More Money, More Problems: How 'Jane The Virgin' Tackles Issues Of Wealth And Class

In its great second season, the telenovela deals with maybe the most relatable worry of all

On last night’s Jane the Virgin, luxury hotel owner Petra (Yael Grobglas) neatly explained the different skill sets that she and her ex-husband’s other baby mama, Jane (Gina Rodriguez), offer him. Earnest grad student Jane is the go-to gal for “looking for a new book club selection or finding a deal on diapers,” Petra tells her former spouse Rafael (Justin Baldoni). But on matters of “financial crimes and blackmail,” she urged, “come to me!”

Jane and Petra represent the two Miamis on the CW’s glossy but wholehearted meta-telenovela: the pink-and-tan home where Jane Villanueva grew up with her mother Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) and immigrant grandmother Alba (Ivonne Coll), and the cream-and-Tiffany-teal beachside hotel where Rafael and Petra Solano live — and Jane works. In Season 1, Jane the Virgin offered its title character a Cinderella ending by sparking a romance between her and Rafael -- the poor girl/rich guy pairing that’s still ubiquitous, from telenovelas to K-dramas to Hollywood rom-coms. As Season 2 draws to a close, though, it seems that one of the best things the show has done this year is switching allegiances from #TeamRafael to #TeamMichael.

In a standout season that has tackled issues as important as undocumented immigration, postpartum depression, and female sexuality and representation, Jane the Virgin also explored with rare sensitivity the divisive role that money and class differences can play in relationships and families. For a show so obviously smitten with soap-opera theatricality, Jane the Virgin stays relevant and brilliant by necessarily grounding its characters with real, everyday anxieties -- and there’s no worry more relatable than money.

Played by the charisma-radiating Rodriguez and Brett Dier, Jane and her detective fiancé Michael offer plenty of the kindred-meeting-of-souls that the budding writer wants. Other than the occasional makeout session under snow, theirs isn’t the stand-on-your-tiptoes-while-squealing-and-shaking-your-fists type of romance that Jane writes for her characters. But puncturing the artificiality of onscreen love remains a recurring theme for the series; Jane the Virgin routinely stresses the difference between telenovela-style romance and the real thing. The only character swallowed up by the gulf between fantasy and reality is Jane’s father, Rogelio (Jaime Camil), the show’s (lovable) buffoon. In contrast, the sensible, Target-shopping Jane likes to reserve her flights of fancy for the page, feeling safest when her feet are firmly planted on the ground. (Yes, the show seems to insist, you can be romantic and responsible.) It’s no coincidence that her one attempt at a grand, extravagant gesture -- spending $400 to rent a boat to re-create a milestone in her relationship with Michael -- quickly capsizes.

After rejecting Rafael as a partner for Jane, the show’s sophomore season has carefully plotted how the two parents negotiate the difference between their income brackets for their child. Though no longer romantic, Jane’s partnership with Rafael is, admittedly, an economic fairy tale -- Mateo stands to receive a $40 million trust and enjoys the care of a nanny. But the show also explores lurking anxieties in the class divide between Jane and Rafael, as when she wonders whether little Mateo’s riches could spoil him. Jane wouldn’t mind being rich, I think, but she doesn’t want her son to grow up to become like the rich people she knows.

Jane the Virgin also retains the 99 percent’s skepticism of jet-setting affluence. Rafael’s family tree is pocked by dysfunction and a mother who chose a fortune over her son, while the origins of his wealth are lingeringly suspect: Organized crime literally formed the foundation of the Marbella, his hotel, and a recent story line found him spending the $5 million he’d attained through (unintentional) insider trading. Though much more humanized this year, Petra is still the show’s cautionary tale of the happily-ever-after Cinderella gone bad. Coming from far more dire straits than Jane, Petra wields her newfound fortune as a cudgel against anyone who dares challenge her, and can’t help self-sabotaging by risking her twin daughters’ good graces with Rafael by constantly bringing up the issue of their inheritances.

Jane the Virgin is still a far cry from explicitly class-conscious shows like Roseanne or even the animated Bob’s Burgers -- working-class sitcoms whose characters are regularly imperiled by chronic unemployment or a semi-failing family business. Jane and her family get plenty of fairy-godmother breaks from either Rafael or Rogelio: The Villanueva women are currently camping out at the Marbella while their flooded house undergoes repairs, while Jane’s father is footing the bills for her tuition and her upcoming wedding to Michael. But the show manages to find wonderful emotional nuances in Jane’s conflicting feelings about wealth and privilege, and in how they shape her thorny relationship with Rafael -- the man she no longer wants to be with, but with whom she’ll always be entwined.