Like many people, I've spent the last few months in a state of semi-shock, interrupted only by bouts of grief or anger over the current state of our country. And, also like many people, I've used pop culture as an escape from this reality, with things like Beyoncé's pregnancy news and awards show one-liners allowing me to forget the darkness of politics — at least for a few hours. Perhaps nothing, though, has been a better distraction this past year than Jane the Virgin, The CW's smart, funny, group-hug of a show. With its sweet family relationships, adorable romances, and gorgeous Target dresses, the series has been nothing less than a safe haven during this tumultuous year — which is why that stunning Jane the Virgin twist on Monday night hurts as badly as it does. Spoilers for the Feb. 6 episode of Jane the Virgin ahead.
No matter when the episode aired, Michael's death would've been shocking and painful to watch. Other than a few minor hints earlier in "Chapter Fifty-Four," it came as a total surprise, and was as heartbreaking as a TV character death could be. Not only was Michael beloved by fans, but he had only recently married Jane, and the two were blissfully raising their family together. They'd suffered through breakups, kidnappings, and gunshot wounds (it is a telenovela, after all) and only come out stronger, so this tragedy feels both heart-wrenching and unfair.
Yet the fact that the episode aired now, in a time when the real world often seems more dark and depressing than even the most shocking scripted twists, adds to that pain. For so long, Jane the Virgin, with its bubbly, lighthearted attitude, seemed like a reprieve from reality, and oh, was it needed. It may have only been an hour a week, but for that hour, politics and debate disappeared from our minds and were replaced by the Villanueva women's love and laughter. It's not that Jane never ventured into real territory; actually, the show frequently mentioned topics like Donald Trump and immigration reform. But even with those references, its tone never veered from entertaining, and the series stayed a welcome distraction from reality.
Yet with the death of a character as beloved and important as Michael, Jane can no longer be this distraction, at least not right now. Even with the three-year time jump, the grief and anger that Jane and the others will undoubtedly feel will color upcoming episodes. There may still be laughter and smiles, and the time jump will help alleviate some of the pain, but Michael's death will undoubtedly make Jane the Virgin a darker show.
In a letter posted on Tumblr shortly after Monday's episode aired, showrunner Jennie Urman, acknowledged this. "Which brings me to something I feel really badly about. The timing," Urman wrote. "I’ve had so many tweets lately about how Jane is a bright spot these days. And I know you just watched a gut punch of an episode. So, I just wanted to reassure you that Jane’s optimism will rise up."
I don't doubt that Urman and the other writers will live up to that promise and handle the upcoming episodes well. They're a skilled team who know how to tell a powerful story, and with the hugely talented Gina Rodriguez portraying a grieving Jane, the next few installments will surely be can't-miss TV. Yet that doesn't take away the fact that Michael's death and its ramifications will cause the series to lose a bit of the welcome, distracting sweetness that made it so important in these trying political times. Jane the Virgin will always be a special show, but right now, the loss of Michael is making it painfully real.