So let’s say you ran a show that was on one of the major networks. For argument’s sake, let’s call that show Chattanooga. Now let’s say the network cancelled your show. It came as something of a surprise, but you always knew it was at least a possibility, so you had a few alternate endings up your sleeve. You hastily reshot a few scenes and gave something akin to a happy ending to most of your characters. But you were still holding out hope that your show might get picked up by a cable network or a streaming service like Hulu and you had to bait them somehow. So you came up with the perfect solution: Leave the fate of a beloved female character — and one half of one of the show’s most popular couples — hanging in the balance. Do something completely insane, like have her plane go missing, suggesting she could be dead. Sure, it would be a gamble, because if your show didn’t get picked up, fans would be totally screwed. But hey, it was a chance you were willing to take.
Damn, Chattanooga, that’s cold.
Look, I can’t say for sure that’s why our very own Nashville ended the way it did — remember, this was a hypothetical. And we all know that Hayden Panettiere, the brilliant actress who plays Juliette, has been having some personal problems and maybe — just maybe — she wasn’t available for reshoots, leaving Nashville no choice but to totally screw us over (ahem). But it sure felt like a go-big-or-go-home gamble. It sure felt like a chance they were willing to take — with our hearts.
The worst part was, I was so there for that Juliette/Avery reunion: Avery, on that runway with Cadence in his arms, waiting for Juliette’s plane to land so he could tell her he loved her — a kind of reverse Casablanca, if you will. Turns out, theirs was the story line I most wanted resolved. The Maddie/Rayna/Deacon stuff had been a bit of a slog. The Gunnar, Scarlett thing was sweet, but anticlimactic, since they had hooked up a few episodes earlier. The Will stuff was adorable. But the thing I craved most as a viewer was that Javery reunion. Dammit, Nashville!
Alright. Let’s get to recappin’.
In one of the show’s many far-fetched — even by Nashville’s standards — coincidences, Maddie, Rayna, Deacon, and Daphne are all in New York at the same time. Maddie has just been assigned to notorious bad-boy producer Vince Pierce, and Rayna is doing some sort of benefit concert for foster kids, the last sputtering embers of that pointless Vita story line. When Rayna finds out that Vince is Maddie’s producer, she loses it. Turns out, when Rayna was an aspiring young singer, Vince had been her producer and he forced himself on her, but she managed to escape. She tries desperately to contact Maddie, but has even been blocked on Twitter (!). So she does what any sick-with-worry mother would do under the circumstances: She writes an open letter to Maddie on The Huffington Post. No, friends, this is not the most far-fetched part of this story line.
Maddie and Cash go to a sleazy party at sleazy Vince Pierce’s Williamsburg apartment and, apparently, Chris Martin is there, which is aces. (I’m not sure if this was an intentional burn on Chris Martin, but I’m going to pretend it is.) Cash gets caught up in the celebrity fabulousness of it all, and leaves Maddie alone with Vince. He takes her down to his den of seduction — er, in-home studio — and immediately starts plying her with alcohol. I guess predators gotta prey … or something like that.
Just at that moment, Deacon, who has been stalking Maddie’s duckface-filled Instagram account (points for realism), sees a picture she posted from the party. His face lights up in recognition: “Hey, I know that Brooklyn den of iniquity!” And off he goes, without telling Rayna.
Okay, hold the phone. Haven’t we played this record before? How is this really any different from the time he bolted off when Rayna was in the bathroom, confronted Frankie, and made things much, much worse? If you recall, his intentions were good that night, too. (Dumb, but good.)
Anyway, it all goes down like this: Vince starts hitting on Maddie, touching her leg, telling her he knows she wants it, and then he grabs her arm as she tries to escape and at that exact moment — oh yes, they did — Deacon comes charging in to save her. No, he doesn’t hit Vince Pierce (although this would’ve been one of the few times that was justified), but he does tell him off. And then Cash comes bursting in and Maddie accuses her of abandoning her, and Cash promises it will never happen again, and now Maddie’s got to make a choice between Cash and Deacon. There’s, like, a brief mini-cliffhanger (a palette cleanser for the really horrible cliffhanger to come, you might say), where we’re not sure if Maddie is going to stay with Cash or go with Deacon. But it resolves quickly. Rayna and Daphne have just performed a very sweet mother-daughter duet at the benefit and when they get off the stage, there’s Maddie and Deacon. And Deacon is somehow the big hero here — redeemed in Rayna’s eyes (for doing a variation of the same dumb thing that got him in the dog house before, mind you) — and they’re a family again. I kind of wanted Daphne to turn to them all and say, “I’m so over you bunch of neurotic head cases!” and storm off to find sensible Aunt Tandy, but instead there is a group hug. Happy Ending Number One.
Moving right along. Scarlett, who had her big, headphone-induced revelation last week, wants to talk to Gunnar, but he has something to tell her, too. She goes first, blurting out that she loves him and has always loved him. Just then, Autumn Chase comes slinking in, wraps herself around Gunnar, and “innocently” says, “Oh good, he told you.” So Scarlett storms off and then Autumn “Head Games” Chase insists Scarlett is playing head games and gullible Gunnar actually believes her. There’s a bit of dosey-doe, where Gunnar and Scarlett break up the band and decide to go their separate ways, but then Scarlett screws up her courage and tells Gunnar she loves him again.
“Even if I believe you, how do I know you’re not going to change your mind tomorrow? How do I know this is not just because we’re breaking up the band?” Gunnar says.
“I told you I love you because I love you,” Scarlett replies. “If you don’t feel the same that’s fine. But don’t you tell me how to feel.” (Damn, I gotta get me a set of those headphones.)
Just then, the exes are called on stage and we get one last beautiful, beautiful Gunnar-Scarlett duet and, of course, it’s a love song, and right before the song ends, Gunnar grabs Scarlett and kisses her, as the audience cheers.
“Looks like they’re still a duo,” says the tour manager guy whose name I never learned, and why bother now?
“Yeah, but they are so fired,” says Autumn Chase.
We’ll call that Happy Ending Number Two.
So Will Lexington has been doing a scorched-earth tour of radio and TV shows, talking to anyone who will listen about how proud he is to be gay, but Cynthia Davis won’t let him come on her show, which is the dumbest thing ever. She may be a crazed right-wing bigot, but she’s a crazed right-wing bigot who wants ratings. Will decides to stage a protest concert in front of her studios and he enlists the help of Luke and — yay! — Kevin. The funniest thing about the Luke scenes is that the show suddenly realized he hasn’t had much to do lately, other than be Will’s bestest cheerleader, so they make it seem like he’s been pining away for his ex-wife this whole time. (Sure, why not?). He calls home and — holy shitballs! — Sage answers the phone (she exists! she exists!), which was possibly the most resolution I got in the entire episode. “Can you put your mother on?” he says, so I guess we’re supposed to be happy that Luke is possibly getting back together with a woman we’ve never met. That’s so Nashville.
The protest goes well enough that Cynthia Davis agrees to let Will come on and he’s basically, “Who hurt you, Cynthia Davis?” and he kills her with kindness and says a lot of great things about how gay people are your brothers, your sons, your friends, and co-workers, and emerges triumphant. Then he sees Kevin in the crowd and Luke — now not just the most woke cowboy ever and Will Lexington’s number one fan, but a matchmaker, too — pushes him forward and Will stumbles toward Kevin and finds out that Kevin is single again and they kiss.
So that was Happy Ending Number Three.
Alright, brace yourselves. We have reached the Juliette and Avery portion of the recap.
Juliette is in L.A. for the Oscars, with Glenn in tow. Emily is nowhere to be found, and I can only hope this means that Emily finally got a boyfriend or a really great masseuse or, frankly, any sort of private life of her own. Good luck, Emily! Juliette’s heart is not in the whole Oscar pre-game thing because she misses Cadence, so she calls Avery and asks if she can fly him and the baby out to L.A. and, much to Layla’s dismay, Avery agrees. On her way into some sort of Academy Awards luncheon, Juliette is blindsided when a reporter asks her about Jeff Fordham’s death. The whole thing kinda blows up when Jeff’s sister (remember her? me neither) sues Juliette for wrongful death and now it’s front page news on every website. But who could’ve leaked the story? Glenn — loyal to the end — thinks he knows, so he calls Layla and accuses her of the leak and dumps her as a client. Meanwhile, Avery has heard from Luke, so he also knows that Layla leaked the story.
“You’re crazy, and we’re through!” he says, as Layla bursts into tears and begs for his forgiveness.
This should’ve been a totally satisfying scene, right? A real “don’t let the door hit you on the way out, you crazy loon!” moment. But somehow it wasn’t. I suddenly realized that I didn’t want this for Layla. Like, yeah, it’s fine to give true villains like Autumn Chase and Cash and Cynthia Davis their comeuppance (proposed think piece: What is Nashville’s deal with women?), but Layla is more of a tragic figure than an evil one. Would our last image of her truly be her crying and alone, having been dumped by everyone? Luckily, the show isn’t quite that cruel. Later, Layla gets a call from Bucky. Her album is a hit. She’s going to be a star. Well played, Nashville.
Juliette agrees to pay Jeff’s sister whatever she wants and hastily schedules a live TV interview where she comes clean about everything — her suicide attempt, how Jeff died trying to save her, and how sorry she is. Avery sees this and is totally moved — he finally realizes how much the divorce affected her. Juliette decides to skip the Oscars and fly home. (“I had somewhere more important to be,” she tells the flight attendant.) (And because I have no place else to put this, weren’t Glenn’s Oscar glasses the snazziest?)
And then we’re all set up for Happy Ending Number Four. Avery and Cadence on the runway. Juliette — humbled, open, ready for love — flying home to meet them. Until, some dude comes onto the runway (didn’t he seem a bit cheerful, considering the news he was about to deliver, by the way?) and tells Avery there’s been a distress call and they’ve lost contact with the plane.
At that point, I looked at my clock. 10:59. Then I looked at my phone, to make sure my clock was right. Then I looked to see if this was an extended episode, like maybe they’d given the show 20 extra minutes for the finale. And then I said, out loud, along with every other Nashville fan on the planet, “Noooooo!” This wasn’t a “controversial” ending. This wasn’t The Sopranos going to black or Alicia being slapped by Diane on The Good Wife. This was a cliffhanger. The kind you end a season with, not a series! I’m so pissed off that even if the show does get picked up, I’m going to boycott it.
*This recap is a nonbinding contract and the author is in a very emotionally fragile state right now and totally reserves the right to change her mind if the show does ultimately end up on Hulu. Also, thanks for the (mostly) good times, Nashies. It’s been real.