Ben Quimby is the heart of Jane by Design. Though I enjoy Jane’s quirky naivete, Billy’s misunderstood depth, and Gray’s omnipotence, Ben exemplifies everything that I love about the show and has only grown stronger as a character in the back half of the season. At first glance, he’s a little goofy, a jumbled arrangement of nerves and awkwardness in the body of a former athlete, but once you get past the outer layers of Ben Quimby, you get to see how much there is to him. And you like him (and the show) that much more because of it, let alone how genuine and unexpectedly vulnerable he comes off as. Like Ben, Jane by Design comes off one way but has begun exploring another avenue of characterization – initially, it read like a wispy creampuff of a show, but once you completely sink your teeth into it, there are flavors that you didn’t even know were there.
“The Second Chance” is an episode that both embraces the newly realistic side of Jane by Design and reverts back to its dreamy heyday to fairly solid results. The major reason that the episode worked overall was the inclusion of Kate Quimby, Ben and Jane’s long lost mother that had been traipsing her way all over the world after abandoning her children eight years prior. Arguably, she’s the reason that the show itself exists to begin with, Ben being forced to raise Jane and Jane being thrust into the working world earlier than she expected out of necessity, and she didn’t fail to live up to that kind of expectation. Her presence brought up some interesting colors and dynamics in Jane by Design, unearthing the type of emotions that Ben had long thought buried and Jane didn’t want to experience. They approached their flighty, free spirited mother in two different (but equally heart wrenching) ways, which is something that I found to be interesting and true to the show. Ben gets to play a little bit against character and confront the repressed anger that he had been holding onto since the day his mother left, while Jane, ever the optimist and black-and-white thinker, seemed immediately ready to get to know the woman that she hardly knew. It built to the final scene, where Kate admitted why she left and pleaded to have a place in their lives, quite honestly and brought a sense of rawness to Jane by Design that you don’t see (or feel) that often.
Guest star Teri Hatcher did a fine job portraying Kate, giving her a well-meaning (but ultimately ineffectual) sense of playfulness and fun before letting the wall crumble at the end of the episode. For so long, the Quimby family has been Ben and Jane, so having that change and the routines they had established disrupted could really push the show to go to different places, scary places. And that’s exactly what it needs to grow into the type of show that it could conceivably be. Kate’s visit is going to be brief, but if she can help both Ben and Jane find some sense of closure about their home situation, she will have served her purpose and then some.
Although I liked watching the ever-shifting rhythms of the Quimby family, I wasn’t that big a fan of the Donovan Decker scenes. Jane by Design has done a good job this half-season in not keeping that many secrets; if something happens or somebody is hiding something to everybody but the audience, it’s been found out fairly quickly, e.g. Billy finding out about Zoe being rich, Jeremy confessing to being the mole, etc. While I love that and hope that it continues going forward, tonight didn’t make the best use of Jeremy’s status as the mole, reverting back to the there’s-a-problem-at-Donovan-Decker-that-only-Jane-can-solve type of wish fulfillment fantasy that the show can fall into sometimes. Rather than put all the cards on the table or calling India out on her faux threats, the show had Jeremy vanish into thin air and let Jane save the day, helping Eli and India remake the outfits that were going to be shown to Harrods. And they, of course, did it flawlessly and even got India to giggle with Jane (!) along the way. Because that makes sense. Except not. Granted, I do like that they had multiple people calling Jane out on her nonsense and making her work with India could have made for a pretty decent plotline, but it felt too easy and showed how neutered a villain India is.
Didn’t India burst back onto the scene earlier this season and proclaim that she wanted to end both Jane and Gray? Why, then, is she suddenly talking about how great a team she, Eli, and Jane make? The only thing India cares more about than getting revenge is making herself look good, so I understand them working together, but I’d rather this didn’t turn into some redemption arc for their relationship. I don’t want India to become a cartoon-y villain, but if they’re going to bring her back with the sole purpose of causing trouble and getting under the skin of those at Donovan Decker, then that’s what she needs to be doing. With Jeremy currently MIA and Jane winning her over, India’s less villain, more beleaguered antagonist.
However, I do like how the peripheral relationships have been handled this half-season, particularly Ben and Rita. Their flirtation in the first half of the season always carried a certain sweetness to it that I liked, two awkward people fumbling through the beginnings of a courtship without a hint of grace (but with a whole lot of charm). Their whole “opposites attract” vibe, while bordering on cliche, brought out good things in both characters and gave Ben another person to regularly bounce off of, an identity away from Jane. Their break-up earlier in the half-season was actually one of the subtlest, most effective scenes of the first episodes back from hiatus, putting the first major crack in Ben’s armor. But as much as I liked that scene (Rita’s confidence, her bravery in going for what she wants, the nerdy underdog taking on the prom queen), I have to admit that I liked Rita popping up at the bar with Ben and Amanda even more. I’m invested in these two because of how much groundwork was laid and how well they seemingly mesh, so I would like to see them back together, only if they make some type of progress on their issues. The thought of losing someone she really cares about may have scared Rita into action, but for her and Ben to have a chance at having something tangible, they’re going to have to look at why they broke up and fix those particular problems. I may want to see them back together, but I want to see them together and with a healthier relationship, not together just because they’re afraid of being alone or the other one dating again.
“The Second Chance” is the type of episode that showcases Jane by Design‘s growing pains. It knows what to do and shows flashes of finally pushing through, but old habits die hard and here, they’re very much alive and kickin’. While the need to make Jane the hero and unnaturally successful at her job can be a little too much, considering failure can bring ultimate lessons and personal growth, pretty much everything about the episode worked for me. It’s a decidedly pro-active Jane by Design since the return from hiatus, no secret safe and no emotion too raw to hide, and that’s really helped the show, to the point where it feels on the verge of taking the next step. With Kate around for the next few episodes, Jane will be doing some introspection, self-work that will hopefully lead her to better understanding of herself and her place in the world. At least I hope.
Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
-“We moved the utensils back in 2008, you were probably stomping grapes in Tuscany.”
-“No wonder you’ve been such a raging…pretty, pretty girl.”
-“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go take credit for everything.”
-Erica Dasher spoke to modOration about what it’s like to play Jane and We Love Soaps about her favorite episodes thus far and Jane’s (potential) feelings for Billy.
-Weird bit of editing: Nick gets a good 30 seconds of screen time with his torn ligament. Almost like “hey, we didn’t forget about it and neither should you, so here ya go!”.
-I’d watch a spin-off featuring Jeffrey the sassy doorman and
Walter Bert the butler. Just sayin’.
-In two weeks on Jane by Design, Billy gets invited to meet Zoe’s parents, Kate and Gray tackle online dating, and Rita decides to fight for Ben.