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Virgin River Is Finally the Best Version of Itself in Season 5

The Netflix drama has given itself an upgrade by embracing its soapiness

Maggie Fremont
Alexandra Breckenridge, Virgin River

Alexandra Breckenridge, Virgin River


[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Virgin River Season 5, Part 1. Read at your own risk!]

Five seasons in and Virgin River could've easily shifted into cruise control. Why not? Five seasons is an eternity for most television shows these days, and the Netflix series, based on Robyn Carr's novels, has remained a bona fide hit with its mix of wholesome coziness, soapy drama, and perfect knits — it clearly has a formula that's working for it. It's the ol' "if it ain't broke don't fix it" situation. Only, the formula isn't perfect. 

Virgin River has always had a tendency to somehow both drag out storylines — may I remind you people that Charmaine (Lauren Hammersley) has been pregnant for five seasons now — or, even worse, present a dramatic scenario and cut immediately to its aftermath without ever really showing us the conflict. I'll never forgive this show for its insane choice last season to end an episode with Jack (Martin Henderson) having to take over a small plane when the pilot had a heart attack, and then cut to the next episode where everyone was at the hospital but totally fine. What a travesty! Let me actually see Jack Sheridan pull this miracle off! And HOW DARE YOU hold out on the post-landing Jack and Mel (Alexandra Breckinridge) kiss of relief! This may be my own beef that I need to work through, but still, leaving the most compelling part of entire storylines up to the audience to imagine was pretty par for the course in the first four seasons of the series. When I fired up Season 5, I had resigned myself to more of the same, which would've been totally fine (this show is fine as is). However, I had a much different and very welcome experience: It turns out Virgin River isn't coasting. It is willing to tweak its formula, and in doing so, it solves a lot of its aforementioned pacing issues. Season 5, led by new showrunner Patrick Sean Smith, dials up the soap opera several degrees and is a better series for it. 

Now, let's be real: Virgin River Season 5 isn't some completely different take on the series. I don't think it's going to win over any new viewers, but its improvements certainly offer up a treat for its longtime fans (unless you hate the soap opera aspects of this show, in which case, grow up). The series has never felt more compelling than it does in its new season, because here, it is willing to wade down deeper into the drama at expense of some of the coziness (not all of it; don't you worry). Sure, some of that drama is outrageous — the conclusion of Brady (Benjamin Hollingsworth) and Jack's run-in with Melissa Montgomery (Barbara Pollard) and her scheme to launder money through, wait for it, Jack's glamping business is particularly ridiculous — but at least it commits. And the best example of how not shying away from the drama — or, more importantly, the melodrama — is working for the series as a whole is definitely the two-parter in the middle of the season, in which wildfires ravage the town of Virgin River. 

Alexandra Breckenridge and Martin Henderson, Virgin River

Alexandra Breckenridge and Martin Henderson, Virgin River


The wildfires are the centerpiece of the season, and the writers use them to their advantage in multiple ways. The storyline itself is emotional, as people in Virgin River lose everything and come together to support one another, just as you knew they would. Perhaps it hits even harder because of recent events. Virgin River doesn't shy away from the devastation (although it doesn't get as catastrophic or grim as the scenario can be in real life; this is still Virgin River, after all). But it also uses the tension in the town to further several other ongoing storylines and relationships — life-threatening situations seem to throw everyone off-kilter, don't they? 

Tragedy strikes Mel and Jack in the middle of the melee, made even more tragic by the fact that they can't do anything about it since they both play integral roles in keeping Virgin River safe. When the fireline reaches Jack's bar, it allows Brady and Preacher (Colin Lawrence) to hash out their differences (and teach us all what a backfire is). Being out of town together, waiting for news of their friends, brings Brie (Zibby Allen) and Mike (Marco Grazzini) closer together in a really organic way. Even the youths, Lizzie (Sarah Dugdale) and Denny (Kai Bradbury), get a big moment that is at once exciting, revealing, and the perfect way to develop their relationship (Lizzie and Denny have never been more interesting than they are this season — a sentence I'd never thought I'd write). The writers and cast wring every bit of drama they can from the circumstances they've built for themselves without ever losing the show's wholesome tone, and they wind up delivering two of the best episodes of the series. I've never seen Virgin River work so hard, and I mean that as the highest compliment.

By leaning into the soapiness, especially in the romance department, Virgin River tackles another problem it's had for its entire run: It finally makes characters aside from Mel and Jack (and, OK, Doc [Tim Matheson], too) worth watching. Every good soap needs a love triangle, right? It's in Season 5 that the love triangle between Brie, Brady, and Mike, which the series attempted to present us with last season, finally feels fully formed and worth getting invested in — over the hiatus, it was clearly tended to with some care (and bigger stakes). Smith and his team also made the wise decision to finally wrap up Preacher's storyline with Paige (Lexa Doig) and instead toss him into a sudsy, complicated romance with Kaia (Kandyse McClure), a new firefighter in town, and it completely breathes new life into his character. 

And yes, of course, the Mel and Jack stuff remains a highlight. They have some huge obstacles to overcome this season: First, Jack has to deal with last season's big finale truth bomb that he is not the father of Charmaine's twins and that she had been lying to the guy for months (or years, in actual human time) — ever a soap opera plot point if there was one — and the show explores that betrayal in a compelling way that feels well-developed without bogging down the character. When Mel suffers a miscarriage during the wildfires, that too is handled deftly and opens up some interesting paths for both Mel and Jack to take in the future.

Simply put: Every character feels upgraded in Season 5. While the plot runs the gamut on the soapy scale, from frothy to freaking ridiculous — people embark on delightfully unlikely romances or need to be pulled out of burning buildings, or there's that one time when Bert (Trevor Lerner) the mechanic is accidentally injected with fentanyl thanks to all the money laundering glamping shenanigans — but all of it clicks much more this season, because the show treats it all with equal care, unafraid to fully get into it. There's no skipping the good parts this time; we're treated to all the drama, and Virgin River finally feels like the best version of itself.

Virgin River Season 5 Part 1 is now streaming on Netflix.