Virgin River Season 4 is here! And you know what that means. Yes, it’s time again for us to gather round our screens and gorge our eyes on mountains of bucolic scenery, heaps of uneaten baked goods, and oodles of folksy charm mixed with soap operatic drama-rama. Fortunately, this season is definitely not worse—I think it might be better—than Season 3, which is a relief because I will not quit watching. There are certainly fewer Life Altering Secrets and more movement and purpose in the storytelling.
Please note that while watching you may suffer from Virgin River Series Opener Syndrome (VRSOS). Symptoms may include: Confusion, befuddlement, frustration, discombobulation, and a sense that you skipped a hidden first episode. People with VRSOS may ask themselves questions like: Hang on…didn’t we leave Preacher (Colin Lawrence) roofied and alone in the woods with no car and no cell phone? When and how did he get out of that pickle?!? Wait a minute…wasn’t Hope (Annette O’Toole) in the hospital balanced between life and death? How is she so…fine? Is this show doing some weird crossover with Outlander and that’s why it feels like Charmaine (Lauren Hammersley) has been pregnant for 300 years? Be assured that VRSOS is not your fault (unless you are in fact a writer on this show—in which case, I’d like to have a word). Instead, your brain is simply falling face first into one of the more egregious holes in the plot. (See also: the end of Season 2 when Jack (Martin Henderson) was left bleeding out on his bar floor and Season 3 when he was happily grilling up a storm.) They should really have the craft circle women whip up some patches for those gaping gaps. Or, you know, write a different script. Anyway, take my hand and we’ll pick our way through the plot and the holes together.
This season had me thinking it was going to take a sharp turn into uncharted territory (for the show) when it opened with Jack having an anxiety dream about the paternity of Mel’s (Alexandra Breckenridge) baby. He and a very pregnant Mel are happily discussing baby names when she mentions they’ll have to consider naming it after Mark (Daniel Gillies) if it’s a boy. Then Mark shows up and kisses Mel before turning to face an extremely confused and offended Jack. For at least a second or two I thought Mark was also going to kiss Jack, which would have been quite the twist! But, alas, no such luck.
Next thing, Mel and Jack are awake and in a doctor’s office with Jack claiming he doesn’t need to know the paternity of the baby because it just doesn’t matter to him. Uh, methinks your subconscious begs to differ! No matter, Jack has decided to stuff that anxiety dream, along with all his many other issues—Charmaine having twins, his PTSD, his recent shooting, and financial worries, to name a few—as far down into his well-fitting pants as he can get them. He plans to just muscle his way through with independence, grit, and a steady stream of amber alcohol—a formula that has failed, just, generations upon generations of men before him, but why let that stop him? (Please don’t misunderstand, I like Jack. I respect his trauma. He just has some growing to do and I want him to get there.)
Jack is also absolutely blown away that they are at a specialist for high-risk pregnancies. And I absolutely love the way this series utilizes dialogue to make it seem like very intimate characters have absolutely no idea what’s happening in the name of expository writing. The ends justify the clunky conversations that make it appear that these people haven’t been listening to each other for the past three seasons?
Or, in other instances, when it appears that characters don’t know basic things about their jobs or vocations just so things can be aptly explained to the audience. Things are so awkwardly inserted into the conversation, and I live for it. Mel, on the other hand, will act as the Angel of Death (credit to my Partner in Snark Watching), being present just as people keep cropping up around her having near death experiences for the first few episodes while she works through her past miscarriage trauma. So helpful the way life just does that for some people!
Meanwhile, Hope is experiencing some frustrating symptoms from her Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), like changes in taste, balance, and memory loss. Specifically, she can’t remember that her best friend Lilly died while Hope was away in North Carolina visiting her octogenarian aunt. There is going to be a LOT made this season about how Hope just isn’t herself and how the brain injury is making her behave erratically, lie frequently, and speak without a filter. I’m sorry. Have the writers been watching a different show? Do they have amnesia? Because those things all sound perfectly IN CHARACTER for Hope.
The biggest thing that’s out of character all season is that she doesn’t wear her usual lipstick (which you know is not missed by this viewer), I guess to signify that she’s unwell. (It’s a well known fact that sick people can’t wear makeup because it confuses people who aren’t sick.) I really have to question if anyone even did more than a cursory internet search on brain injuries before they sat down to write. In one scene Hope complains that she has a “terrible headache” and then says she’ll take another aspirin. Sure, maybe, but also, really? The whole storyline feels kind of thrown together and used-when-convenient, which as an Actual Chronically Ill Person ™ is incredibly frustrating to watch. Hope, as always, is incredibly frustrating to watch. Period. For the love of life choices, let her actually learn from her mistakes. I’m begging you.
And while we’re talking about a lack of internet searching… Remember at the end of last season when some guy showed up claiming to be Doc’s (Tim Matheson) grandson, which was very mysterious because, you know, Doc doesn’t have any children? Well, he’s back with a story that kind of holds water about how he’s the grandson of Doc’s old girlfriend, who Doc had been told died years and years ago. I don’t quite follow this—why was Doc told she died?—but there isn’t any more information, so I guess the writers thought it was clear enough or just got bored and moved on. Of course, lots of people have many cautionary tales for Doc about letting the grandson, Denny (Kai Bradbury), too far into his life too quickly. And, of course, Doc doesn’t really listen, which makes sense because Doc’s an analog kind of guy who would go on someone’s word and his gut instincts.
What doesn’t make any kind of sense is that when Lizzie (Sarah Dugdale) becomes suspicious of Denny’s intentions she doesn’t Google him within an inch of his life. It boggles my mind that she wouldn’t run that man down every internet alleyway she could find in pursuit of the information he’s unwilling to provide. Also, while we’re talking about Lizzie, could they not rustle up one girlfriend her age? She’s awash in boys who may or may not want to bone her, but what she needs is a friend who is not at all interested in the contents of her pants.
All of the women (who are into men) in Virgin River collectively realize they’re overdue for their annual whatever exam when the practice hires a new handsome doctor, Cameron Hayek (Mark Ghanimé). He, however, only has eyes for Mel and seems to only practice medicine when she’s in the room with him. Cameron’s role is mostly to act as a foil to Jack as he Goes Through Some Shit ™ this season. It should be said (and here feels as good a place as any) that Mel and Jack’s relationship feels more grounded and realistic this season as they work through some weighty personal issues. Sure, this is still fantasy romance, so things are often either unnecessarily complicated or simplified when it comes to communication, but overall it felt like a better balance between schmaltzy romance, dramatic conflicts, quotidian conversations, and well-lit sex scenes that fade to black. They also seem to be heading in a direction where Jack allows for more vulnerability in his definition of manhood, which, well, I think we all know what I think about that, right? (It’s very good.) But back to Cameron, who I found so overbearing and kind of creepy in his myopic focus on Mel that it wasn’t until I looked him up on IMDb that I thought, Oh! That man has a Genetically Blessed Face! Which is saying a lot since it is my higher calling to point out Genetically Blessed Faces to you.
Which is why it is practically a crime that it is only now that I am getting to Preacher, who, much to my relief, is no longer in the woods, lying face down eating dirt. But, much to my frustration, it is never explained how he got out of those woods and back to Virgin River. He’s got a Private Investigator looking for Paige’s son Christopher (Chase Petriw) who was kidnapped by Vince. While Preacher waits, he’s trying to soothe himself with an Aikido class, which it’s going to shock you to learn is taught by an absolutely stunning woman (Lucia Walters, who is married to Colin Lawrence, so you’ll be glad to know they have chemistry). Did I roll my eyes at the romance blossoming in the Aikido dojo storyline? You better believe it! Am I also pro the introduction of lines like, “age and size have nothing to do with strength” and “your inner energy must be harmonious with your outer self”? I’m not mad about it! Preacher continues to be the best man in Virgin River, not that it’s a competition, but if it were he’d have already won. Why? Because of his vulnerability and his willingness to share that with other men. The way Preacher eventually speaks to Jack about his experiences with therapy is pretty important. Though I do wish he’d stop running off on his lone wolf rescue missions.
The story of Christopher being taken is somehow mixed up in the murky storyline of Calvin’s drug running business, which was nearly but not quite taken down, and will continue this season with a twist that made me hoot and snort when I figured it out. (The drug storyline has always felt utterly outlandish and like no one is quite sure how to write or act it, which makes it all the more more fun to watch.) Brie (Zibby Allen) decides to stay in Virgin River, which I find delightful because Mel absolutely needs a friend to be snarky with at parties. Brie is still tangled up in Brady (Benjamin Hollingsworth), which is super awkward because he and Jack still aren’t speaking to each other, even though Jack finally remembers that it wasn’t Brady who shot him after all. Oopsie. Sorry about sending you to jail, buddy. We good? (Spoiler: Brady is not all good.) Ghosts will show up from both Brady’s and Brie’s pasts, threatening their present. Brady WILL STILL NOT GET CURTAINS FOR HIS WINDOWS EVEN THOUGH PEOPLE ARE THREATENING HIS LIFE DAILY. They can see straight through those windows at night, Brady! Use some of that Emerald Lumber cash to buy some curtains. Sheets will do in a pinch. Brie gets a job and is forced to wear an ill-fitting blazer. It’s a real distraction. Why isn’t she allowed to wear color?
Honestly? A lot of the clothes this season are kind of blah or trending toward pioneer chic. And what in the name of banana clips and other bad decisions is going on with Charmaine’s hair this season? I nearly forgot the woman is a hairdresser. Or she was before she married Todd, Personal Injury Attorney. I can’t tell you much about this plot line without giving too much away, but in certain languages in certain countries, this picture from last season may turn out to be prescient in a way.
Plus, something I’ve been waiting to happen since forever finally happened. I can’t believe we have to wait until Season 5 to actually discuss it.
In better costuming news, there will, of course, be another town festival, which is different from all previous town festivals. Where do you think Virgin River stores all the props for these festivals? Have I asked this before? Do they have an entire warehouse rented out over in Clear River? This one is a Renaissance Faire and there is nothing wrong with seeing Jack and Preacher dressed up in medieval garb. Nothing at all. (Maybe this is where they blew the costuming budget and had to scrimp on regular clothes.) Jack does a little accent for Mel’s benefit and you can hear the difficulty Martin Henderson has getting back into an American accent, which isn’t a problem, really. Remember Muriel’s plaid outfit from the Lumberjack festival? She also has a fantastic costume for this one and I would keep watching seasons of Virgin River just for Muriel’s festival scenes.
Actually, I was very into all the scenes of the craft circle women (with the exception of Hope, because Hope) because of the way they joke and talk and support each other. I feel like those roles have gotten deeper and better as the seasons have rolled on. The same is true of Mel’s character this season. Yes, she and Doc spend a fair amount of time giving each other airy and empty advice, but Mel is consistently strong, confident, compassionate, and direct, which is saying a lot in a series that is based almost entirely on easily avoidable miscommunications. I will say that I sincerely wish she would say no more. The poor woman is constantly expressing how she just wants to go home and then agreeing to go to some dinner or event. Just. Say. No. I mean, I understand it’s a TV show and we don’t want to watch her sit home in her pajamas, but for the love of elastic waistbands, the woman needs a break!
By the way, Doc’s vision is mostly fine now because he’s getting treatment for it. Yet another time this show built something up until we were all holding our collective breath, and then just kind of shrugged at the solution. I feel unduly manipulated. You know, I can roll with the platitudes passed off as real advice, the clumsy expository dialogue, and even the plot lines stretched wafer thin, but I am irked by the continuous loop of OH MY STARS DRAMA to oh never mind we can’t be bothered.
However, you know I kvetch because I care. For the most part, Virgin River has enough charisma, warmth, and energy to keep me bumping along through the many plot holes and questionable directions this season. And I at least will keep motoring along right into Season 5, which is already in production.