For a show that’s a sort of telenovela that also features telenovelas—which means there’s a lot going on all the time—the writers of Jane the Virgin have done a remarkable job with pacing. That they’ve managed to keep their tone both light and touching, while hitting on a mix of current stories (the Women’s March, immigration) and age-old struggles (how to deal with the death of a loved one, parenting struggles) makes their work all the more impressive.
Though time shifts have become relatively popular in our increasingly full-up world of television, Season 3 of Jane the Virgin has made ample use of theirs. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I thought Michael was a lackluster character (one dropped storyline from Season 1 involved his shady brother/past, and has frustratingly never been followed up on), so while he didn’t mean much to me, watching Jane’s life unfold three years after it has turned out to mean much more. Through brief but helpful flashbacks, we regularly see how she suffered during the time we missed, while she was more actively grieving Michael, providing a perspective we don’t get in our own lives because we’re able to compare it to how she’s doing now. You can truly see her progress, and not in a hackneyed way.
That struggle has been particularly well-explored in the show’s most recent two episodes, particularly in Jane’s conversations with Alba, her grandmother, and Lina, her best friend whom we haven’t seen much of recently. During last week’s episode, we saw Jane grapple with wanting her book to be a success but not wanting to reveal too much of her frankly insane personal life, particularly, Michael’s death, which still feels raw to her, despite the strides she’s made. She’s bonding with Alba in a way that’s particularly moving, as the two women have both been in the position of losing their life partner. During one scene, Alba advises Jane that talking about Michael will get easier for her over time, but tells her, “you’re in a long-term relationship with grief.”
“And it’s okay to keep letting go,” Alba continues. “You have to.”
And in Monday night’s episode, Jane has a similarly real conversation with Lina. Instead of pretending there’s a simple reason for Lina’s absence, Jane the Virgin addresses it: that the characters have a shared history but are very different people, which has resulted in them drifting apart. Even more so, Jane’s grief made it hard for her to trust Lina and others, and changed her relationships with people who were once friends. In Jane’s memory of things, Lina pulled away after Michael’s death and didn’t call. In Lina’s, she tried to be there but Jane lashed out and she felt like she should pull back. As usual, Jane the Virgin could have verged into afterschool special territory, but instead explored the isolation of grief, and how it can change dynamics that once seemed sturdy. “I really didn’t know how to be upset around you in a regular way, or happy around you,” Lina says, “and I really wanted to be happy. I’d waited so long for my life to click together, and finally it was.”
These are hardly isolated moments; there have also been interesting scenes involving Jane and Michael’s former partner on the force, with whom she has a complicated dynamic. While Jane the Virgin has made one of its calling cards a deft handling of topics television shows rarely explore well, the time and patience they’re taking with this one is just another reason it’s one of the best shows around.