Well, hello there! And welcome back to Virgin River, where the scenery is stunning and the romance is thwarted at every turn! That’s right, friends, the second season of Virgin River has arrived and it’s got darker plot lines, manly secrets, sexy-times encounters, fully expected twists and turns, and an amount of competition between women that I really could have done without.
Mel (Alexandra Breckenridge) returns from her emotional sojourn to Los Angeles to find that Jack (Martin Henderson) is not quite ready to accept her back into his life. Just kidding! It takes all of twenty minutes of the first episode before he is declaring his enduring love for Mel. (He does this while leaving the door to her cabin ajar, and all I could think about was the number of moths and other bugs she was going to have to contend with later.) I will admit, it’s fairly romantic, except for the part where he says, “I know enough to know I’m right about us. You’ll see.” I realize that is also supposed to be romantic, but it just feels a wee bit controlling and mansplainy to me. He mostly redeems himself later when he says he’ll be her friend and wait for her to work through her grief and guilt. Obviously, nothing will be so simple as Mel just figuring out her feelings. Jack’s ex-girlfriend Charmaine (Lauren Hammersley) is still very much pregnant with his baby and is fully expecting that they will somehow reconcile. Meanwhile, Doc (Tim Matheson) and Hope (Annette O’Toole) have reconciled, but Hope insists that they keep their romantical feelings a secret. She even goes so far as to insist that Doc take out Muriel (Tery Rothery, who I did not realize is also in Upload) to throw the town gossips off their scent. This is a terrible idea. For the love of all the formulaic shows, please stop using this trope. And, not to dash your dreams to smithereens early on, but Hope continues to be just as irksome as she was in the first season. Actually, I’d argue she’s even more exasperating. I’m on my knees begging the writers to let her have just a few lines in Season Three that don’t sound whiny and entitled. (And also to find her a more flattering shade of lipstick.) Paige (Lexa Doig) has been found by her abusive ex-husband, and things are about to get really dark for both her and Preacher (Colin Lawrence), who continues to be very handsome, capable, and kind.
The not-so-friendly neighborhood pot farmer has gone all in on becoming a more well-rounded stereotype of a murderous drug king pin. And finally, Ricky (Grayson Maxwell Gurnsey), who works at the bar, finds romance with Lizzie (Sarah Dugdale), Connie’s (Nicola Cavendish) rebellious niece who has been exiled to Virgin River by her parents in the hopes that it will straighten her out. Because, yes, that is always a failsafe plan. Teenagers in small, isolated towns living with older conservative relatives never find ways to get themselves into heaps of trouble. Everything in Virgin River is, as always, very dramatic without actually being very dramatic. You know what I mean?
I do feel that having not just one, but two storylines where women are effectively fighting over the affections of a man was overkill. How about we try for zero of those next season? Charmaine is proving to have a very difficult pregnancy, and she’s an absolute brat about Mel treating her, even though Mel is clearly the most qualified medical professional for the job. Charmaine is totally cast as the underhanded conniving woman who is determined to trick Jack into a relationship with her. I just…Do we really need this kind of drama? Isn’t it complicated enough that Jack is going to have a child with one woman while he’s in love with another who is still mourning the loss of her own husband and child? That seems dramatic enough without bringing in jealousy and a (somewhat one-sided) competition for Jack’s affections. And then we have Hope. Sigh. Hope, Hope, Hope. What are we going to do with Hope? She pushes Doc to go on dates with Muriel and then gets jealous and suspicious when Doc seems to be enjoying himself too much. After finding out that Hope and Doc are back together, Muriel says she’ll just be waiting in the wings to scoop Doc up after Hope inevitably fucks things up again. Ew, Muriel. Ew, Writers. And just no. Doc Mullens is a perfectly fine person who has done a lot of evolving since the beginning, but still no to having two women tear each other down in order to win his affections. Also, why would anyone want to be with someone they had to trick into being with them?
I continue to like Mel and her mostly practical footwear. I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to watch her clamber over rocks or whatever in a pair of flat or low-heeled, solid looking boots. Her character feels more settled, more grounded, and more realistic this season. Like she’s come back unwilling to take anyone’s shit, and I’m here for that. (Though she still gives Charmaine and Hope way too much leeway.)
Also, not groundbreaking, but still nice is the way in which Jack describes grief as being circular. Jack, as well as other characters, aren’t expecting Mel to simply get over her dead husband, they’re allowing her the space to grieve and grieve and grieve again for as long as needed. (Is it wrong then that I got a little tired of grief storyline? Probably, but, like, we get it, she’s sad about her husband and horny for Jack. And that’s perfectly okay.)
And the subject of the domestic violence toward Paige is treated seriously and not too salaciously. There is another character who shares her own experiences in a way that personalizes the pervasiveness of violence against women and its long-term ramifications. Would it have been helpful for the show to offer an organization for those currently at risk to contact? Probably. By far my favorite socially conscious moment is when Lizzie, who is nineteen, asks Mel to prescribe her birth control. When her aunt Connie finds out she throws away the prescription and lays into Mel about corrupting minors. The show then takes great pains to make it clear that it’s a woman’s right to have easy access to birth control. Even old rotary phone using, “back in my day women knew their place,” saying Doc agrees that they should make sure Lizzie gets the birth control she wants because “in medicine there are no sides to take, only patients to treat.” Hell, yeah.
And the relationship between Lizzie and Ricky turned out to be one of the strongest and most heartening storylines. When she first shows up in town I worried she was being cast as a bad girl temptress who would lure the up-until-now always dutiful Ricky into massive amounts of trouble. And the world has had quite enough of those kinds of storylines, thank you very much. She does encourage him to break all the rules he previously followed to the letter, but, toward the end of the season, she grows into a character that’s less siren and more lonely, confused teen. The standout from this plot line, though, is Ricky’s grandma who vehemently stands up for their right to have sex as long as they’re doing it responsibly. KAPOW! An older woman being sex positive and getting shit done!
In some ways this season feels a bit like a placeholder before we get to the real action in the third season. Placeholder Seasons, which is definitely a term I just made up, aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they do often lack for substance. It’s kind of a like an extended car chase, if the cars were people and the race was the frantic beating of their hearts. And I will complain that we do spend just a lot of time going in probably unnecessary circles around Doc and Hope’s relationship and Mel and Jack’s relationship. Both men have Very Big Secrets this season that will end with Very Shocking Cliffhangers that you can also see coming from miles away. Of course, none of this still won’t stop me from waiting with bated breath to see the probably also not shocking developments that they cook up for the third season. I won’t hold my breath for it, but I really hope that Ricky’s grandmother opens a sex education clinic for the teens of Virgin River. And that everyone gets some much needed sleep, therapy, and relationship mediation.