A new season of romance returns on Virgin River

No show feels quite like a gift in this pandemic as Virgin River. The romance series based on Robyn Carr’s book series returns just eight months after the second season left viewers on a chilling cliffhanger, with Jack (Martin Henderson) getting shot, bleeding out on the floor of his own bar.

Virgin RiverNetflixLuckily, the love story between midwife Mel (Alexandra Breckenridge) and Jack is—spoiler alert!—far from over. But that doesn’t mean the shooting is swept under the rug. “The funny thing is that on set, no one knew who shot Jack. We weren’t in the know,” says Grayson Maxwell Gurnsey, who plays recent high school grad Ricky. “The producers wouldn’t tell us, the writers wouldn’t tell us. Sue Tenney, the brains behind all the storylines, she wouldn’t tell us anything. At one point, crew started taking bets, and everyone was going, ‘Brady [Benjamin Hollingsworth] is so shady.’ But I think the idea is that the first person you think is responsible is a red herring.”

While Jack struggles with amnesia that’s made him forget everything about the night in question, Mel’s dilemma in this third season is figuring out where their relationship is headed.

“If in season two, it felt like Jack was trying to get her to commit to the relationship, Mel’s arc [in season three] is trying to get him to commit,” Gurnsey explains. “She wants a baby and to really move forward with the relationship, and now he’s the one being hesitant.”

Virgin RiverNetflixIn fact, no one’s love life is smooth sailing this season. Ricky and rebellious-but-lovable Lizzie (Sarah Dugdale) have everything going for them. But, in a role reversal of sorts, Ricky is determined to sabotage their budding romance. “I really liked how they gave Ricky the ability to be a jerk,” Gurnsey admits. Of course, with his character being the innocent sweetie he is, it’s not out of malice that he ends up hurting his girlfriend. “I think he doesn’t understand what his actions are doing to her. The other reason is that he might not necessarily care about the consequences. [His actions have to do] with not knowing who he is or wants to be. For most of the season, he goes back and forth, but in the end, the question is, does he stay in Virgin River for the girl, or does he leave to find his calling?”

Discovering a surprise calling of his own is John “Preacher” Middleton (Colin Lawrence), who after his love interest Paige (Lexa Doig) goes on the lam after killing her abusive ex-husband, finds himself a de facto parent to her son Christopher (Chase Petriw). “I love how he went from this no-nonsense bartender in the first season to taking care of a kid in the third. It’s a pretty huge step,” says Gurnsey. “Colin is the funniest guy on set, and I can’t wait to see where this arc leads for season four.”

Everything is not all warm and fuzzy this season in the idyllic small town. Doc Mullins (Tim Matheson) is faced with his wife Hope (Annette O’Toole) being in perpetual danger, while himself struggling with the progression of his wet age-related macular degeneration. For this gruff, stoic and highly self-reliant man, these career-threatening challenges end up becoming more trying than for most. “His storyline is about coming to terms with needing help,” says Gurnsey. “He goes from trying to do everything alone to needing Mel.”

Virgin RiverNetflixIf the small-town cheer appears to pop off the screen, it’s because behind the cameras this group feels like a real family. “It’s a lot of fun,” says Gurnsey. “Most of the crew has come back every single season and I love that. Most of the directors come back every season, so we have a great rapport with these hilarious, amazing directors that you learn so much from. It’s a very relaxed set.”

Speaking of learning, Gurnsey recalls Matheson directing in season one, and really taking the time to give the young actor every bit of advice he could think of. “He and Martin were talking through the scene. I was like, ‘Oh my God, they’re throwing out so many terms,’ and Tim actually took the time to walk me through everything so I never felt lost,” says Gurnsey. “He was like, ‘I’m just giving you all the advice I would want if I was in your shoes.’ I was very touched by that. He’s a cool guy and a very talented director and a very, very talented actor.”

With collaborations like that, it feels organic that the Virgin River world expands to include meaty storylines outside the main romance. “At the centre of it, it is Mel and Jack’s show, but we can fill the world out and make it seem real,” Gurnsey explains. “Everyone’s got a big arc this season. There’s a lot to love.”

Virgin River streams Fridays on Netflix