'Jane the Virgin' showrunner explains that season finale — and yes, she screamed too

'Jane the Virgin' showrunner explains that season finale — and yes, she screamed too
Gina Rodrguez as Jane Villanueva in "Jane the Virgin." (The CW)

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Friday’s season closer of the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” We even threw you a bone and put a non-spoilery main photo in case you have a trigger thumb on all things “Jane the Virgin.” So, really, don’t blame us. We tried!]

The last five seconds in the Season 4 finale of “Jane the Virgin” likely prompted the kind of aghast expression typical of famed telenovela villain Soraya Montenegro. (See here.)

It’s no secret the CW series likes to pay homage to the twists-and-turns storytelling of telenovelas. And tonight it pulled off one of its most jaw-dropping reveals yet.

At the center of Friday’s episode was whether Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and Rafael (Justin Baldoni) would get engaged. The outlook seemed grim after Rafael received some unwelcome news from Rose (the show’s central villain) that he kept Jane in the dark about — causing some conflict.

But things seemed to turn around as the episode neared its end. Jane arrived at Rafael’s apartment, anticipating a bended-knee proposal — the culmination of their long and winding road to love.

But the heart-stopping moment came when Jane stepped inside and saw Michael (Brett Dier), her dead husband. Except, he wasn’t dead.

Or is it that he isn’t Michael?

The Times spoke to “Jane the Virgin” showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman for help in processing the reveal.

Uh …

Did you scream? Honestly, I’ve seen it like 30 times and I scream every time I see it.

So, tell me, had this been the plan all along?

No. I mean, it was always a possibility. I always kept it in the back of my head as a possibility, but I wasn't quite sure. And it came into focus, I would say, about a year ago, as I started to think about — I know how everything is ending and where I want it to go. Nothing like who Jane ends up with, or whatever, but I know how the structure of the piece ends, and I was thinking about what I wanted to see toward the end, and what telenovela tropes we had left purposefully undone, one of them being a return from the dead. If it is indeed Michael. I'm leaving that open.

I think I told Gina at the end of Season 3 that we were gonna do that. And I sat down with Brett [Dier, who played Michael] around this time last year

Wait, so is it another mask situation? Evil twin brother?

Who knows?

So Gina and Brett were the only two cast members that knew?

They were the only two that knew, and the writers, of course, and our producer. Everyone else, I wanted to have the maximum amount of surprise because everybody loves Brett so much, and I thought that would be the most fun. So, I redacted the last page of the script, and then he waited outside during the table read. And then, when we got to the ending, I opened the door and he walked in, and there was a lot of screaming.

I had gone into the finale worried that something might happen to Xo.

I felt like we had spent a lot of time on the diagnosis in the last series of episodes, and this was a ... I wanted to take a breath from that, have her between her chemo treatments. You still, at that point, feel it in her, but that wasn't gonna be the focus of the finale. And we like to ramp it up, and really get some twists in there.

'Jane the Virgin'
Brett Dier as Michael in "Jane the Virgin" The CW

What was it like in the writers room as you were fleshing out this idea, plotting out the Michael reveal — if it is Michael, that is?

I came in at the beginning of this fourth season with things in focus for it and for what happens next, in the beginning of Season 5. So, I had kept it open a little bit in the back of my head, but didn't really talk about it until I got into the room for the beginning of the fourth season, and then I pitched this to the writers, and what will happen subsequently, and people got excited and I wanted opinions, of course, because if everyone's like, "No!" Then you're like, "OK."

But I was just talking about what we're planning for, and what we're moving toward, and we got excited about it and about all of the story possibilities that it opens up and about, thematically, things coming full circle.

I had a line in the finale that Michael says ... And I'm calling him Michael, but a big question will be, did Rose do something? Who is this? But anyway, I had initially wanted it with this line at the end that starts something else, and the writers convinced me that it was dramatic enough just to see him, and leave us on that shock, and save the next piece of the puzzle for Season 5. So, I did that.

So he’ll say the line in Season 5, or you wanna tell us what that line was?

No, I can't tell you, because it launches a whole other thing. They felt like it was two shocks in one, and they felt like just show us him, let people absorb that, and leave everyone wondering a little bit longer what will happen. So, they were very adamant and I can see their point. I shot it both ways.

What were the challenges in mapping it out — to make sure you didn’t telegraph it to the audience?

We were really mindful, because we really feel like fans of the show watch it closely, and are looking for signs, and are also priming people that this is a telenovela. So, there's been a few, there's been a few people when they're talking about [tele]novelas, they talk about, "Oh my gosh, this guy returned from the dead, classic twist." We had that in there.

We, of course, keep Michael very alive through Jane's grief and through her going through what it meant to her to lose a husband, so, that's how we've kept him a part of the story, but always through Jane. We didn't really wanna foreshadow this too much because we really felt like people would pick up on it, because the audience is savvy and they know we like a big shock.

"Jane the Virgin"
Gina Rodriguez, left, as Jane and Justin Baldoni as Rafael in a scene from the Season 4 finale of "Jane the Virgin." The CW

How do you tackle something like this — a telenovela twist that your show embraces — without cheating the audience, who really grieved the loss of this character?

I think you can hold both things, and that's what Jane's gonna be struggling with, right? She went through a huge grieving process, and so did the audience, and what does this mean? And, on our show, we love to do a giant, big telenovela twist, and then really unpack the emotional fallout from that. So, I feel like that's gonna be interesting for her as a character and also interesting in terms of how the audience feels about him and all of that.

And this is a [tele]novela . We need this. A return from the dead, as a trope, is as standard as you can get. And there's a few others that we've been saving up, that we're gonna get into, but I think it's part of the fun ride of the show, but also, for the audience, they should not doubt that we will be getting into all of the emotional fallout from it, and all of the nuances that come with that.

Can you tell us where we'll pick up in Season 5? Is it right after that moment?

We'll pick up really directly after. Very directly after.

There's a lot of overlap between “Jane the Virgin” and the folks over at “One Day at a Time” — co-creator Gloria Calderón Kellett and star Justina Machado have appeared on the show. And Brett is starring in Gloria’s pilot for CBS, “History of Them.” What happens if the pilot gets picked up?

We're all friends, so I feel like we'll be able to use him around their schedule, and I really, really hope that show gets picked up, it sounds so good and I root for all of them.

How much focus, then, will this new development take in Season 5? Are we back in love-triangle territory?

It's not gonna be the focus of Jane's life, certainly. There's gonna be a lot of complicated things to untangle, and that will certainly be a part of it, but next year is a lot about Jane's dreams coming true in terms of writing. She started to write her novel at the end of this, and the lines she was writing were the first lines of the pilot. And, so, we're gonna see her career advance in big ways, and also, there's actually a lot of stuff going on next year, which I'm excited about.

So someone has adapted the book? But the narrator?

You’ll have to wait and see.

With Jane’s epiphany in the finale to combine her various books into one, it certainly seems like the finish line is in sight. Are the rumors true — is Season 5 the end?

I'm not allowed to confirm or deny, but I can say that the beautiful thing is that the CW has always said that it will air until the story is complete, and they are letting the creative drive that, and that's really, I think, rare, and lucky, and I feel fortunate.

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Twitter: @villarrealy