At what point does a fan theory become so ubiquitous that it stops being a theory?
Back in January of last year, as Jane The Virgin was in the midst of its first season, I tweeted the following to my A.V. Club colleague Kayla:
This was a week after the show’s Latin Lover Narrator told audiences that Michael would believe he and Jane should be together “for long as Michael lived, until he drew his very last breath.” It was a notable piece of foreshadowing for a show that had already shown its interest in exploring the high stakes of the telenovela, and antennae have been up ever since.
But it was later in the second season that Michael’s fate became a larger topic of conversation. And in this case, it wasn’t the kind of explicit foreshadowing that the writers introduced in the first season, but rather a practical reality of the situation that was being established: Michael was too perfect to leave the season unscathed. The life being set up for Michael and Jane following their engagement was too perfect: he was too understanding about the co-parenting with Rafael, he was too willing to accommodate Jane’s neuroses, and he was romantic in ways that are simply not sustainable for an ongoing television series. Jane can’t be as happy as Michael was making her for the show to move forward with wedded bliss as the status quo. Something had to give.
And people noticed. Some of us simply trolled our Twitter followers, making sure they were prepared for the pending doom (it was what The New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum was talking about on Twitter in the hours before she earned her Pulitzer). Vulture wrote a whole article about whether or not Michael was going to die. And the textual evidence was only kept mounting: the couple exchanged their vows before their wedding, for example, which is a telltale sign that something is about to go terribly wrong. And so by the time we got to tonight’s season finale, we were past the point where the antennae were up, and to the point where I turned to my mother—who has only seen the pilot, which I showed her earlier today while visiting—and told her flat out that Michael was about to die.
But as much as something terrible happening to Michael wasn’t a question going into “Chapter Forty-Four” wasn’t a question, I did have a question about it: is it a problem that we all knew it was going to happen?
I don’t know, honestly. I wasn’t shocked to see that Michael doesn’t definitively die in this finale, and much like Mateo’s kidnapping last season I don’t know if the show will actually follow through on killing Michael outright. Compared to the many scenarios the show could have explored, they actually gave Michael and Jane more of a happy ending than I’d anticipated: they get married, and have a Bruno Mars wedding dance, and experience all the happy feelings that you’d want on your wedding day. It’s just their wedding night that goes awry, as Michael is shot—very close to his heart, and Rose is to blame—getting ice for their champagne just as Jane knocks down the snowglobe symbolic of their love.
But how much were we supposed to be anticipating this? The foreshadowing was there, yes, but the show was never as explicit as it was in that narration, which most people probably didn’t remember unless reminded of it reading about the show online. This wasn’t a scenario like in Lost’s third season where Charlie’s impending death was a huge part of the storyline: this was a case where the groundwork was more hidden, unless you had someone on your social feed reading the show through that lens. Once the idea of Michael dying—or being shot, the impact is the same—is introduced, it’s almost impossible to ignore, and it definitely zapped any significant suspense out of the finale.
I was hoping that showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman would address the question of whether or not we were supposed to be as on top of Michael’s fate as we were in postmortem interviews, and she addresses it directly with The Hollywood Reporter:
Given that there was all the speculation about Michael dying, knowing that you were heading into this finale, did that worry you at all? Thinking that fans might see this coming?
No, because people are smart and I put that line in episode ten that he will love her for the rest of his life – that’s what people are responding to. The question is how long is that life, so it could be now, it could be later, and I think that that tension was kind of built in so it’s okay to watch it with that tension and to hope something doesn’t happen or hope it does happen. I feel like it’s people responding to the threads that we’re putting down, I think there’s enough huge surprise in the finale that if people expected that to happen, that’s okay too. Again, they don’t know what will happen from that.
It’s a thoughtful answer, and she’s not wrong about “Chapter Forty-Four”: while the other twists are not necessarily hugely shocking, all choreographed in one way or another (and that’s a compliment, the show kept the plotting tight), the episode delivers without relying on its shocking twist. Even knowing in my cold, black heart that something terrible was going to happen to Michael, I still got emotional during their wedding, and still felt the joy of the reception. The episode was in no way damaged by predicting its ending, and she’s not wrong that there was some small part of me that wondered if I would end up with egg on my face for being such a troll about it on Twitter.
But let’s push Urman’s diplomatic answer a little further with a different question: would she have liked if the discourse around Michael’s likely death was less loud than it was? It’s true that the foreshadowing was there, and she’s right that there’s no way to put the genie back in the bottle when you create a show that draws smart viewers like Jane The Virgin has. But there was a time when there wouldn’t have been articles about it, and social media wouldn’t have been a weekly barrage of jerks who keep pointing out that the show was telling a tragedy without actually telling us, and you wonder if writers would like if we went back to that world sometimes. In an ideal world, ignoring Urman’s very pragmatic acknowledgment of varied subject positions among her audience, would she rather that people’s suspicions would have been less visible, or less concrete by the time this finale rolled around?
Regardless, though, the show has kept the mystery alive by leaving Michael’s fate uncertain. And while my trolls focused on Michael’s death as a certainty for the sake of maximum effectiveness, I’ve always maintained that Michael actually dying wasn’t necessarily likely. This is a telenovela, after all, and so the show has lots of options for how to move forward without having Brett Dier leave the show, and without breaking up Jane and Michael so soon after their wedding. And despite all the certainty about something like this happening, I’m pleased with how ambiguous their plans are: whereas there was never any question if Mateo would be returned to Jane at the start of the second season (c’mon now, it’s a newborn baby), there are numerous paths they could go with Michael, which is more than you could say for Game Of Thrones‘ similar cliffhanger recently.
It’s also not the “purpose” of “Chapter Forty-Four” at the end of the day. The cliffhanger is significant, yes, but it’s more about seeing Jane share these moments with her mother and grandmother, and her father. The explicit parallels back to the “Pilot”—the repetition of Jane and Michael’s heavy petting, the focus on Jane’s virginity—were joined by a sense of how far these characters have come: Jane’s wedding meant the world to Alba, reaffirmed her relationship with her father, and created the kind of big emotional swing that the show does so well. The second season struggled at times with its other storytelling for me: the Mutter storyline always felt like a retread of the Rose story (for good reason, given the reveal), ostensibly serving Rafael’s character but never in ways that sustained my interest. The show isn’t really interested in criminal conspiracies, at the end of the day, and so there are times when their execution becomes perfunctory—they’re there so that they are able to set up scenarios like the one in the finale reasonably. And I do wonder at what point the show will outgrow these stories, or when they will commit to telling more of their stories—Rose’s return gives them an option here—to make them a more significant part of the story.
But through any stumbles, and a long-predicted cliffhanger, Jane The Virgin still resonates because it knows where the emotional core of its story exists: while its genre requires life-and-death, its interest is in life, and that has remained constant throughout the show’s run. And regardless of what Michael’s fate is, I’m excited to see how the show embeds that fallout into its Villanueva family tapestry in the years ahead.