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“Virgin River” holiday special recap: Christmas brings new babies, new parents, and new drama

Mel and Jack are determined to have a merry and bright holiday despite the best efforts of their parents.

Is anyone surprised that Virgin River goes all out for Christmas? Every nook and cranny of our favorite northern California town is swagged out with lights, bows, bunting, mistletoe, and, of course, good cheer. But don’t worry; there’s also enough drama to fill Santa’s sleigh.

Let’s break down the final two festive episodes of season 5.

Episode 11: "The More the Merrier"

It’s Jack's (Martin Henderson) and Mel’s (Alexandra Breckinridge) first Christmas together! (I know; I was surprised by how little time has passed too, but don’t forget, Charmaine’s been pregnant this whole time, so it hasn’t even been a year.) Our lead couple’s hoping for the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny-freaking-Kaye.

But as we know, nothing ever comes easy for them.

First, you’ve got the Sheridans. Sisters Donna and Jeannie can’t make it to the Monroe-Sheridan celebration, and although sister Mary planned to come, she ends up snowed in on the East Coast.

The only immediate family Jack and Brie (Zibby Allen) will have around are their bickering parents. Amelia (Gabrielle Rose) invited her new boyfriend Javier to the celebration, Sam (Tom Butler) is furious about it, and they both expect Brie to smooth things over.

While Brie wants to be excluded from that narrative, her new squeeze Mike (Marco Grazzini) jokes that Sam and Amelia might end up back together over the holidays. Then he basically exits for the season. Bye, Mike!

Mel’s sister (Jenny Cooper) and her family are also in town for the holidays, and Joey’s brought along the postcards and letters from the Virgin River man their mother had an affair with and who fathered Mel. Mel wonders if she saw the letters as a kid, and the subliminal memory led her to move to Virgin River.

The letters start shortly after Chloe died and their parents’ marriage hit a rough patch, and although the mystery man asked to meet his biological daughter, their mother chose to cover up Mel’s paternity. Now all she has to go on is his nickname, Champ, and an ancient PO Box number.

Jack’s delighted to support his honey in her wild goose chase, which starts with Hope pointing them to Virgin River's postmaster from the ‘80s, Chip Cooper. He’s Lydie’s (Christina Jastrzembska) old high school sweetheart. They’re still in touch (get it, girl!) and she points them to Clear River, where he’s the town Santa Claus.

They find him suited up and in character, and when Jack loudly calls him Chip, Mel shushes him. That’s Mr. Claus, Jack!

The elf managing the line bounces them to the back—Easter egg alert, it’s Paul (Taz Van Rassel), the desk clerk who checked Lizzie and Ricky into their love nest cabin back in season 2—and when they finally make it to the front, Chip tells them what he knows.

The post office staff read Champ’s postcards religiously, but when Mel’s mother stopped writing, they never saw him again. All he remembers is that Champ got his nickname for winning the 1976 Lumberjack Games.

While they’re there, Mel takes the opportunity to ask Santa for a pony, the same as she has since she was a kid, but Chip says no. But she has a fallback plan, and that's asking Jack for jewelry.

The internet tells them that Everett Reid won the 1976 Lumberjack Games, and Jack asks Preacher (Colin Lawrence) to get his investigator on it.

<p>Netflix</p> Colin Lawrence, Kandyse McClure

Netflix

Colin Lawrence, Kandyse McClure

Speaking of Preacher, he and Kaia (Kandyse McClure) are still going strong, especially when she sees how committed he is to his work with Toys for Tots. Muriel (Teryl Rothery) and Cameron (Mark Ghanimé) have also spent the past few months getting closer, and now they’re starring in the Virgin River Holiday Musical alongside Hazel (Ava Anton).

Lest you’ve forgotten, Hazel’s the daughter of Lark (Elise Gatien), the perfectly nice woman Brady’s (Benjamin Hollingsworth) currently skating circles around on the Virgin River Holiday Market ice rink.

We learn that Brady had a D1 hockey scholarship lined up before he got into legal trouble and chose the military over juvie, and yes, this will now figure prominently in my ongoing Brady apology tour. (If you’re curious, Hollingsworth’s a skater in real life and played a gold medalist in The Cutting Edge 3: Chasing the Dream. The man knows his way around a rink, is what I’m saying.)

The holiday market is also where Hope (Annette O'Toole) and Doc (Tim Matheson) plan to reclaim their crown in the town Christmas tree decorating contest. It’s especially important to Doc, who faces losing his eyesight in the clinical trial the following year and is savoring what could be his final glimpses of the people and places he loves.

Sidenote: I’m so mad I’m not at that Christmas market RIGHT NOW. It’s bursting with over-the-top Christmas cheer in so much glorious excess that I want to move to Virgin River for the entirety of December to experience it, along with the bear in the scarf and Santa hat at Jack’s.

Since we last saw them, Lizzie (Sarah Dugdale) and Denny (Kai Bradbury) shared the news of her pregnancy with Doc and Hope, who are fully on board with everything, including the future parents’ decision to let their child choose if and when it gets tested for Huntington’s.

The person who doesn’t know yet is Lizzie’s mom, and when Deidre (Debbie Podowski) shows up at the market in a foul post-travel mood, Lizzie bails rather than tell her.

Afterward, Hope asks Lizzie if she’s worried she made the right decision — the show really goes around the block to avoid saying anything even close to the word schmashmortion—and tells her that the trick to parenting is to love the kid unconditionally, like Hope’s own (often difficult) mother did. Naturally, Deidre overhears Hope’s pep talk because secrets never stay secrets long in Virgin River.

Also roaming the market grounds is Charmaine (Lauren Hammersley), who jokes that she’s been pregnant for years. It’s the most self-aware reference this show has ever made, so thank you, Virgin River writers. She’s been having Braxton Hicks contractions, and Mel tells her to get off her feet.

At the holiday musical that night, Cameron and Muriel dazzle the crowd, Brady and Lark beam at Hazel, and Sam threatens to head back to Sacramento when he learns that Amelia’s moving in with Javi.

That’s not the only ex drama unfolding in the theater; Cameron’s former fiancée stops him in the lobby to tell him she’s in AA and is eager to make amends. He, meanwhile, looks so eager to run in the opposite direction that I'm surprised he doesn't leave a Cameron-shaped hole in the theater wall.

Brie and Brady also share a moment and agree that they’re happy the other person is happy, although Brady would clearly enjoy creating a Mike-sized hole alongside the new Cameron one. Even Amelia takes a break from torturing her ex-husband and children to notice the still-hot chemistry between the two of them.

The penultimate episode of season 5 ends with the news that Mel’s dad is alive and well and living in Virgin River — which I have to say is noticeably unsnowy for late December.

If Mel and Jack aren’t walking in a winter wonderland by the time the final jingle bells are rung, I’ll eat my toque.

<p>Netflix</p> Alexandra Breckenridge, Martin Henderson

Netflix

Alexandra Breckenridge, Martin Henderson

Episode 12: "Father Christmas"

How do you introduce yourself to the bio-dad you never knew you had?

Mel does her best when she and Jack pull up at Everett’s cozy cabin, but the handsome salt-and-pepper man who comes to the door (John Allen Nelson) tells her that he’s not who she’s looking for. She leaves disappointed, but not before she spots a 1976 Lumberjack Games trophy on his mantle.

Mel’s upset but determined to enjoy Christmas with the family who chooses to be with her, and that starts with ice skating plans for her and Jack. Unfortunately, she’s pulled away when Charmaine asks to meet her at the clinic.

Joining the woman with the world’s longest gestation period is the twins’ father, Calvin (David Cubitt). Mel freezes, then coolly kicks him out when Charmaine says she doesn’t want him there. Doesn’t… doesn’t Mel think Cal’s dead? I feel like she should've been even more shocked. Either way, she has bigger issues when Charmaine’s water breaks.

The inevitable call to Doc interrupts a cozy Christmas Eve morning at the Mullins house. Hope has to shove Lizzie out the door to talk to her mother, who’s hurt that Lizzie’s been relying so much on Denny’s family. She also points out that Lizzie’s, ya know, 19 and kinda young to start a family.

But Lizzie insists she’s thrilled to be a mom and to have Denny there to watch his child grow up. Plus, she has the whole town on board to help her. Deidre says she’ll try to come around, but only if they can come up with a cuter name than “grandma.”

Meanwhile, Doc and Denny hunt down a fuse for the nutcracker that’s the centerpiece of their competition tree. Doc stumbles across his and Hope’s wedding album — great photoshops of young, foxy Matheson and O’Toole! — and says he’d like to renew their vows while he can still see her. He heads out when he gets Mel’s call about Charmaine but not before giving Denny an envelope with the sex of the baby in it to share with Lizzie.

At the clinic, Mel’s got Charmaine bouncing on a yoga ball, which really does speed up labor and ease the strain on your back.  Charmaine says Calvin’s free of FBI charges after flipping on Melissa Montgomery and explains that she ended up pregnant thanks to “a mixture of sadness, anger, and copious amounts of alcohol.” Relatable content!

Jack, aka the cause of Charmaine’s anger and sadness, stops by the clinic to check on things but skedaddles when he realizes that babies are imminent.

Charmaine’s blood pressure’s a little high, so Doc and Mel get her on the table with an IV. When things got tough, Doc mentions how much she takes after her late mother, and Charmaine bears down to deliver two healthy baby boys, both of whom are far more newborn-sized than you usually see onscreen. Congrats to Lauren Hammersley, who doesn’t have to wear a pregnancy belly anymore!

Afterward, Doc says he feels like a proud father when he works with Mel, which leads her to share her failed pursuit of her bio-dad and to ask Doc to walk her down the aisle. Aww! He in turn announces Lizzie’s pregnancy and gets thoughtful about whether a certain tree-decorating competition might be the perfect time to get the vow renewal ball rolling.

Jack and Brie are having a less-than-perfect time. They sit their squabbling parents down for an old-fashioned “we’re not mad, we’re disappointed” talk and leave the two in a room until they can work it out, just like Sam and Amelia used to do to them.

The brother/sister pair move to the bar to set up for Christmas dinner, and Brie gently tells Jack that he was the first one to bail on Sheridan family Christmas back in the day. “I went to war!” Jack exclaims.

Ah, but he didn’t come back afterward, Brie says, which gave their sister Donna permission to follow his lead. They promise to always show up for each other, even if their sisters flake, and if we don’t see Donna next season, I’ll eat the scarf that was sold in a tasteful holiday gift set along with the aforementioned toque.

Hey! Let’s head to the 44th annual Virgin River Christmas tree decorating competition! The holiday market is lit up and lovely, and props to whatever set decorator wrapped gift ribbon around that square boulder to turn it into a massive outdoor present. It’s the whimsical cherry on this deck-the-halls sundae.

Even though Mel missed her chance to skate before the ice rink closed and Joey’s family’s at the hotel dealing with a stomach bug and Jack’s parents are both sulking, she’s determined to make the best of Christmas Eve with her chosen family.

That includes Preacher, who's been on an emotional roller-coaster this episode. First, he blurts out a confession of love to Kaia after their Christmas morning polar bear plunge and she declines to say it back. She does, however, tell him that she took the job as Virgin River’s fire chief in order to be with him.

So that seems good… until Mike calls with the heads up that the body the firefighters found in the woods has been identified Paige’s ex-husband — you know, the one whose murder Preacher helped cover up. Guess we’ll find out next season what, if anything, he tells Kaia.

Also up in the air are Muriel and Cameron. Muriel’s tree is, of course, white and feminine and fluffy, and when Cameron compliments her pom-pom ornaments, she tartly replies, “They hang just as well as they did 20 years ago.” Reader, I snort-laughed.

Cameron then tells her that his ex wants to get back together and start a family, but all he wants is a life with Muriel. Muriel’s concerned that he’ll eventually resent her for not giving him kids, and by the end of the episode, she extracts a promise that he’ll consider what he really wants.

Am I forgetting a previous conversation where Cameron talked about how much he wants kids? If not, trust the man to know his own heart and mind, Muriel!

Brady’s another Virgin River resident grappling with messy emotions when he bumps into Brie at the holiday market. She confides what a mess her parents are, and he maintains extremely strong eye contact as he says, “It’s hard watching someone you love move on, no matter how happy you are for them.”

The pair then realize they’re standing under mistletoe and are about to kiss when Jack interrupts, and I’m saying this as calmly as I can, but DO NOT PLAY WITH MY HEART, SHOW. I LOVED THEM TOGETHER AND THIS IS CRUEL.

At least Jack’s there with good news: Sam and Amelia have agreed to a truce so the family won't drift apart. Papa Sheridan’s even warming up to Javi; they do have the same taste in women after all.

<p>Netflix</p> Annette O'Toole, Tim Matheson, Kai Bradbury, Sarah Dugdale, Martin Henderson, Alexandra Breckenridge

Netflix

Annette O'Toole, Tim Matheson, Kai Bradbury, Sarah Dugdale, Martin Henderson, Alexandra Breckenridge

Not only does Hope and Doc’s Nutcracker-themed tree win the decorating contest (Muriel and her pom-poms were robbed!), but Doc and Denny placed a sign on the life-sized nutcracker asking her to renew their vows. The entire town bursts into applause as Doc calls her his guiding light. Also, Denny and Lizzie announce that they’re having a girl!

As a capper to the night, Jack gets them to open the skating rink back up for Mel, and right on cue, snow starts drifting from the sky.

We then move into a shiny, happy Christmas montage. Brady and Lark stroll hand in hand while Hazel cavorts. Lizzie gives her mother a shirt reading “best glamma ever.” Mel and Jack’s families enjoy a lovely Christmas dinner. (Mel’s reindeer headband is adorable, and I neeeeeed to know where I can get oneeeeeee.) Afterward, Jack adds to his gift of earrings by presenting Mel with a puppy named Pony. Adorbs!

Less adorbs: Lark slips away to answer a call while Bradley plays checkers with Hazel. It’s Jimmy (Ian Tracey), Calvin’s right-hand man, calling from prison to check on his daughter Hazel (!) and to see if Brady suspects anything (!!). Lark assures him that Brady’s clueless.

The treachery! I’m sure we’ll find out next season if Lark’s a true villain or a helpless pawn, but boy howdy does Virgin River refuse to let my Brie and Brady dreams die.

The final scene of season 5 finds Mel and Jack outside cuddling Pony when Everett drives up. They exchange the same dialogue that he and Mel shared at the top of the episode, but this time it’s Mel asking why he’s there and Everett announcing that he’s her father.

He says she looks so much like her mother that it broke his heart all over again, and even though he’s not sure if she wants him in her life or if she just needs a kidney, “I’m here now.”

Not only that, but he brought all of her mother’s letters so Mel can hear her mom’s voice one more time. He also wants to tell her something important, but we’ll have to wait until next season to find out what that is.

Happy holidays to everyone who holds a special place in their hearts for Virgin River, and remember: eggnog without rum is just Christmas custard.

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