Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. Oh—and “Chapter Ninety-Two” cannot stress this enough—man.
Men have always played a significant role in Jane Villanueva’s (Gina Rodriguez) world, but as the Latin Lover Narrator (Anthony Mendez) notes in this week’s cold open, never has their energy been anything like patriarchal. With their social sensitivity, emotional vulnerability and innate understanding of women as equals, all the men closest to Jane—from her long-lost dad, Rogelio (Jaime Camil), to her co-parent/ex-almost-fiancé, Rafael (Justin Baldoni), to her ex-husband/first love Michael (Brett Dier)—have always subverted the kind of traditionally male stereotypes that so often gum up women’s stories. These men aren’t un-manly, but Jane the Virgin has always been careful to use their alien maleness not as a wedge between them and the women in their lives, but rather as a bolster to the feminine glue holding the ever-growing Villanueva-Solano-de la Vega family together. The show went out of its way in its second episode ever, in fact, to make it clear how disinterested it was in using a patriarchal gender dynamic as dramatic fodder, establishing—gently!—that a man even joking about using his masculinity as a tool would not be tolerated. (“Proud to be representing the male point of view,” Michael quips in his first Villanueva family meeting. “Oh, see, I wouldn’t lead with that, because that’s not going to do well,” Jane responds, unsmiling.)
So, naturally, it is surprising to see, ninety episodes later, Jorge (Alfonso DiLuca) take hammer and nail to the Villanuevas’ living room wall and stick a fish-shaped man of the house wedge between Jane and her abuela (Ivonne Coll).
This is not to say that the revelation of Jorge—Jorge!—as the patriarchal presence neither Jane nor the audience had thought to prepare for doesn’t make narrative sense. Aside from the simple fact that he’s his own person, a person who Jane and everyone else in the family is still getting to know, Jorge comes from both a different generation and a different cultural background than do any of the men who have previously folded themselves into the Villanuevas’ tight-knit world. The observable shift in Alba’s behavior tracks, too, for many of the same reasons—just because she spent decades living in America as a single woman raising two young, fiercely independent girls doesn’t mean that the more traditional gender roles she grew up with in both Venezuela and the Catholic church will have completely faded. I can’t even really fault what feels like an inconsistency between her eagerness to cede domestic power to Jorge now versus the complete authority she maintained when Michael, and later Rafael, lived under the same roof. As much as Alba loved and respected both Michael and Rafael, she wasn’t married to either of them—and we have known from the very first time Jenna Ortega stepped into Young Jane’s flashback shoes that the bonds of marriage, for Alba, matter deeply.
That said, while the episode-specific edits to the Jane the Virgin title cards since virgin ceased being accurate have always been a treat, this week’s edition—Granddaughter of the Wife of the Man of the House—set a zingingly unpleasant tone for what was otherwise a fun, frenetic episode. To take culture critic Jia Tolentino’s recent corker on gender and marriage in modern culture and turn it Jane-ward, a man of the house? In THIS economy?? Obviously the overarching narrative goal was to get Jane to a place where she could put her living situation/future into perspective and work up the gumption to move forward, Rafael or no. But, like, I’ve watched nearly a hundred hours of Jane the Virgin; making Alba, the wife, subservient enough to Jorge’s man of the house status that she isn’t able to find a middle ground between demanding Jane’s respect for her choices (fair!) and acknowledging Jorge’s obliviously unhelpful influence on Mateo (Alba would never put a new husband’s TV needs over her grandson’s behavioral ones) is not the only way they could have gotten Jane to such a point. Alas, it is the one we got though, and thanks to the shock of meeting Jorge’s wife, Jane is ready to move on.
Interestingly, while wifehood frustrates the effectiveness of one of Jane’s two main story arcs this week, it serves a more constructive role for both Petra (Yael Grobglas) and Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), whose position—or heartbreakingly distinct lack thereof—as “wife” allows them to grow in ways they haven’t been able to for awhile. For Petra, still suffering heartbreak weeks after being abandoned by JR, returning the engagement ring she had planned to propose with lets her move on from a future as JR’s wife she won’t get to have. For Xiomara, getting a cancer-free diagnosis from her final PET scan frees her at incredibly long last to freak out about smaller, pettier dramas. Like, say, River Fields (Brooke Shields) disrespecting her position as Rogelio’s wife by making a move on him on the set of their telenovela the moment he reports Xo’s cancer-free diagnosis. Worth freaking out about! Also, not something a cancer-ridden Xo would have let herself freak out about! (“You called me jealous and insecure!” she shouts at Rogelio after he calls her, well, jealous and insecure. “And even though that’s a crappy feeling, it’s normal! We’re back to normal!”) Xiomara’s role as a wife even works progressively in Rogelio’s favor, as River’s surprising (but believable) advances let him demonstrate how evolved he is in both his masculinity and his marriage, all while costumed literally as a man from Mars. (Plus, his regular celebrity name-drop shows up in the line, “I’ve never wanted to have sex with you, and if you don’t stop I’ll go to HR! And if they ignore me, I’ll go to Alyssa Milano!” which is, obviously, excellent.)
Rafael, too, gets to demonstrate his evolved masculinity as a direct contrast to Jorge’s mildly outdated version—he’s cooking Mateo’s dinner while Jane works on behavioral therapy, he’s sitting down with Jane to go over Mateo’s ADHD journal, he’s processing the hell out of Petra’s spiraling heartbreak—but as has been the case for the majority of the season, the work he’s done/is doing to get to that point is left invisible. He’s evidently dating, but we, like Jane, have no idea that’s a thing until he mentions it offhandedly. His antidepressants are evidently working well, but again, we only know because of brief remark in the middle of different discussion. Our distance from Rafael is meant to mirror Jane’s, clearly, but after so many seasons of getting deeper access to Raf’s inner workings and life outside of Jane, this is a distance that continues to grate. That said, I’d had the same concerns about Xiomara’s remove from interesting stories, and with her back in the plotty picture this week, there is hope for Raf’s return to the central narrative, too—not just as a more evolved counterpoint to Jorge’s variety of masculinity, but as himself.
On that note, as Paste will be transitioning away from episodic recaps, this will be my last weekly check-in. If something big happens—who are we kidding, when something big happens—I will definitely return. Until then, though, happy watching!
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She
can be found @AlexisKG.