The finale of Nashville’s first season is airing as I write, but thanks to the generous folks at Lionsgate I know how it all goes down.
If you’re as sad as I am to have your weekly dose of Southern accents and fake celebrity scandal torn away, you can relive the ride from 15th July, when the whole season is released on DVD.
Sadly the special features are incredibly sparse – there’s just 40 minutes of clips edited together and misleadingly titled “Nashville: The Whole Story”, which actually only covers the first 8 episodes. A handy refresher, but it’s far more fun to re-watch the real thing, an undertaking that’s certainly warranted by the quality of the show so far.
As well as addictive drama including TV staples such as disputed paternity, political scheming and a sex tape, Nashville has provided guilty pleasure country-pop and cameos from real life country greats Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum, but perhaps the greatest strength of the comeback for Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri is drastic yet convincing character development across the season.
Cast your mind back to the first episodes, when rising country star Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) appeared to be merely a wannabe Taylor Swift in hot pants and cowboy boots, but clues were fast suggesting her darker past. Intelligent scripting and a flawlessly credible performance from Panettiere allowed a complex character to emerge, and one whom I still cannot make my mind up about. Much of this complexity centres around Juliette’s fractured relationship with her mother Jolene (Sylvia Jefferies), who entered the show as a prototypical junkie, successfully recovered yet still exited on a gurney.
Juliette was frequently cruel to her mother, and perhaps unforgivably so. This comes to a head in the finale when Juliette, grief-stricken but in denial, manages to shock even herself with a brutal comment about Jolene. However, as always the silver lining is that she can get a great song out of a shitty situation, and we’re treated to this in the season’s climactic and effective montage.
By the end of the episode viewers may have gained a better understanding of Juliette’s feelings towards her mother, but her mid-season shotgun wedding (followed by a brief Britney Spears-esque marriage) to football player Sean Butler (Tilky Jones) is still baffling, a plot development that was quickly brushed under the carpet before it was allowed to fully play out.
Nashville’s focus on the country music business gives it a tighter focus than many other teen shows. Most of the protagonists are musicians, aspiring or successful, and a repeated motif throughout the series has been musical partnerships which are really about more than just music. From here several love triangles develop and vie for attention. This could have become repetitive and tedious but intelligent structuring and dialogue creates parallels between the various relationships.
However, the recent storyline focussing on Gunnar’s (Sam Palladio) downward spiral following the death of his brother Jason and exploring how far he’s willing to go for a music career does feel rather stale with Avery’s (Jonathan Jackson) actions earlier in the season being similarly motivated. Both let their morals slip and for a time accept the tyrannical influence of others on their musical style, but in both cases musical integrity wins out in the end.
Avery is by far one of the most surprising characters brought to us by Nashville so far. He starts the season as the brooding (yet adored) boyfriend of Scarlett (Clare Bowen), a young songwriter who eventually gains a writing contract with Gunnar. Yes, cue the love triangle and associated angst. Avery also does plenty by himself to bring about the collapse of his relationship with Scarlett. But after sleeping with cougar/producer Marilyn Rhodes and abandoning his long-time band mates in order to jumpstart his career, Avery becomes much nicer when forced to return to his humble beginnings. Although unlikeable for much of the season, Avery is a great musician, and an impressively diverse performer. The finale puts Scarlett on stage alongside him, and their performance rivals Scarlett’s early duet with Gunnar, a cover of The Civil War’s “If I didn’t Know Better”.
The treatment of Maddie, the eldest daughter of country queen Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) and her infuriatingly uninteresting husband Teddy (Eric Close), was frustrating for a while. The writers let slip early that Teddy is not Maddie’s true father, but kept us waiting for the truth (though it couldn’t have been more obvious). It wasn’t until recent weeks when the secrets started to pour out that 13 year-old Maddie (Lennon Stella) was treated as anything more than a cutesy child. This provided Stella with greater acting opportunities (which unfortunately were not wholly fulfilled), and provided the catalyst for the relapse of her birth father, Rayna’s previous-but-never-forgotten boyfriend, recovering alcoholic Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten).
There’s a lot of emotive acting in Nashville, with special mentions continually deserved by Panettiere and Britton (for the latter see her bathroom breakdown in episode 13, and her chat with Coleman in the finale). But Esten blows them both out of the water in the final episode, making Deacon’s relapse all the more heartbreaking with his pained rugged face and permanently watery eyes.
The final montage, despite being a rather clichéd device, is well put together, offering several titbits which aim to be shocking. Of course car accidents are another staple in American dramas and this one is pretty predictable. It seems unlikely that either Rayna or Deacon will be killed off, so for me the occurrence causing the most suspense is Will’s (Chris Carmack) run-in with a potential old flame who just might hold the key to the secrecy surrounding his sexuality.
It’s going to be a long wait for the answers, but at least we can turn to the soundtracks.
Read my thoughts on season 2 here.