda’s intimidation of an undocumented Alba to Michael’s amnesiac isolation in Montana, have been resolved. In true telenovela form, Jane’s villains met a gruesome (Rose), chilly (Magda) or mutually beneficial (Darci and Esteban) end in the penultimate episode, and Jane and Rafael’s happily-ever-after wedding capped off the finale.
For the most part, that is, Jane the Virgin managed to pull it all off.
But it isn’t really in how or how well Jane wrapped up its various narrative arcs that its success as a nearly-perfect television series lies. A telenovela is supposed to go big and wild to close things out. Jane lucking into the only pocket of the publishing industry to thrive in Miami and managing to get a $500,000 book deal at a text-based real-time auction her agent just… chose? to start? Is unbelievable, but entirely within the scope of a telenovela. Rose crashing to a gory, Zazo-paralleling death after taking Jane hostage and sneaking into Rogelio’s This Is Mars launch party inside a pair of feathered alien costumes is ridiculous, but also totally within the scope of a telenovela. Even Michael coming back into town one last time to reveal that he’s engaged to his very pregnant enemy-turned-lover (Haley Lu Richardson, also Dier’s real-life partner) is within the scope of a telenovela, counterproductive as I may think his return from the dead ultimately was.
Where Jane’s success as a nearly-perfect show lies, rather, is in the way that all these telenovela bows—bows that come, we realize when Mateo drops his Latin Lover accent and reveals his identity as the narrator who’s been leaving breadcrumbs for us all along, from the book that Jane sold at unbelievable auction for half a million dollars—provide a sense of catharsis for the true stories we have known were bubbling under the surface throughout.
In an age when so many nearly-perfect series end on a note of unhappiness, ambiguity (or unhappy ambiguity), such clean-cut, happy catharsis might strike some viewers as a kind of cop-out. But as Film Crit Hulk put in a later part of the thread about AtLA, “what we are really talking about is the completion of stories that have long been heading toward these very moments […w]hich all makes for a very different kind of finale, not one where we say goodbye, but one where it is as if we are finally, truly saying hello.”
We have known Jane the Virgin for five seasons, have loved Jane, Xo, Alba, and Michael, Rafael, Petra, and Lina, Louisa, Mateo, and the twins. We have gotten to know Miami, and gotten an inside look at running a hotel, making a telenovela and navigating the American immigration system. We have watched Jane lose the love of her life, then watched her recover from it—twice. We have watched Rafael lose everything and come back with a stronger sense of self. We have watched Petra grow into her own skin and find a love in JR she never knew she could have. We have met these people.
But by setting it up so that we knew from the start that theirs was a story, and someday we would know who was telling it and why, Jane the Virgin found a way to make all the goodbyes of “Chapter One Hundred” one big hello.
And that, truly, is a gift.
Thank you, Jennie, Gina, Justin, Brett, Andrea, Ivonne, Jaime, Yael and all the rest of the cast. We are so lucky to have gotten to have had this time with you.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.