TV pregnancies can afford to indulge in a little dramatic licence, from the prolonging of due dates, to babies written into the script to accommodate an actor's real-life pregnancy. But in Virgin River, Charmaine Robert's pregnancy has been nothing short of infuriating.
The fifth season of Netflix's picturesque romance drama debuted last week, delivering ten episodes packed with poignant moments, cliffhangers and devastating tragedies. Yet, all of the emotional weight of the series, from the raging wildfire to a sexual assault trial to Mel's miscarriage, has been undermined by the fact that Charmaine is still pregnant.
In the first chapter's penultimate episode, Jack's on-off girlfriend turned his world on its head when she revealed that she was pregnant with his child. By this point, he was already falling for newcomer nurse Mel and attempting to leave Charmaine firmly in the past.
Then in season 2, we learned that she was carrying twins, before the biggest bombshell of them all was dropped in season 4: Jack's not the father.
As pregnancies last 9 months and Virgin River employs a swift soap opera-style pace to keep viewers locked in, many were surprised when Charmaine didn't give birth in season 3, or in season 4. But the absurd nature of her glacially-paced pregnancy only went viral when, in the season 4 finale, Jack dropped into a 911 call that Charmaine was five months pregnant. Four seasons and only five months pregnant?!
Naturally, social media was ablaze with fans estimating that she had been pregnant for years instead, the Titanic's 'It's been 84 years' meme springing to mind.
During Charmaine's seemingly never-ending pregnancy, Jack has moved on and proposed to Mel, who also got pregnant. There was also the shooting, which he thankfully recovered from.
Lilly's passing, Doc's surprise grandson, Denny's arrival and Hope's return after a lengthy absence, plus her recovery from a car accident, are just some of the other developments that have happened during that time.
Preacher and Paige even killed Charmaine's abusive ex-husband Wes, covered it up, and now the wildfire has potentially unearthed his body.
In her supposedly short-lived pregnancy, Charmaine also tried to sabotage Mel and Jack's relationship and had her own whirlwind romance with Todd, who she went on to marry before that crashed and burned, which was unsurprising.
And yet, still no baby, with our hopes for a season 5 delivery dashed when she reappeared in episode 10, signature big bump still intact.
In total, she's been with child for a whopping 43 episodes (out of 52). She is the pregnant woman, who is also a hairdresser, and that's the extent of our insight into Charmaine.
Thankfully, there was some development in this horrendously slow-burn story, with criminal gang leader Calvin finally revealed as the twin's father, who told her: "I want to be a father to my boys."
Even that shock reveal, however, was not enough to redeem this drawn-out sub-plot. Charmaine is arguably one of the least likeable characters on the show, but she deserves far more than simply being 'the pregnant one'.
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Her arc to date has been defined by becoming a mother, which she has wielded to emotionally manipulate others for sympathy and remain a victim in a toxic situation that she created. And it now seems that without the twins on the horizon, Virgin River doesn't know what to do with Charmaine. How can she remain an integral part of the town and all its comings and goings when she doesn't even live there.
In a heartfelt moment with Doc, Charmaine reflected on how her life "is just a series of bad choices, just like mum", adding: "People gossiped about her too in bars and restaurants… and here I am, all alone and mad at the world, just like her."
Doc reassured her that she resembled her mother in a positive way, as she was "lovely, brave and fiercely independent". Yet, in the next breath he added: "Once you see how wonderful you are, the right person will too."
That comment reinforced that Charmaine, as an end in herself, isn't enough. The character hasn't been developed enough for her to exist as a single woman. She has to have a purpose outside of herself to be complete or worthy of screen-time. A husband. A boyfriend. A baby, or two.
Even for a scheming serial liar like Charmaine, this outdated role of the 'pregnant, lonely woman desperate for love' is a disservice, especially as it's continually used as her motivation for all of her misguided actions.
After another season in which Charmaine was still pregnant – and with no sign of her baby on the way (Doc even prescribes her SSRIs) – this narrative has reached peak implausibility and has also undermined the hard-hitting themes explored elsewhere in the series.
How can these sensitive moments be taken seriously, with all the poignancy and credit they deserve, when they co-exist in the same timeline as a woman who has been pregnant for four seasons?
In the past, Alexandra Breckenridge has touched on the warped timings, emphasising that "things move slowly in Virgin River". But while life changes quickly and unexpected events occur, it is unfathomable in some respects – even if this was a true soap opera – that anyone could be pregnant for as long as Charmaine.
Virgin River season 5 part 1 is available to stream now on Netflix. Check out our lists of the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix – or see what else is on with our TV Guide. Visit our Drama hub for all the latest news.
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