In the sixteenth and penultimate episode of the fourth season of Jane the Virgin, Xo struggles with the new realities of her life; River has an epiphany; Rafael and Jane pursue their dreams; Jane Ramos reconsiders. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Jane the Virgin.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of corporal punishment (particularly spanking of children) and child abuse, cultural assimilation, cancer, chemotherapy, trauma, death.
I just… really, really loved this episode so much.
You know, I was fully preparing myself for this plot to be mostly about Jane and Rafael having to resist sex while living with Alba again. It is about that, but only tangentially. That awkward scene was meant to establish something else: Alba’s increasing fear of her own death and loss of control. It wasn’t surprising that Alba wanted to enforce her own rules in her home, but Jane and Rafael quickly broke them. What’s so unfortunate and upsetting is that as Alba struggles with her own fears, she decided to take them out on a child. Mateo may have been misbehaving, but… oh boy, I AM NOT A FAN. I’m extremely anti-spanking and hitting of children for literally any reason. I know that’s probably obvious, given the abuse I went through as a kid, but I think that personal perspective matters. When I was hit as a kid, it was disorienting. It was terrifying. A great deal of my current issues with mental health stem from the deep, deep fear I had of my mother, of authority figures, of the anxiety over whether or not my parents actually loved me. HI, HELLO TRAUMA, YOU OLD FRIEND.
A lot of people grew up being struck, and they pass that down to their children. In this case, though, I don’t think we ever saw Alba striking Xiomara, so that made her hitting Mateo even more egregious. That isn’t your kid! Why are you spanking someone else’s child??? And while the show does introduce a sympathetic narrative to explain why Alba feels like life is slipping out of her control, it doesn’t negate what she did. Ultimately: adults should never take this shit out on children, no matter how they are behaving. So I’m glad that the writers didn’t budge on this and had Alba say she would never do that to Mateo again.
My other worry: What outlet will Alba have? She’s clearly thinking about her own mortality a lot because of Xiomara’s cancer diagnosis. God, I know she’s opposed to it, but: THERAPY. It’s right there! It can be so helpful, Alba!!!!
OH THIS WHOLE PLOT. IT FILLED ME WITH SUCH JOY. I know it’s been a wild ride for Jane Villanueva. Engaged to Michael, broke things off, had a relationship with Rafael that didn’t work out, found love and marriage with Michael, which ended in tragedy. I was hesitant to be excited about Rafael and Jane getting back together because their past was so deeply complicated. And that’s not even addressing the idea of dating after suffering such an intense loss!
What’s been a delight to watch over the course of season four is Jane and Rafael attempting a relationship again and not making the same mistakes. Indeed, they’re so much better at understanding their own insecurities and flaws. There have certainly been conflicts, but look how quickly they’re resolved! They’ve built on their mistakes, and it has allowed them to move their relationship to a place that their first one never reached. So, “Chapter Eighty” serves as a brilliant chance for the writers to demonstrate that. Because after everything these two have been through, Rafael and Jane are truly learning how best to support one another.
One of the things that had been difficult to watch in their first relationship was Rafael’s at-times reckless pursuit of wealth in order to provide for his family. At the time, I did get why he did that, but it still pushed him to a toxic place. Here, we see how cautious Rafael is, despite that he could make some easy money with his deal with Chase. Rather than jump for the nearest opportunity, he talks things out with Jane. He tries to protect himself legally. He doesn’t assume that he can see every angle of this. It was refreshing to watch!!! Even though I worried about a telenovela-style twist, I didn’t feel bad about the choices Rafael was making.
That’s especially the case with the final scenes in this plot. I just… I am so happy, y’all. Rafael has a dream for his own life, but for the first time, it isn’t ridiculously overblown or risky. His dream is to have a home with Jane and Mateo. And I believed him when he told Jane that! Because I can’t forget that at the heart of Rafael’s character is a deep-seated desire for family. The family he grew up in was toxic, chaotic, and unsupportive. Now, he has the chance to build his own family and escape those negative elements. Which is precisely why I love that he offers that very support to Jane. It’s an amazing thing for him to say that he wants to bet on Jane’s dream for the time being. This new real estate job offers stability to him and the family, and it’ll still allow him to pursue the dream of being a family, all while giving Jane more flexibility to explore this potential new novel. It means the world to me to see this unfolding, and I feel really good about where this is going!!!
River Fields and Telenovelas
This script is never outright about this, but it’s clear that the show is pretty much saying that as a white American, River Fields does not have the cultural competency to understand telenovelas. And it’s such a fascinating thesis because I imagine that for many people, Jane the Virgin was their first introduction to telenovelas, as well as the style, the tropes, and the story arcs that the genre is known for! So, it was frustrating watching River stomp all over what had made The Passions of Santos such a smash hit in order to assimilate the show into an American sensibility.
That’s nothing new, of course, and I’m sure each of us has watched the American market take an existing story—either a book, a film, a TV show, an anime—and dilute it to fit within our cultural meanings and standards. Like, off the top of my head, I can think of a few. I haven’t seen it, but I heard the live-action version of Death Note was abysmal and missed out on all the cultural context that made the story as wonderful. Plus, the West in general has this asinine idea that we can’t just uplift and amplify the original stories; we have to remix them and rewrite them and make them our own.
Granted, it’s Rogelio’s choice to bring Santos to an American audience, and for what it’s worth, he actually doesn’t want to water it down. There’s an important distinction made here that was in the early parts of the show: telenovelas are not the same as American soap operas. But since River has never seen a telenovela, she doesn’t get that. So she runs roughshod all over Ro’s script and concept, stripping it of all the moments, details, motifs, and archetypes that made it popular in the first place. She thinks she is protecting her career and artistic credibility, but instead, she’s doing that very white, very American, very imperialistic thing that we see all the time: she’s turning an existing thing into something deeply, deeply bland.
Yet with an ill-timed visit to Rogelio’s home and some accidental pot brownies from Xiomara (WHO JUST STEALS FOOD OFF A PLATE IN A STRANGER’S HOUSE. wait. white people. duh.), River learns the error of her ways and sees the value of The Passions of Steve being a more faithful adaptation, rather than a diluted nightmare. So… will she fully accept this new version and stop sabotaging Ro? I hope so!
Chemotherapy and Donna
Wow, this… this gutted me, y’all. There’s a lot in “Chapter Eighty” that’s fairly light-hearted, but it’s also an intensely emotional episode. The writers eschew the more dramatic, telenovela-esque storytelling techniques we see throughout in order to give Xo a story that is more grounded. This is actually the first time I’ve ever heard of or seen the concept of cold caps! Everyone I know who has been through this type of chemo just shaved their head before their first treatment. I really have to praise Andrea Navedo’s performance throughout “Chapter Eighty.” She’s heartbreaking here, and it helps that the script is as strong as it is, too. In particular, the introduction of Donna and the time jump were brilliant choices. Xiomara needed a friend who was dealing with cancer, and over the course of Xo’s friendship with Donna, she discovered the joy of not having to be anything other than herself. There was no pretense of her being brave or strong or positive. She could be negative. She could laugh! And that was an important part of her mental health journey while going through chemotherapy.
Which is also why Navedo played Xo so differently when she was with Jane and Rogelio. It’s not that she didn’t trust her daughter or her husband. She just had a different relationship with them, one where she knew they were worried and anxious for her. She felt she had to put up a front for them, which she didn’t have to do with Donna. The time jump also allowed us to see how Xo’s chemo progression wore down on her. As Donna had warned, it was going to get harder. That only compounded the tragedy, of course, since Donna was oddly prophetic. It was going to get harder because she was going to die, leaving Xo behind with a whirlwind of complicated feelings about mortality and friendship.
I have a lot of favorite scenes from this season, but that one in the diner, where Xo and Ro are honest about expectations and their feelings? Fucking gorgeous, y’all. And like Jane and Rafael, these two are at a new place in their relationship. It’s so wonderful to see them grow after so many missteps and mistakes, especially since it was so hard for Rogelio to put other people before himself. PARALLEL GROWTH IN RELATIONSHIPS. LOVE TO SEE IT.
I got VERY worried that this was it for these two, y’all. I don’t know if Jane Ramos will become a permanent feature on Jane the Virgin or if she’s just a temporary cast member, but this whole plot has quickly become one of the very best things about this show. I am hoping that Magda is banished to the netherlands after this episode because I’m so TIRED of her being around to mess things up. This is the first time in a LONG time that Petra has a chance to be in a healthy, non-toxic romantic relationship, and here comes Magda to RUIN FUCKING EVERYTHING. Thankfully, she doesn’t, but she almost does by introducing something horrible to Jane Ramos’s relationship with Petra:
I didn’t forget just how hard it’s been for Petra to claw her way out of the toxic environment she was raised in and which she still lived in during the first couple of seasons. In particular, I didn’t forget the immense trauma that she suffered because of Anezka and Magda. As we saw in season three, Petra struggled with being distrusted and disbelieved, and thus, Jane Ramos’s doubt triggered a very specific thing in Petra. She’s fought so hard to get to this point, and as soon as JR started asking questions about the events of Anezka’s death, it hurt. And I get it! JR is a lawyer; this is what she does. Yet in this context, her actions were painful, a reminder of how easily Magda could rip joy and stability from Petra.
That makes Jane Ramos’s ultimate choice more meaningful, though. So much of the remaining toxicity came from JR’s initial problem: she did something terrible, and that was used to blackmail her. So she confesses the truth, gets Petra’s case dismissed with prejudice, and will face disbarment. It’s a huge decision for her to make. There’s going to be a lot of pain, but I could also see how relieved JR was. She told the truth. She wasn’t hiding anymore. So yeah, this was a decision she made for herself. But I can’t deny how much it clearly meant to Petra, too.
So… is this the start of something more? PLEASE???
The video for “Chapter Eighty” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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