A Reflection on Jane The Virgin
When the final words of Jane the Virgin were spoken, and the title card, which had always read ‘To Be Continued’ read ‘The End’, I did something I’ve never done at the end of any TV series — not even Breaking Bad or The Americans. I applauded. Because that really was the only appropriate reaction for a series that has been so joyous and moving and wonderful as this series.
Throughout this year, I have been wondering which of The CW’s exquisite female driven comedies — Jane the Virgin or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — I would end up considering the greatest series, not just of the CW’s history, but for the entire decade. And it’s been a really tough call. Both series featured flawed but hysterical heroines, both series involve convoluted love stories, both series had a wonderful roster of supporting characters, both were perfect satires of their genres (for Jane, the telenovela; for Crazy, the musical comedy). And both were exceptional in the way they let not only their lead heroines, but their entire cast grow over the course of their run. Indeed, there’s a real possibility I may still put both shows on my list. But, after much debate, I have concluded that while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend featured the more multi-faceted talent at its center (whatever Rachel Bloom’s next project in, I’m all in for it), Jane was the better series.
And I think that comes in part due to the work of Gina Rodriguez, who rates as the most shafted performer of the decade by the Emmys. (At least Bloom got quite a few nominations for writing those glorious songs at the center of the show.) Rebecca Bunch, for all of the charm of the series, was for at least the first half, a really unlikable character if you looked closely. Whereas as Jane was always likable, and someone you always could root for. Many of the horrible things that happened to Rebecca were self-inflicted wounds, whereas Jane so much of the time had no control of what happened to her. (Hell, that’s how the series started.) Rodriguez always found a way to tap into Jane’s basic goodness, and the way she saw the comedy that unfolded — as well as the tragedy.
The series also probably had a better ensemble cast than Ex-Girlfriend, though not by much. And that’s because almost every regular had their own journeys to go through before they reached the end. I could give a complete accounting of just about everybody in the cast to demonstrate this, but I’ll settle for Petra. For much of the first season, Petra was the ostensible heavy of the series, the obstacle between Jane and Rafael, who was involved criminal activities from a terrible mother. And her last action (inseminating herself with Rafael’s sperm) seemed despicable. And then, as the series unfolded, something remarkable happened. She became a real person. We learned the reasons for so much of her horrible behavior (most clearly indicated by her twin sister, played so well by Yael Groglas you almost didn’t realize it was the same actress), and as a mother she slowly became, almost against her will, a sensitive and someone capable of giving love. When the final season began, Jane told Petra that she hadn’t grown up with a sister, but she felt like she had one now, and Rafael wanted her to stand up for him at their wedding. I don’t know of any other series that would do that — well, maybe Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
And as a series that stayed forever true to it’s telenovela roots, it featured some truly remarkable things. The Jane-Michael-Rafael love triangle may have been the best one of this decade, because it demonstrated more clearly that any other show that you can have more than one soulmate. Of course, this was because of two of the greatest twists arguably in television history For the first half, I was rooting so hard for Jane and Michael to be together, and I think I felt gutted when he got shot on their wedding night. I think every viewer of the show, myself included, collapsed in a pile when he dropped dead at the exact halfway point of the series. It is a credit to the writers that they didn’t have Jane and Rafael immediately get together (it took a year and a half in real time, and more than four in the series) before they finally got together. And then, just when they were on the verge of happiness, the series does the second greatest twist — Michael was alive after all. I don’t know of any series that could’ve spent two years making us root for Michael, and then the second he showed up, he kind of seemed like not just an obstacle, but a douche.
Jane the Virgin despite all of the occasionally soapy tendencies, always insisted it was a telenovela. (In one of the funniest lines from the finale, a young Jane is upset why her favorite show is ending, whereas her friend’s mother is watching Days of Our Lives “And its in season 34”.) So the writers decided to wrap up the crime story that had been so much in the background for the entire series in the penultimate episode (and in a typical grotesque fashion) and concentrate the entire last episode on the normal struggle of Jane and Rafael’s wedding and all the other consequences. Also, unlike far too many series in the Golden Age, which end in darkness and chaos, Jane the Virgin chose to end in laughter and joy. Oh, there were tears of course — this show has been rich in them — but the finale was all lightness. Jane finally realized her dream of becoming a best-selling novelist. Rogelio, who spent the entire series trying to achieve crossover success in America, finally did — but that meant less to him than his new son-in-law being able to call him ‘Dad’. Petra was reunited with the love of her life — J.R., brought back when her ex-husband told her how her much his ex-wife missed her. And in a truly moving moment, we learned who the series’ narrator had been — Mateo, telling their story from some unknown time in the future. Even the one great struggle for our leads was left unsaid — after struggling all episode to write her wedding vows, neither Jane nor Rafael could speak past their tears of joy. The series always knew when to leave things unsaid.
The last line of the episode involved Raf asking his wife what the new ending to her book was. Jane said: “She turns her book into a telenovela. Who knows? Maybe it that alternate universe, that love story gets all the Emmys it never got in the real one. For now, it will have to settle for being what it was: one of the greatest shows in this century. And something that the world will treasure. Bravo.