In the first episode of the first season of Jane the Virgin, Jane’s life is turned upside-down by a mistake. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Jane the Virgin. Trigger Warning: For discussion of abortion
Hello, hello, friends! This is a very, very exciting day, as I know that many of you have been waiting ACTUAL YEARS for me to start this show, and HERE WE ARE! It’s happening!!! Before I jump into my review, I want to make sure to let any newcomers know that things are a little different here at Mark Watches, since I approach TV reviews in a slightly odd way. So, if you’re new to Mark Watches, here’s what you need to know.
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In the beginning of the video commentary for this, I do mention the only two things I knew about Jane the Virgin before starting it, and thankfully, it’s very, very little:
1) I knew Gina Rodriguez was the star.
2) I knew it was vaguely about or like telenovelas?
And that’s sort of where I want to start. I wasn’t exposed to telenovelas in any significant way until I was sixteen. My last two years of high school were spent mostly couch-surfing and living with friends who could take me in, and the two places I lived in the longest were Spanish-speaking households where telenovelas were on constantly. Between that and going to church entirely in Spanish, I used this to re-learn Spanish (something I’ve been refocusing on these last couple of years, too!), and I also discovered just how addicting (and utterly fucking ridiculous) telenovelas can be. As a twin, I was O B S E S S E D with La Usurpadora, and I don’t even know if I could ever properly summarize just how far the storyline for that show goes. (I’m referring to the late 90s Mexican version, not the original ones from the 70s.) Actually, now that I’m thinking about it… oh my god, it’s such a hot mess. And super ableist? There’s a whole fake-paralysis plot for a ton of episodes… lord. LORD. One of my friend’s mom was super into Amor en Silencio. Oh shit, I JUST REMEMBERED María la del Barrio I HATED THE SON IN THAT SHOW SO MUCH AND COULDN’T UNDERSTAND WHY SHE LOVED HIM SO MUCH.
I am by NO MEANS an expert on telenovelas, but they were a part of my life. I also understand why they sucked me in: serialization. Seriously, some of these storylines were a hundred episodes long. Even longer! Did they make sense? Some…. sometimes???? Part of the fun was how often a plot twist would come out of fucking NOWHERE that you never saw coming, but not necessarily because it was expertly constructed? Honestly, a lot of times, a twist came from a character we’d never seen, had never been mentioned, and was appearing for the first time. But it was so entertaining. SO FUN.
I think that even having a very casual knowledge of some of the telenovela tropes is going to give me a very satisfying experience with this show, because even though I don’t know a lot, I can already see how Jane the Virgin is going to play with, toy with, and subvert the archetypes and tropes of the medium. And yet, the show itself feels so compelling to me not because it’s playing in this particular sandbox. No, it’s because at the end of the day, “Chapter One” was sincere. This premise might be a little ridiculous (but not impossible!), and the twists that appear here are a little fantastical at times, but Jane and the characters around her still feel so real. They don’t come off as composites of people, or as vehicles for jokes and satire and nothing else.
Let’s do this.
I LOVE A GOOD PREMISE, AND HOLY SHIT, THIS ONE IS SO GOOD. A religious Latina woman in Miami, who is waiting until she is married to have sex, is accidentally inseminated with the sperm of a man she had a crush on as a teenager. WHO IS NOW THE OWNER OF THE HOTEL SHE WORKS AT. And that doesn’t even cover the other stuff that’s going on here. (All the subplots! The hints of future plot twists! THE DRAMA!!!) I just wanted to comment on this part separately from the rest because a great telenovela has a hook that grabs you right from the start, and that’s what this is.
But what will keep me? The hook isn’t enough. That brings me back to the point I just made: Oh, this feels so beautifully sincere. In just a single episode, Jane is introduced to us and goes on an emotional journey that feels like what you’d cover in an ENTIRE SEASON. One thing that I personally enjoyed was how frank, honest, and upfront this script was about pregnancy, abortion, and responsibility. Xiomara says something so fucking beautiful to her daughter: She just wants her to know that she has choices. Knowing that they are there is what makes difficult decisions a little easier. Which doesn’t mean that any part of this is easy at all! What’s so initially tragic about what Dr. Luisa Alver does by mistake is that it has derailed Jane’s life despite Jane doing literally everything possible to stick to her personal moral code. She did not want to have sex before marriage. She did not want to have a child before she was financially or mentally prepared for one. And by all rights, Jane did everything right. Her becoming pregnant should not have happened. So there’s an unfairness here. Why should she be forced into a situation where she even has to make these decisions? She’s supposed to be planning her life to become a teacher; she should be celebrating Michael’s proposal instead of dreading it.
Much of Jane’s struggle here is reflected in her mother, Xiomara, and her abuela, Alba. (Can I just say how damn refreshing it is that this show has untranslated Spanish? That we get to see Jane speak English to Alba, who speaks mostly Spanish back?) Y’all know I love parallel character arcs; y’all know I love seeing characters struggle and change. THIS ALL HAPPENS IN A SINGLE EPISODE. Jane clashes with her mother, who had her when she was a teenager. Because she so thoroughly believed Alba’s lesson about purity and virginity, she sees her mother as not just being irresponsible, but as the opposite of what she wants to be. Ironically, though, history is not as Jane believed it to be. Jane’s journey with this pregnancy inspires Alba to tell the truth: that she is actually ashamed for having asked Xiomara to have an abortion. And when this truth comes to light, both Alba and Xiomara change for Jane. Both of them become more complex people. Maybe Xiomara wasn’t as irresponsible as Jane thought she was; maybe Alba wasn’t as hardline and strict either.
I like that complication, though, and I can see pieces of it nearly every other character. Michael is a supportive fiancé, but he’s torn by this sudden twist in events. He wants nothing more than to build a life with the woman he loves, but he’s going to watch his fiancée have another man’s baby and then give it up? Even if I didn’t really like how Michael gave his ultimatum, I felt as Jane did: Yo, I get it. This is intense and weird and not really what Michael was prepared to do? Which is why I hope that he is willing to support Jane down this bizarre path ahead of her. EXCEPT HIS BROTHER. That scene with his brother!!! What the fuck was that about? Oh god, it’s such a telenovela twist, isn’t it? A distant relative has dirt on someone who is the romantic interest of the protagonist?
But Michael also has dirt on the second major set of characters. I’m hoping there’s an interesting discussion of class and wealth disparity in the Latinx community in Miami because there’s already so much potential here. The Solano family is a HOT MESS, and I think it was brilliant that Jane was impregnated with Rafael’s sperm because of the history between them. They once had a powerful connection, but Rafael is a bit of a jerk. Still. Maybe more so before, and I’m interested to see more of that, too. I was totally surprised by the reveal that he beat cancer. Yet again, we’re presented with a complicated moral conundrum: This is the final means by which Raf can have a child, which puts immense pressure on Jane. However, even though she does agree to have the child by the end of the episode, this doesn’t make Raf’s life easier. Right now, Petra Solano, Raf’s wife, is the only character who seems one-dimensional. I’d say that she’s the primary antagonist as well. At the same time, she’s a character that feels immensely archetypical. There are so many spiteful, bitter, and underhanded characters like Petra within telenovelas. Often, these characters seemed to exist less to explore why they behave as they do, but rather to be agents of plot. If you have a character who is deceiving and “evil,” as Petra seems to be, they can constantly twist the story around them. Why is Petra the way she is, though? What happened between her and Raf that brought them together, and why, as he notes while telling her he wants a divorce, did he want to separate prior to his cancer diagnosis? Is she really here just to fulfill the obligations of her prenuptial agreement?
And then there’s Rogelio. Y’all, my favorite surprise within this was the way in which telenovelas are folded into the narrative. Jane’s love of them manifests as a sort of waking dream as Rogelio, the star of her favorite new telenovela, comforts her. ALSO. I AM LOSING MY SHIT BECAUSE WASN’T THAT SAME ACTOR IN La Fea Más Bella??? I’ve been writing this whole review trying to place where I’ve seen him, and I’M PRETTY SURE THAT’S HIM. (I’m afraid to Google because I don’t want to see something spoilery, but oh my god, I am going to be so, so happy if I’m right.) This element of the story (in addition to the narrator) made Jane the Virgin feel so special to me. I like that this show can make fun of telenovelas while also genuinely appreciating what makes them fun?
Which is exactly why Rogelio’s identity is just the cherry on top of this fucking sundae, y’all. I LOST IT. I’m not at all ashamed of that. HOW THE FUCK IS JANE GOING TO REACT WHEN SHE FINDS OUT THE ACTOR PLAYING THIS CHARACTER SHE IDOLIZES IS HER ACTUAL FATHER??? This is too good. I want the drama. I want the mess. Oh my god, why is Michael investigating Zazo? Or is he investigating Petra? What’s going on THERE? And I haven’t even had my moment to scream about CANONICALLY NOT-STRAIGHT DR. LUISA ALVER!!! (I don’t know how she identifies so I don’t want to label her as anything before I know.) Oh my god, married! But her wife CHEATED ON HER! And we meet an ex of hers? I WANT A WHOLE EPISODE ABOUT DR. ALVER.
I’m excited. I’m so excited.
The video for “Chapter One” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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