In many ways, this Nashville season finale did not live up to the tone set by its preceding episode. That episode, so wrought with drama, disaster and death, perhaps set the bar too high for its successor to ably leap. Don’t get us wrong, this finale episode was fantastic. It just felt a little ‘less than’…
The main thrust of the episode focused on the fallout from Maddie’s discovery of her true parentage, with some nice side moments involving Juliette’s grief, Gunnar and Scarlett’s relationship, Avery’s love for Scarlett and friendship with Juliette, and the US Attorney’s Office sniffing around Teddy’s history with the Cumberland Project.
That Cumberland Project issue provided us with the first cliffhanger of the episode – a dual cliffhanger, if you will. From the moment Dashell Brinks called Teddy, the whole arc became a whodunit, of sorts. Who tipped off the Attorney’s Office? The list of suspects is more or less confined to Lamar, Tandy, Peggy and Coleman. (We have discounted Rayna because we just don’t think she’d stoop that low.) One of the episode’s final scenes showed Dashell approaching Tandy, who was clearly surprised to see him, so that counts her out (though she’s certainly likely to sell her father out in light of their confrontation during the episode – that should make next season more than interesting). The fact that Dashell wanted to talk to her about Lamar’s involvement probably counts Lamar out. Our instincts tell us that it was Peggy, rather than Coleman, perhaps in a bid either to win Teddy back or pay him back for dumping her.
That could, potentially be backed up by the first of this finale’s main cliffhangers, and the second half of that dual cliffhanger. When Teddy went to appeal to Peggy’s better nature, and to ask her not to turn on him, she revealed that she had already spoken to the investigators and refused to take a deal in exchange for ratting him out because she’s pregnant. Presumably she wouldn’t want her baby daddy rotting in minimum security prison on embezzlement charges. In the words of the cast of Awkward., however, we’re calling shenanigans. Perhaps it’s just because she reminds us so much of Terri Schuester (Glee; Jessalyn Gilsig), but we’re doubting this pregnancy right off the bat. Nothing like a fake baby to win back your ex…
The Gunnar and Scarlett arc was relatively subdued this week, buried somewhat under the ‘more important’ issues of Maddie’s discovery and Jolene’s death, and yet it was certainly still significant. As the episode progressed, we worried more and more that Scarlett might drift back to Avery. She seemed immune to Gunnar’s attempts at reconciliation, instead choosing to go to Avery’s gig. And yet, apparently without knowing, she set Gunnar a challenge: “What more do you want?” “I don’t know. I don’t know what I want.” And so, interspersed with the scenes leading up to the final (and far more consequential) cliffhanger, we got one mini cliffhanger – Gunnar down on one knee, offering Scarlett a ring and a “Will you marry me?”
Moving on to the fallout from Jolene’s death. Juliette’s grief played a very formative part in the episode and will, perhaps, have much to do with the shape of the second season. Her range of emotion throughout the episode, aside from exhibiting a level of acting skill we weren’t sure Hayden Panettiere was capable of, brought her neatly from little brat angry at the world, to grieving and loving daughter, to compassionate adult. Her behavior toward Rayna, and hints of a truce between the pair, speak of a change to come. We may be set to see a whole new dynamic between our leading ladies and from the show in general. They will always be musical rivals, but perhaps Rayna will become the maternal figure that Juliette never really had.
As she made her farewells to her mother in the funeral home, she said, “How could you leave me? Now I have no one. No one at all.” But that’s not true. She is surrounded by people who care about her – yes, even Rayna cares a little – and she may just be beginning to realize that. Her mother’s sacrifice, illustrated to Juliette by the cops’ discovery of the SD card and the delivery of a from-beyond-the-grave letter from Jolene, may have given her a new lease on life. A second chance and a clean start. Watching how she uses that in the next season could be interesting.
Of course, the major dramatic flairs came from that Maddie situation. Maddie wanting nothing more to do with Rayna (temporarily) was, surprisingly enough, the aspect of the episode which got the least attention. We’re not going to say that was a mistake – if we’re honest, we only really cared about how it would affect Deacon and Rayna – but it didn’t feel believable either. Maddie’s initial reaction was honest, but the ease with which she forgave Rayna and came to accept the situation felt a little forced and a little hurried. It felt as though the writers were pushing that out of the way so it wouldn’t distract from Deacon’s breakdown.
And, boy, was that breakdown something to behold. This was perhaps the darkest depiction of alcoholism we’ve ever seen on television, with his fall from the wagon shown as worryingly easy. We were reminded of Leo McGarry’s (John Spencer) line in The West Wing: “I’m an alcoholic, I don’t have one drink. I don’t understand people who have only one drink. I don’t understand people who leave half a glass of wine on the table. I don’t understand people who say they’ve had enough.” That first gulp of whiskey in the bar, that desperate attempt at drowning the sorrow that comes from being lied to for 13 years, was so clearly Deacon’s first step on a dangerous road that it was uncomfortable to watch. “I would like another.” We knew that would be the start of something that couldn’t be turned back.
His loss of control drove the rest of the episode – his attack on Teddy, his attack on Coleman, his refusal to back down or listen to reason… This all showed us exactly why Rayna had never told him about Maddie. If this is what he was like when she got pregnant, can you blame her for lying? His own lies to Coleman about going to meetings and getting his welcome chip, illustrating absolutely no desire to give up the bottle, will go a long way toward informing the shape of next season, if he’ll even be in it. Which brings us neatly on to that final (and biggest) cliffhanger – one that Deacon’s newly resurfaced alcoholism directly contributed to. The crash.
When Deacon showed up drunk to Juliette’s Bluebird Café memorial for her mother, Rayna refused to let him drive home. In his jeep, they fought. They fought about a lot of things (we assume) and then they fought over the bottle. Rayna took her eyes off the road for just a second and then had to swerve to avoid another car. The jeep flipped and rolled. The screen went black.
In a similar manner to The Following, Nashville just wouldn’t work without both of its leads. Without Rayna, it’s about a teenager who can’t stop blaming everyone else for the problems in her life. Far, far less interesting to watch and far more suited for a run on The CW. And yet, in saying that, we’re suddenly wondering what the show would look like if only Deacon walks away from that car wreck. The guilt, the grief, the atonement… that in itself could be worth watching. And yet we have a feeling that, if either of them dies (unlikely enough as it may be), it will be Deacon and all we’re going to get is Maddie’s confusion as she tries to grieve for the father she didn’t know. If he does survive, which is probable, the second season can progress one of two ways for him – either the crash, and his guilt over hurting Rayna, will inspire him to reenter rehab, or he will insist that if she had just left him alone and let him drive himself the crash never would have happened. Alcoholics are so good at lying to themselves. We wish we could say this latter scenario wasn’t a possibility, but… We guess we’ll just have to wait for Season 2 to figure it all out. That can’t come soon enough. – K
Quoteworthy: “If he goes into this cycle again it will destroy him. It will destroy us.” – Rayna