SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about Episodes 509 (Angel’s Peak) and 510 (Labor Day) of Netflix’s series Virgin River.
Part 1 of Virgin River‘s fifth season came to a close with eventful last two episodes. In typical Virgin River fashion, there were bombshell revelations — Lizzie is pregnant, baddie Calvin is the father of Charmaine’s twins, and the big one is the cliffhanger that set up the upcoming Christmas-themed two-episode Part 2 — Mel’s biological father is likely a man from Virgin River, identity unknown (for now).
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That last shocker does stretch the limits of believability, even for a soapy romantic drama, as Mel originally landed in Virgin River, a place she said she had never heard of, after answering an ad.
In other developments, Jack takes Mel on a hike to Angel’s Peak to have a heart-to-heart after she had pulled away following her miscarriage. They get lost and rained on, reaching the bottom physically and metaphorically before an impersonate speech by Jack (Martin Henderson) at the top wins Mel (Alexandra Breckenridge) back. The same pouring rain also interrupts a baseball game Brie had asked Mike to join and leads to the two of them kissing to kick off a new Virgin River romantic relationship.
Another new couple alert, Cameron and Muriel, make if official, getting permission from Doc and going public at the Labor Day Carnival, the latest in a long list of Virgin River community events featured as backdrop to major episodes on the show.
Preacher and Kaia also are going from strength to strength until she gets a call that the fire clean-up has uncovered a mystery buried body, which stops Preacher in his tracks as he was the one who put that body into the ground to help Paige.
After Jack and Mel get on the same page about starting a family even if not in the way they originally had envisioned, Mel takes him to Lilly’s burned-down farm where part of the charred tree is still standing with the swing where the two had a sweet chat in Season 1 miraculously intact. She wants them to buy the plot of land and build their dream house to raise a family and he loves the idea.
The reason why the duo needs a new property is that Jack’s existing one has been temporarily seized by the FBI. The final two episodes wrapped the glamping drug scheme plot line, with Jack catching Brady (Benjamin Hollingsworth) cooking the books moments before Brady gets abducted by Melissa Montgomery’s goons. With help from Mike, Jack tracks them down and Melissa is arrested but Mike gets shot in an altercation. Brie keeps vigil at his bedside and the two hang out when he finally wakes up.
Doc tells Hope that he has enrolled in the risky clinical trial and she vows to support him in his decision.
In an interview with Deadline, Andy Mikita, who directed Episodes 509 and 510, dissects all major plot developments and talks about new Virgin River couples while giving props to Hope and Doc, played by Annette O’Toole and Tim Matheson. (“They are two of my favorite characters and favorite people and favorite actors. I can watch those two all day long.”)
He also describes how the Mel-Jack scene in “Angel’s Peak” was shot using rain effects that prompted an improvisation by Breckenridge and reveals that the Labor Day carnival was filmed in pouring rain with the use of special machinery to shield the actors and conceal the inclement weather that was not written into the show.
Mikita also explains the use of flashbacks in the two episodes, shares how crew members stepped in twice to serve as background performers, reveals whether Mel and Jack really go back to Lilly’s farm and other behind-the-scenes details. (For a deep dive into the wildfire-themed Episodes 505 and 506, read our interview.)
DEADLINE: What were the biggest challenges filming Jack and Mel’s hike to Angel’s Peak?
MIKITA: One of the challenges certainly from a directorial standpoint, coming right from the wake of the episodes involving the fire, we had to demonstrate some areas of post-fire destruction. We had to create a bit of an aftermath and then enhance that with visual effects because you wanted it to feel the devastation of what they just experienced and with their own personal turmoil that they were both going through, with Jack really trying to reach out to Mel to try to get through to her because she had been quite distant from the end of Episode 8 and into 9.
He had to coax her into going out to have a little bit of a soul-searching walk together where they could clear their minds and discuss what’s happened and what the future has for them. We were checker-boarding their conversation through the rest of the episode as they are getting deeper into the forest and ultimately reach Angel’s Peak, which is a beautiful mountain location in Squamish, a spectacular vista. There were some production challenges getting the crew and the equipment and everything up to that spot.
The journey itself, we’d broken it up into four different locations, three of which we used the same vicinity but created different environments, and the way that those things were shot, I tried to give a lot of space if that makes sense, lots of wide shots to show almost the insignificance of them as individuals in the grand scheme of the environments with those nice big, epic wide shots combined with tight, closeups for the emotional impacts of the scenes.
At one point, again from a technical standpoint, a rain storm hits when they get lost. We had to generate rain so we had to bring in rain towers and approach that one pretty carefully because once they get wet, they’re wet. We were not in a position to be able to send them back to the trailers to get changed and dried off again, should something go wrong, so we had to be pretty careful with our approach to that but Alex and Martin are so great and such a pleasure to work with, they made it easy and fun.
DEADLINE: I assume the rain scene was shot in one take?
MIKITA: That’s right. We had to get the rain essentially in one take so we did all our rehearsals very, very carefully and camera placements. Once the rain came down, I don’t think Alex was expecting it to come down as fast and hard as it did so she started to laugh but used that in context of the scene, the absurdity of the situation of being washed up in the forest — What more could happen?! And then the rain starts. Once she started laughing, she used that because she knew, oh I need to stay in character, that was pretty fun.
DEADLINE: So the laugh was not scripted?
MIKITA: It wasn’t no, no, it was just her take on it. We kind of knew that it was coming; the anticipation of having these big rain towers overhead, everybody with their finger on the button. So she was anticipating it but it’s never what you expected.
DEADLINE: A kiss in the rain is a hallmark of a romantic movie. You had not one but two in the Angel’s Peak montage, between an established couple, Mel and Jack, and a brand new one, Brie and Mike. How did that juxtaposition come about?
MIKITA: That I have to give full credit to [writer] Ildiko [Susany], she had created the sequence in the structure of the script such that we could have those concurrent moments.
With Brie and Mike, they are having a baseball game, which was a lot of fun in itself because neither of them — well, Marco plays a little bit of baseball but the extras that showed up couldn’t really play baseball. So we ended up having to get some of our key crew members in on it.
DEADLINE: So some of those players on the field are actually crew members?
MIKITA: Yeah, there’s a few of them. Our production manager, Neil [Williams], was in there, I threw him into the game. And there’s a couple of other crew members as well; I had to bring them in to make it look a little bit more realistic. And it worked out fine because it was created as a montage, so it wasn’t like they had to sustain long shots. But thank goodness for the crew members that stepped up and helped out with that sequence.
That’s so indicative of everybody on Virgin River. It’s such a great family, the crew and the cast, everybody really enjoys coming to work.
DEADLINE: To wrap up Mel and Jack’s hike, can you share your experience filming Jack’s emotional “I was lost, I was broken” speech on Angel’s Peak?
MIKITA: Well, the two of them are so great together and they work so well together and support one another, both as friends off-camera and supporting one another on camera. It was obviously a big moment for Jack and for Martin as the actor to be able to articulate it in a not too melodramatic way.
Martin is very self-aware, and he’s always very, very concerned that he’s not being disingenuous and has been truthful. The way that he had that on the day was just to stay really relaxed and having fun, drinking tea. His partner was there visiting from New Zealand at the time as well which really kept him at ease because she’s such a wonderful person. There is a lot of friendships and camaraderie on this set anyway, and it was very loose and fun. The weather was great. And we were just trying to keep everything really relaxed and didn’t draw too much attention to the scenes themselves ahead of time. We didn’t even really rehearse much — we ran the lines maybe once — we wanted it to be spontaneous and real and genuine.
Martin was so great, and I think he felt good about it after we had done it because even for a lot of us on-set — myself and other crew members — were very affected by his speech because everybody has baggage in their lives and to hear somebody speak from the heart is always something special.
DEADLINE: Moving towards Episode 10, there is a change of genres, with a crime caper element involving Jack’s glamping site discovery, Brady’s abduction and the Jack-led rescue operation. It feels like almost a different show within the show.
MIKITA: Yeah, I agree with you completely on that. I feel the same way. It was a real turn of events, the cliffhanger at the end of nine where Jack makes the discovery, catching Brady red-handed. I thought it was a great, very well crafted, well written, ending and cliffhanger for 509 and then to just continue that momentum and build that momentum. It’s like you said it’s like a different genre that now all of a sudden we’re in a heavy crime drama with an action sequence and fighting and gunfire, all sorts of stuff happening, and it’s very unusual for Virgin River.
And again, hats off to Martin, to Ben and to everybody that was part of that for being able to slip so effortlessly into what is essentially a whole different format for the show, and it showed us that these guys are good action actors as well. We had some careful fight choreography that we had done ahead of time. To stage the fight sequence in a short amount of time on location, there’s always challenges in doing that, but it all came together really, really well.
Obviously, that’s a big moment with Mike being shot and that was the uncertainty of what could potentially happen there and with the guilt that Brady would be feeling as a result of all of this, and the discovery of the drugs, the displacement of the people and all the rest, that was a really brave transition for the writers to take the story there.
But at the same time, in the midst of that, we easily move ourselves into a Labor Day carnival, which at first blush when I read it, I felt that might be a bit too abrupt of a transition to go from such a heavy drama, action sequence to a carnival situation, but I thought it would work well.
DEADLINE: Well, it’s another hallmark of the show. We’ve had Renaissance Fair, Lumberjack Games, Moonlight Mingle. Every season, there is a big community event.
MIKITA: A big community set piece, yeah. And the real challenge with the carnival was, we experienced what’s called an atmospheric river event during the shooting of that carnival. First of all, we were bound by only having access to that carnival rides and everything for a three-day window because it was booked for some other events somewhere so we had to shoot it on those particular three days. We had heavy, heavy, heavy rain throughout the time that we were shooting the carnival, so we had to bring in big construction cranes and build what are called fly swatters, which are basically just big tarps that they could put over top to try to alleviate as much of the rain showing on camera as possible. But it was really difficult to do.
Same thing again, back to the crew coming to the rescue. There were several rides, where the extras didn’t want to be going on these rides in the epic rain for extensive periods of time so the crew jumped in and volunteered to be carnival-goers.
So, in spite of the horrible weather, we still were able to laugh and have fun and make the best of the situation.
DEADLINE: So all the carnival scenes were filmed in rain conditions? I couldn’t tell.
MIKITA: Yeah, there were only one or two scenes that were not in full rain, but I’d say 80% of it was in heavy, heavy rain.
DEADLINE: Did you consider changing the script to incorporate the rain or was it, we already had plenty of rain in ‘Angel’s Peak’, no more this season?
MIKITA: Yeah, it didn’t track and it didn’t really make sense. I was at the time advocating for it — we’re in Northern California it does rain, and it exemplifies the resilience of the people of Virgin River that in spite of weather, they’re happy to go out and participate in community events.
There was a scene that we did have to change around a little bit; it was one of the first scenes where Lizzie’s doing all the preparation [for the carnival]. I was pretty adamant that they wear appropriate costuming — wear a raincoat or carry an umbrella because it is really raining, there is no hiding it. After that scene, we had all together decided, let’s make best efforts to try to hide the rain as best we can. And that’s what we did.
DEADLINE: There were a few revelations during the carnival, including Charmaine’s encounter with her twins’ father. You also directed the finale last season when the cliffhanger was her telling Jack that he was not the father. When you were filming that, did you know who the father was and did you have any inkling it would be Calvin?
MIKITA: I did not. I think I was just as surprised as anybody when that was revealed. I was kind of floored actually because I had no idea at the end of Season 4 that he would be the father, I did not see that coming. We all talk about it, all the crew, we’re always quite anxious to read the scripts when they come out because we’re just like the audience; we’re wondering and curious ourselves as to how are we going to get out of this mess, who is it going to be?
DEADLINE: Also immediately after the carnival, Mel takes Jack to the tree with the swing at Lilly’s burned-down farm and they reminiscent about their conversation in the same spot during Season 1, before deciding to buy the land. Did you happen to direct that episode that was used for the flashbacks?
MIKITA: Yes, I did direct that. We didn’t go to exactly the same spot, we recreated the aftermath at a different location. For all sorts of logistical reasons, we didn’t go there and because we were going to be there at nighttime and all the burnt aftermath, it wasn’t essential to go back to the same spot even though I wanted to go back to that spot. But, for many production reasons, it didn’t make sense.
DEADLINE: What was your reaction when you saw in the script a reference to something that we had pretty much forgotten about coming full circle and footage previously shot being used again?
MIKITA: I wondered at first if it made sense for us to use the flashbacks. I didn’t know whether that was necessary from a story perspective at the time when I read it.
But I think it made sense to refresh the audience and to make that connection because I think it would have been out of people’s minds. I don’t think they would have recognized or remembered the tree swing.
DEADLINE: I didn’t. And speaking of flashbacks, one was used when Preacher hears that a body has been found. Was this also a decision to refresh viewers’ memories and to make it clear we are talking about the same body that Preacher buried? That death was a more recent development than the swing scene, and the flashback felt more on the nose.
MIKITA: I thought that also at first, is it a bit too much, a bit too on the nose but I think it was just important to do that. I don’t think that the footage that was used was necessarily from the show, it was footage that was shot but had not aired previously, I believe.
DEADLINE: The last act of the finale provided updates on all of Virgin River‘s couples, Mel and Jack, Lizzie and Denny, Doc and Hope, Preacher and Kaia, Brie and Mike and Cameron and Muriel. What was the most surprising couple development for you? It was kind of brave for the writers to pursue a Muriel-Cameron relationship with an age gap rarely seen on television. It is way more common when the gap is in the other direction, with an older man.
MIKITA: Well, that was the most surprising for me, because I honestly didn’t see that one coming. Muriel’s character is so outgoing and fun and brave to begin with that, when it did start to surface it was like, oh, yeah, I could see her doing that, I could see her being in a way the instigator in the relationship.
First of all as you say, it’s brave on behalf of the writers because of that obvious age gap. But at the same time it makes sense and it’s perfectly acceptable. I felt good about it and enjoyed it and enjoyed the way they played it and how they presented themselves as a couple. For Cameron, he has to be so cautious and a little bit more self aware and self-conscious. At the same time, he says okay, we’re going to the carnival. It’s so much fun to see how everybody else reacts.
So that was the fun one for me and perhaps the Brie and Mike development. I didn’t really see that one coming so much. For Brie and Brady, we always knew that was never really going to be something that was going to get onto solid ground. So I think that we saw coming. But Mike I thought that was an interesting one, too.
DEADLINE: The Lizzie and Denny scene, in which he tells her that he wants to leave Virgin River but she surprises him with the pregnancy news. How was it filming Denny’s (Kai Bradbury)’s reaction of utter shock?
MIKITA: That was all Kai. He’s a terrific actor, I think he is underrated. I’ve worked with him on another show and saw the depth of his abilities as a performer. There were a lot of distractions for him during that scene — we had the weather distraction of the rain. The amount of noise generated by the machinery of all the rides that were happening, the extras around them, everything, all the noise from the carnival was difficult, and we had to re-voice a lot of the scenes.
That was one of them where he had to do some ADR for that, both of them had to, and Doc and Hope had to re-voice theirs. Hats off to Kai for being able to be in the moment and not be distracted by everything that was going on around him. It’s a testament to his ability as an actor and generally for all of our actors on Virgin River that they can work through all these other distractions and stay focused on their job as actors and stay in character.
DEADLINE: And now onto the flash-forward at the end of the finale that teases the two holiday episodes. What was your reaction when you read that scene and the final line about Mel’s real father?
MIKITA: I was a bit floored by that. And it became a running joke on set, we were all speculating, everybody is wondering what the answer is. I was literally going through my database of okay, who could it possibly be? I didn’t see it coming. None of us did. But we all wanted to have the answer so we could understand it to give it context when we were shooting the scenes.
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