Every week, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for February 4 through 10 is “Chapter Seventy-Four,” the 10th episode of season four of The CW’s Jane the Virgin.
Jane the Virgin, as you can probably guess from the title, has always been concerned with sex.
Actually, maybe “concerned with” isn’t the right phrase. It’s more that the show has always hinged on sex, delighting in the specific examination of both the concept and the physicality of the act. It has always been sex-positive, in both its empathy for its characters’ sex lives and its emphasis on the idea that sex is very often an essential part of life that does no one any good to ignore.
And even though Jane (Gina Rodriguez) lost the virginity that had been her primary descriptor for so long last season — in a beautiful and respectful episode, no less — that moment was far from the last we heard of Jane’s sex life. In fact, the show became even more open about how Jane relates to sex. After her husband died, it took her a long time to build herself back up to the point where she could date another man, let alone think about sleeping with him — but when she did, it was a crucial moment in helping her move on. Over the years, we’ve seen Jane evaluate and reevaluate what she does and doesn’t like about sex, and how she’s learned to relish it as an intrinsic, even exciting part of her life.
By “Chapter Seventy-Four” — directed by Rodriguez herself! — Jane has become as comfortable with her sexuality as we’ve ever seen her. Underlining that perception is the fact that this is the episode in which she and her perpetually on-again, off-again partner Rafael (Justin Baldoni) — who’s built something like a Greek statue, if Greek sculptors had the ability to craft a perfect five o’clock shadow — finally get to have the steamy sex they always dreamed of. (Literally: Jane and Rafael have sex in a steamed-up shower, a nice nod to an awkward incident earlier this season when Jane thought Rafael had invited her to join him in the shower and was very much mistaken.)
But what makes this episode so fun is not just seeing Jane finally throw herself into Rafael’s waiting arms, but also seeing that event mirrored in some of the most important women in her life, who find themselves broadening their own sexual horizons in ways they never considered before.
The story of Jane’s grandmother accepting her own sexual needs is wrenching, but ultimately satisfying
The reason that Jane remained a virgin until marriage is because her devout Catholic grandmother Alba (Ivonne Coll) made her promise to do so when she was just a wide-eyed kid. Alba pressed a flower into Jane’s tiny palm, instructed her to crumple it up, and told her that’s what would happen to her (at least spiritually) if she had sex before getting married. Jane kept her promise, but also later made clear to her grandmother that the gambit messed with her for years, making sex seem like some unspeakable evil that she needed to fight as she grew up and became more curious.
So yeah, it’s safe to say that Alba has some complicated feelings about sex. But “Chapter Seventy-Four” is the first time that Jane the Virgin really digs into them — which makes sense, given Alba’s extreme reluctance to acknowledge anything remotely sexual. In a moment of devastated weakness, she reveals to Jane that she turned down her kindly boyfriend’s marriage proposal because she was too scared to have sex with him after decades of abstinence following her husband’s death. She also admits that she’s nervous to share herself with someone new now that her body is older and unfamiliar even to her. Her fear, she reveals through tears, is that she’ll try and discover she’s broken for good.
It’s a heart-wrenching scene — one Coll crushes — but it leads to something fantastic. Jane, determined to open Alba’s mind back up to this part of herself, takes her grandmother to a sex shop and buys her a vibrator and lube (Jane has never been one to cut corners). At first, Alba is horrified, insisting that walking into the shop feels like walking into hell. But when she gives in by the end of the episode and tries the vibrator, she’s relieved to find that, no, her body isn’t broken. It’s just a little rusty — which is nothing some lube and an open mind can’t fix.
On many shows, “grandma goes to a sex shop” would be nothing more than a setup for wacky hijinks. (Not that this show doesn’t love itself some hijinks; Rodriguez cleverly frames the shot of Jane showing Alba a vibrator by blocking out the buzzing device with a seductive mannequin’s fishnet-clad leg stretching between them.) But “Chapter Seventy-Four” uses this trip to show both how genuinely Jane wants her grandmother to be satisfied and how hard it is for Alba to admit that she still has desires she’s buried with such determination for so long.
But much to my surprise, Jane and Rafael finally having sex and Alba’s climactic moment are not, in fact, the only sexual game changers this episode had in store.
Petra’s attraction to someone she didn’t expect opens up an unexpected, awesome world of possibilities going forward
As Jane describes her in this episode, Petra Solano (the fantastic Yael Grobglas) is a focused, determined businesswoman with a streak of territorial loyalty that can sometimes manifest as cruelty. As Petra Solano herself will tell you — whether from behind her desk as manager of the Marbella Hotel, on the Stairmaster while barely breaking a sweat, or as a force-of-nature PTA mom — she is the best of the best, and don’t you fucking forget it.
The thing is, Petra is also currently at the center of an investigation into whether she murdered her twin sister, so she’s feeling a little more fragile these days than she’d care to admit. But that’s exactly what she does in this episode, to the new Jane in her life: her lawyer (Rosario Dawson), whose frankness and refusal to be intimidated she reluctantly admires.
Every time Petra and Lawyer Jane share the screen, I find myself doing a familiar eyebrow raise, because Grobglas and Dawson have the kind of electric chemistry that sparks clear off the screen. Whether or not the show realized it, I thought, their every glance was loaded with some unspoken recognition of something they respect in each other and want to dig deeper to uncover. (That Lawyer Jane has seemingly been blackmailed into manipulating the investigation into damning Petra to jail will certainly be a complication, but in a sexy telenovela kind of way.)
Still, I didn’t think the show would do anything about it. Sure, Lawyer Jane had alluded to an ex-girlfriend, and the show has included queer women before (albeit in the forms of an unstable alcoholic and a murderous crime lord), but I’m used to thinking that two women seem to have a connection that looks like More Than Friends only to be disappointed when they suddenly veer off into some guy’s less threatening arms. Even Petra’s sudden haircut and Lawyer Jane winking at her while calling her “Pete” didn’t make me believe that the show would seriously entertain the thought that hey, maybe these two want to make out real bad.
So believe me when I say that I yelped when “Chapter Seventy-Four” follows up Petra revealing to Jane that she likes to be dominated in bed with Petra having a sex dream about Lawyer Jane doing just that. What’s more, the show is explicit about the fact that this isn’t some random anomaly, but rather, as the narrator calls it, a “sexual awakening.”
(Making Petra attracted to Lawyer Jane is also a pretty great wink to the fact that many Jane the Virgin fans — plus Rodriguez and Grobglas — have long entertained the idea of Petra and Default Jane getting together, giving them the portmanteau “Jetra.” With this dream, Jetra lives, if in a bit of a different form than expected.)
I didn’t expect it, but yes, confirmed, I love it. It makes complete sense that Petra — a woman who’s always been attracted to powerful people — would be drawn to Lawyer Jane’s effortless confidence. And if the show’s treatment of other sexual awakenings in both this episode and earlier ones is anything to go by, the story of how she grapples with that fact should be in the best of hands.