It seems a shame that I should encounter “Jane the Virgin” in all its quirky, ambitious, pastel-coated glory and be made horribly, unspeakably angry. But that’s how the show’s last seven or so episodes have left me feeling. Not through any fault of their own — “Jane the Virgin” is the same formally interesting gem it has always been: sweet but caustic, a great lofty experiment in how many things a character can be and feel and say at once. What makes me mad is not how much the show is giving us, but how little it is getting in return.
There are subreddits of men who have devoted their lives to close reading the, oh I don’t know, four-hour, seven-minute mark of the fifth episode of “Westworld,” a show so prestige-desperate and enamored of its own muddy mythology that it forgot to be even nominally watchable. Alec Baldwin — yes, Alec Baldwin — won an Emmy last year for his Donald Trump portrayal on “Saturday Night Live” because, hey, it’s Alec Baldwin, and he’s in an oversized suit and a silly wig and isn’t it nice when political commentary is actually neither political nor commentary but instead some sort of feckless lookalike contest?
With contemporaries like these, how could one not be angered by “Jane the Virgin”’s perennial Emmy snubbing? The show’s only two nominations have been for its terrific narrator, Anthony Mendez (who lost both times to PBS documentaries). There are a few likely reasons for this failure. First, of course, the show is unmistakably feminine. Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez, “Carmen Sandiego”), the ebullient dreamer at the heart of it all, wears sundresses and writes romance novels and gabs with her mom and abuela. The show itself is both a love letter to and a subversion of the telenovela, an ostensibly feminine form. It also boasts a majority-minority cast. On “Jane the Virgin,” Latinx persons are not merely included, they’re centered. And perhaps the ultimate nail in the awards coffin — it’s on The CW, which is more a running joke than it is a television network. If the agreed upon formula for acclaim is to tell a story of the angst of men and to do it on an angsty network for angsty men, “Jane the Virgin” is probably not winning anything any time soon.
Or at least, this is what I had resigned myself to thinking. But then the fifth and final season premiered, and you know what? This time, I think they can do it. Gina Rodriguez delivers a one-shot, seven-minute monologue so disarming, so stunning and so conspicuous that it’s inconceivable that something this good could just slip under the Academy’s radar. If it does go unnoticed? Move to Neptune, become a cord-cutter, burn everything down, nothing matters.
The monologue in question is Jane’s loopy, anguished response to (big spoiler!) the reappearance of her presumed-dead husband, Michael (Brett Dier, “Bomb Girls”). Following his death in the third season, Jane has spent four years grieving and figuring out how to move on from tragedy with grace, professionally, personally and romantically. It seemed, toward the end of the fourth season, that everything was falling into place for Jane. She’d had an epic breakthrough in writing her novel. Her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo, “Law & Order”), had weathered cancer. Rafael (Justin Baldoni, “Everwood”), the father of her son, was planning to propose. In hindsight, it was only natural that the show would throw a wrench into all of that. And, oh, what a wrench.
Michael has been very much alive this whole time, his “death” orchestrated by the nefarious crime lord Sin Rostro (Bridget Regan, “The Last Ship”). But wait, there’s more! “Jane the Virgin” has checked off the final telenovela trope box by afflicting him with amnesia; he has no recollection of his previous life, and most distressingly, no recollection of Jane. He now goes by Jason, calls Jane “Ma’am” in a slow, unaffected drawl (much to Jane’s consternation) and is without his once-signature sense of humor.
“Jane the Virgin,” as its title cheekily hints, has always been about labels and living within the confines of those labels. At different points in her life, we’ve seen Jane struggle with what it means to be a mother, a virgin, a writer, a wife and now a widow. The real agony of Michael’s return lies in the very fragile peace Jane has made with her life since his death. If Michael’s memory comes back (which seems like it will be the case), where will that leave Jane? Or Jane and Rafael? Or Jane and Michael? What the show’s exciting challenge will be now — one it will surely pull off with aplomb — is to take the wacky situation it has engineered and to imbue it with the lived-in authenticity that makes “Jane the Virgin” truly special.