Jane The Virgin is often, and incorrectly, defined by its telenovela sensibilities. Over the last four seasons, the CW drama has featured three surprise inseminations — one of which included a turkey baster — countless rearranged loved triangles, and a shocking number of over-the-top murders, which are sometimes accompanied by cheeky puns. But, Jane isn’t merely some flimsy melodrama sudsing up the CW’s schedule every Friday night. No, the Gina Rodriguez-led dramedy has been dealing with family tragedy, the many layers of the Latinx identity, and the messy inner lives of women better than nearly anything else on TV since the very beginning.
If you need any more proof of this indisputable fact, look no further than Friday’s “Chapter Seventy-Eight,” which handles the aftermath of Xiomara De La Vega’s (Andrea Navedo) stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis. Even if you haven’t watched Jane The Virgin in years, or ever, you owe it to yourself to watch this heart-wrenching, thought-provoking hour of television.
As one can guess from the plot, “Seventy-Eight’s” true star is Xo, a character who is usually forced to take a back seat to the series’ more dominant personalities. She isn't the starring heroine her daughter Jane Villanueva (Rodriguez) is and doesn’t have the extravagance and vanity of her husband Rogelio (Jaime Camil). Xo, a sex-positive dancer, doesn’t even offer the fish-out-of-water comedic possibilities of her mom Alba Villanueva (Ivonne Coll), who blanches in the presence of sex toys. When it comes to sex and all the things that come with it, nothing can surprise Xo.
While Xo is rarely allowed to walk the emotional tightrope that is Jane The Virgin, she flawlessly pulls off the challenge this time around. The knot at the heart of this story is how Xo plans to deal with her cancer diagnosis: lumpectomy, single mastectomy, or an intense, but anxiety-easing, double mastectomy. Jane, terrified of her mother relapsing after any upcoming surgery, desperately wants Xo to choose the double mastectomy. Her mother tries to go along with Jane's desire, until she finally snaps. Should she really have invasive elective surgery solely for someone else’s peace of mind? Of course not.
Xo’s speech explaining as much reveals Jane’s true strength: its ability to switch emotional lenses so fast, you barely even notice. In one moment, Xo is enraged at her daughter for both trying to push her into signing up for a painful surgery and criticizing the topless women around them at a spa. “That’s what you don’t understand... They like being naked,” she says of the nude women. “And I do, too. I like my body.” Then, once Jane breaks down and tearily reveals she’s simply scared, Xo reverts to Mom Mode, embracing her only child.
Watching Xo remind her weepy-eyed adult child, “I’m still your mom — no matter what,” will bring you to cathartic tears.
Xo's slow journey to understanding her relationship with her own body is what “Chapter Seventy-Eight” should always be remembered for. Women have so many multifaceted, deep-seated opinions of their body, it’s likely they haven’t even realized all of them. Xo certainly hasn’t as she considers what surgery will truly do to this form she has grown to love and rely on for the last four decades.
A late-in-the-game scene from the episode, directed by romantic lead Justin Baldoni, very smartly uses emotionally-laden items from Xo’s closet to show us who she is and what she has always valued about her body. It soon becomes very obvious the answer is her cleavage, as Xo lovingly rests her hands on plunging necklines and bustier tops, and we see flashbacks to prior installments where she donned those items. Although some shows would suggest this means Xo is vain or “slutty,” Jane uses the moment to celebrate how vibrant and powerful the character has always been. It’s an important reminder showing off your assets isn’t anything to be ashamed of. As younger versions of Jane cheer for her skin-baring mom, you will too.
This lack of judgement applies to the episode's biggest moment, when Xo finally talks about surgery with Rogelio. During the conversation, the surgery-bound woman details all the ways she previously used her body for self-confidence and an identity before finding unconditional acceptance through her spouse. It’s a soul-baring scene that will force viewers to question how they live within their own skin and why. And, it seems Jane The Virgin will sympathize with whatever results we uncover, as it does with Xo. Sometimes people find their worth in their most appealing assets, and there’s nothing more human than that truth.
That’s why, by the time Xo warns Rogelio, “Practically, things will feel different. For you. For me. Can we talk about that?” it’s essentially impossible not to be wiping away tears. With less than 15 words, Jane has revealed one of the world’s most relatable fears: when you put so much value on your body, who are you when it changes?
Speaking of relatable, “Chapter Seventy-Eight” ends with a nod to one of the Latinx community’s greatest habits, its near-unexplainable reverence for Vicks VapoRub. In the same way Windex is the cure-all for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the mentholated ointment is the answer for all medical crises in Latinx households, including my own. That explains why I nearly cried when the episode opens with Young Alba (Rosie Garcia) slathering Toddler Xo (Apollonia Pratt) with the “magical potion,” as my mom did for me two decades ago. It also explains why I definitely cried when the Present Day Villanueva women line up on their famed porch swing to rub vivaporu on each other’s backs ahead of Xo’s surgery (I won’t spoil what decision she finally does make, because you need to find out for yourself).
Amid all of these well-crafted emotional missiles, “Seventy-Eight” also finds time for an adorable LGBTQ+ love story, a meditation of the true purpose of religion, and some really fantastic Gina Rodriguez physical comedy. It’s the kind of Chicken Soup For The Soul episode that sticks in your heart long after that classic Jane The Virgin “To Be Continued…” end card fades from your screen. So, why aren't you pressing “play” yet?
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