Michael’s Return From the Dead Brings ‘Jane the Virgin’ Back to Its Novela Roots

Photo by Jesse Giddings/The CW


Jane the Virgin Recap: Season 5, Episode 1, “Chapter Eighty-Two”

I have to be honest with you, when Jane the Virgin ended it’s fourth season with the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers – that Jane Villanueva’s first love and husband, Michael, was in fact alive all these years after his on-screen death – I was pissed. In the days following its airing, as critics fawned over the episode, it became pretty clear that I was in a vocal minority. It wasn’t just that I was never fully #TeamMichael to begin with. (Yet another unpopular opinion, though I’d be the first to agree that their wedding was nothing short of spectacular.) It wasn’t just because I was very much over the love triangle that Jane the Virgin had forced its protagonist in between Michael and Rafael. I was angry because bringing Michael back from the dead threatened to undo all of the hard emotional growth that Jane put in over the previous season and a half (or roughly five years, in narrative time.)

I couldn’t wrap my head around why series showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman had us watch the forever plucky Jane plummet to her own rock bottom, and claw her way back from depression, if the plan was always to bring Michael back? To me, bringing him back felt like a disservice to Jane and to viewers at home, who each had their own personal journeys fighting their way back from grief.

Friends, (please imagine that I’m saying this in the off-screen voice of our beloved narrator) I was terribly wrong to have ever doubted Jane the Virgin. You see, I forgot two crucial facts. First, nobody else on U.S. television handles a telenovela twist quite like Jane the Virgin. Second, in the aftermath of those twists, this show has proven itself to be uniquely capable of addressing the long-term ramifications of trauma.

Michael’s return sits itself square in the middle of those intersections. His presumed death and subsequent return was orchestrated by none other than Rose (a.k.a. Sin Rostro), Jane the Virgin’s resident villain. We learn that she had the former cop poisoned to slow his heart rate and then bribed a medical professional to declare him dead. She then had Michael (he goes by Jason now, after Jason Bourne) tortured with electroshock therapy until all of his memory was zapped. He has full-on amnesia and no memory of Jane, his family, or his former life.

It’s a genius narrative move. Not only does this bring Sin Rostro back into the show’s central fold as we embark on Jane’s final season (hand me a box of Kleenex because I am so not ready), it also returns us to the show’s central themes. Jane the Virgin began its journey as the story of a young romantic Latina forced to discover her inner strength following a traumatic incident outside of her control (her unknowing pregnancy via an accidental artificial insemination). Here we are, five seasons later, and now a not-so-young romantic Latina (one of the premiere episode’s running jokes is how many people call the 29-year-old Jane “ma’am” much to her chagrin) is once again compelled to find herself after the unspeakable happens. If you thought a surprise pregnancy was beyond imagination, Ha! Try a not-dead husband!

Maybe the circumstances are a bit different, and the tone is more somber with five years of age and intimacy to pull from, but this final season sets the stage by returning Jane to its roots. Most striking is that, much like the first season where Jane’s pregnancy affects everyone around her, Michael’s return sends each member of the family into a spiral as they grapple with their surprise and grief. Much of this is expected, but nonetheless exquisitely acted and written. Some of it comes with unexpected character pairings: Rogelio and Rafael? It’s a bromance I didn’t know I needed! All of it swirls around Gina Rodriguez, who has never met a laugh beat or cry that she couldn’t nail. Her skill is proven unparalleled when Jane goes through a manic breakdown at the episode’s halfway point that clocks in at almost eight minutes of a single take and which, it should be noted, she also directed. My jaw was on the floor. It’s a tour de force. And if this is what we have to look forward to in Jane’s final year, strap me in now!

I say that Michael’s return touches everyone intimately, but there’s one exception to that rule: Petra Solano, who’s grappling with the terms of her own heartbreak. JR (a.k.a. Jane Ramos), played by Rosario Dawson, the attorney who helped Petra beat a murder charge last season and was also the loving catalyst for Petra’s bisexual coming out – has left her girlfriend. Petra and JR set my beating heart aflame last year and I really hope this isn’t the end of them. If it is, I know that the rest of the Villanuevas will have Petra’s back. It’s what familia does, after all.

Jane the Virgin airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on The CW.