Virgin River Season 5 review: The best outing yet
Netflix’s favorite small-town series, Virgin River, is back for its fifth season of non-stop drama. It’s another instalment of picturesque views, shock twists and big revelations that promises more than all its predecessors combined.
Virgin River might be a small town, but the storylines are far from it. Based on Robyn Carr’s romance novels of the same name, Netflix’s wholesome soap-style series is bigger and better than ever with its fifth outing.
Season 4 left a host of unanswered questions. Who is the father to Charmaine’s twins? Will Paige and Preacher ever be free of the ghost of her abusive ex? How can Jack come to terms with Charmaine’s betrayal? Thankfully, the show wastes no time diving straight back into the action, and throwing a few curveballs along the way – this is Virgin River, after all.
Don’t be fooled by the breathtaking backdrop of the Canadian mountains, as this show is far from a Hallmark movie dose of charming, corny escapism. Though, it has a healthy sprinkle of poignant, endearing moments, which make the relentless traumas this town faces worthwhile… sort of.
With a new showrunner on board, Patrick Sean Smith, the pace is swift and packed with strong themes that are handled sensitively, without running the risk of romanticizing them. Before we spill any details, let’s dive in. Be warned, spoilers ahead!
Virgin River champions the strength of the human spirit
Mel (Alexandra Breckenridge) has quit her beloved job as a nurse at Vernon’s (Tim Matheson) clinic – much to Hope’s (Annette O’Toole) disappointment – in an effort to reduce stress in her high-risk pregnancy. Jack (Martin Henderson) is coming to terms with Charmaine’s betrayal but is delighted that his dream of becoming a dad is coming to fruition with Mel.
As much as Virgin River centres around Mel and Jack’s relationship, the show is at its finest when it celebrates the strong connections in this close-knit community. The town is tested when a wildfire rips through the area, decimating land, threatening homes and forcing everyone to pull together once more.
Qualms are set to one side, as the recently ousted mayor Hope rallies the troops, and works with Jack to help get planes airborne to extinguish the fire. On the ground, Lizzie and Denny round up any remaining residents to evacuate, but on that fateful day, no one is as brave or as challenged as Mel.
After a trip to the toilet, Mel discovers she’s had a miscarriage and performs her own ultrasound to tragically confirm there is no heartbeat. After a brief wail breaks from her, she returns to the evacuation efforts and even saves Lilly’s daughters as her farm goes up in flames.
The heart-wrenching moment in Mel’s long and difficult journey to motherhood is difficult to watch but made all the more powerful by even Mel not being able to take the time to process it. Life forces her forward, as so many bereaved individuals have experienced and she holds herself together until the threat subsides and she can take the time to feel this profound loss.
The fire sits at the heart of most of the events of this season, as the residents enter a period of collective grief and reflection. As the flames consume homes, Lizzie says, “Your memories are in your heart and no fire can take them from you.”
Lizzie flourishes this season, as she settles into the slower pace of rustic, rural life. She bonds with the quirky, older women in the town, shrugs off her late-teen resistance and embraces the generosity and support of her peers, as she finally trusts that it’s authentic and reliable.
Season 5 explores ageing, grief and succession
As Lizzie sits in the sauna with Hope and the town’s knitting circle, there’s a poignant moment of reflection about the beauty and blessing of ageing, which is so often lost under the pressure for women to remain young. “Everyone gets to be young, but not everyone is lucky enough to get old,” they muse, as a reminder of their late friend Lilly. It’s another brief snapshot of the beautiful contrast of life that Virgin River straddles so effortlessly, which leaves you unsure whether to cry or smile, or both simultaneously.
Newcomers who had been loosely woven into the ensemble in Season 5 such as Vernon’s new recruit Dr. Cameron and his surprise grandson Denny, are developed too. Cameron and Vernon move past their anonymity, though their relationship is strained as Vernon’s eyesight deteriorates and he has to lean on Cameron more. It’s inevitable in the ageing community that succession is on everyone’s mind as Hope mentors Lizzie to become a mini-mayor, while Vernon offers Cameron his practice, now Mel has taken a firm step back and his sight worsens.
Denny and Lizzie’s relationship continues happily until the fire shines a light on their different approach to life, and their differences might just be the thing that tears them apart.
Hope is well and truly back to her old ways after her absence in Season 3 (due to real-life scheduling issues in the pandemic) and a frosty, turbulent return in Season 4. Now our steadfast, straight-talking town mayor drives the community once more as she opens a garden in Lilly’s memory, accepts support from Lizzie and fights for her position to steer the town through new challenges.
Our biggest issue with Virgin River Season 5
The one and only critique of Season 5, and the series as a whole, is Charmaine’s pregnancy. It’s been four seasons – FOUR – since she sprung on her ex-Jack that she was pregnant with twins back in Season 1. Yet, Charmaine has still not given birth to the twins.
It’s becoming more unfathomable with every episode, and Charmaine deserves more character development than being defined as a woman who uses her pregnancy for emotional manipulation.
This season also dives further into the seedy underbelly of the criminal operations, which once again, Brady is caught up in the centre of. Though his intentions are good, as he tries to spare Jack from his new business partner’s criminal sideline, Brady ends up hurting everyone – especially Brie. Jack’s sister had already had a tough time, as she brought her abusive ex-boyfriend and former colleague to court on rape charges.
The emotional blows are also relentless for Jack. From Charmaine’s lies, Mel’s miscarriage and potentially losing his investment into the caravan park, he is overwhelmed by the turns his life has taken. Yet, rather than sweep it under the rug (or forget it down a bottle) in typical Jack fashion, the former marine attends therapy. There’s a sense that Jack is finally dealing with his control issues, open up to Mel and start to move away from the frustrating patterns that have held him back in previous seasons.
Yet, as die-hard Virgin River fans know, this false sense of security doesn’t last long. The fire uncovers a body that was formerly buried in a remote location, which Preacher (and viewers) assume is Paige’s ex-boyfriend Wes who he buried after Paige killed him.
This is all forgotten in the final moments, which include a classic Virgin River time jump, which skips four months ahead to Christmas. Once again, the idyllic scene of Mel and Jack decorating their log cabin is disrupted by a phone call. When Mel’s sister Joey reveals that their mother had a secret lover in Virgin River… who might just be Mel’s dad.
It seems the next two holiday episodes, which are released in November, will tie up the major bombshells and unanswered questions we are now left with… at least we hope so anyway.
Virgin River review score: 4/5
It’s a beautiful, rich season that examines the resilience of humanity when faced with challenges, sexual assault, exploitation, death, and grief. Compared to the previous installments, it also leans into the soap-drama of it all, jumping between various heavy storylines with virtually no let-up across the ten episodes.
Therefore, it’s hard to enjoy the sweet, blissful moments as it creates a predictable unease that something bad is right around the corner. If Charmaine could give birth to the twins though, it might just be able to edge towards that perfect score.
Virgin River Season 5 is streaming on Netflix now. You can check out our other coverage here.