Hallmark Channel's frontier drama explained Abigail's absence in the May 5 episode

When Calls the Heart made its much-anticipated return to Hallmark Channel on Sunday night, and fans tuned in with a burning question on their minds: What will newly minted couple Carson and Faith eat at the picnic that Carson so thoughtfully planned? Wait, that’s not what it was. Oh, right, it was: How exactly will the show deal with the exit of Lori Loughlin?

In the wake of the massive college admissions scandal that now has the star of the hit frontier drama facing criminal charges, Hallmark Cards (which owns Hallmark Channel) fired the actress from all of her Hallmark gigs back in March. Subsequently, the producers of When Calls the Heart edited her out of the rest of the season 6 episodes, which also necessitated some reshoots. This was no small feat, of course, given that Loughlin is a key cast member whose character, Abigail Stanton, serves as the mayor of Hope Valley.

In the March 10 episode, Abigail was last seen working out a great compromise with Lucas (Chris McNally), new owner of the saloon, after a tie vote in the town council meeting. He agreed to her suggestion of keeping his bar open late only two nights a week, which satisfied everyone in Hope Valley happy. “We take care of our own,” said Abigail.

How would the situation with Abigail be taken care of when the show returned? Her departure was addressed in the opening scene of the episode, and, well, it was short and sweet. Elizabeth (Erin Krakow) delivered the news, as the audience heard her narrating a letter that she was writing. “We never know how life will turn,” she began. “It’s been a week since Abigail got word that her mother had taken ill back East. True to her nature, Abigail wasted no time in rushing off to care for her.”

Elizabeth then expressed how important and loved that Abigail is, and no doubt, fans will read into how much of the following words were about Loughlin as well: “Abigail is much more than a friend. She’s family, and I will miss her and Cody deeply. We all will. But we must get by as best we can.”

When Calls The Heart
Lori Loughlin in 'When Calls the Heart'
| Credit: Crown Media

And then, with that, like it or not, life in Hope Valley began to move on without her. When will the show next address the fate of Abigail? Will audiences eventually learn that she’s decided to stay there forever? Is there even a remote possibility of recasting the role? It sounds like these are questions that will be handled next season. Which, by the way, is in the works: When Calls the Heart was recently renewed for a seventh season that will debut in 2020.

Fans won’t have to wait a week for the next episode of When Calls The Heart; it airs tomorrow night at 9 p.m. as part of the two-night return event. Six episodes remain this season.

The show stands as the network’s longest-running and top-rated series, and the season 6 premiere was the highest-rated premiere in Hallmark history, tallying 3.6 million viewers in Live+3, ranking behind only The Walking Dead for the week.

Loughlin’s co-star Jack Wagner recently told ET that he was going through “the five stages of grief” in the wake of the situation. “When you lose something or someone, I would describe it that way,” he said, noting the struggle to return to the set to finish the reshoots. “It really was a real group effort of feeling like we had to feel our feelings and then we had to move past that and that’s what we’ve done,” he said. “We hit our marks, gave the best performances we could, which is what we’ve always done.”

Executive producer Brian Bird thanked fans on Instagram for their support while noting, “Life throws all of us painful curveballs, and the only way to survive is to walk right through them with courage, grace, a forgiving spirit, and most of all, hope.”

Loughlin, who also starred in Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ The Garage Sales Mysteries and Hallmark Christmas aplenty, and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 to help their two daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose, gain admission to the University of Southern California by pretending that they were recruits for the USC crew team. The spouses have entered pleas of not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. They were charged alongside 15 other persons last month, and are facing up to 40 years in prison.

Debuting in 2014, When Calls the Heart also stars Martin Cummins, Pascale Hutton, and Kavan Smith, Loretta Walsh, and Kevin McGarry.

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