Be My Baby -| Review Score – 3/5
Father Knows Best…? -| Review Score – 3/5
Grilled -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Serious As A… -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Mayday -| Review Score – 2.5/5
All’s Faire… -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Otherwise Engaged -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Talk to Me -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Bombshells-| Review Score – 3.5/5
Fire and Rain-| Review Score – 2/5
Once Again -| Review Score – 2.5/5
The Long Goodbye -| Review Score – 2.5/5
If you’ve followed my reviews of Virgin River over the years, you probably already know how this review is going to go down. And apologies to those who enjoy this show but season 4 is another long, drawn-out, melodramatic slog. And instead of the usual 10 episode run, the creators have added another 2 episodes for seemingly no reason, given the series is already drawn-out at the best of times.
Just to preface here, I’ve been advocating for a long time that some shows should really return to the heyday of 22 and 24 episode seasons but Virgin River is here to firmly stamp its authority and show why that may not be the best idea. And boy, does this season test your patience.
Picking up after the events of season 3, Virgin River actually starts quite promisingly. The first episode briskly runs through our new storylines, with drama in town – and in prison. After finding a gun in his van, Mike arrested Brady and threw him in lock-up. Only, Calvin’s men are everywhere and Brady may not be as safe as he once thought.
Meanwhile, Jack and Mel wrestle with the implication of having a baby. Christopher is still gone, with Preacher on the hunt (when the plot calls for it anyway) while Hope is still suffering from her ordeal, but back home and suffering mentally.
Essentially season 4 plays with these same ideas again, but drags them out across 12 episodes. Some storylines – like that involving Christopher and Preacher – aren’t actually too bad. They have a good amount of tension, are drip-fed across the run-time and lead naturally into a conclusion that – while rushed – is written better than some of the other drama here.
Meanwhile, babies are the main buzzword this year as Mel and Jack clasp at the implication of parenthood and wonder whether Jack may even be the father. Given the embryo situation, it’s certainly a point of contention.
At the same time, Hope continues to try and recover from her brain injury, until her character does a bit of a 180 around episodes 6 and 7, reverting back to her old self, albeit with a little more self-pity than before.
Speaking of self-pity, Jack goes off the rails here too, allowing the new doctor in town – Cameron – to move in like a slimy knight in shining armour. Although there is an implication of a love triangle with Mel, the writers never actually commit to it and as such, it peters out into forgettable fluff.
A much more effective new character though is that of Denny, Vernon’s grandson who rocks up on his doorstep wanting to learn more about his life. There’s a lot of mystery around his character, including him acting hot/cold around Lizzie (building up a potential love triangle with Ricky) while the implication of screwing over Vernon and taking his money is a large part of the drama being flirted with. But don’t worry, all is revealed by the end!
Despite starting quite brightly though, Virgin River soon settles into a familiar rhythm – and that’s not a compliment. I’ve bemoaned this show before for clutching dramatic cliffhangers to lull you into watching the next episode after 25 minutes of meaningless driven and then resolving that in record time. Well, season 4 does that again, but this time it occurs for almost every single episode. In one, I actually timed how long it took for the “big drama” to resolve itself. 4 minutes and 24 seconds.
The problem with this approach is that it cheapens the drama. Since Jack has already survived a gunshot without the show even referencing what happens, we know that these incidents aren’t going to be a big deal. A pilot randomly gets a heart attack while flying? Ah, he’ll be fine. A character is mad at another because of a lie? Give it 10 minutes and they’ll be sharing a drink.
This egregious form of storytelling has become so vapid and transparent in this series, and it seems Virgin River is quite content to just repeat old tricks, regardless of how damaging they are for the plot. All of that would be fine if the characters grew and changed…but they don’t. Lizzie is still the same wide-eyed lovestruck girl she was in season 1. Jack is still suffering from ghosts of his past four seasons on. Doc is still worried about Hope. Ricky is still wanting for Lizzie. No one has changed!
To make matters worse, late on, we get several time jumps that completely destroy the flow of the story, stretching what little character drama there is so thinly this time around that supporting players regularly have very little to do. Muriel has barely a sniff of an arc beyond playing the cheerleader to Hope, Connie is barely in this either, while Vernon and Hope haven’t really changed much since last season. While I’m not expecting Lizzie to become a choir girl or Hope to actually become likable (wouldn’t that be nice?) this is ultimately a plot-driven soap opera with a bunch of characters that are the exact same model as they were 4 seasons back with very little growth.
Given we’re operating with a much longer run-time than we were before, it almost feels inexcusable to find this show dragging its heels and wasting what time it has to play with. The resolution to some of these storylines – like the aforementioned Preacher situation – is so underwhelming and anticlimactic, while others are stretched thinly and baited for season 5. Despite the gorgeous, lush visuals, season 4 of Virgin River is a dreary shade of grey and more of a laborious slog than it has any right to be. But there’s always hope that season 5 will improve… right?
Verdict - 3/10