‘Virgin River’ Showrunner Talks Christmas Special’s Biggest Twists, Teases New Time Jump, Doc’s Prognosis, More Mel & Jack And Wedding(s) In Season 6

SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about the Virgin River Christmas special (Episodes 511, 512)

Netflix’s Virgin River closed out its fifth season with a two-episode Christmas special set during the holidays, more than three months after the “Labor Day” Season 5 Part 1 finale. As suggested by the aptly titled Episode 512, “Father Christmas,” the special’s main storyline follows the bombshell cliffhanger in the Part 1 finale, that Mel’s biological father is likely a man from Virgin River.

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With only a couple of clues to his identity in the man’s love letters to Mel and Joey’s mom Sarah to go off of, Mel and Jack launched a search that eventually led them to Everett Reid, who lives in a cabin outside of Virgin River. At first, he wanted nothing to do with Mel but by the end of the two-hour special, in a true holiday spirit, he came around and, in the finale’s biggest cliffhanger, started telling her “something important” but was cut off by a Christmas song, a shot of Mel, Jack and their new puppy, followed by end credits.

While she was rejected by her biological father, Mel asked her surrogate one, Doc, to walk her down the aisle, and he said yes. Doc, getting ready for the risky trial to tackle his macular degeneration, helped the ever-competitive Hope win the town’s Christmas tree decoration contest by integrating a marriage proposal into their display. She also said yes.

Elsewhere, Charmaine finally gave birth to her twins after being pregnant since Season 1. Calvin, who resurfaced in the Part 1 finale to be revealed as the babies’ father, was back for the occasion, as was his right-hand man, Jimmy. In another cliffhanger, Jimmy was revealed to be Hazel’s father, calling Lark from prison to conspire against Brody.

While still with Lark, Brody clearly had not gotten over Brie as evident by their two Christmas time run-ins, while Virgin River’s surprise new “it” couple — and stars of the town’s Christmas musical — Cameron and Muriel, faced crossroads after Cameron’s ex-fiancee reemerged to suggest they start a family, something Muriel is not interested in.

Preacher’s relationship with Kaia is moving at lightning speed but he got more bad news from Mike that the body found in the fire cleanup had been identified as Paige’s abusive husband Wes whom he had helped dispose of.

In an interview with Deadline, Virgin River showrunner Patrick Sean Smith, who took the reins of the popular Netflix romantic drama after Season 4, dissects all of the Christmas special’s twists and their implications, including how Everett will fit into the show and Mel’s life.

He reveals another time jump will kick off Season 6 and teases shorter future seasons with no more holiday specials planned.

He also promises more Mel and Jack in Season 6, reveals Doc’s prognosis, shares whether Paige would be back and hints at how long Lizzie would be pregnant on the show. Additionally, Smith provides a status update on Season 6, which is slated to start filming in the first half of 2024, and reveals whether it could be the series’ last.

For Smith and star Alexandra Breckenridge’s take on the main developments in Season 5 Part 1, including Mel’s polarizing miscarriage storyline and the bombshell revelation of Mel’s Virgin River-residing biological father, read Deadline’s story from earlier this week.

(L to R) Annette O’Toole as Hope, Tim Matheson as Doc Mullins, Kai Bradbury as Denny, Sarah Dugdale as Lizzie, Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan, Alexandra Breckenridge as Mel Monroe in episode 512.
(L to R) Annette O’Toole as Hope, Tim Matheson as Doc Mullins, Kai Bradbury as Denny, Sarah Dugdale as Lizzie, Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan, Alexandra Breckenridge as Mel Monroe in episode 512.

DEADLINE: Let’s start with that last, cut off line by Mel’s biological father. What can you tell us about the nature of that important something he tells her? Does Mel have more half siblings we’re not aware of besides Joey?

SMITH: Perhaps. But what I think we’re exploring more in Season 6 is who Everett Reid is, what his backstory is, what his connection to Virgin River was when he met her mom and then also what it is today since it’s a small town. I grew up in a small town, everybody knows everybody, so everybody has an opinion of everybody. And I think that’s what we’re jumping into in Season 6 is that relationship of Everett with the town as well as Everett and Mel.

DEADLINE: Does that mean that Everett will be part of Mel’s life? Is the actor playing him,John Allen Nelson, joining the cast as a series regular?

SMITH: I don’t know as far as in what capacity, but he will [join]. It is a big thing that we’re exploring in Season 6. It just felt like an opportunity for a character who hasn’t had a living parent in her life; getting to see Mel with a living parent has been fun to explore. And also just finding another way that Mel is attached to this town in a bigger, universal, fated sort of way; that she was always meant to come to this place for many reasons.

DEADLINE: Going back to the cliffhanger, how big of a bombshell is Everett’s reveal? You said “perhaps” about Mel having more half-siblings.

SMITH: Just because this was such a new thing in Mel’s life, I don’t know if we’ll get into half-siblings any time soon. That felt like we’ve bit off enough to chew, we don’t need more.

DEADLINE: Did you ever consider having one of the existing Virgin River characters be the father? You’ve probably seen the fan speculation about Doc. His conversation with Mel about walking her down the aisle and him saying that he would be proud to be her dad didn’t seem random.

SMITH: A lot of what I felt the opportunity of introducing this character in the show would do was also to explore Doc’s role as Mel’s surrogate father and challenge it in a way that creates a bit of a triangle between the two men and Mel as paternal presence in her life. And, knowing how fond Doc is of Mel, it felt like fun to see him feeling challenged by another man who’s coming into her life. We saw Doc in the beginning, he was curmudgeonly and a little crusty, and I think there’s a natural way to bring that back through his relationship with Everett, especially when he feels like Everett might not be as good of an influence in her life as he is, and to have a little paternal competition.

DEADLINE: Will that paternal competition change who will walk Mel down the aisle?

SMITH: We’re figuring that out in the room so I’ll let you know when it all is realized.

DEADLINE: Will Everett have ties to other main characters? As you said, everybody knows everyone in a small town but it seems like he’s in the fringes of Virgin River society; Jack didn’t know him at all.

SMITH: It’s something that we’re exploring. I liked the idea that that person might be on the fringe, but there’s still an awareness in a small town of, especially the person on the fringe and the questions and the mystery that surround who he is. And we’re also imagining that, if he was in Virgin River with Sarah when Mel was conceived, he has at least 30-plus year history with the town. Jack’s been there less time so in Season 6, there’s a lot of mystery in what we’re revealing as far as what his relationship is with Virgin River.

DEADLINE: We referenced Mel’s pending nuptials, Doc just proposed, and Denny and Lizzie had been mulling marriage. How many weddings are we going to see next season?

SMITH: We’ll have to see. it seems like it’s a great opportunity for a wedding season, doesn’t it?

DEADLINE: It does. Meanwhile, the special brought us a Christmas miracle, with Charmaine finally giving birth in what was way too easy of a twin delivery.

SMITH (laughs): Okay, it felt like Charmaine had been through enough already. Let’s give her an easy pregnancy to balance and [a happy ending] on Christmas.

DEADLINE: Her four-season pregnancy has became a running joke among fans. Was Charmaine’s line in the first part of the the special ‘I feel I’ve been pregnant for years’ a nod to that?

SMITH: Yes, that was a wink to, we know. That’s the thing with the compressed timeline, it’s hard to have pregnant women and children in front of the cameras. But it was also knowing that we wanted to do the time jump in order to do the holiday episodes that put her right around her due date. I felt like, for the audience’s sake, since this has greatly bummed them out for a couple of seasons, at least I did it in Season 5. It might not have been in Part 1, but at least we got it in Part 2, and it felt kind of momentous for it to happen during the holidays and to see Mel be supportive and demonstrate the integrity that she has for this woman who is her patient but has also brought her a lot of pain, which she’s moved past.

(L to R) Annette O’Toole as Hope, Tim Matheson as Doc Mullins in episode 511 of Virgin River.
(L to R) Annette O’Toole as Hope, Tim Matheson as Doc Mullins in episode 511 of Virgin River.

DEADLINE: Doc already made the decision on participating in a medical trial in Part 1 so the Christmas special was more of him, Holly and the people around them coming to grips with the trial being imminent. What can you tell us about the prognosis and how Doc and Hope will go through the trial?

SMITH: I think with Season 6, we’re getting to see Doc and Hope in a place that we haven’t really gotten to see them before, which is healthy. I think from the first season when Hope had heart issues and then her traumatic brain injury and his macular degeneration, it felt like an opportunity to see something different in a season where they’re both thriving and healthy. So he’ll get a good prognosis out of it, but other challenges will arise.

DEADLINE: Did you say good prognosis?

SMITH: We’re going get to see Doc in a good place.

DEADLINE: In terms of the procedure being successful?


(L to R) Sarah Dugdale as Lizzie, Kai Bradbury as Denny in episode 512 of Virgin River.
(L to R) Sarah Dugdale as Lizzie, Kai Bradbury as Denny in episode 512 of Virgin River.

DEADLINE: For Lizzie and Denny, Christmas was largely a smooth sailing, with her mom becoming supportive and everyone very excited about the baby. But we shouldn’t forget that in the Part 1 finale, Denny was seconds from telling Lizzie that he wanted to explore the world as Virgin River was too confining for him, something his grandmother got him to think about. Will they continue to be happy and content or will that resurface, him having ambitions beyond Virgin River?

SMITH: I think it plays out in a lot of different ways. But for me this season, Lizzie and Denny are starting to see the reality of their situations in a way that I think 19-year-olds do — they call it adulting but it’s like when you start to see all the responsibilities that you have ahead of you as you mature.

We also intend to get more into Denny’s Huntington’s disease diagnosis and how that plays into the future for him, for them and for their baby. We do find Denny in a more stable place in Virgin River and embracing his aspirations but then also wanting to be the best dad he could possibly be while anticipating what his future looks like given this diagnosis.

DEADLINE: I have to ask. How many seasons will Lizzie be pregnant?

SMITH: That’s an excellent question. You’ll just have to wait and see.

DEADLINE: The time jump helped a little bit. It will be fewer than four, I assume?

SMITH: Hopefully. But we do intend to do another time jump from the holidays to when Season 6 starts so we can anticipate a bit of a time jump. I don’t know exactly how many months but it won’t be a direct pickup from the holidays.

DEADLINE: If there is a time jump, does that mean that Season 6 won’t start where the Christmas special left off, with Everett finishing his thought?

SMITH: We’ll find out what he says. But then we’ll have a jump in some way.

DEADLINE: So Doc’s trial will likely be over, we’ll have the results and don’t have to fret over it? And maybe Lizzie already will have had the baby?

SMITH: She’ll be closer to it.

DEADLINE: And Doc’s trial will be over by then?


DEADLINE: Virgin River‘s villains don’t go away. After Calvin’s surprise return in the Part 1 finale to deliver the Charmaine paternity bombshell, a cliffhanger in the Christmas special featured his henchman, Jimmy with a paternity twist of his own. What is that is bringing them back into the story?

SMITH: They had such a presence for such a big portion of the series. I think one thing that I wanted to lessen when I came in was the kind of drug-centric story engines but I didn’t want to lose them completely. So it felt like an opportunity to bring the characters who are by extension part of that world but put them in something that’s more character based rather than trying to one up fentanyl which I’m just like, after fentanyl, I don’t know where you go. I think it was staying true to the characters that had been around in the series for so long, and not introduce a new big bad in the drug world to keep the drug world as a story engine for the series.

DEADLINE: Are you setting up Jimmy to be a villain next season?

SMITH: He and Calvin will both play into more the personal stories, but still maintaining the fact that they are bad guys.

DEADLINE: How will the fact that Jimmy is Hazel’s father and he is plotting something with Lark affect Brady? He has been in danger for most of the last few seasons. Is he back in danger next season?

SMITH: I don’t know if I would call it danger, but we’re definitely setting up, sort of, the stakes are Brady’s soul. He started out kind of a bad guy and for many seasons, I think he came off a little frustrating with the mistakes that he kept making over and over and the bad choices that he was making.

So Season 5 was really getting to see him ascend to do the right thing finally for the love of Brie. But then, what I was interested in on the end of that was, when that is shaken, does he default back to his old ways, or will he continue to grow, and that’s what the opportunity is with Lark and with Jimmy and with Hazel, the threat of pulling that rug out from under Brady as he’s trying to get his life together.

DEADLINE: Brady had appeared content in his new relationship with Lark while Brie and Mark’s friendship turned into romance. All of a sudden, Brady and Brie had those moments in the Christmas episodes; it seems like the spark may be back for the star-crossed couple of the show. Are we back to a love triangle?

SMITH: We’ve been calling it a rectangle, with Brie, Mike, Lark and Brady. For me, I love them as a couple, and I think that spark will always be there. It’s just a question of given how, in ways, Brady is broken and what Brie has to work through on a personal level that it’s more of seeing them both grow as people to hopefully get to the place where they can be together as a couple.

DEADLINE: So there is a possibility for Brady and Brie to be together again?


DEADLINE: Okay, note to self, no Mark and Brie wedding next season.

SMITH (laughs): You never know. The show likes super big twists and cliffhangers, so you never know.

DEADLINE: Another long suffering character, Preacher, also hasn’t been able to find love. After the heartbreak with Paige, he’s finally happy with Kaia but now the body of Paige’s estranged husband has been found. How much will that impact his storyline on a criminal as well as on a personal level? Would the discovery bring Paige back into the picture to create yet another triangle or rectangle with Kaia and possibly her ex?

SMITH: There are no plans to bring Paige back as we get into the aftermath; the intention is really to be a big test of Preacher and Kaia’s relationship. From the holiday episode, she committed to Virgin River pretty quickly, and she’s committed to him pretty quickly. And then this is reality coming back into these choices to see if she’s making the right choices. And that will be tested in the first part of the season.

DEADLINE: Will you resolve the Wes body storyline in the first half of Season 6? We know Preacher is a great guy and he was only helping, he’s not a murderer, but it does not look very good for him.

SMITH: What I liked about it is that, like you said, he seems justified in what he did. But then there’s the law and then there is Preacher’s moral compass, which is strong. So I think that’s a lot of what we’re getting into with his character.

DEADLINE: The storyline with Cameron and Muriel is defying stereotypes. One of the Christmas special’s cliffhangers did allude the age gap which hadn’t been addressed before. How will this come to a head, with Cameron and Murial being in different stages in their lives?

SMITH: Cameron came to Virgin River saying he wanted to find love and wanted to start a family and for Muriel to not have that same desire, that can be true of any couple so we’re looking at something that isn’t specific to an age gap, which I liked, looking at the sort of May-December romance as it hits December in the holidays, if it’s built to last or not. We are definitely going to address all of that in Season 6. That’s all I can say.

DEADLINE: How did the idea come about pairing those two characters up?

SMITH: The idea had come up for me, just looking at the aftermath of the Cameron situation and knowing that as far as anything with Mel and Jack, there was nothing to play past that. And Muriel had been such a presence in a romantic way for Doc, and that put her in conflict with Hope.

They are just two people that made sense to see together, she’s such a bright light, and he was definitely looking for love. There’d been a hint of a moment at Joey’s wedding — they danced together, and they were just having fun together — and I think it tipped off one of the writers in the room who brought it up, and I was like, I’ve thought about that, should we explore that?

So we kind of ran with it. It was just fun to see Teryl [Rothery] and Mark [Ghanimé] fall in love with each other over Season 5, and then just getting to see the fun of them dancing together in the holiday episodes, it felt like it was worth the price of admission.

(L to R) Mark Ghanim as Dr Cameron Hayek, Teryl Rothery as Muriel, Trevor Lerner as Bert, Ava Anton as Hazel, Kai Bradbury as Denny in episode 511 of Virgin River.
(L to R) Mark Ghanim as Dr Cameron Hayek, Teryl Rothery as Muriel, Trevor Lerner as Bert, Ava Anton as Hazel, Kai Bradbury as Denny in episode 511 of Virgin River.

DEADLINE: Obviously, Teryl is a great performer. How did you pull off the holiday musical number, did you know that they both can sing and dance?

SMITH: I did not. And I think Mark wouldn’t mind me saying it was admittedly a challenge for him but one that he rose to. Teryl choreographed the whole number. I thought it was adorable, and it was just one of those images that I had, thinking of what the trailer would look like for the two episodes, I was just like, we get to see her in a red dress. We get to see her on the stage. We get to see them dancing together, and it just felt really romantic and sweet.

DEADLINE: Part 1 ended with Mel and Jack deciding to buy Lilly’s burnt out farm. I don’t remember that being addressed in the Christmas special. Did the farm purchase happen during the time jump? Where are Mel and Jack on their plans to rebuild the farm and start a family there?

SMITH: I think there was one mention in Brady’s scene with Lark that he was helping Jack with construction. It was a very big challenge to answer all the cliffhangers from Part 1 in the two hours that we had to then get into other storylines and carry everything through. It’s like a flight to Vegas where as soon as you get to your cruising altitude, you’re already starting your descent.

But we did want to make sure that we had at least one acknowledgment of it and then Season 6 will open with the construction of the house and the barn and starting to see in a bigger way what Jack and Mel’s life and future is going to start looking like.

DEADLINE: Any hint whether Mel and Jack will be able to start a family and have children next season?

SMITH: Their pursuit of parenthood will play prominently in Season 6.

DEADLINE: Where are you in the writing process? I believe you had half of the season written before the strike. Are you ready with with the scripts for the second half of the Season 6?

SMITH: We were halfway through when we broke for the strike. So coming back to it, we’re finishing the second half. But also, we have the privilege of getting some audience reactions to Season 5. So we’re able to go back into the first half and do a little bit of course correcting. Not an overhaul at all, but it’s just nice to know what resonated for the fans and what did what.

DEADLINE: What surprised you about what resonated and what didn’t in Season 5, your first as showrunner?

SMITH: For me, I think the big one, and I joked about it on social, was just everybody wants more Mel and Jack. We have 12 series regulars, and there’s a large ensemble to service but I think, and I told Martin and Alex as much, I was like, You guys got more coming up.

They’re always game, they’re incredible. So much of the focus is Mel and Jack, they are the heart of the show, so it’s not losing that and readjusting the real estate that’s given for all the characters and trying to hit it a little bit differently than I think Season 5 was where we were hitting everybody consistently all the way through.

DEADLINE: What has been the experience of taking over a very successful show? What are some of the lessons you learned in your first season and was it exactly what you had hoped it would be running Virgin River?

SMITH: It was. I was a fan of the show and when the opportunity came my way, I was excited do a show about love and human emotions and no zombies or apocalypse. I had not shot in Vancouver, so that was a first for me as well but I was talking to one of the crew members and she was like, I hate to admit it, but I really love this show because it makes me feel and it makes me feel good. And I was like, that shouldn’t be controversial.

I think a lot of television challenges an audience in a lot of ways, and I feel like there were some challenges this season that I learned a lot from. I’m proud of the work that we did and I’m grateful for the people I got to do it with so that’s where it all feels like it’s right.

DEADLINE: Virgin River is already five seasons in. At this point in the run of a show, people typically start thinking about the endgame. Are you preparing Season 6 as a final season and are you keeping the same structure, 10 episodes plus a holiday special?

SMITH: No, I don’t know if I would do the holidays again. It’s sort of, been there done that, and I feel like we did it in a big way that I wouldn’t even know where to start to explore. I think we’re probably looking at a 10-episode season moving forward.

But there’s no plans of wrapping anything up. I think, as long as these characters are living, there are always going to be stories to tell, and that’s an incredible opportunity for any showrunner.

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