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‘Jane the Virgin’ Boss on Season 4 Finale: ‘I Knew It Would Be the Ultimate Surprise’

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Chapter Eighty-One,” the season 4 finale of “Jane The Virgin.”

The fourth season finale of “Jane The Virgin” was supposed to be a time of celebration: Alba (Ivonne Coll) became an American citizen; Rafael (Justin Baldoni) planned to propose to Jane (Gina Rodriguez); Rogelio’s (Jaime Camil) American telenovela was back on track; Xo (Andrea Navedo) was fighting cancer; and the charges against Petra (Yael Grobglas) were dropped and she was in a happy relationship with J.R. (Rosario Dawson).

But show wouldn’t be living up to its true dramatic potential if things ended so easily — let alone so happily. So in a surprise twist, it was not only revealed that Petra actually was guilty of killing her twin sister, but also that Rafael was pulling away from Jane because Michael (Brett Dier) was still alive.

Or is he?

A man who looks like Michael showed up, but is he actually Michael or just a man with his face? After all, Rose (Bridget Regan) is known transform appearances — especially to toy with people’s emotions.

“When Rose is involved there’s always going to be a question,” creator and showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman tells Variety.

Here, Urman talks about the implications of Michael’s return, if Rafael will ever actually learn about his birth parents, and if the show will jump forward in time again for its fifth (and potentially final) season.

After you killed Michael last year, you wrote an open letter to the audience explaining why it had to happen. Were there concerns about undoing that?

He was definitely dead. Because it’s a telenovela, there’s always that trope. That said, we had to mourn him as a show, as a cast, as a room and as a fanbase. He’s been gone for a year and a half. It’s not like I brought him back three episodes later. That had to feel like a loss — and it was a loss at that time. And as I started to think about the show and where I wanted it to go as we head into our final chapters and what I wanted to do with the storytelling, it just kept coming back to that piece. It really leads to some really interesting, complicated dynamics [and] let us come full circle in a way in our storytelling. I knew it would be the ultimate surprise, and we love a big shocking season-ending twist — but I also knew that what it would give us was this crazy amount of emotional navigation when we come back.

What’s the biggest element of that?

Is it Michael? That’s a question. And if it is, what does that mean and how do people feel? One of the things we like to do on “Jane” is have a really wild telenovela twist and talk about the emotional fallout in a grounded, realistic way. And as I was thinking about it, you have to have room in your storytelling to morph and evolve. It was something I always had in the back of my head as, “It could happen — but it’s not happening.” But then I started to really think about it and the season took shape and it suddenly became something that I knew we had to do. I felt a very, very strong sense of what that would give us on so many different levels, and once that was in my head, I couldn’t get it out.

How will you navigate new feelings about the character if this is the Michael everyone knew and loved but he faked his own death, for example?

The truth is not quite that. I feel like that would be horrible, but that’s not the story we’re moving into.

What were the discussions around pulling off such a big twist now and still being able to use him for as long as the story requires next season if his new pilot goes?

We’ll just have to do complicated scheduling, but as long as everybody is in good faith trying to make things work, which I think we all are, then it will work. I hope for his pilot to go — I adore Gloria [Calderon Kellett, who created the new show], and I love Brett, and that would be the best case scenario. Comedy shoots three weeks on, one week off, so if I have to, I’ll schedule all of his scenes in that week off. We can make things work with the right intention, and I think there is. I have to go into it with that.

Rafael still doesn’t know who his birth parents are. How important is it to you to pay that off?

I think we will, but what could be so shocking unless they were brother and sister? That was our red herring because we had to build up something without giving it away. At the same time I think it’s a really good moment for his character because he does the one thing that he knows will cost him the one thing that means everything to him. I thought it functioned on that level, and he made a really selfless sacrifice for Jane.

Was the moment where Jane reminded the audience of Mateo’s kidnapping also an intentional red herring — like maybe Rose gave them back the wrong baby?

Yes, that was also in there to take [the audience] down many avenues of suspense in order to set your expectations that it was going to be something big — to set the table for a telenovela twist.

How did you decide Petra was going to be guilty?

We knew from the minute we started the story. It was just the “What would Anezka do to push her to the end and snap?” And then once she snaps, she’s a survivor, so how does she continue on and survive? She obviously did not expect to fall in love with her lawyer, and she did not expect to fall in love with J.R. or for J.R. to give up her career for her or for J.R. to be working against her for so long. There were many things that Petra couldn’t control, but she started out having snapped when Anezka, after all of the horrible things she’s done, threatened her family. And right after that, she went into survival mode.

How changed do you consider Petra, not only from committing the crime and covering it up but also from falling in love and losing that love, as well as still having someone out to kill her?

It’s going to be devastating. She is certainly going to try to win that relationship back. She does love her. She’ll have to see if she can.

Alba becoming a citizen was a nice celebration in the sea of all of this turmoil. What was most important to you about balancing the emotions of the episode?

We wanted to build the episode with a lot of joy and give enough time to that because it meant a lot to the series [and] it meant a lot to the storytelling, so we wanted to give it time to really step that out and give it enough space to unfold. That was sort of the middle of our episode — the point where she became a citizen — so it was structurally out of the way of the bigger twists and turns.

Did you consider doing any kind of twist with Xo’s health?

That to me doesn’t feel like a telenovela twist — that’s more in the realm of our grounded, emotional, human stuff. We wouldn’t cliffhang on anything having to do with her health. We want to approach that story in a much different way.

What is the plan to pick up next season in real time versus the time jumps of recent years?

We’ll pick up pretty continuously once Jane comes out of her faint. We left everything at the height, we can’t skip over any of it! There are so many questions. We have to return to that room with Jane and watch Michael and Raf.

You mentioned crafting the final chapters, so if you’re going into season 4 with the idea in mind that it’s the last, do you anticipate changing the structure of the storytelling to be able to wrap elements up quickly?

There’s going to be lots of questions, lots of surprises, lots of twists in the fifth season, of course. We have a lot of ideas and we’re excited to get into it. This next season has to have its own ups and downs and twists and turns, but it will also have answers. The ending of the show will be pretty closed, and we’re moving towards that ending.

How heavily will the idea for Jane’s next book play into the arc of the fifth season, especially where the narrator is concerned?

She definitely types the first words of the pilot. There’s a connection — there’s definitely a connection.

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