Network television tends to encourage stasis, but Jane the Virgin has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to evolve, change course, even completely and permanently upend its world. Its third season, which concluded Monday night, was its most ambitious in that regard, opening with a string of episodes of domestic bliss before cutting it short with the cruelest twist imaginable. This comforting, well-executed story about early parenthood and marriage took a sharp turn into much darker territory—that of grief and loss—as the show began its account of moving on from tragedy, with Jane (Gina Rodriguez) its mourning subject.
For all of Jane’s wild machinations—the genre blends, the dense plotting, the delightfully meta humor—the show hadn’t yet tested its small but loyal audience with such a seismic shakeup. The death of Michael (Brett Dier), Jane’s newlywed, forced showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman into a corner, to either deal with the unbearable shock of the immediate aftermath or jump ahead in time for a kind of reset. Understandably, she chose the latter. But Jane’s three-year fast-forward wasn’t without its consequences, rushing to resolve storylines that preceded Michael’s passing and struggling to regain the momentum that the show would typically feed off of at midseason. Supporting players’ storylines felt especially superfluous as we watched Jane, still reeling from her loss, grieve while trying to move forward. Michael’s ghost hovered even more than the show cared to admit.
Right through to the end, Season 3 was messy—Jane the Virgin’s least consistent so far, a sign both of the wear of a 20-plus episode season and of its admirable but risky gambit to upend the status quo. But in the realm of character, it created thrilling new opportunities. Most emphatically, this was the case with Jane: Losing the love of her life meant freeing her up to parts of herself and the world she’d contently ignored, and the show took full advantage.
What made Jane such a fascinating TV character, initially, was her emotional stability; early on, Jane would often play the parent in her relationship with her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), and patiently take in the hijinx occurring around her. This was also reflected in her notion of romance: Her fascination with “meant to be” led to the show’s central love triangle, but her sturdy sense of self and commitment to life-planning kept her on the straight and narrow. From the outset, the show smartly introduced Jane to the complexities of life without rendering her cynical. Amid the inevitable bumps, she was rising as a novelist and helping her parents navigate their complicated connection; eventually, she wound up with Michael, as was destined, and saved her virginity for him post-marriage, as she’d hoped to. That last point made for one of Season 3’s best episodes, in fact, precisely because of the way it deconstructed the myth of the “first time” before genuinely observing Jane and Michael’s connection on a sexual level.
Through all of the twists life threw at Jane, however—her newborn was also kidnapped and she was tangentially involved in multiple high-profile murders—she remained the same forward-thinking beacon of stability. Michael’s death was the breaking point. It couldn’t be made sense of, couldn’t be easily moved on from.
The time jump allowed Jane, for better or worse, to sidestep those years of intense sadness. The rest of the season was spent with the character in her least comfortable space: shaken, a little jaded, and without a clear picture of her own future. Urman developed Jane’s always-fraught relationship with Petra (Yael Grobglas) into one of mutual dependency, as for the first time, we saw Jane lean on someone beyond her loved ones for emotional support. Their unexpected intraparental dynamic—Petra emerging, against all odds, as a supermom; Jane struggling to tame her mischevious toddler—further tossed Jane into uncharted territory as the parent of the “problem child.” Importantly, the new circumstances forced her to work through some ugly feelings—simmering resentment toward Petra, hopelessness as a parent—with a conflict as gimmicky as a Room Mom election beginning spitefully but ending on touching notes of small personal growth.
The absence of Michael and the distance of his death created space for Jane to consider what she wanted, in ways she previously couldn’t have. Her sudden urge to start a fling—to get flirty and have sex with no strings attached—led to a hilarious, illuminating dalliance with Fabian (Francisco San Martin), Rogelio’s (Jaime Camil) hunky but ditzy co-star. Once he developed real love for Jane, she again faced a reverse dynamic—this time as the nonclingy one, the relationship half hoping to disregard feelings for pleasure. It was not only invigorating to see Jane so newly adventurous and confident in her sexuality—the show also interrogated her dismissal of Fabian, judgmental in how she’d write him off. As with Petra, she acted out—from a place of reason and relatability, certainly, but with less-than-wholesome intentions nonetheless. The untied Jane of Season 3 remained smart, caring, and family-oriented, but that lack of structure—that lack of a “plan”—brought her flaws to the fore. It only made her more human. It was thrilling to watch.
The show nodded to this in the episodes following Jane’s first time with Michael, as episodic title cards began coyly replacing the word virgin with descriptions better suited to the action. (As she pined for Fabian, she was “Jane the Horndog.”) It was a conscious reminder that Jane the Virgin was, along with its protagonist, breaking out of patterns and venturing into new areas. For the show, this meant a clunkier mix of telenovela drama, magical realism, and slapstick comedy. But it also meant a more nuanced, less sanitized treatment of its central character.
Urman returned to familiar motifs in the Season 3 finale, with another baby on the way and another long-awaited wedding as its centerpiece. In many ways, after the unsteady ride that preceded it, the episode brought the show back to its unabashedly romantic roots, theming fate and chance, with Jane seemingly stuck in another steamy love triangle. But it departed from the typical script. Michael’s ghost returned after the discovery of a long-lost love letter, interrupting the budding Jane-Rafael romance, and Jane was playing the role of facilitator by officiating her parents’ wedding, a union marking a lifetime of ups and downs. The show’s fairytale construct remained intact, but its swirling elements had turned more complex, less straightforward. The dream ending wasn’t something to plan for anymore; it was something to plan around. True love wasn’t worth waiting for. Against the image of Xo and Ro sharing vows, it became something worth fighting for.