Warning: This post contains major spoilers for the “Stand Beside Me” episode of Nashville.
Cars: 2, Rayna: 0. For the second time in five seasons, Rayna James has been the victim of a serious automobile mishap. Her first car crash occurred way back in the Season 1 finale, when Nashville’s reigning country music queen found herself behind the wheel with a drunk-as-hell Deacon riding shotgun. One medically induced coma (and temporary loss of her singing voice) later, and she was back in business.
Rayna’s recovery time following the events of “Stand Beside Me” may not be as swift… if she recovers at all. Certainly, writer Matthew Ross embeds plenty of hints during the course of the episode that this could be her swan song. There are also two real word factors to consider. First, is the news that Connie Britton — whose status as a regular during Season 5 was always a matter of intense speculation — has made herself available for pilot season. Secondly, new showrunners Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz have some experience with greasing the wheels of a major character’s exit — back in their Thirtysomething days, they controversially killed off the show’s resident dreamboat Gary (Peter Horton) when his bike collided with a car. Finally, let’s be honest: Every character in a primetime drama can be expected to survive one auto accident. Living through a second one just means you’re going in narrative circles.
But let’s step back for a moment from the implications of Rayna’s accident to re-examine exactly how it happened. After what was structured like a typical Nashville episode, the last 10 minutes of “Stand Beside Me” turned into a two-person play with Rayna finally coming face to face with her stalker, Carl Wayne Hockney (Rectify‘s Linds Edwards). After standing vigil outside of her home, Carl hid himself in the Highway 65 office’s broom closet for a chance to meet the woman he’s idolized since his troubled childhood. Unfortunately for both of them, the emotional scars of that upbringing lead him to transform what he intends as a healing moment into a hostage situation.
From the moment he enters Rayna’s office holding a knife in one quivering hand — a knife that he insists isn’t sharp — she’s abjectly terrified. And because she’s a terrific actress, Britton maintains that forceful level of fear, while also asserting Rayna’s level head, throughout the scene, calmly trying to talk Carl off his precarious mental ledge. The intensity (and, frankly, unpleasantness) of the sequence is further magnified by its length; Zwick and Herskovitz decline to offer us a break by cutting away to a B or C-plot, a choice that also gives us Maximum Connie if this is indeed her last episode for awhile… or forever. It’s telling, on that level, that she chose to spill the details of her mother’s violent death to Carl, and later begs him, “I have two daughters who need me!” That consciously echoes a moment earlier in the episode where she tells Deacon about having to navigate a major life moment — her first period — without her mom around.
Carl ultimately isn’t the person to potentially rob Maddie and Daphne of their mother; confronted by Rayna’s security detail, he holds his knife to her throat until her pleas convince him to let it fall to the floor. She’s then led out to a waiting police car and requests to be taken straight home rather than to the hospital. While tearfully talking to Deacon on the phone (and declining to put on her seatbelt), her car is T-boned by another vehicle and she’s tossed around like a rag doll in the backseat as we cut to a foreboding black. I’ll share my thoughts in a minute, but how are you feeling about this potentially fatal development, Nashville fans? Take a moment to sound off in the poll below and then read the rest of our recap.
Best Storyline: I’ve been on record as being skeptical about Juliette’s spiritual conversion, although my objections have lessened in recent weeks. As it turns out, that puts me in the same camp as the members of Hallie’s church who Juliette assumed would welcome her plans to record a gospel album with open arms. Instead, in the episode’s best scene, the predominantly African-American congregation suggests that she’s out to appropriate their music and religion for her personal gain. This is an argument that extends all the way back to Paul Simon’s groundbreaking album, Graceland — and heck, even further back to Elvis Presley’s rise to “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” status — and it’s great to hear it acknowledged in the context of Nashville. Juliette manages to convert the skeptics in the end, but I think (and hope) this won’t be the last time the subject of cultural appropriation comes up.
Worst Storyline: [Deep breath.] I’m not adverse to Rayna shuffling off this mortal coil. But not like this. Not in a random Matthew Crawley-esque car accident after escaping a far more upsetting, but dramatically plausible, fate. I get that CMT and/or Zwick and Herskovitz most likely got cold feet about turning their star into a murder victim. But falling back on the cheap theatrics of a car crash — especially knowing that it’s been done on the show before! — is deeply unsatisfying. Even if she does pull through after a lengthy off-camera stint in the hospital, there had to be better ways to sideline Rayna for the remainder of the season. Send her off to California with Zach Welles! Put her on a jet plane to a spiritual retreat in India! Have her make like Bowie and hole up in a Berlin recording studio for a year! Any of those options would be more palatable than this car wreck of an ending, which managed to overshadow the episode’s other irritating storyline: Scarlett’s continued fascination with Damien aka Eurotrash David Fincher.
Maddie Watch: Didja think Bratty Maddie was a thing of the past? Think again. Casting aside her parents’ concern for her basic safety, Maddie threw a major snit fit about having to travel around with a security guard in tow. It would be one thing if Rayna’s stalker were more of a theoretical threat. But with the dude physically loitering outside of the James homestead, Maddie’s objections are quite simply objectionable. On the other hand, she did do the right thing by not keeping Daphne’s period predicament from Rayna. It was a teachable moment for the sisters, who will have to depend on each other much more going forward.
Best Bit of #RealTalk: No Deacon. A “period party” is definitely not a thing. But it’s cute that you think so.
New Character Alert: Attention Nashville artists: Think twice before you hire “Dolan” on your security detail. He certainly isn’t able to keep Rayna safe, failing to find Carl on his sweep of the Highway 65 offices and then almost getting her killed when he pulls a gun on her captor. Worse still, he lets her get in a cop car driven by an officer who apparently never passed their driving test. Go back to your day job dude… although you probably sucked at that, too.
Standout Song: Rayna was legit impressed by Clayton’s rocking performance. If that’s the last song she hears before she dies, at least she went out on a high note.
Nashville airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CMT.