When the Jane the Virgin writers room assembled for Season 4 of the series back in June 2017, they quickly figured out exactly what they wanted the season to look like. They knew, for example, that Petra (Yael Grobglas) would be falling for her lawyer, a woman named Jane Ramos (Rosario Dawson). They guessed that the storyline would fulfill a whole lot of fan dreams: Many devotees had been rooting for Petra to fall for a woman since day one. In fact, they’d been shipping her with Jane — the other Jane, as in the title character played by Gina Rodriguez. This new story would be a nod to that, as well as a way to throw a very self-assured character into the chaotic thrill of sexual awakening.
But the writers didn’t want Petra’s self-discovery to bubble to the surface until mid-season. They wanted to lay some representational groundwork first. So they started at the beginning of the season with Jane’s love interest Adam (Tyler Posey) revealing himself to be bisexual. “We wanted to be able to tell that story [of Petra], but we also wanted to make sure we were balancing our representation and not just doing girls making out with girls,” Jane the Virgin creator Jennie Urman told BuzzFeed News. They were aware, she noted, that female bisexual characters were historically rendered through a sexualized male gaze.
Enter Adam, who was already set for a six-episode romantic arc with the original Jane. According to Urman, they wanted “a male bisexual character dating the lead of the show.” That included an episode in which Jane, “who thinks she’s progressive and fine with everyone” has to work through her feelings about her boyfriend’s sexuality.
It was a story always meant to work in tandem with what was to come for Petra, according to Urman. “We wanted to have [all of that] onscreen, all together as a piece,” she said. Adam also served as Jane the Virgin’s entry into a season of television that has seen a notable influx of bi characters on shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Grown-ish, Life Sentence, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and more.
“We're always in a conversation with our audience.”
As planned, Adam left the series in the show’s mid-season finale. Two episodes later, after the series had come back from its winter break, Dawson’s Jane (who Petra calls J.R.) entered the scene as the duplicitous lawyer Petra hires after being accused of murdering her twin sister. And from their first interaction, fans have been holding their breath in anticipation of a story that might fulfill their queer Petra dreams. “There's a lot of chemistry there, which is exciting,” Urman said. “Right away when we saw Yael and Rosario together in scenes we were just over the moon. We were like, Oh, this is going to work.”
The writers named the character Jane in a direct callout to the fans who’d been shipping Petra with original Jane all along. “We're always in a conversation with our audience,” Urman said. It was also an acknowledgment that, “in real life you meet people who have the same name as you all the time,” Urman said, “and in TV you never do.”
The relationship between the two women took its first leap forward in an episode that aired Feb. 9, when Petra had a sex dream about J.R. It was confirmation of what had been brewing between them all along.
“It really opens up a whole new avenue of storytelling, and romance,” Urman said of the decision to bring Petra’s attraction to women into the show. She notes that the writers love crafting scenes between the two characters, especially given what J.R. brings out in the often impenetrable Petra. “There's something about her that's always conflated sex with where you're going to end up, and what you're gonna get, and different power dynamics,” Urman said. “With J.R. we wanted Petra to be on her heel, and for Petra to suddenly realized that she wasn't quite in control.”
“She's really met someone as smart as her, and as layered as her, and as complicated as her,” Urman said.
After her sex dream, Petra can no longer deny that J.R. has infiltrated her head. She’s swept up in one of those all-consuming, fluttery crushes that make you giggle at a simple text — not exactly a mode the icy Petra Solano is accustomed to. That’s part of what makes it so thrilling to watch: We are seeing a character we’ve come to know over four years be thrown out of whack and have to recalibrate herself amid these electrifying new feelings.
“She's really met someone as smart as her, and as layered as her, and as complicated as her,” Urman said. “You always learn more about characters when you see them in different situations, and how they respond and react. We never really see Petra unsure about what's happening to her, and what she's feeling, and we wanted to see her [open up] a little bit.”
Urman speculates that the significant uptick in bisexual characters on TV this year reflects a larger ongoing push for inclusion. “[People are] wanting to see different relationships on TV,” Urman said. “You want to see people fall for each other, and you want to put out things in the world that you want to see, and that will help guide diverse representation in terms of what relationships [look like].”
She also speculates that the current political climate might have something to do with it. “When you’re culturally horrified about politics, you want to put out affirming messages of love onscreen,” she said.
J.R. and Petra’s relationship is already electric — and confirmed to be romantic. Fanfiction empires have been built from a lot less. In a TV landscape that seems to be making way for more and more bi characters, it’s worth paying attention to what Jane the Virgin is doing here with Petra. It’s not a whole new character — it’s the same Petra audiences have been responding to for the past four years. But there is a shift happening in her, an enticing self-discovery. She’s opening up. And we’re only five episodes in.