Dissecting the Latest 'Jane the Virgin' Plot Twist
*Note: major spoilers ahead for the Season 4 finale of Jane the Virgin*
The Season 4 finale had all the twists and turns of a classic Jane the Virgin episode, but it was the big reveal in the episode’s final minute that has everything (and everyone) all shook up: Michael, Jane’s ex-husband who has been dead for four years, is seemingly alive.
(I say ‘seemingly’ because I’m not fully convinced that it is actually Michael, but I’ll get to that in a moment.)
Reactions of fans on the internet ranged from shock to outrage to utter glee; for myself, the initial reaction was numb disbelief which slid quickly into anger the longer I thought about it.
No matter which way I cut it, I just can’t see this having been a good decision on the part of the Jane writers (while acknowledging that “return from the dead” is a classic telenovela trope, which certainly plays a role in its inclusion here). Here’s why:
Let’s start with Jane. It took her three years to move past Michael’s death enough to fall in love again; only two episodes ago, Jane admitted that she had forgotten about the anniversary of Michael’s death for the first time since it happened. She’s made peace with his death, accepted that she will always love him but that it’s not unfaithful for her to fall in love with someone else. She’s ready to move forward in her life with Rafael, move in with him and get married to him, and the return of Michael (even if it’s not really Michael) is bound to bring a plethora of confusing feelings bubbling to the surface.
And what about Raf? Rafael has been through more on this show than anyone; every time the writers feel the need to throw in a plot twist, more often than not Rafael ends up being at the crux of it. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Had prostate cancer and lost the ability to have children.
His wife cheats on him with his best friend.
His best friend is murdered in his hotel.
He was constantly a source of disappointment for his father.
A girl he’s only met once before ends up artificially inseminated with (what he believes is) his last remaining sperm sample.
His father dies.
He learns that his stepmother murdered his father and is the head of a crime syndicate.
His wife accuses him of domestic abuse in a ploy to stop him from divorcing her.
His wife uses his actual last remaining semen sample to artificially inseminate herself without telling him, giving him two more children he never asked for but whom he loves regardless.
He meets his mother and half-brother, and later learns that his mother is also the head of a crime organization that his brother is working for.
The girl he’s in love with chooses a man he hates (and whom he views as a threat to his son) over him.
He spends nine months in jail.
He finds out that neither his father nor his mother are actually his birth parents and that he has no claim to the hotel he inherited.
His vindictive sister takes his hotel shares away from him, leaving him with nothing to his name.
His ex-stepmother tells him that the dead ex-husband of the girl he’s in love with and whom he plans to marry is still alive.
Raf spends much of this episode withdrawn back into the dark place he goes to when things spiral out of his control, and for once I can’t blame him. Two episodes ago, his insecurities over being Jane’s second choice come to the surface again when she tells him she loves him and then immediately starts writing about Michael. Whether he is actually a second choice is a question that’s impossible for Jane to answer, because her first choice died.
If Michael hadn’t died, he and Jane would likely still be married and happy, but that doesn’t impact how much she loves Rafael now. Or does it, if it turns out that Michael isn’t dead after all? All episode, we see Rafael struggling to tell Jane this new bit of information, knowing that once he does, he might lose her. After Jane tells Raf how much she loves him, how he’s it for her, he gathers the strength to tell her about Michael but you can still see, in the moments before the reveal, how scared he is.
All Rafael has ever wanted was a family, because he never had one of his own. And now he’s found one with the Villanuevas (Alba even calls him “mi hijo” in this episode); he’s planning on marrying the girl who also happens to be the mother of his son, and everything's falling into place. Until now.
So what exactly are the writers’ intentions with this? Bringing back Michael is guaranteed to also bring back the horrid love triangle of Season 2, in which Jane is forced to choose between two men she loves. Whatever choice she makes seems bound to be the wrong one: after the setup from the past couple of episodes, where Rafael comes to terms with his residual insecurity over Jane choosing Michael over him all those years ago, it seems that this may be a practical test based on that hypothetical. If given a true choice, will Jane still choose Raf? How certain is she in her conviction that he’s the one for her?
In that sense, I can see this being the final hurdle on the road to #JafaelEndgame. Michael’s ghost would always linger with some unanswered questions between Jane and Rafael, and here is their chance to answer them head on and feel secure in their love for each other. If that’s the case, the road next season will no doubt be winding and bumpy (I said in our review of 4x08 "Chapter Seventy-Two", when Jane and Rafael kissed for the first time, that I by no means expected it to be smooth, since this is a telenovela) but would ultimately have a satisfying conclusion.
But there are hordes of Michael fans (and Jane/Michael shippers) out there who, like Jane, finally started to move on after Michael’s death and who, like Jane, are now having all those wounds reopened. To bring Michael back as a plot device to push Jane and Rafael closer together seems hardly fair to those fans and would doubtless result in an online uproar to match the one that occurred when Michael was killed off in Season 3.
What if Jane chooses Michael again? I hate that that’s even a possibility, this late in the game — such a choice would essentially erase the progress of the last three seasons and last five years of canon, bringing us back to the emotional stakes of Season 2. Such a choice would break Rafael’s heart, again, and steal away from him everything he’s worked so hard for in the wake of losing his hotel and finding out the truth about his parents. I can’t bear the thought of this story ending on such a sad note for Rafael, after all he’s been through since the beginning. He deserves his happy ending, just as much as Jane does.
That’s assuming Jane forgives Michael, for leaving her to deal with that grief in the aftermath of his death, grief that took her three years to learn how to live around. I’m not sure what explanation he can give for faking his death and disappearing for four years, only to return now, when Jane is happy with someone else.
Which brings us to the final possibility: that Michael isn’t Michael at all. This was my first thought when they first revealed his return, although I’ll admit that that might be as much denial over him coming back as anything. But this is a telenovela, and things are rarely as they seem: could Michael also have a long-lost twin, à la the Petra/Anezka storyline? Could this be the result of one of Rose’s plastic surgeons, giving someone else Michael’s face? How could Rose, in prison, come to learn of Michael’s survival, anyway? Which body did they bury? Would Jane not have seen Michael’s body after he died, either at the funeral or before that? After all, it’s not like there wasn’t a body for her to see; Michael died of a heart attack in the middle of an examination hall packed with students, so the classic “no body, no proof of death” thing doesn’t really work here.
I must say that this possibility appeals most to me, because it would allow them to wrap up this twist quickly (even as soon as the first episode of Season 5) while dealing with the minimum amount of emotional fallout. But even this seems hardly fair to Michael, “Cordueva” (the portmanteau for Jane/Michael), Rafael, or “Jafael” fans alike. It’s dredging up feelings that I thought, like Michael, had long been buried.
As someone who loves Jane and Rafael, both as individual characters and together, I dread what this knowledge will do to their emotional wellbeing. I’m scared of the impact it will have on their relationship. And on their son, who is absolutely thrilled to have his parents together. I’m apprehensive of the possibility of yet another love triangle; I hate love triangles with every fibre of my being and find that they’re usually the result of lazy writing and a cheap plot device.
All in all, I find myself more anxious of what’s to come in Season 5 than excited, which is not the feeling a season finale should ideally leave one with.
Asked about how this plot twist would play out into the show’s fifth (and confirmed final) season, showrunner and executive producer Jennie Urman only cryptically said, “There will be a wedding.”
I know whose I want it to be.