Jane the Virgin (The CW) is a series so consistently outstanding that it’s easy to take its political smarts and splendiferous charm for granted. But the telenovela’s breezy brilliance was impossible to miss this week, when Jane (Gina Rodriguez) made a liar out of the show’s title by dropping her V card. Newlyweds Jane and Michael (Brett Dier) finally went at each other in a spectacularly moving and progressive episode that showcased the serial rom-com’s feminist bona fides and explored new dimensions of the (somewhat controversial) couple’s relationship. It was the kind of landmark hour that reminds us why Jane the Virgin is one of the best and most important series on the air.
To borrow a phrase, it should be noted that Jane didn’t have sex for the first time at the end of the current third season, or even in the midseason finale. As much as the show has teased its audience about Jane’s maidenhood over the years, it’s never fetishized her virginity. In fact, creator Jennie Snyder Urman has humanized both Jane and the sexually repressive messages she’s received from her beloved abuela, Alba (Ivonne Coll), and thus normalized older sexual inexperience. That Jane crosses over the line from virgin to “person who’s had sex” on any old week is part of the point: Yes, it’s a milestone worth achieving, but it’s also not some life-changing event (usually). Tonally, the hour didn’t have a Very Special Episode cast about it either, sandwiched as it was between Xo’s (Andrea Navedo) darker midlife crisis and Rogelio’s (Jaime Camil) frothier meta-pitch at The CW (“A superhero for every night of the week — what programming genius!”).
In large part because the title character is so close with her mom and her abuela, Jane the Virgin has always been suffused with maternal warmth and wisdom. It’s that reassuring motherliness, specifically the focus on female sexual pleasure and honesty, that makes “Chapter Forty-Seven” so memorable. Jane fakes an orgasm during her first P-in-V with Michael (he’s made her come in other ways before), and their following failed attempts at sex end in her putting too much pressure on herself to climax, burning her loins with some gnarly tingle sauce, and tamping down her husband’s interest in bonking with her sexual pessimism. She worries what many couples who wait until after marriage must: that she and Michael are physically incompatible.
Before their first time, Jane tells Michael, “It’s gonna be perfect because it’s you.” It wasn’t; he came early and she prioritized his ego over her pleasure. What follows is a sympathetic illustration of how easy it can be to lose sexual confidence (especially for someone like Jane, who spends much of her time in her head) and how quickly and benignly couples can shut each other down emotionally. Jane the Virgin offers sexual real talk that we rarely see in the typically glossy romance genre: physical chemistry can take time to develop, lovemaking isn’t just about two souls connecting but also about bodily pleasure, and in-depth conversations about what a mouth does here or a hand does there are some of the most reliable ways of forging a closer relationship between two people. (Another way Jane offers us something new: putting a woman of color at the center of a sexual coming-of-age story.)
The episode’s powerful emotional apex arrives when Jane breaks down in front of her mother and unexpectedly mourns the loss of her virginity. It’s a brief but loaded scene that deftly suggests the layers of taboos Jane has had to break through to have sex: the inherited trauma of her abuela’s slut-shaming by the older woman’s sister, the scary uncertainty of a sexual world she knows little about, and the lingering traces of virgin-whore messaging (both embodied in deliciously campy turns by Rodriguez playing Alba’s sexy sister and a scolding nun).
It’s no coincidence that it’s Jane’s discussions with her mom and her bestie, Lina (Diane Guerrero), that turn things around. True to its matriarchal roots, Jane the Virgin finds comfort and common sense in women. But that doesn’t shortchange Jane’s relationship with Michael, either. In fact, it’s refreshing to see the difficulty of talking about sexual frustrations with a loving partner depicted on-screen, because sometimes the more you love someone, the harder it is to talk about their (hopefully temporary) inadequacies — especially when it’s about something as intimate and as mythologized as sex, around which there’s still a presumption that people, especially men, are just supposed to know what they should do. That Jane and Michael are squeezing in 20-minute quickies between appointments and obligations is also truthful to their status as young parents in charge of a toddler. It was yet another reminder that Jane is singular in its ability to flawlessly balance winsomely ridiculous soap operatics and profoundly human experiences this week and every week.