Jane the Virgin: An Appreciation
It’s straight out of a telenovela!
The series finale, final chapter, one-hundredth episode of Jane the Virgin airs tonight. Tonight!
As Alba would tell Jane: “Inhala, exhala. Inhala, exhala.” Or, as the narrator would say: “I’m freaking out right now!”
I both love and hate series finales, for all the obvious reasons. And after a not-to-be-named here show’s finale, final episodes also usually give me a lot of anxiety. So much to be resolved, so much expectation.
But I’m not anxious about the last episode of Jane. Not at all. Because I know, like every episode of the show so far, it’s going to be incredible. No doubt about it.
Since it premiered in October 2014, Jane the Virgin has been a masterfully crafted, reliable, emotional, incredibly fun source of entertainment.
I believe that you can always feel something special while watching the pilots of TV shows that are going to be especially good. They have an illusive quality — something just clicks and the whole thing works. Jane had that from the first minutes.
The narrator begins speaking over a shot of that well-known white flower, pre-crumpling. “Our story begins thirteen and a half years ago, when Jane Gloriana Villanueva was a mere ten years old.” The voice of Anthony Mendez has guided us through Jane’s story ever since — in flashbacks, freeze-frames, good times and bad, with jokes, snarky comments, and hashtags.
Jane the Virgin needed its narrator (whose character’s true identity will, I hope, be revealed in the finale). As a telenovela dramedy for an American audience, Jane could have easily been too on-the-nose or over-the-top. The writers skillfully avoided those pitfalls by choosing to confront the telenovela format and tropes in many ways — simultaneously embracing, celebrating, and poking fun. It’s a complex tone that could’ve gone awry without the narrator to steer the ship.
It also helps that the protagonist — Jane Gloriana Villanueva herself — is a good person.
Never underestimate the power of a truly good character on television. In an era of peak TV defined by Walter Whites, Tony Sopranos, Don Drapers, and Daenerys Targaryens, Jane Villanueva is a breath of fresh air. She’s smart, sensible, motivated, and, possibly most incredibly, nice. I mean really, how many genuinely nice television characters do you know of? From the outset, Jane has goals, morals, and values she isn’t going to give up. She’s flawed, of course (who isn’t?), but she’s a good person.
Jane’s goodness is what drives another element of the show — its honesty. While true telenovelas may be highly dramatic showings of over-exaggerated emotions, Jane the Virgin confronts the wild telenovela happenings with real, honest emotion.
There may be evil twins, conniving stepmothers, awful villains, dramatic shootings, shocking deaths, and surprising comebacks galore, but Jane and the rest of the characters respond in ways that are more true to life.
Hours after his birth, Mateo is captured by the series’ villain. Petra’s long-lost twin, Anezka, drugs her into a coma and takes over her life for a period of months. Jane’s dead husband returns to Miami with no memory of their life together. Rafael falls learns a terrible truth about his mother. Xo gets breast cancer. Every one of these events causes a legitimate response — Jane is terrified to leave Mateo; Petra has severe PTSD; Michael and Jane go their separate ways; Rafael goes to therapy for depression; Ro and Xo’s sex life comes to a screeching halt. Where true telenovela stars may move on to the next shocking plot point, the story of Jane the Virgin doesn’t glaze over any of the effects of its crazy twists and turns. And my god it’s refreshing. Characters who are actually affected by what happens to them… what a concept.
I hate the word authentic, but that’s what Jane is. With the emotion, and the storylines, too. When Jane’s first novel is published, it isn’t an instant hit. Like so many authors out there, she must keep a day-job in order to pay the bills. Rafael is forced to do some serious soul searching when he is cast out of the Marbella. Alba’s relationship with Jorge causes a stir in the Villanueva household. Petra realizes she’s bisexual well into her 30s. Xiomara starts an entirely new career in her 40s. Mateo, the son of a romance writer, has trouble learning to read.
Even when it comes to love, Jane the Virgin embraces an honest perspective. Michael returns from the dead (telenovela trope), but with amnesia (another telenovela trope). Jane puts her relationship with Rafael on hold to sort out her feelings (realistic), tries to help Michael remember who he is (realistic), follows Michael to Montana to see if they still have the connection they once did, and leaves him behind to go back to her life in Miami (uber realistic). They loved each other once — fiercely, unconditionally, like they were destined to be together — but life got in the way. Now Jane (and Michael, by the way) gets a second epic love of her life. The show acknowledges that a person can have several great love stories in the course of one lifetime.
All of this doesn’t even include the timely, slightly political issues Jane has tackled over the years. Abortion, religion, immigration — the show hasn’t shied away from any of it. Especially sex. Come on, it’s called Jane the Virgin, after all.
There are storylines about finding your sexuality, reclaiming your sexuality, discovering your sexuality, taking control of your sexuality — you name it. No character has been exempt (okay, except maybe Magda. For that, I’m thankful).
But perhaps the most influential storyline regarding sex, at least for me, had to do with the title itself. When the show began, 23-year-old Jane was still a virgin. She ended up accidentally pregnant, became a mother, and even got married, but she remained a virgin until the third season. When Jane had sex, the show continued on and the title remained the same, but the title card changed with each new episode. “Virgin” was crossed out and replaced with some other moniker — Jane the Widow, Jane the Roommate, Jane the Flirt, Jane the Ordained, Jane the Girl In Love, Jane the Published Freaking Author!! Jane became many other things besides a virgin.
Not that she wasn’t any of those things before she lost her V-card, but once Jane had sex the show became more about the concept of identity than it had been before. For most of her life, Jane identified with her virgin status. After she finally had sex, she was free to take on other roles, other identities. Everyone is many different things, oftentimes at once (which the show proved with a scrolling moniker in several episodes) — no one identity defines us. Jane was never that simple; people aren’t either.
Plus, Jane took on a new identity before she lost her virginity. That of mother. When Mateo was born, Jane stepped into and embraced her new role. That’s one of the main things Jane the Virgin has always been about anyway — motherhood.
We may not have needed a reminder, but the Villanueva women arrived on our TV screens in 2014 and taught us that strong women can have it all. Alba, Xiomara, and Jane Villanueva are loving, fierce, supportive, emotional, caring, and, yes, strong. They’re incredible mothers. They own their stories — everything that has happened to them. As Jane realizes, “all the light and all the dark.”
More than anything, Jane the Virgin is just plain fun. The storytelling is creative, modern, and engaging. The pastel-inundated, bright color-scheme evokes a vibrant Miami, Florida, that anyone would long to visit. Then there’s Rogelio’s affection for lavender, the random musical sequences, and the absurd but delightful details that have peppered all five seasons. The magical realism elements have always been a treat. The music is consistently on-point, the writing fresh, the pacing impeccable. Every single emotional moment of the show — whether heartbreaking, joyous, bittersweet, or some combination thereof — is done to perfection. Honestly, I’m not sure we deserve a show as good as Jane.
I didn’t think I would like Jane, but it quickly became one of my favorites. The characters have been as real to me as any of my friends or family members in the real world.
Michael taught me to stay true. Rogelio taught me that it’s never too late. Alba taught me to stand by my values. Xo taught me to fight to protect those I love. Petra taught me to be fierce. Rafael taught me to be brave. And Jane, Jane taught me that life is all of it — the lightness and the darkness.
I wish there were going to be many more seasons of Jane. I’d watch Jane’s story forever. But I respect the showrunner’s decision to end the show on a high note, leaving it exactly where it was intended to go.
I’m writing this before watching the finale, filled with all the standard emotions that come along with a favorite show approaching its conclusion. But overwhelmingly, I just feel grateful.
Grateful that Jennie Snyder Urman chose to tell Jane’s story. Grateful that she found Gina Rodriguez and the rest of the show’s perfect cast. Grateful for everything that Jane the Virgin is, was, and will continue to be.
This may be the finale, but the story keeps going. In reruns or excited text-chains, at the watercooler or on Netflix, in our imaginations, the minds of the creators and cast members and fans, and that wonderful plane of the universe where stories live on forever.
To Be Continued . . .
None of the photos in this post are my own.