Virgin River Season 3 was missing a big part of the thing that made the first two seasons one of our favorite comfort shows — Annette O’Toole’s Hope. The actress, whose character is back fully during Season 4, talked to Fangirlish about the circumstances that led to her Season 3 absence, coming back to Hope, and the very particular journey of grief her character went through this season.
O’Toole is very cognizant of the fact that there’s something about this show, and about this character, that has touched people, sharing that “the really fun part of doing this show is how much people have embraced it,” and the fact that it really means something to fans. This has been particularly true during the pandemic, as people have been looking for a show that brings casual drama, yes, but one that is ultimately about family and about people caring for each other.
“I think people would have always liked this show because it’s well done and well written and acted and everything,” O’Toole shared, but “the pandemic just changed things, and people really needed that kind of comfort place to go. And the nice thing is, too, that they can watch it all at once, or they can make it last a little bit longer or watch it again or whatever they want. So it’s nice to be part of something that people love like that.”
For O’Toole, who had a very limited participation in Season 3 due to the pandemic, returning to the show, and Hope, was like coming back home. “It was great to be back. I really missed being here,” she told us. “It was a very hard decision to not come up.” But the pandemic had us all reevaluating risk — particularly before vaccines were available. But Hope did manage to appear in Season 3, in a scene that was filmed in O’Toole’s own house. “I was thrilled that my daughter works in film and she came over and shot those scenes on her phone,” O’Toole confessed, sharing that there’s a lot more to it than just a regular call. “We had to find the right place in the house for the lighting. And it had to look like I was in North Carolina, and there had been a storm.”
“I was glad I didn’t have to do it myself, but I was glad they wanted to include me in the show after saying, I just can’t do it. And then Season 4 was so much fun.” Particularly having to deal with the brain injury aspect, because it was different. “Hope had never had to deal with anything like that. I hadn’t either, as an actress. And it was very interesting to figure it out.”
This was also the first time we truly got to see Hope dealing mostly with, well, Hope. She’s always sort of been the emotional center of the town, and worrying about everyone else, but Season 4 puts Hope in a situation where she has to worry about Hope first, and a situation that forces the people around her to worry about Hope, instead of the other way around.
“It’s always nice to see a character who you know pretty well, just kind of get upended that way and have to deal with other things and see her come out of it,” the actress shared, adding that Hope is making progress, even if it’s slow.
Part of that progress, and of Hope’s storyline in Season 4, is related to her relationship with Doc, and Season 4 also takes the time to explore Doc’s reaction to having to be the caregiver, something O’Toole also found very interesting to play. “It’s very difficult for him,” she shared, adding that it might even be harder for him than most people, because he’s a doctor. “He knows what she should be doing.” So, it’s hard. “How much do you encourage that person to really get up and do things? And how much do you say, no, you have to rest. And knowing her, she’s just going to do whatever she’s going to do anyway.”
But the brain injury, and the focus on Hope, perhaps leads to the most emotional storyline of Virgin River Season 4, which has to do with grief. Despite the fact that Hope was coming back to Virgin River for Lily’s funeral when she had her accident, at the beginning of Season 4, she’s forgotten that Lily is dead. That means she has to go through the loss again, and process it all, just as she’s trying to deal with a debilitating injury.
Through Hope, we, the viewers, get to process our own grief and feel like there is no right or wrong way to mourn, something O’Toole was adamant was very much the intention, especially when we consider the losses the world has suffered because of COVID, loses that were not just horrible, but in some cases, avoidable. And this all comes to a head through a community garden that’s been done in Lily’s honor.
For O’Toole, when she read that she was going to get a scene with Lily, or her spirit, there were doubts. But once they filmed it, it worked, because “you don’t know whether it’s because of her brain injury that she’s able to see this or whether she’s really seeing it or what it is. And the thing is, it doesn’t matter.” All that matters is what it means to Hope.
It’s about being able to say goodbye — which is something circumstances took from her. “All she can do is grieve and now she has a place to say goodbye. So every time she goes to that community garden, she will be able to conjure Lily. Whether she really sees her and gets to talk to her or not, she’ll be there with her.”
As mentioned before, this especially resonates in the world we live in, where a pandemic stole many things from us, but it especially took away the last moments of their loved ones from some people. O’Toole brought up a conversation she had with Sue Tenney in this regard, where Sue talked about how important it is for people to be able to channel their own grief through these characters. And if Hope’s journey helps someone, then it was the right storyline.
Going into Season 5, O’Toole hopes Hope gets to be in the middle of things once again, and truly believes Hope is yearning for that. “She really wants to get back into it,” she told us, adding that “I would like to see her take a more active role as Mayor so that we know more about what she does, what her job is, because she does have one. We haven’t really seen it up to now that much, but I would like to see her in her official capacity and what that’s like for her.”
For that, of course, Hope needs to get better. “I think she will (be),” O’Toole shared. “I think the consensus is that they want her to get better and be able to do the things that she used to do and be a little more independent. I would like that too. It may not be completely true to someone who has a TBI, but the brain is a miraculous organ, and it can do many, many things.”
As for us, we truly want to see Hope in the middle of things in Virgin River once again, because her presence in Season 4 certainly made the show better — which means that, with all the fun stuff that’s sure to come in Season 5, we gotta have hope. And Hope. It just makes everything better.
Virgin River Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.