The so-called “series finale” of Nashville that aired last night was called “Maybe You’ll Appreciate Me Someday,” an appropriate title for a show that its network just cancelled. But if something felt off about the episode — particularly its abrupt ending — that’s because it likely wasn’t the show’s finale after all.
I’ll be honest: Nashville is not a very good show. It collects and drops plotlines like a pickup artist scamming dates; sometimes I wonder if the person who wrote a given episode has ever seen the show before. But great musical performances and deliciously soapy drama earned the show a devoted fan base over its four-season run on ABC. I have an ever-growing list of shows I desperately need to catch up on, and yet every week I find time for Nashville.
The show’s pilot set up a rivalry between diva Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) and veteran country singer Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton), a conflict that was pretty swiftly abandoned. Another central hook, the will-they-won’t-they tension between Scarlett O’Connor (Claire Bowen) and Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio), has fared better; the pretty young things began writing songs together, briefly hooked up, and spent the rest of the series pining for each other. The finale finally brought them back together.
Nashville always had trouble figuring out which plots to hang onto and which to toss out. It took the show far too long to abandon Teddy (Eric Close), Rayna’s former husband and the mayor of Nashville, but a promising new character this season, a talented singer/songwriter who was living out of her car, only lasted a couple episodes. This season, Rayna’s been tied up in a very unlikely story with her daughter, Maddie (Lennon Stella), who becomes legally emancipated in order to pursue a music career without her mother’s influence. I’ve written before about the disappointing turn that Juliette’s storyline took once she had a baby with her producer boyfriend, Avery (Jonathan Jackson). The show seemed to enjoy punishing Juliette for her past mistakes while holding up Avery as a beacon of selflessness, and it always seemed to pit her career goals against her role as a mother.
Last night’s episode was no exception: Juliette, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in a Patsy Cline biopic, leaves the Oscar ceremony to take a flight back to Nashville to be with her baby and Avery. Nashville hinted at a reunion, but then abruptly switched course: The episode’s final scene showed Avery waiting for Juliette’s plane to land; an airline official approaches and tells him that her plane has gone missing. The show then cut to a commercial, and when it came back, the credits rolled.
If fans hadn’t already caught onto the social-media campaign to #BringBackNashville, Lionsgate TV, which produces Nashville, promised “There’s more story to be told” in a tweet immediately after the episode ended last night. Apparently an alternate ending, in which Juliette and Avery reunite, had been filmed, but Lionsgate and series creator Callie Khouri were hopeful enough that the show would find a new home that they went with the cliffhanger ending.
The situation resulted in a scattershot Season 4 finale that tried to have it both ways: Presumably Scarlett and Gunnar’s reunion was intended for the series finale like Avery and Juliette’s would have been. But if there really is going to be another season, what will become of Scarlett and Gunnar? Another breakup? Domestic bliss? It would have made more sense to leave their storyline on a cliffhanger, too, particularly since these two may be more central to the show should it get a fifth season on another network: The plane crash plot could spell Juliette’s death, giving Panettiere an easy way out, and while Bowen and Palladio have promoted the #BringBackNashville hashtag on their personal Twitter accounts, Connie Britton’s Twitter has been conspicuously silent on the matter. I wouldn’t be surprised if she decided to do another project rather than a fifth season of Nashville. And frankly, I wouldn’t blame her.