In the fourteenth episode of the fourth season of Jane the Virgin, Xo makes an important decision while Petra is off her game. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Jane the Virgin.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of cancer, breast cancer, medical procedures relating to cancer (including mastectomies)
This… this episode was EVERYTHING.
I am still reeling from just how gorgeous the writing was for this episode. It’s a deeply upsetting topic, but the script for “Chapter Seventy-Eight” approaches this all with care, with kindness, and with honesty. It’s just so deeply respectful of the people this is happening to??? And clearly, there’s so much love put into all of this?
The main focus of the episode surrounds Xo’s choice: How will she deal with her cancer? She’s given options, and the writers were smart to call back to that moment early in the show where Xo offered Jane advice. She said that having a choice is often what helps make a difficult situation easier. And while Xo can’t choose to just not have cancer, she does have a number of options left to her. But what’s the best? The more aggressive option that will most likely guarantee that the cancer won’t come back? A single mastectomy? No mastectomy at all, and just a lump removal? None of these options grant certainty, of course, which made this even more difficult. There are no promises here, just risk reduction. Plus, each of these choices is painful; each will involve a long recovery; each will also include chemotherapy; nothing here is easy.
What I came to enjoy about the portrayal of Xiomara’s decision is that the show allowed her to feel so very many things: she was numb. She was frightened. She was angry. She initially agreed with her family to get a double mastectomy, only to later worry that this was the wrong choice. Y’all, that scene between Xiomara and Rogelio? It was so fucking raw, and it also had some of the best writing and acting of the season. AND THE SHOW AS A WHOLE. Xiomara was given space to talk about her body and her identity in a way that felt so refreshing because I don’t think I’d ever seen something like that on television. I just??? Have??? So many emotions???
At the center of it all is a character granted agency: to choose what her future looks like, or at least the part of it she can control. Within that is another important development: Xiomara realizing that she has to make decisions outside of what Jane wants. I loved that this didn’t mean that the Villanueva were growing apart. Rather, this felt like a loving acknowledgment that Xiomara wanted to prioritize her marriage, to make a decision alongside her husband rather than defaulting to Jane’s desires. On the flipside, Jane has to learn an important lesson here, one that Rafael is uniquely qualified to give. The way he put it was so on-the-nose: It wasn’t Jane’s job to bend her mother to her point of view. Xiomara made a choice, and it was Jane’s job to understand her. That was hard for Jane to hear because it wasn’t what she was used to! But I think that’s another reason why this episode worked so well. Everyone had to accept a radical change in their life, and for some of these people, they needed to accept that they’d have to change behaviors. Expectations. Desires.
More on that in a bit.
I respect so deeply what Rafael chooses to do in this episode for Mateo. As an atheist and as someone who even has issues with what prayer is supposed to do (or at least what I was taught it was supposed to do, which is an important distinction), Rafael chose not to put himself first. In a sense, I see this as a parallel to what other characters do with Xiomara, too, though for a completely different context. On a surface level, I appreciate that the show hasn’t forgotten that Rafael and Jane do not have even remotely similar belief systems. Now that I think of it… I don’t know that I’ve seen all that many relationships that deal with opposing or dissimilar faiths? In this case, Jane’s a Catholic and Rafael doesn’t really believe in anything. While that’s come up many times before, especially in the context of Mateo’s education, this conflict felt so deeply, deeply personal.
So what should Rafael do? His son just learned the deeply upsetting news about his abuela, and Mateo’s understanding of prayer leads him to believe that the harder and more frequently he does it, then Xiomara won’t have cancer anymore. I love that instead of trying to dissuade Mateo from his faith, he sees the value in prayer for his son. Prayer can be comforting; prayer can make you feel stronger; prayer can boost your mood; prayer can be therapeutic. And I imagine that it was multiple things for Mateo! Again, this came down to offering choice: rather than shutting Mateo down, Rafael presented him with an option of how to use prayer.
Look, I really do wish it was possible for everyone to get therapy. I DO. It has been a life-changing force for me, and I’m happy to report that this is the longest I’ve had a single therapist. I’m getting to the point where I can’t imagine not having it, especially as I think back on how helpful she’s been. At the same time: You cannot trick someone into going to therapy!!! Therapy doesn’t work if you don’t want to do it on some level, and it certainly doesn’t work when you pretend a therapist is your new friend who just happens to be attending lunch at the same time. I did like that the show called that therapist out for even CONSIDERING that sort of ambush, because… yeah, that’s wildly unorthodox and unethical, right?
Once again, this comes down to choice: Alba did need someone to talk to about her anger at her daughter’s cancer and the perception she had about Rogelio. While she ended up being wrong about Rogelio, he still made it clear that he was there to be her punching bag. And I loved that he came to that conclusion: She just needed to know he was an option. She could take him up, or she could not. But now Alba knows: she has someone who is absolutely going to support her daughter and her.
ALSO DON’T SURPRISE THERAPY PEOPLE. Not that I think anyone would actually do this???? But yes, don’t do that!!!
HELLO, WELCOME TO MY LITERAL DREAM COMING TRUE, THIS WAS FUCKING SPECTACULAR. oh my god. VULNERABLE PETRA. Petra losing her shit because she didn’t know how to deal with being rejected by Jane Ramos. PETRA PRACTICING HER LINES IN A MIRROR and then??? Asking Rafael for dating advice???? THE ENTIRE BACK-TO-BACK SEQUENCES OF RAFAEL THINKING PETRA WAS GOING TO TRY TO TAKE JANE AWAY FROM HIM AND HOW DEEPLY OFFENDED JANE WAS THAT PETRA WASN’T INTO HER?
I just… I love this so much. DEEPLY. TRULY. The sheer chaotic queer energy of this whole plot was enough to sustain me for LITERAL YEARS.
It’s also thrilling because the show writes Petra/Jane Ramos with the same sincerity, humor, and joy as the other relationships, and that’s something I’ve long wanted in practically everything I read and watch. Jane the Virgin just skips right over homophobia, and that intentional choice makes all the difference. There’s nothing wrong with addressing it, and we’re going to need stories about it for a long time. (I’m currently working on a couple projects that wrestle with homophobia and its ramifications.) But we also need joy. We need messy romantic comedies—which is what Petra’s plot feels like more than anything—where a character doesn’t know how to express their affection towards someone else, so they accidentally stalk them and get in a car accident? Like, I can’t believe this show managed to make a stalking joke that didn’t have me cringing!!!
The context matters, and in this episode, Petra is overwhelmed by everything that has to do with Jane Ramos. I really do believe that part of what made this such a nightmare for her is that she wasn’t used to this kind of rejection. That’s not to say she never got rejected before; we already saw that happen with Rafael and Chuck. But Jane Ramos hit a nerve when she said she couldn’t continue seeing Petra, that Petra wasn’t her type. So, Petra’s reaction was… well, an overreaction. A complete overreaction! One that Petra very quickly realizes was an utter mistake once Jane Ramos confronts outside of her date. She knows she went too far, but she can’t figure out why. This isn’t how she acts or behaves with romantic partners!
Except now it is. And Petra is learning something new about herself, not just in falling for a woman, but feeling an affection (I wouldn’t say “love” just yet) that she’s never experienced. It is such a treat to watch this unfold, and I’m so damn excited to see more.
The video for “Chapter Seventy-Eight” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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