“Jane the Virgin’s” midseason finale had it all: Drama! Romance! Lessons in cinematography and plot structure! Bunches of Honey Bunches of Oats! A cliffhanger worthy of the heaviest of dun-dun-duuuuuuuuuns!
But between the intrigue, the jokes, and the particularly omniscient meta-meta-narration, the episode slipped in a go-for-chips-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that, for just a second, laid bare the bones of one of the show’s key but often overlooked elements: Its relationship with religion.
Unsurprisingly, it all begins with Alba. In pointing out that Jane hasn’t come to Mass recently, and sighing that Mateo simply might not have God in his life, she unwittingly triggers uneasiness in Jane which reads most easily as guilt: That she is being a bad Catholic, that she’s being a bad mother… Classic stuff.
But “Jane” is best when its characters get so caught up in their own momentum that they accidentally blurt out the truth, arriving at revelations in true dramatic form. Jane, desperately trying to distract a nun for Rafael/Marbella plot reasons, finally talks herself into recognizing the source of her guilt: Still shaken over nearly losing Michael, she’s furious with God — and frightened by the possibility of His absence.
Despite being a show full of spectacle, and which clearly adores absurdity, “Jane the Virgin” has always masterfully handled the subtleties of its characters, rooting them in lived experience and culture, helping us along when we don’t get every reference. Jane isn’t simply angry –she’s frightened and conflicted. Usually so certain, her fears are compounded by a sense of doubt. Her tearful question to a sympathetic nun — how could He let this happen? — is a familiar refrain to anyone who has ever questioned how an omnipotent power could allow the terrible things which happen in the world.
So far, “Jane the Virgin” has tackled abortion, class issues, sexual stigma, and a host of other constructs in the pursuit of storytelling — all the while, somehow serving as an example of “soft” dramedy to casual viewers. With so many angles to dissect, it’s easy to forget the core around which the rest of the show is built: Jane wasn’t a virgin simply because she chose not to have sex. She wasn’t even a virgin because Alba told her to be one until she was married: She was a virgin because she believed that was what her God wanted from her.
Jane’s relationship with God and religion is rooted not only in her family and culture, but in the choices she makes every day. Her religion informs her sense of self. Because she’s religious, she can be righteous — something we’ve always known about her, but which was put into words for us during a fight with Rafael about (of course) bringing Mateo to church:
“…Maybe if you went to church,” Jane spits at Rafael, “You would know right from wrong.”
Raf (bless ‘im), is obviously still struggling with those definitions. They’ve never been as clear-cut for him as they were for Jane… Though to be fair, he was raised by a crime lord. Still, he never had his feet kicked out from under him the way Jane did, either. It’s hard to lose faith if you’ve never had any.
Now that the rose-colored glasses of romance have fallen from his eyes, and without having a religious background himself, he’s finding it harder and harder to swallow Jane’s self-appointed role as arbiter of right and wrong, a role she’s had since childhood. It’s easy to be amused by young Jane’s exasperated ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ attitude towards her mother in flashbacks — much harder to remember that her attitude isn’t based entirely in good sense and practicality, no matter how many times the Narrator reminds us that Jane loves lists.
“Jane the Virgin” has presented a multifaceted, sophisticated, cosmopolitan view of religion since the pilot. It isn’t a punchline, it isn’t a gospel: It is a quiet and undeniable undercurrent, occasionally surfacing in the actions and choices of the characters, part of life for more people than not. It is critiqued and challenged — and championed — often without the words “religion” or “God” even being spoken aloud.
The lead-up to Jane’s confession extends far past this particular episode: It has roots in her visit to the hospital chapel during the season premiere, and waved a warning flag as, post-wedding, Jane struggled with losing her identity and special relationship with God along with her virginity — arguably, it reaches past the story itself, all back to the moment when we first meet Jane Gloriana Villanueva as a girl, untouched, perfect flower in her hand.
“Jane the Virgin” returns to the CW Monday, Dec. 19.