Jane the Virgin Recap: Season 3, Episode 17 “Chapter Sixty-One”

This season of Jane the Virgin has been erratic, to say the least. In the wake of Michael’s sudden departure the show has done a hard reset that’s taken awhile to find its footing. Last week saw the show finally return to form and this week, in “Chapter Sixty-One” things take a turn for the political. I asked why the show shied away from looking at white privilege and Jane and Petra’s socioeconomic disparities, but “Chapter Sixty-One” was a return to what its writers do best: delicately weave together storylines that make us laugh, cry, and take on current social issues into a complex piece proving their television mastery.

The Villanueva women are living in the world of Trump. Jane says the family’s only able to read newspaper for 15 minutes a day and never alone. Alba (Ivonne Coll) took center stage this week as she struggled to figure out whether she wanted to become a political activist and march for immigration. Audiences are aware of Alba’s struggles as a formerly undocumented immigrant. She was even threatened with deportation in the first season. She’s finally a green card holder, but that hadn’t previously translated into working to help undocumented people on a grander scale.

In a scene that painfully mimics countless viral videos on YouTube, Alba witnesses a white woman demand a woman speaking Spanish to learn English because, “this is America.” Surprising at first, mainly because of how politically neutral the series has mostly been this season, the scene feels far too real. (Again, you can find real-life videos of these same exact encounters on YouTube.) Alba grappled with remaining silent during the encounter and being surprised it was happening at all, but also fearing retaliation – she brings up ICE raids at one point. Alba’s always been the bridge between the older, traditional world clashing with the new generation, but the past and the present finally collided. As she recited the preamble to the Constitution – something Jane admitted most native Americans probably can’t recite – Alba illustrated that our “more perfect union” is anything but.

This week’s episode focused on revisiting the past and doing something new with Jane and Lina’s (Diane Guerrero) reunion, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) and Rogelio (Jaime Camil) deciding to go straight to marriage and Alba being the one to hear about someone’s undocumented status. Her new boyfriend Jorge (Alfonso DiLuca) is adamantly against marching because he’s undocumented. Unlike Alba, who isolated herself because of her undocumented status, Jorge keeps a low profile while trying to make a life for himself. Alba doesn’t give him a speech about the benefits of being a citizen, or excoriate him for not being one; it’s a sad fact of life that he isn’t, and that the country doesn’t give him opportunities to change that.

All of this culminated with one of the episode’s – and maybe the season’s – best moments. Little Mateo, proving that children hear everything no matter how much you try to shield them, asks his parents why “people don’t want Bisa in this country?” How does one respond to a 5-year-old about this? Jane, aided by Gina Rodriguez’s continued sensitivity in the role, solidly presented things to him in a way he’d understand, that still pointed out how wrong prejudice is.

Jane the Virgin really needed to tackle this topic. After watching how One Day at a Time looked at immigration and deportation in the sitcom world, Jane the Virgin threatened to become a passé fantasy that actively avoided bringing up anything unpleasant. It’s a fact that show creator Jenni Snyder-Urman acknowledged during a “For Your Consideration” discussion in April. “We feel a responsibility to react to this Presidency,” she said.

The show’s striven to present three strong Latina women with all the trappings of the American Dream: a house, successful jobs, happy kids, but with the added benefit of being an immigrant story. This episode brought all of that. And kudos for finally bringing by Diane Guerrero, subtly enhancing the show’s immigration storyline. (Guerrero saw her real-life parents deported back to their native Colombia, leaving her as a teenager to make it on her own.) Snyder-Urman says more immigration stories will be tackled, though it’s unknown whether she means in the remaining three episodes or just in general. Either way, “Chapter Sixty-One” was classic Jane the Virgin that will leave you thinking about the world we’re living in.