Prepare yourselves, y’all, because — to borrow from a title of a recent Nashville episode — what I’m about to say is sure gonna hurt.
The recent news that Connie Britton might only be in 10 of Nashville‘s upcoming 22 Season 5 episodes on CMT has got me worried. And what do chronic worriers do? We play scenarios out to their most dire conclusion, then try to prep ourselves for the onslaught of emotions that will accompany the inevitable heartbreak.
Guys… what if Nashville kills off Rayna?
But hold on, let’s not jump to the series throwing dirt on its lead character’s grave just yet. There’s an argument to be made that Rayna, even more so than Juliette, has been the heart of the drama since it began. She is the First Lady of Country Music, the head of a record label, the soulmate of a man who has waited decades to call her his missus. Doesn’t that, alone, make her bulletproof?
But that love for Deacon may be the very thing that sends Rayna to the Grand Ole Opry in the sky. After everything the Claybournes have been through in the past four seasons, to split them again for any relationship reason (cheating, misunderstanding, friction related to careers or the kids) would be to take the show down a path it’s trod several times. The couple has survived so much, isn’t death pretty much the only believable way the show can write Britton, if need be, out of the action after 10 episodes?
The more I think about it, the more I feel like that’s the only avenue the show can take while staying true to the characters we love. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want a Rayna-free Nashville any more than I wanted a Mulder-less X-Files. But when David Duchovny’s requests for a lighter Season 8 load were met back in 2001, we wound up with Doggett and Reyes and whale sounds and bat boy and other assorted forms of space-filler. And at least Mulder’s reason for being gone for most of Season 9 was a life-or-death mission to protect his infant son that sent him on the lam. What’s Rayna going to do, go on Highway 65 talent-finding trips that last several episodes? Or break up with Deacon again, necessitating in some offscreen time so she can lick her wounds?
Please know this: I don’t want Rayna to go. I want her in all 22 episodes. In fact, I want her in 23 episodes — even if that 23rd hour were just Rayna sacked out on the couch, dipping a spoon into a pint of Häagen-Dazs and watching HGTV while Deacon adoringly rubbed her feet.
But I’m aware that the death of a beloved central character has gotta be catnip to new showrunners Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, who are known for killing us softly and bathing in our tears. (R.I.P., thirtysomething‘s Gary). I also know that Juliette is a strong enough character — and Hayden Panettiere a more than capable actress — to carry the series in Rayna’s absence, though I do prefer them singin’, sassin’ and standin’ tall together.
Hey, maybe Britton and the series will work out a deal for her to appear in every (or almost every) episode, and all my worry will be for naught. Maybe the series’ writing staff will find some heretofore-unknown way to have a major character appear in less than half the season without leaving a yawning void. Maybe Megan Fox will come in to cover as head of Highway 65 when Rayna’s assigned to a lengthy jury-duty stint.
I might even believe those possibilities. If I didn’t know better.