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The Jane the Virgin Season Premiere Breathes New Life Into the Most Clichéd Soap-Opera Twist

Brett Dier as Michael Cordero in Jane the Virgin.
Brett Dier as Michael Cordero in Jane the Virgin. Or is it? The CW

This post contains spoilers for the Season 5 premiere of Jane the Virgin.

Jane the Virgin’s Season 4 finale ended with a revelation that has been called “jaw-dropping,” “heart-stopping,” and “the most shocking TV twist ever.” I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the reappearance of presumed-dead Michael Cordero (Brett Dier) was certainly one of Jane the Virgin’s boldest surprises to date. Michael’s death midway through Season 3 changed the tenor of the drama, triggering a years-long time jump and eventually driving Jane (Gina Rodriguez) into the arms of her baby daddy, Rafael (Justin Baldoni). Now everything has changed again.

Rafael does the honor of explaining Michael’s return just a few minutes into the Season 5 premiere: “He has amnesia.” Well, of course he does! Amnesia is a classic soap-opera and telenovela trope, where a bonk on the head can change a character’s identity and open up brand new dramatic avenues for the writers—in the case of Jane the Virgin, potentially reconfiguring the show’s central love triangle. Even if you ignore all of the clues leading up to Michael’s reappearance, the plot device is so predictable and cliché that it should have us rolling our eyes.

Except that Jane the Virgin thrives on clichés, and if you’re most concerned with the logistics of the twist—how did Michael get amnesia, why did everyone believe he was dead, what the heck has he been doing for four years—then the show is rolling its eyes at you. Literally. We learn most of those logistics in a flashback, where the imprisoned crime lord Rose breezes through the explanation: She used a toxin to slow Michael’s heart rate, sent in her own EMT drivers, then blackmailed or bribed or otherwise “incentivized” the coroner to fake the death certificate. As for the amnesia, “electroshock therapy focused on the hippocampus and temporal lobe,” she explains dismissively, eyes drifting skyward. Who cares? He’s back!

It’s Michael himself—sorry, “Jason,” named after Jason Bourne—who fills in the other blanks. “Four years ago, I woke up in a field in Montana with no memories,” he tells Jane, speaking in a slow, decidedly un-Michael drawl. “Some lady was there, said I should start over. The lady said that I was in a whole lotta trouble, so I didn’t know if I was a good guy or a bad guy.” There’s no faking it, either, since Rafael got a DNA test. This isn’t a long-lost twin or some stranger in a hyper-realistic mask. This is Michael. But it’s also not Michael.

Jane the Virgin usually sells its most absurd plot twists by grounding them in real emotions, and that’s exactly what it does here, even as the writers get hand-wavy about the plot mechanics. (“There’s so much we don’t know about the brain, it’s really not an exact science,” says the neurologist they visit.) To pull off the twist requires full commitment from the entire cast: Dier playing “Jason” as an entirely different person who can’t meet Jane’s gaze, Baldoni playing Rafael as quietly supportive even as the character’s entire future with Jane is thrown into jeopardy, Jaime Camil playing Rogelio as gleeful at the unlikely resurrection of his best friend—and so self-deluded he believes the sight of him will bring Michael’s memory back.

It’s Rodriguez, though, who gives her best performance to date in this episode, delivering a seven-minute near-monologue in which Jane cycles through every conceivable emotion—sadness at being forgotten, anger at “Jason” even as she realizes that it’s not his fault, confusion about whether this means she’s still a widow or still married or something else—spiraling out while insisting, repeatedly, that she’s fine. She acts as a kind of mouthpiece for the writers—which she is, in a way, as the one telling the story. “What is the story even about now?” she asks her mother and grandmother, listing all the crazy things that have happened in her life, including her husband’s sudden death. “Obviously, that is a very easy detail to just change on the screen. And then my husband died—delete delete delete, done. Delete delete delete, not a widow.”

As that mouthpiece, Jane more than anyone else acknowledges the absurdity of the amnesia twist, bitterly joking that she can just join the “My Husband Came Back from the Dead” support group. Recognizing how ridiculous it is to pull the amnesia card is what allows the show to transcend it: Being a widow has become a key part of Jane’s identity as a character, and that can’t be waved away the same way the exact details of Michael’s condition can. Just like the twist of Michael’s reappearance, the news that he lost his memory and has a new identity doesn’t delete anything that has come before. It just casts it in a different light.