TV Club

Nashville season finale recap and review: Gay cowboys and strong feelings.

Country music: The view from France.

Yes, that’s Brad Paisley with Deacon (Charles Esten)

Courtesy ABC Studios

Every week in Slate’s Nashville TV club, Katy Waldman will have an IM conversation with a different Nashville fan. This week, she looks across the Atlantic to rehash the season finale with Cecile Dehesdin, a journalist in Slate’s French bureau.

Katy Waldman: Bonjour Cecile!

Cecile Dehesdin: Bonjour! You know, I thought I wouldn’t get into Nashville because I know absolutely nothing about country music, but I was so wrong. Soapy drama and soulful music cross the Atlantic without any problem.

Waldman: I’d love to hear more about your reaction to the show as a French viewer. Maybe my ignorance is showing here, but my reflex is to place French culture and country music culture totally opposite each other. Country music prides itself on a lack of sophistication and pretense—

Dehesdin: Careful with your subtle digs at the French, American woman! From what I learned on Nashville, country music is a lot about feelings, very strong feelings, and I think that translates well into French culture.

Waldman: I didn’t mean to imply that the French were pretentious! Only that country music seems intensely concerned with a particular type of authenticity. Not that the characters on Nashville are especially honest with each other about, well, anything.

Dehesdin: At least in the finale, I feel like all the characters had to drop their acts with the various reveals going on. (Except for Avery, whom I don’t trust and never will, no matter how hard Nashville is trying to make me like him.) I thought we saw the real Juliette Barnes for the first time.

Waldman: Yes, this episode was all about tearing off masks. Maddie’s paternity came to light, with the Cumberland deal seemingly on its heels, and Gunnar has reverted to his former angelic nature (and cute hairdo). And Jolene conveyed her true self in that letter to Juliette. And everyone cried! Deacon, Juliette, Rayna, Scarlett—it was a cryfest. Still, I was struck by the way most of the characters were able to pull it together and perform, whether it was Deacon and Rayna at the CMAs or Juliette at her mother’s memorial. (And let’s talk about that gorgeous closing song soon.)

Dehesdin: That’s true, I feel like music is always going to be the most important part of these people’s lives. Not only in a “the show must go on” kind of way, but in a “music IS life” kind of way. Think of the duet between Avery and Scarlett, for example. My heart broke for Gunnar when he entered the room, because in Nashville, and especially for Gunnar and Scarlett, as for Rayna and Deacon, singing together appears to be more important than sex. By singing with Avery, it was like Scarlett was betraying Gunnar.

Waldman: Totally. Singing together is the ultimate in intimacy, like sharing a toothbrush. And the characters who don’t sing—Tandy, Teddy, etc—seem boring and lacking in emotional depth. Music is the window to the soul on Nashville, which is why I think you can really see the show lifting Juliette up and establishing her as its true heroine with that amazing final number.

Dehesdin: Yes! Juliette has been getting so much more interesting than Rayna. (Please, Friday Night Lights fans, don’t hate me!) And to your point about her being the real heroine, notice that she was the one to win Female Vocalist of the Year.

Waldman: If country music is about strong feelings, Juliette has feelings! And she has no filter, no desire to disguise them. The final shot lingered on her tear-stained face. Rayna has feelings too, I guess, but she can turn them off (like when she has to present at the CMAs). I feel a theory coming on. Maybe to be a real country music heroine, you need to both have powerful feelings—like, be emotionally capacious—and express them authentically, all the time.

Dehesdin: Juliette talking to Jolene’s body was one of the most stirring scenes in the finale, both because she was experiencing deep emotions and because she was finally honest about what those emotions were. Question, though: Can people in America just come up at night at the funeral home where their loved one is to be buried, and have a chat with them, open casket and all? Or does that only happen in the universe of Nashville?

Waldman: As your generic American test subject, I have personally never done it.

Dehesdin: Probably not a lot of people have done it at night in a ball-gown. 

Waldman: It didn’t strike me as jarring though. I was more surprised at the sudden incursion of religion. Deacon woke up from his bender and muttered, “Oh God.” And then Coleman said something like, “Yes, you’ll be needing him.” Was that the show talking?

Dehesdin: See, THAT was very American and country-like to me. But from what I understand, AA has a strong religious component.

The development I’m most interested in for season 2 is Will’s. I thought he was going to drop in and out of the show (how naïve of me), but he’s slowly becoming one of the most interesting and endearing characters. Is being gay as big a taboo in country music as it is in hip hop?

Waldman: Oh, I think so. Maybe worse. The macho cowboy ideal seems pretty pervasive. Gunnar wrestled with it too, as he pretended to be less sensitive than he really was. Will’s dilemma is almost Gunnar’s writ large. Except that he resolves it in the opposite direction: Where Gunnar drops his act out of love for Scarlett, Will keeps his up out of professional ambition.

Dehesdin: Gunnar’s resolution definitely aligns more with the value system of the show. When Avery chose career over love, it was pretty much curtains for his character (despite recent efforts to rehabilitate him). On the other hand, Avery was being very douchey with Scarlett and his band, forgetting about them to focus on himself. So far we don’t know if Will has a serious boyfriend whom he might be hurting.

Waldman: I’m really glad the show decided to explore gayness in the context of country music. It seems like a daring move—especially as the rest of the show slides a bit into cliché. I like when Nashville gets critical of country music, even though the show obviously adores it. (Stacey was a great vehicle for this.) If charming Will ends up being a casualty of industry norms, that should get a lot of viewers thinking, and it will make Nashville a more complex project. 

Dehesdin: I so wish for that, but let’s not get our hopes up. The closer to the end of season 1 we’ve come, the soapier and less complex the show has become.

Waldman: True. Go away, bitter memories! But in true country lass style, I refuse to give up on the show I love.

Dehesdin: Nothing in this world will ever break my heart again. But waiting until the fall for the next episode of Nashville might come close.