Welcome to Fall on The CW, friends! Season of wildest unlikelihoods that all the same turn into fun and engaging stories (see: the Anthropologie-outfitted ladies of Reign, or Rachel Bilson as “Dr.” Zoe Hart, prodigy Manhattan surgeon who somehow can’t think clearly enough not to wear heels walking down a country road…ILU, girl). This fall’s unlikeliest unlikelihood? Accidental artificial insemination!
Oh, CW—never change.
So yes, in case you missed the many memos sent us by The CW marketing team, Jane the Virgin is about a young woman—a very purposeful virgin—who is artificially inseminated while at a routine OBGYN visit (because we all needed one more reason to dread that yearly appointment), then has to shape her life around the consequences. And in case you missed any of the less-trumpeted background about the show, it is an adaptation of a Venzuelan telenovela (which had 153 [!] episodes, all between March and October of 2002 [!!]), which means SUPER CHEESY SOAP OPERA STYLINGS (and a Juanes soundtrack).
Spoiler alert: I really liked the whole thing. ESPECIALLY the Pushing Daisies-style narration, which television has been sorely lacking for years. Jane’s is the perfect world for this device to be reintroduced.
For future recaps I will try to do the whole PLL/TW-style awards, followed by a plot rundown, but since Chapter One was all about introducing us to a thousand characters and their thousand and one telenovela-wild interwoven plot threads, let’s do the same here.
Jane Gloriana Villanueva
At least, that’s her adorably serious 10-yo self’s “likes.” Her grown-up self (23 1/2 years old, compared to the Venezuelan 17-yo heroine, which most def reduces the squick factor) seems to be not much different, however. At the very least, grilled cheese sandwiches still hold a major role in her life.
Alba Villanueva: Her likes, IN THAT ORDER.
Who is keeping secrets from her granddaughter (least among which is the fact that she moonlights as the wolfblood-thirsty matriarch of Mexico’s Calaveras werewolf-hunting clan), and maybe only speaks Spanish? She only had enough screen time in Chapter One to introduce young Jane to the horrors of deeply embedded sexual guilt, and grown-up Jane to the revelation that not only can everyone react poorly to life’s left field line drives (like, by asking your teen daughter to get an abortion), but they can also bounce back from those reactions and learn to see those big surprises as gifts. tl;dr: Jane’s accident baby might bring Jane’s life just as much joy as Jane brought Alba.
Xiomara Villanueva: Her likes…the order is unimportant.
Jane’s Gilmore-Girls-young mother, who makes skintight denim shorts overall rompers look like I thing I want to own. She has a dancing/singing act at some club, shares highly inappropriate gossip with her daughter, and never actually wanted to give Jane up. She is also keeping a major from her daughter and mother, though not of the werewolf-hunting variety: the “some army guy” teen boyfriend dad of Jane is not so much anonymous as INCREDIBLY FAMOUS, and the romantic lead of the Villanueva women’s favorite telenovela.
Michael Cordero, Jr.
Doesn’t get a title card this episode, but does get the girl. He and Jane have been dating for two years (with “no boning,” as Jane’s best work friend helpfully points out) and are the type of couple to have a plan that includes them both getting their careers on track, debt erased, and calendars merged before taking the final step to marriage. Michael knows what it’s like to try to live with a curse hanging over your head, though (Raven5wood In Peace, dude), so proposes to Jane in spite of all of that—and invites their friends and family over for an engagement party before he even heard her answer, which now she has to pretend to have given while they work through THE FACTS of what happened to her (he is a cop, lest we forget). He also had some sort of mysterious past, as we learn from his CW-shady (read: super clean, bright-eyed and handsome, but a bit shaggy about the ears) “wild” brother, who crashes the fake engagement party and threatens to out Michael’s past to his new fiancée. Foreshadowing!
Also probably foreshadowing is the fact that Michael is the kind of guy who wants to be supportive of his girl no matter what, BUT can’t start a life with her if she is carrying another man’s baby. In spite of this seemingly glaring warning sign, Jane doesn’t want to give him up, and makes a compromise (keep the pregnancy, give up the baby) in order to propose to HIM in the precinct at the end of the ep. The counter-proposal is adorable (ladies proposing FTW!). The fact he asked her to get an abortion as a condition to that step, less so.
Hint: if your opinion has to start out, “I’m sorry if this makes me a bad person, but…”…it’s probably not an okay opinion to have.
Yep, that’s his face. It’s a pretty good face (one I remembered QUITE WELL from a mere two-episode guest stint on Heroes five years ago). And he seems like a pretty good ex-playboy. He is also the in-remission-now-sterile donor of the sample given to Jane. Oh, and also the owner of the hotel/club where she works. Oh, and also the dude she made The World’s Best Grilled Cheese for and then madly made out with back in her pre-Michael and Raf’s still-playboy days. And he remembers her. RUH ROH.
Devious, and the daughter of a tarot reader. She was the woman the OBGYN doc was supposed to inseminate, having had Raf’s sample thawed without his knowing or go-ahead, because that is what happens in soap operas (but having read Gone Girl, I’m worried that also that is what sometimes happens in real life). Also she is having an affair with Raf’s “best” “friend.” Also she is good at math, at least of the pre-nuptial variety. Also she uses the phrase “play the cancer card” seriously, and basically blackmails Raf’s sister to use the card with Jane in exchange for not losing her doctoring license. So. That’s Petra.
Roman Zazo, AKA “Zaz”: “Jane?” “Yeah, but everyone calls her ‘Jazz’.” – Jane’s best friend, in pure sarcasm. NEVER FORGET.
But seriously, he is as douchebaggy a dude as his nickname implies. He “charms” the club girls with his introduction while making them pull straws for an unknown reason, then grins when Jane’s short straw means she has to wear the mermaid tail while pouring champagne in the pool. He seems redeemable for the supportive conversation he has with Raf after Raf is informed that his sample has gotten an unknown woman pregnant and Raf realizes that he wants to keep the baby, but then that redemption disappears like a Gob Bluth illusion when we see Zaz in bed with Petra as she demands over the phone that Raf use “the cancer card” to get Jane to keep the baby (which will keep Raf with her which will keep the pre-nup operational). And then that zero-level likeability plummets further when Jane’s police boyfriend Michael sights him in a photo stakeout for some drug cartel case the department is working, during which the sergeant indicates that Zaz is a major middleman of some sort.
Dr. Luisa Alver
Raf’s sister, whose advice to him to divorce Petra is overheard by Petra (never trust a piece of furniture you can’t see around when discussing life-changing matters behind a spouse’s back, Raf! You may actually be discussing it behind her back). Her shock upon seeing her wife in bed with another woman has so thrown her that her nurse’s instructions of “You have an insemination in 7 and a pap in 8” the next morning at work go in one ear and out the other and she brings Raf’s sample into Jane’s room 8. Jane is asleep when Luisa enters and says the word “insemination,” and then the rest of their conversation when Jane wakes is like a Who’s On First? redux, Luisa thinking Jane is doing the baby thing “on her own” and Jane just being concerned at Luisa’s weeping. Luisa doesn’t take long to realize her mistake, as in…she walks into exam room 7 to find Petra just machinating all over the place w/r/t Raf’s sole sperm donation. She reacts not by immediately calling Jane back in, but rather by calling her he ex-friend/ex-lover, who is an ex-lawyer, to ask for the advice of “don’t say anything.” The chance of the sample taking is only 20%, after all, and Dr. Alver already is on probation (WHAT?), so best not risk losing her license.
As helpful Pushing Daisies narrator informs us, this will end up being the biggest mistake of Luisa’s life, asking for her ex-everything’s advice.
Jane’s dad, the telenovela star
Who Xiomara saw on tv for the first time 16 months ago…and took all 16 months to respond to the letter she wrote him.
As his fictional self, he appears as a hallucination to Jane in her moments of anxiety to help calm her down:
…And that’s our cast!
As far as the arcs that rundown didn’t catch, the big one is Jane’s reaction to the news of the pregnancy, and how it changes her relationship with every single person in her life. She learns that her grandmother, not her mother, was the one who wanted Xiomara to get an abortion, and that it was Xiomara who always wanted to keep her—Xiomara just let Jane think the reverse so that she didn’t think poorly of Alba. Also, she wanted Jane to know she has a choice, which is important, in Xiomara’s mind. Michael’s reaction to the situation is probably more instructive than Jane is taking it as, as is Raf’s. Raf’s wanting the baby (brought on by his post-cancer transformation/growth) is understandable, as is Jane’s not wanting it, even though she knows that it’s mostly selfish. But she also realizes, as she tells Raf when he calls her down at work to talk to her about this (abuse of power?), that her mom’s decision to have her derailed Xiomara’s life, regardless of how much Xiomara loved her at the same time, and Jane doesn’t want any baby she has to ever have to have that same feeling. Which I ALSO understand.
Raf and Jane take very different things away from this conversation: Raf takes away the certainty that he wants a divorce from Petra in order to have this kid. Jane takes away the certainty that Raf meant he AND Petra would be raising the baby. Petra takes away the idea that this miscommunication is her ticket to the big pre-nup bucks. Michael takes away the idea that Jane won’t have anything to do with the baby after it’s born.
SO MANY CROSSED LINES.
That’s not it, but we don’t have all day. So what are your thoughts, Janesters? (Cheesies? Virgins?) Leave ’em in the comments! I’ll see you all, and all of Miami, back here next week.
About the Contributor:
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. A Wyoming expat, she now lives in Maryland, where she runs the DC chapter of the FYA Book Club. She can be found talking about Teen TV on Twitter, and her longform criticism can be found on Authory.