Well, Season 3’s beginning certainly put to rest any lingering #TeamRafael feelings we were ever meant to have. Let’s take a moment of silence for what could have been…
..And now, the grieving period is over.
Because Rafael Solano (Justin Baldoni) is way better off as a solo agent! Let us tell you why, in three short arguments and one big question. It boils down to the fact that Rafael is fantastic and shouldn’t be relegated to any of the roles that a lesser show might shove on a spurned bio-dad.
1. He gets to do his own thing for the first time.
The most surprisingly funny moment in the Oct. 24 episode (“Chapter Forty-four,” the daycare one) was when Rafael, free of his love shackles (“Love Shackles” is also the name of my B-52’s cover band), giddily informed Jane that he gets to do what he wants, now — not just what he thinks will make her happy! As if Rafael has had a chance to act under his own agency in… Well, ever!
Here’s a short list of the people who have explicitly — and often concurrently — manipulated Rafael Solano, starting before we ever even met our bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold (and abs of steel):
- Petra (Yael Grobglas), on the daily
- Roman Zazo (Alano Miller), a Miami con artist anyone could spot from a mile away
- Papa Emilio (Carlo Rota), especially from beyond the grave
- Sin Rostro (Bridget Regan, spoiler alert)
- Magda (Priscilla Barnes), his hook-handed near-mother in law
- “Mutter” (Fabiana Udenio), who is the worst
- Michael (Brett Dier), who should have known better
- Jane (Gina Rodriguez), who actually does know better
- Aaron Zazo (also Alano Miller), an even worse version of his brother
- Luisa (Yara Martinez), usually by being a mess but occasionally on purpose
- Petra again, after giving decency a fair shot
- Derek (Mat Vairo) — a Scrappy Don’t in our opinion
- Sin Rostro again (Megan Ketch, double spoiler alert), still and always
- And now, Anezka-as-Petra (Yael Grobglas-as-Yael Grobglas) — not to mention her new backup,
- Wannabe blackmailer “Vests” (Wes Armstrong), who is apparently heterosexual.
Rafael has spent nearly every second of his onscreen life trying to make someone else happy, either because he cares for them, or because of the constant blackmail and extortion. The guy deserves a break!
(Or at least he needs to hang out with Rogelio more. Not because Ro won’t manipulate him — just that everyone should probably hang with Rogelio more.)
2. He’s actually way more interesting outside a love triangle.
It’s great when shows abandon the love triangles they start with. “Hart of Dixie” didn’t start getting good until they cut George Tucker loose, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” seems to be headed the same direction, and “Vampire Diaries” hasn’t yet met a love triangle it isn’t instantly itching to deconstruct from the moment it begins.
“Jane the Virgin” is all about point out, exploring, and subverting soap opera tropes — and this one is just done: Keeping it going after Jane married Michael would be lazy writing, and there’s nothing lazy about this show. While killing the love triangle might sadden the shippers, momentarily, it saves the show from death by boredom.
For so long, Rafael was ruled only by his love for Jane, even when — especially when — he claimed the opposite: Either way, playing out his childhood history of trying to impress his father, and get love where there is no love to get. If Rafael’s love for Jane came from what she represented to him — authenticity, roots, honesty; all the things his family and own life lack — then their relationship needed to transform him.
And that’s exactly what it did. While Rafael’s still gullible on occasion, and maybe a little vain, Jane and Mateo have opened his eyes to the wider world — that is, the vast number of people who are not Rafael — and now he can become something else: Someone better, most likely, than he would have become without them.
3. We don’t have to feel sorry for him anymore.
Well, of course we still can — but right up until the wedding Rafael was coming dangerously close to settling into simple “woobie” status: Rejection after rejection, mistake after mistake, all ending in those confused puppy-dog eyes that just say “But I tried so hard” that left us wishing we could just wrap him in a blanket, because he’s too precious for this world…
Which isn’t that interesting either. Giving us nothing but pity for Rafael diminishes a cool, complex character. We already have one Luisa — lovable trainwreck and desperate plot device — so it’s beyond exciting to imagine seeing him back on his feet and standing up for himself. Which leaves us with the question: He can act for himself, now. So what’s he gonna do? And how many ways can it go wrong?
At the tail end of Season 2, Rafael fell into an insider-trading trap so obvious — and again, all tied up with his need for love and approval from family, this time his random sketchy brother — that the show itself seemed to take a breath and decide to sweep it all under the rug.
But with Michael heading back into the search for Sin Rostro, possibly with vengeance in his future, and Petra seemingly moving on thanks to her impersonation by an evil twin, Rafael could find himself alone for the first time in a long time — exactly when Jane’s too busy to save him from himself…
“Jane the Virgin” airs Mondays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.