Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Jane The Virgin season 4 finale “Chapter Eighty-One.” As in the biggest Jane spoiler in history.
Michael Cordero Jr. (Brett Dier) is alive. Michael is alive. Everyone, say it with me, Michael is alive! Over four years of telenovela-flavored dramedy, Jane The Virgin has pulled off some unforgettable shocks (Looking at you, Rose). But, none of those moments can match the final seconds of tonight’s season 4 finale twist, which revealed Jane Villanueva’s (Gina Rodriguez) fan-favorite husband Michael didn’t actually die in that devastating season 3 twist, which sent shock waves through the series.
Michael’s return from death is the kind of surprise that, speaking from experience, makes a fan gasp so loudly their roommate assumes the only explanation is that the ceiling caved in. Yet, the presumed-dead would-be lawyer's Lazarus moment in season closer “Chapter Eighty-One” isn’t the peak of television shocks simply because it’s unexpected. It works thanks to a lot of careful narrative crafting. That’s why we needed Jane The Virgin creator Jennie Snyder Urman to tell us exactly how a series pulls off such a massive gut-punch of a twist, and how it plays into the series' endgame.
“I can’t watch it without gasping, and I’ve seen it at least 30 times,” the CW scribe admitted to Refinery29 over the phone.
The trick of the entire episode is that we’re lead to believe Rafael Solano (Justin Baldoni), now at the height of his relationship with heroine Jane after years of hitches, stops, and her marrying another man, is distant and angry because he might be related to his girlfriend and fiancée-to-be. In the finale, we see that crime lord Rose (Bridget Regan), the only person who knows the identity of Raf’s biological parents, has summoned him to her prison to spill a big secret. Rafael is visibly changed after the forced meeting. “If this were a telenovela, Rafael would have learned that Rogelio is his father. And he is your long-lost brother!” Jane’s grandmother Alba Villanueva (Ivonne Coll) jokes. Despite the fact Alba is kidding, it seems increasingly possible that is actually the problem. Because as the narrator (Anthony Mendez) repeatedly reminds us, “This is a telenovela.”
“We were very careful about not tipping it. Setting the table for an expectation of a telenovela plot twist, which certainly [Raf being Jane’s brother] could be,” Snyder Urman said. “We were certainly priming the audience and trying to purposefully lead them in one direction so that ultimately [Michael's return] was as big of a surprise as it could be.”
And it is a massive surprise when Jane arrives at Rafael’s apartment, expecting a proposal and then, when that seems increasingly unlikely, to meet some shocking relative, instead finds Michael silently standing in a corner, apparently back from the dead. The former cop looks scruffier than usual, but that’s the only difference since he perished after taking the LSATs. “Eighty-One” goes black before we can see Jane’s reaction. “There’s even a further line that I decided to save for the beginning of act 5,” Snyder Urman reveals. “Jane sees Michael, and I wanted to end on him, so we would leave the audience with the maximum gut punch and not too much time to process.”
Yet, this wasn’t a single episode “misdirect,” to use Snyder Urman’s word. On one side, Rafael’s search for his biological parents became a major theme for season 4. It stands to reason fans would get a jaw-dropping, relationship-ending conclusion.
Then on the Michael side of the equation, Jane has been struggling with her widow-related guilt for starting a relationship with Raf since early March, which equates to months in Jane time. In “Chapter Seventy-Six,” she resists having a drawer at Rafael’s apartment, worrying the seriousness of this new romance reduced her love story with Michael to a “stepping stone.” Then, two episodes ago, Rafael is hurt when a sexy evening with him seemingly inspires writer Jane to pen a story about Michael. By the end the installment, “Chapter Seventy-Nine,” Jane explains the pages were inspired by the fact it was the anniversary of Michael’s death. Yet, for the first time in four years, she nearly forgot, all because of how much she loves Raf. Jane is ready to sign a lease with Raf and accept his proposal. Once again, Jane’s central love triangle feels settled.
So, the reemergence of a seemingly very alive Michael couldn’t come at a worse time. “It’s both the best possible character moment for Rafael — that he brought him back when he had the choice not to — and it’s also his greatest fear that he would be Jane’s second choice if Michael were here,” Snyder Urman explained. “So it really sets that up beautifully for where we’re going and what will happen.”
And, what will happen? Well, we’re going to find out what’s up with Michael — and if that even is Jane’s allegedly “dead” husband — with Jane The Virgin’s upcoming season 5 premiere, which the CW has already confirmed. “The big initial question will be, ‘Is this Michael? Is this really him?’ You have Rose [involved], somebody who changes faces,” the writer pointed out. “The world of possibilities in Jane are pretty open. [The answers] will be revealed in first episode of season 5. This to me is the beginning of the end.”
Although Snyder Urman is unable to “confirm or deny” whether the next season of Jane will be its literal end, as star Gina Rodriguez has said, it’s clear a very specific plan is currently in motion. “I know when the ending is. I had discussions with the studio about two or three years ago. They know when the end [is],” the writer confirmed. Snyder Urman said Michael’s return became a big part of that framework, “once the ending of the show started to come into focus and I started to realize … what things needed to happen and we wanted to happen.”
The only problem with all of this Michael-related goodness is the fact his portrayer Brett Dier recently signed on to a buzzy new CBS pilot called History Of Them. Luckily, the comedy, which has yet to officially be picked up for series, hails from Official Friend Of Jane The Virgin, Gloria Calderon Kellett, the One Day At A Time creator who has even guest-starred multiple times on Jane.
“We use Justina [Machado, One Day’s lead actress] who is so wonderful,” Snyder Urman said. “When Gloria was writing to me about Brett, I told her, ‘We’re going to need him back.’” Plus, as the writer pointed out, network comedies like History work on a three-weeks filming, one week free schedule.
“So I feel like we can work within that, and it helps when the producers like each other, which she and I do,” she assured Refinery29. Whatever works to make sure Michael never, ever leaves our television screens again, right?
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