If there’s an easier show to love than ‘Jane the Virgin’, I can’t think of it.
Not that there aren’t other sustaining, comforting shows, and not that there aren’t big surprises and smooches to be seen elsewhere. There are, sometimes. But ‘Jane’ came out of the gate ready and only let up slightly in its fifth and final season, when the race was already over and it had won. As the show’s narrator likes to say, “OMG.”
Based on the Venezuelan telenovela ‘Juana la Virgen’, ‘Jane the Virgin’ followed the swirling saga of Jane Gloriana Villanueva, a young woman, raised by her mother and grandmother, who on the pilot was accidentally inseminated by a heartsick and distracted gynecologist. Along the way there were kidnappings, mailings, several murders, a crime boss whose storyline is so complicated and outrageous I truly never once made sense of it, double- and triple-crossings, cancer, the threat of deportation and so many crushing break-ups I almost wept to death. And yet everything worked out in the end, just like you’d hope.
The series finale was, as usual, “straight out of a telenovela,” only this time it was just the happy parts. (And Petra having a secret triplet.) I spent the entire episode convinced Alba was going to die. Or that Xo would. Or Michael would die, again. Or that the reveal of Rafael’s biological parents would derail everything. I didn’t think Mateo would be kidnapped again — but I also didn’t think we’d get through this season this unscathed. And yet we did.
That’s one beef I had with this season, that the show’s biggest twist turned out to be something of a red herring: Michael wasn’t dead after all. But it ultimately didn’t matter, and the whole side story of Jane going to his ranch forcing us to endure his very stupid drawl — where did that come from? — left us right back where we we’d been for ages. Jane and Rafael: End game!
They were beginning and middle game, too, and for a long time I thought ‘Jane the Virgin’ was primarily and essentially a love story. Well, a romance story.
But it’s not — it’s a family story. The only significant difference between the pilot for ‘Jane’ and the finale for ‘Jane’ is that no one is a villain anymore, and everyone is important. Petra is a sister. Luisa is, somehow, back in everyone’s good graces. It is, as always, another beautiful day to be Rogelio. Mateo, Anna and Elsa are healthy and literate. Rita Moreno was there, for god’s sake. Everyone is in the Villanueva family now, and it feels great.
‘Jane’ came out in 2014, as the anti-hero era was ending but before the streaming era or reboot era began in earnest. I was wondering if anything would be able to take over the admiration and obsession slot in my life when ‘Mad Men’ ended the following spring, and within a few episodes it was clear that ‘Jane’ was the surprising but welcome successor. (Along with ‘BoJack Horseman’, which came out just before ‘Jane’)
It’s anchored by a career-defining, show-defining performance: Gina Rodriguez is the reason the show works at all. But the series is also profoundly invested in every single side character, every throwaway one-line person, every little darn detail. The costuming is deeply meaningful and a tiny bit show-offy, but in a good way; men should wear lavender.
Both Jane and Don Draper know that the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves — in romance novels, in commercials, in lies, in ambitions — become true. Like ‘Mad Men’, ‘Jane’ is savvy about the ways childhood informs adulthood, and about the ways people (characters, but people really) recreate familiar but not always healthy patterns.
Jane likes to project hyper competence, and she doesn’t ever want to ask for help. So when she needs it, as we all do from time to time, she lashes out and catastrophizes, so everyone will be motivated to help her without her even needing to ask.
I will miss Jane’s rigidity, and Rogelio’s tenderness and Rafael’s sense of hope. I will miss Alba’s advice, and Xo’s adaptability and Petra’s loyalty. And I will really miss how the show’s creator, Jennie Snyder Urman, expressed her love of television.
‘Jane the Virgin’ experimented often and deftly with format and tone and form, toying with various conventions and styles, employing and subverting them as needed. But it never abandoned its telenovela self, and the fact that Jane, Xo and Alba so treasured that kind of story informed their lives and behaviours. The way treasuring ‘Jane’ informs mine. Maybe the reason ‘Jane’ is so easy to love is that it’s the rare show that feels as if it loves you back.
Don’t miss it!
‘Jane The Virgin’ series finale is out now on Starz Play.