[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday’s episode of Jane the Virgin, “Chapter Fifty-Four.”]
It was a turn some viewers saw coming, but very few — if any — wanted to believe would actually happen: Michael (Brett Dier) died on Monday’s episode of Jane the Virgin.
It was a heart-wrenching twist that had been foreshadowed several times before on the CW dramedy. In episode 10, the beloved narrator promised that Michael would love Jane (Gina Rodriguez) “for as long as Michael lived, until he drew his very last breath.” In the season two finale, the show went one step further by having Michael get shot in the final moments, immediately following his wedding to Jane.
But after he survived the season three premiere and slowly but surely recovered from his injury, Michael appeared to be moving on with his life. In Monday’s episode, he and Jane went back to the spot of their first date and even discussed having a baby together. However, their wedded bliss came to a screeching and devastating halt when Michael died moments after taking the LSAT, caused by an aortic dissection from his gunshot wound.
The series briefly showed Jane getting the terrible news before the scene faded to black and suddenly picked up three years later, with Jane getting ready for a mysterious wedding and Mateo walking and talking.
To begin to digest Monday’s tragic turn of events — #JanetheVirginSupportGroup anyone? — and find out what’s next, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman.
Obviously you had hinted about this on the show before, but why kill Michael?
It was always just part of the larger arc. I see the show as one whole long story, and this is always what would happen around the midpoint. We kind of pushed and pulled with when it would happen, and we pushed till later, because Brett is just so magical and he and Gina are just so magical together. So we sort of kept it off as long as we could, but I feel like this is a telenovela. There are always going to be these big, dramatic, life-changing events in the show, and one of them was what launched the series, when Jane was accidentally inseminated when her life was going along as planned and then spun into a totally different direction, and this is the second giant event. When she thought that everything was worked out and as she had all her plans in place, life spins her off again. So much of the show is about how Jane has all of these hopes and dreams and romantic ideals and how life changes and challenges her. So this was just one of the big events that we had to build to for a while.
So did you know this from the pilot? Or when did you know for sure?
I knew it really early on. I can’t remember if I knew it in the pilot, but subsequently like very shortly after. I put that line in episode 10, I think, to hold my feet to the fire and to hold the writers’ feet to the fire to make sure that we would eventually follow through with it, because I knew it was going to be so hard. And I knew it was going to be such a difficult moment in the series. We’re such a close cast and we love Brett so much so on a personal level, I knew it was going to be really painful, and then I knew it was going to be just a tough thing to actually do. So that line was sort of my way of both preparing the audience and reminding them all the time what they’re watching and also, in an effort, I think, just to prepare people a little bit. Beyond, it was because I felt it was really best for the dramatic arc of the series as a whole, and I didn’t want to not do it.
You hinted at this twice, first in season one and then again in season two, when he nearly dies. Why was it important to include that brush with death at the beginning of this season?
I wanted to play with expectations about when we’re doing certain big events, that they’re not always in the finale. Much as life is, you’re not prepared for when. I wanted to play with a question that we ask in the season three premiere, which is, “Even if you know that something’s happening, what does that to do the journey?” So I think psychologically the audience knew it was going to happen in the back of their minds, but I think they were still able to invest in Jane and Michael.
And also, I made a decision that I wanted a lot of Jane’s firsts to be with Michael, and that changes her. I didn’t want it to happen on her wedding night, and then she’s a widow and a virgin. I wanted her to have all these firsts with Michael where they move into their first home, they have sex and they experience married life, and now she’s had that as a character, and what does that do? And how does that change her journey moving forward? It opens up a lot of dramatic possibilities and new experiences, and also a change in perspective and growth in the character, which I also think is important.
You drew parallels between this big event in Jane’s life and the events of the pilot where she learns she’s pregnant. What differences do you see between these two big moments?
They were both sort of cataclysmic life changes. And I think she didn’t want to be pregnant, so she began thinking, “I’m just going to carry this baby and give the baby to Rafael, who really wants a baby, and then I’m going to move on.” Then her life changed as a result of that, but it was pretty earth-shattering for Jane.
This is obviously much, much more tragic, but it still has that same feel of, what happens when your life is planned or when you finally hit your stride and disaster strikes in some way or another? How do your characters go and change and find the light again, because that’s always the most important thing for our series — to keep that light, and how do we keep that lightness after this event? I think they were both events that changed the course of Jane’s life. At this point, which feels about the midpoint of the series, I felt like the show also wanted something big to happen and to see what happens and how our characters, who we know so well, learn and grow and change and find their light again.
Is that why you did the time jump? How did you choose this amount of time?
Yeah, certainly I knew that we couldn’t live in the space immediately after Michael’s death, because it would overwhelm our storytelling. We always try to mine real emotion, and if we mined that, it would be a devastating episode after devastating episode. We talked to grief counselors; I wanted that moment when it wasn’t something that is the first thing in her mind but close enough, where she’s coming out of something, and three years felt the right amount of time, and it also allows a lot of characters to change in really big ways. And then we can always flash back, and we do flash back to the time immediately after Michael’s death and you see how she’s gotten to where she is now. So we touch on that and certainly explore that emotion, but it doesn’t overtake the show and it allows us to have Jane, who has changed as a result of this event, but lets it live in the light more than the darkness.
Will you ever do flashbacks to before Michael died? How likely do you think it is that you’ll bring Brett back to the show?
Definitely, definitely bringing Brett back. And there will be things that you hadn’t seen before, and there will be things that you have. The tricky balance is when to bring him back, because you don’t want to bring him back too soon so that the audience doesn’t feel the loss of him, because that needs to settle and feel real. But you feel him throughout. I can’t emphasize that enough. The episode that comes after this one is one of my favorite episodes we’ve ever done. You see everything that’s changed in the three years and you still feel the warmth of Jane and Michael, so I’m excited for people to see that and to also see how it opens up our stories and our storytelling.
The time jump contained a mystery about who’s getting married. Why did you decide to include that?
I just wanted you to know that you’re coming back to the same show. That, again, there’s light — the same word I keep coming to. That life moves on, that there’s light and happiness and heart, and here’s Jane, she’s getting ready and going to a wedding. Whose is it? People have to move on, you have to. That’s part of it. I think there are so many surprises in episode 11, just in terms of where everybody is. I think it’s going to be really fun, really surprising and kind of breathes new life … It’s a breath of fresh air into the show in my opinion, because it just puts characters in totally different places, and we’ve been so painstaking about tracking everyone’s emotional journeys. For me, the benefit of the death is that you really get inside the characters and you really feel as they’re growing and changing … The three-year jump really allows a lot of changes to have already happened, and we can flash back to moments of importance, but it allows characters to really be in new and different places and have new and evolved relationships with one another, which I found really exciting, and I know we all felt excited by it in the writers’ room.
Going back further, what was the studio and the network’s first reaction when you told them you were killing off Michael?
I think everyone was equally devastated because we love the character and because we love the actor so much, but I had told them about it so early on that everybody kind of knew that that was the direction it was heading, and it was just a matter of when.
The big thing was also, even though it’s a comedy, allow people to have their emotional responses and not brush over that. I thought that was great advice from [CW president] Mark Pedowitz that we definitely take to heart.
The promos for this episode gave away nothing about how big of an episode this would be when you could have played this up to draw more live viewership. How did you decide that was the best way to go?
I think we put enough hints out into the ether, but I think you want that feeling of an event like this happens suddenly and you’re never prepared, and I think if we were all watching it and going, “What’s the big thing?” it would take away some of the engagement of viewing, the impact.
What else did you have to do to make sure this didn’t leak?
We all, as a cast and a crew, were really conscious about trying to keep it as quiet as possible. It’s impossible, in the world of Twitter, to keep things quiet, but we did the best we could. The actors haven’t been posting recent photos from the set in an attempt to keep it quiet, because things are so different when we come back. And in general, we always just ask all the extras and anyone who was coming in to work with us if they could please not spoil it. And, for the most part, I think it was successful.
When and how did you break the news to Brett that he would be getting killed off?
At the beginning of this season, I talked to Brett and then I talked to our whole cast, each one individually. It’s just a testament to Brett that every single conversation I had with every actor, every single person cried. That’s because we love Brett so much. It was really difficult to tell Brett. I, of course, told him about the story and where it was going and what this was going to be doing dramatically to the show, and he totally understood. But it’s painful, because we miss him. Every actor that I told when I had the meetings — they were just devastated, everyone was devastated.
That scene where Jane finds out was such a gut-punch. What was it like filming that on set?
I wasn’t there for it, but the last scene we shot is the Ferris wheel one, so we were all on set for his last day. But that one was shot earlier, and Brett actually sent Gina a voicemail on her phone that she could listen to as Michael, just telling her how much he loved her and that he was going to see her soon, and she listened to that right before that performance.
(Watch the message below.)
How do you grapple with losing a series regular like that? Are you bringing in new faces, potentially recurring faces or more than that, to fill that cast void left by Brett? How do you make those adjustments going forward?
We have all of that. We have a few new people coming in. Some are comic, some are more romantic. We’re not trying to replace his particular energy, but we are always conscious of the fact that this is a comedy and that we want to keep it fun and funny, but underneath that, we always want real emotions, and I feel like our episodes that are about something real are — in my mind — the most successful. Now there’s this underpinning in the second half of the season about dealing with this loss, but at the same time, it’s still a rather exuberant and vibrant place that we’ll come back into. You’ll see.
What else can you say about how this will impact Jane? What changes will viewers see when the show comes back?
She’s three years older. She’s been a parent for three more years. She’s had to just incorporate this pain and loss into her persona, into who she is, and I think her ideas of romance and fairytales are really shifted as a result. She is also older and a little bit more self-reliant, a little bit less maybe naïve; she’s a little bit more knowledgeable about the imperfections of life. And a lot of it is about, how does she as a romance writer recapture that feeling of romance? What does that mean to her now? Every single relationship with every character has shifted, which I can’t give too much away about, but you’ll see and you’ll feel that. And she’s just got a little bit more perspective and a little bit more, I would say, life lived.
The show has leaned into politically inspired storylines in the past. Given everything that’s happened in the country recently and also given the fact you’re jumping three years ahead in the timeline, how are you going to navigate telling those stories going forward?
We’re going take a little creative license that we weren’t going to, but because of what’s happened and our desire to have our characters live in this reality, they’re kind of going through a — I would say it’s similar to what happens on Tiago sometimes, when you go through a little wrinkle in time. (Laughs.) It’s three years later, but they’re in the present. They’ll always be in the present.
Is there one storyline tied to what’s happening in the country that you’re excited to tell on the show and reflect on the show?
I will say that Alba, in the second half, tries her hand at some protesting for things that she feels passionately about, and that leads her into, I think, interesting territory.
What else did you want to add?
I think just that it was as devastating for the cast and the crew as I’m sure it’s going to be for the fans. I especially feel badly because I’m getting a lot of tweets lately about how Jane has been this bright spot in this really challenging time. The timing is not great because I know it’s a gut-punch of an episode, but Jane will find the light and the optimism. I think a testament to how great Brett is, to me, is the emotions you feel watching it and that people have attached to Jane and Michael because of the incredible talent of Brett and Gina and their chemistry together. I would also say it has opened up so much in the way of storytelling. When you’re thinking about the show as a whole and the telenovela and where we’re going toward at the end, whether Jane gets together with someone or whether she finds her happiness alone, I think it has opened it up in tremendous ways. It propels the season and the story forward. I hope people can appreciate that.
Jane the Virgin airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on The CW.
Watch Dier’s video message here:
Feb. 7, 8:20 a.m.: Updated with video message.