A Jane Reaction

I fell in love with Jane the Virgin hard and fast, not unlike some of the show’s characters have done with one another. It had everything I was looking for in a TV program: strong female characters, self-referential wit, melodrama, bright colors, babies and a central love triangle that put the female protagonist between a good boy and a bad one. A remake of a Venezuelan telenovela, JtV never shies away from tropes—instead, it imbues them with both humor and depth—so it made sense that Jane would be forced to choose between Michael, the sweet, safe fiance of her past and Rafael, the hot, misunderstood accidental-baby-daddy of her present (read this synopsis if you don’t understand that sentence).

It also made sense that I would root for the bad boy. As with Jess, Ben, and Logan before him, I quickly and proudly labeled myself “Team Rafael.”  I know that if Jane and I were friends in real life, I would warn her to steer clear of the guy who comes from a different world, has a lot of baggage and tends to hurt others when he’s hurting (which is often). Still, I watch TV to escape my reality, and it’s fun to visit a fantasy world where it’s possible to fix the sexy, damaged ones with your love. Plus, a will-they-or-won’t-they can be even more titillating if they probably shouldn’t.

It didn’t help that the first season of JtV played up Jane and Rafael’s star-crossedness. Years before she was artificially inseminated with his sperm by mistake, Jane and Rafael shared a tender moment that might have blossomed into something real had Raf not been such a playboy at the time.  Fortunately, a brush with cancer reformed him in time for Kismet to bring them back into each other’s lives. While Jane seemed happy with Michael at the start of the series, he reacted poorly to her decision to keep the baby and his subsequent dishonesty ended their relationship.  Meanwhile, Rafael’s marriage to walking-nightmare Petra was all but over, so when Jane and Rafael increased their prenatal hangouts and learned they had more in common than just their fetus, they fell in love. It was the best.

Jane the Virgin was setting up something that I had seen many times before. Take Veronica Mars, for example. In my eyes, Jane was Veronica and Rafael was Logan, which made Michael, by default, Duncan. Michael, like Duncan, was a perfectly fine ex-boyfriend: funny, kind, smart, ambitious, probably a better fit for our main character as far as sustainable, healthy relationships go. But who can give a shit when Veronica and Logan are spanning-years-and-continents-lives ruined-bloodshed epic. Being on Team Piz is one thing, but no one is on Team Duncan. When Rafael self-destructed at the end of season one and ruined things with Jane—as Logan had done many times to Veronica (and Ben did to Felicity in multiple timelines)—I settled in for what I thought would be an awkward few episodes before their inevitable reunion either at the end of the next season or during sweeps.

I should have known better. Jane the Virgin may embrace familiar storylines but it’s plot is almost Mad-Men-like in it’s unpredictability (though the two shows could not be more different in tone). Showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman confirmed that Jane would get married this season, but it was anyone’s guess who to. The first half of the second season had Jane changing her mind at least once an episode, and for a little while it seemed she’d spurn both Rafael and Michael in favor of a hunky professor at her graduate school. Then notorious drug kingpin Sin Rostro died and Michael revealed that he’d only been pushing Jane away in an effort to protect her and her son while he investigated the case (Sin Rostro once kidnapped Jane’s son, Mateo, and was responsible for the deaths of a handful of JtV characters. Did I mention the show’s telenovela roots?). Jane and Michael immediately professed their love and by the next episode, they were engaged.

As much as it pains me to retire my “Team Rafael” gear, I can acknowledge that the Michael choice is a natural one, not just for Jane the character, but for Jane the television show. For starters, Jane is not Veronica Mars. Veronica  pathologically put herself in harm’s way; it made sense that she always went back to Logan, because Veronica could never really be happy, or herself, when there wasn’t some risk involved. On the contrary, Jane is set up as an optimistic life planner. Her accidental insemination may have taught her to appreciate life’s unplanned miracles, but it didn’t fundamentally alter who she is a human being. She still values organization and stability—even more so now that she has Mateo—and it makes sense for her to love Michael, a man who can provide those things. Her relationship with Rafael would always be dramatic and unpredictable, even when that wasn’t necessarily his fault. Jane simply isn’t in the habit of making decisions that seriously risk her emotional and physical well-being, and Jane isn’t in the habit of letting its characters make decisions that feel inauthentic.

Jane the Virgin is incredibly kind to its characters, allowing them the freedom to be themselves, without judgement, while also continually moving them forward on paths of personal growth. Take Rafael’s ex-wife Petra, who ended the first season by making the very shitty decision to inseminate herself with Rafael’s sperm without his consent. She has since grown into one of the richest story lines of season two, as she struggles with the arrival of twin daughters and tries to free herself from her own mother’s toxic grasp.

These character studies all happen admidst the sort of heightened reality that only television can provide.  JtV employs tropes that have historically been associated with “low-culture” genres like the soap opera, but does so without sacrificing nuance, authenticity, or depth. An over-the-top murder involving a hook for a hand forces Petra to decide whether or not she can let her mother, the only person she believes has ever really cared for her, be a part of her daughters’ lives. When Jane’s parents Xiomara and Rogelio break up and get back together multiple times, it’s not just drama for drama’s sake, but a reflection of how hard it is to let go of a love when you know you want different things. It’s not unusual for a primetime drama to drag out a love triangle over multiple seasons, but when JtV did it, it gave Jane the time and space to be with each of her suitors, and then apart from both, so she could honestly decide what was best for her and her son. Above all else, JtV wants its characters to make good choices, as if they were less like characters, and more like real-life friends.

Jane the Virgin extends this very same kindness to it’s audience, allowing people like me to indulge in thrilling melodrama without ever feeling like they should label this pleasure as a guilty one (even though no one should feel guilty about TV, anyway). With JtV I can escape to a fantasy world, but still see my own struggles reflected onscreen and this sort of inclusivity is what makes Jane the Virgin one of the best shows on television. Though I may never be Team Michael—he just bores me—I can allow Jane that freedom. She would do the same for me.

 

 

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