After the killer cliffhanger that the second season of Netflix’s Virgin River left off on, season 3 has arrived with plenty more drama to unfold.
Based on the books by Robyn Carr, the series takes place in the remote Northern California town of Virgin River. While the premiere season introduced us to Mel Monroe, a nurse practitioner who leaves her life in Los Angeles behind in order to start over, the show has also taken the time to explore the various exploits of the rest of the town’s residents, too — now more than ever.
Warning: Spoilers for season 3 to follow.
After coming across Virgin River on a whim shortly after the first season was added to Netflix, the show quickly became a comfort binge for me. There’s always been a delicate balance of somber moments mixed with light and happy scenes, all set against the gorgeous backdrop that the show is filmed on. One of Virgin River‘s strongest qualities is its refusal to shy away from the harsh reality of the cards that life sometimes deals us. Yet amongst this struggle, there’s always an ongoing theme of hope and support (and romance, of course).
The (surprising) decision to fast-forward past Jack’s recovery from the shooting that took place in the season 2 finale made it seem as if this season was off to a happy start, but viewers were not to be fooled, because this would soon prove to be the show’s heaviest, most heartbreaking, and difficult season yet (including but not limited to the devastating death of Lilly). While I personally was hoping for more feel-good positivity to outweigh what felt like an endless barrage of sadness, season 3 still had plenty up its sleeve for viewers to appreciate.
First and foremost, I have to say that I’m impressed that the show continues to respectfully and delicately honor the memory of Mel’s deceased husband, Mark. While the various traumatic and sad events that take place in the lives of these characters are not unique to this show, what is unique is the way in which Virgin River handles them. Rather than discarding Mark from Mel’s life after revealing how he died, the show allows Mel to continue to honor his memory. She may be in love with Jack, but she’ll always love Mark and carry him with her as well. Alexandra Breckenridge and Daniel Gillies’ flashback scenes are always lovely to watch.
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Mel and Jack may be the heart of the series, and one would be hard-pressed to try and deny the chemistry they share. But the show itself unraveled as a result of Mel’s choice to relocate to this small town, and thus as much as the path has been laid for us to adoringly root for Mel and Jack (honestly, Martin Henderson has mastered the “dreamy, polite, caring bar owner here to sweep you off your feet”), season 3 serves as a reminder that we still need to root for Mel as an individual. The cards currently remain stacked against their relationship with the impending arrival of Jack’s twins with Charmaine, which puts a serious wrench in Mel’s desire to be a mother. So as much as I spent the last two seasons wanting to see these two finally get their ducks in a row, season 3 left me firmly in support of Mel’s pursuit of her own happiness, too.
When it comes to characterization, Virgin River has an interesting knack for leaning into the duality of certain people depending on the environment that they’re in. While there are characters like Mel, who generally presents herself as the same person regardless of who she’s dealing with, there are also people like Benjamin Hollingsworth’s Dan Brady, someone that took quite a surprising turn this season.
In prior episodes, viewers have generally seen Brady through the eyes of Jack and the like, which has painted him as a reprehensible and untrustworthy character. However, season 3’s introduction of Zibby Allen’s Brie Sheridan (a wonderful addition to round out the cast!) ushered in a love interest for Brady and one of the show’s most sultry romantic plotlines. With Brie, Brady is an entirely different person, to the point where you’ll often find yourself forgetting he’s the same man that was stealing money from the bar and mixed up in Calvin’s nefarious activities.
This also rings true with Connie, who’s framed as the overbearing, suspicious, and unbearable aunt when it comes to Lizzie and Ricky’s relationship. However, when she’s with Preacher, she’s a dedicated and reliable friend that’s instrumental in taking care of Christopher and keeping him safe. Speaking of Preacher, Colin Lawrence continues to be one of the show’s best assets with his steadfast, cool, and collected portrayal of his character. Though the finale this season did leave me throwing my hands in the air wondering when this poor man is finally going to catch a break.
Overall, Virgin River has cultivated an intriguing host of inhabitants and visitors to this dreamy, small town over the course of three seasons. This is no surprise given that Carr’s books are each written to focus on the individual love lives of the different residents of the town. Marco Grazzini as LAPD Detective Mike Valenzuela was a particularly welcome returning character this season, given the facets of his history with Jack, Brady, and Preacher. It was also a relief to see the trajectory of Teryl Rothery’s Muriel shifted into less scheming over Doc and more friendship with a side of sad pining.
While it’s a shame that COVID prevented Annette O’Toole from reprising her role as one of the town’s central figures, Hope, her off-screen storyline allowed for a wonderfully touching performance from Tim Matheson whilst Doc constantly worried over her safety. While I can’t say that I’m surprised that the season ended with another heart-wrenching cliffhanger, this time putting Hope’s life on the line, it didn’t hurt any less to see Doc fraught with emotions listening to Dobie Gray with Lizzie at the hospital.
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Virgin River isn’t without its over-the-top dramatics, like the seemingly never-ending saga of Charmaine and the adolescent relationship issues between Ricky and Lizzie. And given the overall theme of romance, yes, there’s an absolute overabundance of cheesy scenes. But once you’ve dipped a toe into the comings and goings of the beautiful town of Virgin River, it’s hard not to become invested in what’s going to happen next.
Season 3 of Virgin River is now streaming on Netflix.