“Just turn it on and think of Barack Obama!” —Alba Villanueva, a very changed woman
While the overarching themes of some episodes of Jane the Virgin might be nuanced enough that they take real effort to tease out, “Chapter Eighty-Seven” mounts its thesis in bright, flashing neon: PEOPLE CHANGE. These changes may come about gradually, or they may strike like a lightning bolt all at once, but either way, they happen. And part of being a person, the characters of Jane the Virgin have to remind themselves this week, is figuring out how to live with that fact.
This realization is something that Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) comes to after finding herself, post-chemo and early menopausal, having to renegotiate her relationship with sex. For Alba (Ivonne Coll), it comes as she accepts the need to reshape the boundaries of her relationship with Jorge (Alfonso DiLuca). For Petra (Yael Grobglas), it happens as she reorients her relationship with the whole world in an effort to keep her second chance with JR (Rosario Dawson) alive. And then, of course, there’s Jane (Gina Rodriguez), who this truth hits particularly hard: She finds herself having to acknowledge not only how much Michael (Brett Dier) has changed in the years since they were married, but also how much Rafael (Justin Baldoni) has changed in the days since he asked her to stay away while she figured out what her feelings about Michael are. And then there’s how much she’s changed, too.
None of these realizations are easy. In fact, most of them—even Xo’s, which features several excellent sexy-meets-awkward-meets-honest masturbation fantasy scenes on both her and Rogelio’s (Jaime Camil) part—are devastating. But in terms of propelling some of Jane’s most central character arcs forward, this devastation is a means to an end, allowing “Chapter Eighty-Seven” to function as a more substantive coda to threads that have been stalled since the time jump following Michael’s death in the middle of Season Three. All of the character development Jane, Xo, Alba, Petra, Rogelio, Raf, and now even Michael have gone through since then has been solid and earned—this is Jane the Virgin and Jennie Snyder Urman we’re talking about, after all—but as each of them realize over the course of “Chapter Eighty-Seven,” there are still emotional knots buried deep below the surface to be untangled. So, yes, it’s a blow for these characters to understand how much they’ve changed over the years, but story-wise, it’s also extremely satisfying.
As fruitful as the flashing neon sign of Jane et al.’s realization that people change ultimately is, that’s only this week’s destination, and as anyone who has watched the series knows, in Jane the Virgin’s Miami, what matters just as much is the dense, tropicolor chaos of the journey the characters take to get there. And in “Chapter Eighty-Seven,” my inner everything-is-connected conspiracist was particularly tickled to see, that tropicolor journey was all about the women (and, OK, a few of the men, too) of Jane the Virgin donning their amateur detective caps and hunting down CLUES.
Xo hunts down clues to her new libido! Alba hunts down clues Jorge might be warming to her, too! Petra hunts down what jeans and a tatas and tushies dance contestant feel like! Jane hunts down clues to the secret pills the kids saw Raf taking, and why Petra is so mad at her! The audience hunts down clues to what a #Jetra kiss would (almost) look like! Jane and Michael hunt for clues in their mismatched memories of their last day together! Michael and his old detective buddy Dennis (Christopher Allen) hunt down clues to get in the backdoor to Rose’s Dark Web black market!
I love this. (Obviously; just look at all those exclamation points.) Not only is it excellent that it puts Jane the Virgin into a kind of meta-continuity with the lady detective boomlet I wrote about earlier this week—so is the counterintuitive way in which Jane employs these clue-hunting elements of the cozy procedural formula to forward its core characters’ emotional arcs. That is, while the point of detective work in a normal cozy procedural is to bring characters closer both to solving the mystery of the week and to understanding more about themselves, the sleuthing done in “Chapter Eighty-Seven” ends up doing the opposite—the more aggressive Jane, Xo, Alba and Petra become in ferreting out the one clue that might solve the mystery threatening to overwhelm them, the further they get from any kind of emotional clarity. It is only when they lower their guard and let someone else in to help with their investigation that any kind of clarity can be found. Xo gets sex toy/menopause advice from Alba (I know, I know); Alba finds an answer, even if it’s one she didn’t want, when she finally opens up to Jorge about her true feelings. Petra and Jane help each other—Petra learns how to loosen up enough to impress JR when she ropes Jane into teaching her how to dance in public, while Jane learns that being a friend to Petra means getting out of her own way. So do Jane and Michael, coming together at the end of the episode to admit to themselves that, glowing hearts or not, their marriage wasn’t perfect before he died, and they’ve grown further apart as people in the years since.
So many mysteries solved, so much personal change accepted, so many new narrative paths just waiting to be explored—including one leading straight to Montana. (Watch this space next week for a Rocky Mountain native’s nitpicky reaction to Jane’s take on my home turf.) None of “Chapter Eighty-Seven” is easy, but it wouldn’t be Jane the Virgin if it was. And considering the way the ocean of weeping on the Villanueva’s porch swing at the end of the episode melts into cathartic laughter, Jane, Xo and Alba agree. It’s time to move forward.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.