Our Juana Inés has grown up. She’s an adult, intelligent, moderately mature, almost ruthless in her attempts to scale walls denied her as a religious woman yet encouraged among religious men. And it’s hella exciting to see our Juana Inés all grown up, in this episode where she beings to learn about Este amoroso tormento, pulled straight from a poem of the same first lines. (Here in English.) Parts of this episode are stunning. Parts of it don’t make a hell of a lot of sense, and, as always, there’s that ongoing problem of race, class, and representation. But by the end we get a new virreina—María Luisa Manrique de Lara y Gonzaga, Countess, in her own right, of Paredes, and wife of a guy in a terrific green suit. It’s going to be a bumpy and exciting ride, folks.
Within the first few minutes of the episode, we know Fray Payo is on the way out. It isn’t surprising in the least: we know, since we’ve been following Núñez de Miranda’s seething inner dialogues, that Fray Payo really isn’t cut out for the task. Fray Payo’s on his way out. Núñez de Miranda, reading Adult Juana Inés’s poetry, admits that she’s a genius, but warns that no one must ever see her words: she writes for bullfighters, not God, he says, and I want to slap the immortal Respuesta in his face. (He wouldn’t appreciate that: he’d probably arrange for a good auto-da-fé right away.) I resented, rather a lot, that the episode’s snappy (but often ahistoric-feeling) dialogue gave Juana Inés scant chances to tell the world that yes, everything she writes is in service of her God, who gave her this tremendous mind. (I mean, she does refer to this a couple of times, but it felt way too much in passing for my tastes. We’ll see what comes in Divina Lysi, up next.)
I complained, in “Lágrimas negras de mi pluma,” about the extent of Juana Inés’s snappy dialogue—would she really have said that? It’s a complaint that holds true, at least somewhat, throughout “Este amoroso tormento,” too, although I can believe it at least a little better of an adult woman who’s been at this game now for around twelve years. (We’re told, at the beginning, that we’ve bounced twelve years: it’s now 1680.) Parts of “Este amoroso tormento” had me itching to dig out my Trampas de la fé, although I honestly don’t remember them taking place in there: poetic license, I suppose? Juana Inés begging for a chance at the triumphal arch is downright painful, a reminder of the limits of her world as a woman and as a nun. (Although I’d argue that her limits might have been even more limited had she, well, been a wife, the very fate she writes in the Respuesta that she hoped to avoid.) When she manipulates the game to finally get what she’s been after all along, well, it’s a two-second victory—a Pyrrhic victory, knowing what lies in wait.
Our lazy, good-life-lovin’ Peninsular Fray Payo’s headed home, after giving Juana Inés her triumphal arch. Núñez de Miranda is, temporarily, thrilled: a good man coming to root out the corruption and wanton ways of Mexico City! A man to put all these heathens and heretics and nuns who dare to write about the world in their places! (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, remember? Except that, as I’ve already said, they do, when they’re in seventeenth century Mexico City. Everybody does—which “Este amoroso tormento” actually comes close to acknowledging.) Our new archbishop, Francisco de Aguiar y Seijas, as portrayed by Carlos Valencia, is something else. (I mean, I had to take a break in the middle of the episode because the patriarchy and the testosterone were so thick that I’m pretty sure I could smell them through my lovely retina display.)
Aguiar y Seijas hates women, by which I mean he’s such a frothing-at-the-mouth misogynist that he freaks out and demands that the paving stones be removed from his residence because women have touched them with their blood and original sin! (He’s the guy up there, complaining that ¡la sola fragrancia de una mujer puede invocar al mismo Sátanas!) He’s introduced to us doing his nightly devotions, which apparently include wearing a crown of thorns and beating himself. (Now, this is definitely a Thing that people did, back in the day, but it struck me as a little extreme all the same. I also paid next to no attention to good old Aguiar y Seijas, back in the day, so I guess he may have subsisted on bread and water and beaten himself bloody every day and I just wouldn’t have noticed.)
I’ve written about Núñez de Miranda’s fanaticism, the ways in which the surety of his belief makes him frightening: Aguiar y Seijas is worse. Like, a lot worse. Compared to Aguiar y Seijas, Núñez de Miranda, sneaking and ambitious and a closet nationalist, is a moderate, or maybe even a progressive. It’s an uncomfortable reminder—and a good one—that as much as I’ve always hated Antonio Núñez de Miranda, there were a hell of a lot of powerful men out there who were a lot worse. Maybe that, in the end, is why Juana Inés—now very much Sor Juana—chose him as her confessor. (Or maybe it’s not. It might just be the whole keep your enemies close thing.) Of course, by the episode’s end, when Núñez de Miranda is forced to ask our Juana Inés for a favor, Juana Inés claims he’s a good confessor—indeed, she says, the best of confessors. (I rolled my eyes so hard I’m lucky they didn’t get stuck.)
But we get a new virreina, and thus far, she’s incredible. Yolanda Corrales’ María Luisa Manrique de Lara y Gonzaga, countess of Paredes, is a treat. She walks onto the screen sure of herself and of what she wants, a difference, perhaps, in her station: she is in her own right a countess, after all, and her husband the viceroy is only her consort back home in Paredes. It makes a difference. The mercurial abbess tells Juana Inés to seduce María Luisa with her intelligence (the convent’s fate rests in your hands, no pressure!), but María Luisa isn’t waiting around for the fumbling seduction of a woman who’s lived an almost entirely cloistered life for the past twelve years. She knows what she wants, and, we are led to believe, she’s going to get it. The homoeroticism fairly drips, and, when it’s done well (which is much of the time), it’s delightful. There’s banter about books and thinkers (have you heard of Copernicus? Oh gosh now that I think of it I’ve never heard of Copernicus!)—enough back-and-forth to assure us that our María Luisa is a worthy match for our Juana Inés. After the building tension, our final kiss, and the uncertainty on both sides, seemed a little…forced. I’ll have to see what happens when I move into “Divina Lysi.”
Much of what doesn’t work in “Este amoroso tormento” is exactly what I’ve been complaining about ever since I started (slowly) watching Juana Inés back in 2017. (Oops.) The writing and characterization of Nicolása-Juana remain frustrating: barely a character, she seems to exist to remind Juana Inés to eat/go to the kitchen/tend to her convent duties. I mean, I’m sure that the poor woman did indeed do many of these tasks, but she was also a person. We have no words of her own left to us; we have little or nothing of her, indeed, save the knowledge that Juana Inés took with her to the convent a slave, Juana de San José, given her by her mother and eventually sold to her sister. I seem to recall that Juana de San José had a child, but I don’t even know that for sure. She was a presence in Juana Inés’s life, and I feel, strongly, that she deserves better than to be a creature sliding along sideboards and doting on a mistress who will one day soon enough sell her off to María Josefa, who, as far as I know, we’ve never even met. (Or maybe we met her for five minutes in “Lágrimas negras de mi pluma” and I just don’t remember her, which is definitely possible.)
In “Este amoroso tormento,” characters of color are relegated to sliding along backboard and hanging out in the throngs of people watching the virrey and the veirreina arrive. It isn’t a good look. Similarly, presumably to show us the wanton fleshly wickedness of the convent, a previously anonymous nun—Mariana, if I recall correctly—must undergo a forced examination and is found to be pregnant by, Aguiar y Seijas tells us, the Native gardener. (I consider Aguiar y Seijas an unreliable narrator, and the examination an assault, and so make of that what you will.) There’s even a brief flash of levity built into this oddball storyline, when a couple of Fancy Priests, including a guy in red whose name I can’t remember (if I ever heard it), remind Aguiar y Seijas that lust is a thing that happens to the best of us, inset shrug emoji here. From a storytelling perspective, the decision is…kinda confusing. We barely know Hermana Mariana. Like, I think we’ve seen her a few times, but she’s not really A Person, just A Face. Her imprisonment is infuriating—if you’re me—but we are simply not that invested in someone who isn’t our smart-mouthed Tenth Muse or one of her patrons.
Juana Inés also continues to have its share of issues with older women. The abbess has fully morphed into a mercurial creature, castigating Juana Inés on this side for her ambition, demanding that she seduce the virreina with her intelligence and wit to secure the convent wealthy and important patrons on that. One of the nuns—Sor Francisca—sees visions (the end of the world, usually, I think, although that might just be my millennial cynicism talking there). This leads to one of my favorite Juana Inés rejoinders in the entire episode: Sor Francisca and her hallucinations! It strikes me as inherently something the Sor Juana I know from texts would say: she was a spitfire, intent on knowing God through, well, knowing. (Or learning, at any rate.) But I was also uneasy with the representations of Sor Francisca; I’ve read the words of plenty of mystics, including Madre María de San José,1 and I’m uneasy with painting Sor Francisca as a woman pinned to her bed and without much agency. (To be clear, she may indeed have been disabled, but Madre María and others like her had agency—they carved it out, forcefully and often slyly, sometimes in the face of opposition from their confessors.)
So we’ve got Núñez de Miranda and Aguiar y Seijas trying to out-testosterone and out-camp each other in their villainy, and we’ve got Juana Inés, mouthing off here, there, and everywhere. We have a brilliant, determined new virreina, and a virrey who doesn’t appear to be too shabby himself (although it certainly appears that his wife’s the stronger of the two). We’ve seen Núñez de Miranda, in the midst of his testosterone-infused posturing, forced to ask Juana Inés for her help after all but torturing her with the triumphal arch in the beginning of the episode. We’ve also got about five million subplots, some of which make very little sense. (Sor Mariana’s subplot really sticks out here: I’m still pretty confused by what it’s telling me, although this might clear up a bit in the following episodes.)
What “Este amoroso tormento” does well, it does really, really well. Juana Inés is driven, a woman on a (probably secular) mission; María Luisa is intelligent, cultured, and ready to rumble. The constant, chafing reminders that what is permitted and even encouraged a man—even a religious—is neither encouraged nor even accepted of a woman. (Núñez de Miranda’s ambitions, often foiled because he was born in Mexico, not Spain, are to be encouraged until he strays outside the lines allotted him as a Mexican-born white man; Juana Inés’s are, always, to be discouraged—until Mercurial Abbess realizes she can be helpful to the convent.) Middle-aged and elderly women really get the shaft in these episodes; people of color are relegated to sidelines even as Juana Inés teaches María Luisa Nahuatl words.
“Divina Lysi” is coming next, and I’ve got my fingers crossed.
1 Kathleen Myers from Indiana University Bloomington has written extensively about Madre María de San José, who is an odd and fascinating woman of no mean intellect or capacity; she held multiple roles within her convent and was, in her sphere, a powerful woman. For more about her, check out A Wild Country Out in the Garden: The Spiritual Journals of a Colonial Mexican Nun selected, edited, & translated by Kathleen Ann Myers & Amanda Powell.
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