8:00am PT by Kate Stanhope
'Jane the Virgin' Boss Reflects on Season-Two Triumphs, Series Rules and Those Michael Theories
Jane the Virgin began its second season with a baby and will end on Monday with a wedding, or least the lead-up to an alleged wedding between Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and Michael (Brett Dier). After all, if 43 episodes, or chapters, worth of long-lost twins, family drug dealers, changing identities and many other telenovela tropes have taught viewers of The CW comedy anything, it's that nothing can ever be assumed.
However, for all the twists Jane the Virgin has become known for, it also earned attention in its second season for its grounded storytelling, particularly in Alba's quest for a green card and Petra's battle with postpartum depression.
Ahead of Monday's season finale, showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman reflected on the ups and downs of season two with THR, as well as heavy speculation surrounding Michael's fate headed into the finale.
Looking back at the second season, what was your biggest surprise or maybe your biggest triumph?
The part I'm most proud of is our ability to articulate and dramatize Jane's struggle with balancing her new life as a mother with her desire to maintain herself, her identity and her goals. And that was always what we wanted the season to be about — how motherhood changes Jane and how she adjusts to it. I'm proud that we were able to find the ups and downs and triumphs and pitfalls and comics to lend to that as an overarching story.
The show went through a big change once Jane had the baby. How do you think that altered the show itself, and how do you see it changing the show in the future as Mateo gets older, when there are different responsibilities that come with that?
It's just a kind of glorious complication in my mind. It is so hard to be a mom and a parent in general, and there are so many obstacles, so many victories, so many real moments of emotion and vulnerability. What motherhood does when you first become a mom is it takes a person who has spent their whole life building up their identity and figuring out how they work in the world, and then all of a sudden, that all becomes second to taking care of someone else. It's a real earthquake in your life. It's a real shift in your life.
I felt like we told the story of the pregnancy, and then we had to get into the actual — once the baby comes — how does one maintain themselves and their goals? I think it's something that I always struggle with as a mom, and it felt relatable — and at the same time that I was introducing new problems, which I think you always want to have because you don't want to keep recycling the same drama or the same issues in people's lives. The thing with the baby is that once you figure out one thing, they change. You think you got it figured it out, and then they start moving, and you're like, "Oh my God!" I can't just put him down and brush my hair, so tracking the baby's actual growing up and all of the little milestones has been a way for us to keep making life challenging for Jane as she works toward her own goals and dreams.
You also have Petra, who now has two children, so you have a lot of babies on the show.
We wanted to also show different kinds of motherhood, different versions of it. Different people experience it in different ways emotionally, and what they want. Some people aren't baby people, but once the kids talk, they get much more into it. Petra had a much harder adjustment to motherhood than Jane, who comes from such a strong family of mothers. She had these amazing role models, and when she would have struggles, she would have so many people to talk to — whereas when Petra had struggles and they were internal and she was feeling lost and out to sea, and I wanted to be compassionate and empathetic to all different versions of motherhood. There's so many different ways you can be a mom, and we just showed two versions. Having them be different and having them cause conflict also helped us as we tracked their journeys.
With Petra, you featured her postpartum depression, and this season, you also showed Alba's quest to get a green card. How was it navigating the second season with those more grounded story lines within this kind of unique show with such a distinct tone? What made both of those plots so important to you?
I felt like, if we didn't get underneath people and understand their emotional lives and what they want and what they need and what stands in their way, then I feel like you're just watching a comedy. It might as well be skits. Part of the pleasure of TV is that you start to know these people and empathize and experience things with them. We always make sure at the beginning we know what the emotional arc is for the episode and for the season. Then when we break it, the comedy is the real fun part and how can we tell this in the most dynamic way, and what's the funniest way to see this unfolding, and where would be the most awkward place for this revelation to happen — so that's all the fun part of it. But really, our show has always been rooted in this real, making sure that, especially the Villanueva family have real emotional paths and growths and change so that nobody's stuck.
That's how we balance it, and we try to never tell a joke that will sell out a character, no matter how funny it is. It has to be a joke that is in line with what the character wants and doesn't make them seem either too cruel or too heartless. They have to be just coming out of character and coming out of the character's desires. And so that's how we try to balance it, and then a lot of the balance of this show is just putting it together. I would never transition from the Villanueva women crying on the porch to Mutter tied up in a cellar, so I put a telenovela scene in between there, where you go from Jane and her family to her father, whose in a more heightened reality in his telenovela world. Then I can find a fun connection from that telenovela world to our more telenovela elements in the show. So we try to really think through placement and transitions and all of that in order to keep our tone.
Looking ahead at season three, are there other similar, weighty topics you know you want to tackle?
Well, believe it or not, I'm still mixing the show that's going to air on Monday. I haven't really stocked the next season yet. I know the big ideas for next season, I know the themes that I want us to be exploring and I know some of the more weighty things that will happen, but I don't know which points we'll dive into specifically.
One big thing you did this season was intermix Petra with more of the other characters on the show, whereas last season her story was more independent. Why was that important to do?
We wanted to tie her into the family, specifically, by having her have one of Jane's son's half sisters. She is not part of the family, so that makes it easier, and it gives Jane stakes in their relationships beyond just a rival for Rafael, which she was in the first season. Jane has her own relationship with Petra now. I'm always interested in seeing two people that are polar opposites and rivals — what can change and how can that relationship change. Also just on another level, you always have those fun relationships in soap operas and telenovelas where someone is someone's half sister's brother's secret ex-wife lover, and I wanted to see how we could create that as we go. Now we have, you know, your half sister's brother, you're the mother of my son's half sisters — we're starting to create this Frankenstein family, and that was part of it too. It just allows for the deepening of the relationship, and I like the idea that these are two people who are just from totally different worlds and really, just in any other circumstance would have nothing in common and not very much of an interaction. But because they're going to be in each other's lives forever, there's a weight to their interaction.
Jane in particular is coming from such a family-centric household, she just has an optimistic view of family and what it means. Petra is somebody who has never had that and looks at Jane and is frankly very, very jealous of what she has — the support system she has. So we've been looking for ways to just deepen that relationship and explore it and not make it perfect but sort of have natural ups and downs. When they have a victory and you feel like they're closer together, it's as powerful as any love-interest victory.
That relationship between Jane and Petra worked really well, but were there things you think didn't work quite as well this past season or things you wanted to do that you didn't get to in season two?
There were some moments that I think we didn't connect weight to unpack them. When Ivan died, I thought we could've taken more time and done a bit more emotional work on there. I mean there's always things you wish you could've fine-tuned if you had all the time in the world, you know. Overall, I'm happy with this season. I feel like the writers just continued to generate a lot of stories, because we have a lot of stories in each episode, and we don't like to repeat things. So, you know, we kept pushing ourselves and pushing ourselves to use magical realism in different ways and not tell the same story and to make sure we're not only telling a romance but we're telling a professional story as well. I'm happy about that, and I just feel like the actors — every episode that I write I learn more that there's nothing they can't do. So we feel very free in the writers room because of that, because you know you can throw them something totally wild and they will ground it and make it work. So that's a really amazing way to work.
From a writer's perspective, how do you look at the heavy speculation about Michael's death that has been gaining traction on social media?
I just can't respond, because I don't want to mislead or lead. I feel like there's a lot of close readers of the show, and I like that. And I feel like we put things in deliberately. But at the same time, there are always surprises. I hope that we keep our storytelling surprising. It's interesting because you have this very direct connection to vocal and active fans, which is amazing because you can see when they like something, and you can see when they hate something, and you have to give equal weight to both. You know you're working ahead of when things are airing, so a lot of times I'll see someone saying, "Oh, you know, so and so was so stupid there." But then I know in the next episode, it's going to reveal that he had a plan all along, so those kinds of things become difficult because you're like, "Just wait!" But I like it. I like reading the tweets, and I like that people are engaged with the show.
Jane the Virgin's season finale airs Monday at 9 p.m. on The CW.