[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Virgin River Season 5, Part 2.]
It may have taken them five seasons to get around to it, but Virgin River was built for holiday episodes. It's got the warm and fuzzy cheese factor down, not to mention the romance, plus it's not hard to believe that some of these grown human adults would take a pretty low-stakes Christmas tree decorating contest as seriously as they do. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It's anyone's guess. Regardless, Virgin River's two bonus Season 5 episodes fit right in amongst the onslaught of holiday TV romance fare while also staying true to the tone of the series when it's not all covered in tinsel. The fact that Virgin River can easily slip into holiday mode is no surprise; what might be, however, is that the greatest gift to come out of these episodes isn't the story of Mel Monroe (Alexandra Breckenridge) searching for and eventually tracking down her biological father, or Charmaine (Lauren Hammersley) finally, mercifully, giving birth after five seasons (hey, at least the show makes jokes about it, too). It's not even Doc (Tim Matheson) re-proposing to Hope (Annette O'Toole) to ensure he can see her walk down the aisle before he possibly loses his eyesight (although we do love an emotional Doc moment). No, the best gift Virgin River gives us this holiday season is the leveled-up development of one of the best gifts it's given us all year — the sweet May-December romance budding between Muriel St. Claire (Teryl Rothery) and Dr. Cameron Hayek (Mark Ghanimé).
The second the show gave us these two characters performing an impromptu duet to "Good Morning" in the middle of the clinic and Cameron slipping in a little story about how he had a crush on his high school drama teacher (an older woman, get it?), you knew this show was going there. And thank goodness it did. I mean, if you find the Gene Kelly to your Debbie Reynolds, you must at least explore that. And Muriel has been one of the MVPs on this series for a long time — she had to field Hope's b.s. for far too long! — so if anyone deserves to be getting some on this show, it's Muriel St. Claire. But the joy in this storyline isn't simply that Virgin River decided to showcase a romantic relationship between an older woman and a younger man, when more often than not it's the other way around, but rather in the way the show is doing it: giving it just as much respect and attention as any other romantic plot.
In Season 5, Part 1, there is almost an immediate chemistry between the two characters, and when Muriel needs a place to crash after she loses her house in the wildfires, the two can't deny their feelings any longer. But when it comes to dramatic obstacles making it difficult for them to act on those feelings, age never comes up. Instead, the thing holding them back is how their boss, Doc, might feel about an inter-office romance. When Muriel's sewing circle buddies tease her about her obvious feelings for the handsome doc, it's never about her being older than him — they tease her because their friend has a big ol' crush and it's written all over her face. Refreshingly, no one ever mentions age, and you know it would've been so easy to let the biggest bitch (that's a term of endearment), Connie (Nicola Cavendish), be the vessel for that. What a wonderful choice to do something different.
And yet for this relationship to be in any way believable, somehow, at some point, Muriel and Cameron have to broach the subject of their age gap — which is exactly what happens over the two holiday episodes released to close out Season 5. However, once again, the way the writers of Virgin River (both holiday episodes were written by Erin Cardillo and Richard Keith) choose to confront this issue is lovely and refreshing and bittersweet. I didn't want to be over here getting misty-eyed thanks to two people who, in their free time, choose of their own volition to choreograph two-hour long holiday musicals to subject an entire town to, but here! we! are! Because folks, just as Muriel and Cameron have gone public and are secure in their relationship and have Muriel's friends saying things like, "It's not every day you find the perfect dance partner," Cameron's ex-fiancée, Michelle, shows up six months sober and asks him to think about trying to work things out. She wants to rebuild the life they had together; she wants to start a family with him.
While Cameron, my man, immediately assures Muriel that he already has a life in Virgin River with her, Muriel knows they need to have a hard conversation they may have been avoiding. Muriel doesn't want kids. She might have when she was younger, but the time has passed. And who could blame her? This woman is a hottie who spends her time with her sewing circle gals, kicking back glasses of Merlot, and choreographing holiday-themed musical extravaganzas — she has no time for kids. She does, however, recognize that her much younger boyfriend might still have dreams of being a father. Cameron, again, responds almost immediately that he is "good with a family of two" and that Muriel is all he needs. It's very swoony and really makes up for all that "We Need a Little Christmas" dancing business (for me, personally, not for Muriel, who obviously loved that bit).
Since Muriel and Cameron are very much supporting characters on this show and there are much bigger storylines playing out (I mean, there's that body buried in the woods we need to deal with!), it would've been easy to let things lie there. Here's where you can really see Cardillo and Keith taking care of this relationship: The subject is a big one and deserves more attention than a quick back-and-forth, and later, under the twinkly lights of Virgin River's holiday market, Muriel brings it up again. She doesn't want to lose Cameron, but she also doesn't want him to wake up one day in the future and resent her as the reason he lost out having kids, if that is something he really wants. She wants him to promise he'll think about it a little longer. Rothery is wonderful in this scene, a woman being brave and heartbroken at the same time. It's not just a moment of great development for this relationship but also for the character of Muriel — who really has been begging for some growth for several seasons.
Let's be very real: Most people turn on Virgin River knowing it's a soapy cheese fest — it's endearing! It's why we love it! — but even after five seasons, it's still able to surprise you with a small, lovely storyline that makes a big, emotional impact. Let's be very real again: If Dr. Green Velvet Suit shows up in Season 6 and tells Muriel he was actually just goofing about all that "family of two" stuff, I will proceed to calmly yet firmly throw my remote directly at my television screen in a white hot fury. Muriel St. Claire deserves a good romance, and we deserve one that's as easy and fun to root for as this quite unexpected one.
Virgin River Season 5 Part 2 is now streaming on Netflix.