For a rookie show on a network for teenagers, Jane the Virgin is already a breakout, grown-up hit. The critically acclaimed, telenovela-style comedy, nabbed a Golden Globe for its star, Gina Rodriguez, last week; the victory was a surprising, delightful upset over the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Edie Falco. After Rodriguez’s victory, Jane enjoyed a huge ratings bump. The first post-Globes episode of Jane had 1.4 million viewers, making it the second most-watched episode of Jane (the most-watched episode is still the series premiere).
The most remarkable thing about Jane is the confluence of insanity and normalcy. Jane is a totally believable person; she is also a virgin who was accidentally artificially inseminated and is carrying the pregnancy to term. And this week’s episode starts in a completely bonkers place and lands in a scenario that, for millions people in the U.S., is all too real.
Jane’s grandmother, Alba, was hospitalized because a woman who was supposed to be in a wheelchair jumped up and shoved her down a flight of stairs. At the hospital, her doctors discover that Alba is not a legal U.S. citizen; as soon as she regains consciousness, Alba’s daughter (Jane’s mother) is warned, Alba will be deported.
Alba’s legal status has come up on the show before, notably when Jane filed a lawsuit against the doctor who mistakenly inseminated her. (The doctor is her baby-daddy’s sister! Her accidental sperm donor is now her boyfriend! Telenovelas are amazing, seriously.) Jane decided to drop the lawsuit out of fear that, should the case go to court, she would be putting her grandmother at risk for deportation to Venezuela. But this is the first time the show approached the issue in an aggressively political way. Jane always uses typing on the screen as a way to add humor, backstory and commentary on the action, and during this scene, the text actually read: “Yes, this really happens. Look it up. #Immigrationreform.”
In an email to Buzzfeed, showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman explained the decision to address immigration reform in the series:
We decided at the beginning of our season that Alba would be in this country illegally and discussed ways that this would be brought up and how it would affect our characters and their decisions. We know how important [this issue] is to the community we are representing… We type on screen and often use hashtags… What was interesting about this one — was that we put it in before Obama’s immigration action (back in November). And once that happened (and he pushed to deport felons, not families), it seemed even more timely.
Medical repatriation, she wrote, was something she and the writers came upon in their research for the show. It “seemed like an organic complication to our story, and also something that more people needed to be aware of.”
According to a report from the Center for Social Justice, more than 600 undocumented immigrants were sent back to their native country while seeking care in American hospitals between 2008 and 2013. As ThinkProgress reported at the time, “undocumented patients are generally ineligible for public health insurance and unable to afford private health insurance. For some undocumented patients with insurance coverage, they still face deportation orders not by the U.S. government, but by hospitals seeking to avoid the costs of long-term care.”
What’s especially interesting about the inclusion of this storyline is that this callout for immigration reform existed side-by-side with one of the more overtly religion-themed plots the series has explored so far. Jane leaves her grandmother’s bedside at the hospital to retrieve her rosary from the hotel where she works; she wants to pray with it, as Alba taught her. So we get this typically conservative-coded behavior — prayer — alongside this progressive issue — immigration reform — and they’re represented by the same characters. Instead of putting them into boxes, like “conservative Grandma and liberal Jane,” they both get to be complicated people with conflicting internal politics.
Said it before, will say it again: watch this show, people! It airs on Monday nights, so the only real conflict is The Bachelor. And you know Jane is better than The Bachelor.