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The Rewatch

Nashville's Ending Taught Us It's OK Not to Stand By Your Man

When Calli Khouri’s musical drama ended five years ago, it broke a painful cycle.
  • Connie Britton and Charles Esten in Nashville (Photo: Everett Collection; Primetimer graphic)
    Connie Britton and Charles Esten in Nashville (Photo: Everett Collection; Primetimer graphic)

    First and foremost, you should know I am a Nashie, despite my reservations about that moniker. I rewatch Nashville way too frequently, I’ve seen Nashville on tour, I own the soundtracks and listen to them like gospel, I’ve met the cast backstage (and took the most fangirl photo of all time where my glee is extremely on display).

    The first time I watched Nashville, I was rooting for Gunnar (Sam Palladio) and Scarlett (Clare Bowen), and Deacon (Charles Esten) and Rayna (Connie Britton) without hesitation, because they were so clearly meant to be. So, when the show started causing a rift between Gunnar and Scarlett, and we had to watch him date every single woman in Scarlett’s immediate vicinity (her best friend from childhood! The sound tech! Her musical idol!) while Scarlett was basically in the next room listening to their sex noises, it became harder to root for them, but I still did it because they were Meant To Be.

    Similarly, I hated having to learn, more and more over the course of the show, all the ways that Deacon and Rayna’s past relationship was worryingly toxic. And, like I imagine many viewers did, I think I blocked a lot of that out like it somehow couldn’t be true. I couldn’t grasp rooting for Rayna to take back a man who had (albeit accidentally while drunk) hit her, was frequently yelling at her and emotionally abusive, destroying all his furniture, and bailing on her when she needed him. If this weren’t a TV show, you would not at all root for this couple. You would tell that woman to leave and never look back. Even if Deacon is exceptionally hot and a better man now than he was then.

    When I rewatched the show this time though, I found myself absolutely not rooting for Gunnar and Scarlett, and really conflicted about the Deacon and Rayna relationship, as much as I love them together. It’s really hard to watch someone hurt someone you love and root for him because he changed after 20 years of causing her pain. And I wished they’d touched on this more — fortunately, during my rewatch of the later seasons, I remembered they did.

    For all the flaws of the CMT seasons (and good lord, there were so many that would be its own piece entirely), in Rayna’s final episodes on Nashville, she touched on this myth of rocky (or even abusive) relationships that are encouraged to be endured by the woman because they're "meant to be.” We see this with Johnny Cash and June Carter, Deacon and Rayna, Scarlett and Gunnar, hell, even Juliette and Avery (although I am so glad they got together in the end. I’m not sure why they’re the exception here, they just are).

    There's a moment in which Rayna says to Scarlett that just because “a man says he loves you and he chooses you,” doesn't mean he’s the one. “We get to choose too. We get to choose to be happy, because we deserve it.” It is such a powerful scene where she basically implies that maybe she shouldn't have been with Deacon, because it was too hard for too long. And as much as it worked out in the end, as much as she loves him, does she think other women should go through hell and back in their relationships because that’s what love is? No, she categorically does not.

    In that moment, we see that Scarlett is the younger version of Rayna, who is wrestling with whether or not she should stand by Gunnar, even though he’s mistreated her so many times. And Rayna sees this and gives her permission to NOT choose her “Deacon” because he’d caused her too much pain, and she didn't have to forgive him and take him back.

    In the final episode, we see that Scarlett is engaged to a man who is absolutely not Gunnar. When the finale initially aired on July 26, 2018, watching this was a bummer, since we rooted for them so hard in the beginning, and their harmonies are so on point. But when I watched it this time, seeing Scarlett blissfully happy with another man who had (presumably) never put her through as much pain as Gunnar did, and never would — that it was just easy and loving from day one, felt powerful. And most importantly, it felt like getting a permission slip for women to break the cycle of standing by your man, even if he hurts you, that women were so often encouraged to do. And they don’t have to do it anymore.

    Nashville is streaming on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Lane Moore is the author of You Will Find Your People: How To Make Meaningful Friendships As An Adult, and How To Be Alone: If You Want To And Even If You Don’t. She is a musician in the band It Was Romance, host of I Thought It Was Just Me podcast, and creator of the hit comedy show Tinder Live

    TOPICS: Nashville, ABC, CMT, Callie Khouri, Charles Esten, Clare Bowen, Connie Britton, Sam Palladio, Series Finales