Beyond the Sunset
Photo: Mark Levine/CMT
Am I monster? I didn’t cry during that final group singalong and I’m the kind of person who lives for curtain calls. Maybe it’s because it felt more like a Where’s Waldo (wait, is that Teddy? and Luke Wheeler? and … Juliette’s mother??) than a swan song. And maybe it’s because this final season just hasn’t created high enough emotional stakes to warrant the kind of catharsis they were reaching for.
Whatever the case, there were lots of disclosures and revelations and whiplash-inducing surprises in this final episode, so let’s buckle up and recap.
First off, a Bucky sighting! He barges in, Kramer-style, with the news that he has worked some magic and managed to book Deacon a tour.
“Who’s the headliner?” Deacon asks innocently.
“You!” Bucky says. “Old guys are coming back in style.”
It never really occurred to me that Deacon was going to headline his own tour, but it feels right for him. He’s been a backup guy forever and he deserves his moment to shine. And let’s face it, Charles Esten has been anchoring this damn show for years. So let’s just call it art imitating life.
Meanwhile, Maddie is in the recording studio with Twig. The kid basically looks at her with emoji heart eyes at all times. He wants to be her producer, her boyfriend, her everything. Alas, she has more of that emoji-with-a-straight-line-for-a-mouth thing going on.
Later, Maddie and Scarlett take a walk together, inexplicably dressed like snowflakes from a low-budget production of The Nutcracker. Scarlett asks about “Branch,” a.k.a. Twig, and Maddie admits that she’s feeling a lot of pressure to be in a couple with him.
“The only thing you need to do is honor what you’re feeling at the moment,” Scarlett says. (Now that the show is over, can Scarlett be my full-time life coach?)
Maddie takes Twig out for coffee, which immediately makes him suspicious. What are they — adult colleagues? She slides a pair of professional grade headphones his way in a monogrammed “Twig” box (did she just happen to have that thing lying around?). Twig accurately notes that it feels like a “sad consolation prize.”
“You need someone who can put you at the center of their universe,” says Maddie, explaining that it can’t be her.
“What if I said I would take you as you are?” Twig replies.
“I would say you deserve so much more.”
Okay, now here is a case where the show gave us what we needed, if not necessarily what we wanted. I was rooting for Twig and Maddie (despite their unfortunate portmanteau of Twaddie), but this actually sends a good message: Sometimes a nice boy really, really likes you and you just don’t like him back. And that’s okay.
Moving along. It’s finale time at Nashville’s Next Country Star. With her black-lace dress and a touch of makeup, Daphne looks amazing (for a brief moment, I saw her as the beautiful woman she will one day become and I got a little verklempt). Daphne has invited her grandpappy to the show, despite Deacon’s objections. Gideon wishes her well, suffers a lethal glare from Deacon, and awkwardly shuffles to his seat. From the wings of the stage, Daphne and Sam (not his real name, but he reminds me so much of Jon Snow’s bestie, I’m just going to keep going with it) watch some front-runner named Jenny Lee sing. “I just hope one of us beats her,” Sam says. Then he says, “I believe in you,” and Daphne’s all, like, “Thanks.” Girl, the proper response was, “I believe in you, too, Samwell Tarly, honorable soldier of the Night’s Watchman.”
Sam sings next and he’s got this kind of goofy Taylor Hicks thing happening for him and good for that unknown actor to have his moment to shine. (Two randos getting their own songs on the final episode? That’s so Nashville.)
Then it’s Daphne’s turn. But instead of cueing the agreed-upon music, she grabs her guitar. This time, it feels triumphant, like she’s reclaiming her true identity as an artist. She sings her own song and it’s intimate and heartfelt, not the totally commercial, arena-ready song Brad provided for her. Brad looks consternated. (But not as consternated as he’s going to look in a few scenes! Booyah!)
Jenny Lee wins Nashville’s Next Country Star. Sam is crestfallen (that it wasn’t Daphne).
Backstage, Deacon flirts with Ilse and they make some vague plan to get together and write songs after his tour. The hell?
I’ll bitch and moan more about the Ilse situation in a bit, but first, the Last Highways are officially in limbo. Will wants Gunnar to make up with Avery, but Gunnar is stubborn: “Why should I be the one to make the first move?” he half-jokes.
“Avery’s like your brother. In fact, he’s your Eskimo brother,” Will says. (Gross.)
Later, Avery and Gunnar play pool and discuss the future.
“What I’ve learned from this whole mess,” Gunnar says, “is that I find these girls and I think they’re just going to solve all my problems. And really, I think it’s just time for me to grow out of that.”
The two of them then reminisce a bit — they’ve known each other for more than six years!—and talk about how much they’ve both changed.
“You were a total tool,” Gunnar says, at long last acknowledging Nashville’s dirty little secret: that our beloved Avery was once a stone-cold villain.
The boys make up and they’re apparently band again.
Okay, gird your loins because we’ve reached the Alannah Saves the Day portion of our show. We all knew it was coming. Brad invites Alannah to his hotel room, claiming there’s a party. When she gets there, of course, it’s a party of two. He tries to kiss her, but she smacks him in the face.
He recoils. “You and I have been playing a game that’s been around as long as there have been powerful men and beautiful women,” he says. “The man helps the woman and the woman helps the man.” He adds that Alannah violated their “implicit contract” and that she’ll never work in this town again, blah, blah blah.
Some days later, Brad is in his office and Alannah comes in with Deacon and Zach Welles (oh, thank God he’s in the finale). They announce that they want to buy Shiny New Records for $15 million. Brad laughs in their faces, noting that’s a fraction of what the label is worth. But Deacon says that Alannah will go to the press with the truth about his sexual harassment. Brad smugly says she has no proof. But, aha!, our little purple-haired Mata Hari has made a recording of Brad’s “powerful men” soliloquy. His voice is crystal clear on the recording, and Brad’s definitely beginning to sweat. But he insists she still can’t prove it’s him. Then the elevator (?) door to Brad’s office opens and all the women he’s wronged over the years march out, including Jessie. (How Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” is not playing in the background is beyond me.) They’re going to sue him collectively. “And I want full custody of Jake, too!” Jessie says.
But here is my real gripe: Now that Brad has been neutralized, there’s nothing keeping Deacon and Jessie apart. Yes, I understand that there are some Nashies who can’t handle Deacon ending up with anyone other than Rayna, and I get that. But the show actually took some time to build a believable, touching bond between Jessie and Deacon, then put an obstacle in the way which they’ve NOW REMOVED, and instead of a Deacon-Jessie reunion they’re hinting at the possibility of Deacon and … Ilse? Color me baffled.
Let’s move on to Avery and Juliette. Juliette has taken it upon herself to sell her house and buy a farm with sheep and chickens. (No, really.) Avery is justifiably miffed but she assures him that nothing will change. The farm is only half an hour outside of Nashville and he’ll be able to see Cadence as much as ever.
Avery squints at her. “What are you hiding from me?” he says. Juliette insists there’s nothing.
Avery seeks out Hallie and spends hours psychologically manipulating her until she confesses, against her will, that Juliette is pregnant. (Just kidding, she voluntarily spits it out after a few minutes.)
Avery confronts Juliette.
She says she was going to tell him she was pregnant, but she didn’t want it to seem like she was trying to trap him. She loves Avery and wants to be with him, but only if it’s what he really wants.
“Not because you feel like you need to save me or that you’re worried about me,” she says. “But because you’re worried about yourself without me.”
Avery seems to gets it.
Later, we see Juliette packing and staring longingly at a bedazzled stiletto heel, which is a mood. She sits down at her electric keyboard, as one does when surrounded by moving boxes, and begins to sing.
Suddenly it flashes on the screen: “A Few Months Later.” (Gotta love the lack of specificity there.)
We’re in montage mode. And shit is going down.
Daphne has signed a record contract with Highway 65.
Maddie seems to have bought her own place. (Did she age three years in those “few months”?)
Will has a boyfriend and it’s … Zach. (Womp womp.)
Jessie has full custody of Jake and they are sitting in bed, eating popcorn and watching a scary movie together.
Alannah is opening for the Lumineers.
The Last Highways have an album-release party and all their fans are screaming girls. (Checks out.)
Then we cut to Juliette’s big yellow farmhouse. Juliette is pushing Cadence on a swing. She’s quite pregnant and has the kind of natural, cascading curls that say, “I no longer wear bedazzled stilettos.”
Avery comes, a bag slung over his shoulder.
“That’s a big suitcase for a short visit,” Juliette says, hopefully.
“Juliette, I need you,” he says. “And I want to spend the rest of my life with you. And if you would …” she cuts him off, puts a (suspiciously manicured for a “farmer”) hand over his mouth. “Yes,” she says. They laugh and kiss. “Daddy!” Cadence says happily from her swing. It’s corny but that doesn’t mean I won’t watch it 100 times over the course of the next few weeks.
Now we’re on tour with Deacon. It’s the last leg, he’s back in Nashville. Scarlett is in a panic backstage because she’s lost her … engagement ring? Daphne comes running in, wielding the ring. And then some guitarist dude WE’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE says, “Is everything all right?” “It is now,” Scarlett says, jumping into his arms and kissing him. “Save that for the wedding night, please,” Deacon cracks. This has literally been the most eventful “few months” in the history of mankind. (Inside scoop: The guy playing Scarlett’s random fiancé is, in fact, Brandon Young, Clare Bowen’s real-life husband.)
Then Maddie shows up, and she’s brought Gideon with her. Deacon isn’t pleased.
“I’ve been reading about every leg of your tour,” Gideon says. “Dream come true for you, huh?”
“It’s been something else,” Deacon admits.
“I’m proud of you,” Gideon replies.
Deacon goes to his dressing room and has a vision — it’s Rayna. Reader, I got chills. I thought this present-day apparition of Rayna was going to give Deacon advice, which might’ve been cool, but instead, he’s having a meaningful memory of her. They’re back in their cabin, before the wedding. Deacon is expressing his fears to her that he’s going to screw things up again, and she’ll leave him.
“Sometimes somebody gets into your bloodstream,” Rayna says. “It doesn’t matter how much we’ve failed each other. We must choose each other. And I choose you exactly the way you are.”
We cut back to present day and Deacon is crying. But it’s time to go onstage. He gets up and tells the audience he wants to bring someone special up with him: Gideon Claybourne. From the audience, Gideon looks abashed and honored.
Deacon begins to play then whispers to his dad, “Do you know this song?”
“Son, I know all your songs.” (Sniff.)
From there, Maddie and Daphne join them. And then Scarlett, Gunnar, Avery, Will, Juliette, both kids who play Cadence, Rayna (!), and show creator Callie Khouri. We have officially broken the fourth wall. The stage is getting more and more full — and it’s kind of a meta commentary on all the characters they’ve had over the years, some memorable, some … not so much. They’re not all there — they would need a much bigger stage for that — but there’s a lot of them, including the crew. (A fun game is trying to find as many randos as possible in the crowd. According to my notes from CMT, Juliette’s old bodyguard is there!)
“I want to thank the city of Nashville,” Khouri says. “The beautiful people of Nashville. The incredible cast and crew — the family that we’ve made. And may we all have a life that’s good. And that’s a wrap.”
Look, these final CMT seasons of Nashville have been a mixed bag for sure, but we got to spend more time with some of our favorite characters and at least we got some good songs, a few tears and laughs, and most importantly, some closure. It sure as hell beats Avery waiting for Juliette on a tarmac after that plane crash.