The CMT drama Nashville, which began life four seasons ago on ABC and quickly gained a fervent following, may have just lost its brightest star, but will the series also lose its shine? That's the fear many viewers have as Connie Britton, Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated for her role as singer Rayna Jaymes, bid goodbye to the character with Rayna dying tragically in Thursday night's episode.
The repercussions of not being able to witness Britton's formidable talent on the show each week are tough enough to handle, yet Britton, whose previous TV credits include memorable roles in American Horror Story and Friday Night Lights, will surely go on to further television and film work. But losing Rayna, the heart and soul of Nashville, will not be easy for any of the characters, least of all her husband and daughters. So, what does it all mean? How will the show move forward in the weeks to come? While showrunners have kept mum about future story lines, we have some thoughts on how things will play out before the season is over.
For Deacon, whose battle with alcohol nearly killed Rayna once before and could have ended his own life, it's easy to assume that he will once again be tempted to hit the bottle. Deacon (Charles Esten) is now a single dad with two young daughters, one of whom tried to emancipate herself from him once and the other who is not his biological child. His grief is sure to be compounded by his inclination toward the occasional angry outburst as Rayna's absent family – including her sister, Tandy (Judith Hoag) and ex-husband (and Daphne's biological, albeit criminal dad, played by Eric Close) swoop in, as seen in the preview of next week's episode.
Maddie (Lennon Stella), whose reliance on Clay (Joseph David-Jones), her bipolar yet protective boyfriend, may be enough to keep her outside the fray as the family members deal with one another, is likely to have to face the possibility that Daphne (Maisy Stella) may be forced to live elsewhere, splitting the sisters up for good. And while we may be jumping to conclusions, Maddie had also been experiencing panic attacks, one of which was so bad she had to throw up, leading to the possibility that something else caused it. Such a predicament could lead to some absolutely devastating consequences for Clay and his underage girlfriend.
Juliette (Hayden Panetierre), who nearly died at the end of Season Four and has been experiencing a spiritual awakening, will surely have her faith shaken with Rayna's loss. Having made the most dramatic transformation from selfish diva to wounded, caring wife and mother, Juliette will undoubtedly feel the void on a deeper, more maternal level, as Rayna was not only her friend and mentor but also her new/old boss at Highway 65 Records and a champion of the gospel album she's planning to record.
While finding a more serene path toward being a fully functioning person, Juliette has a long way to go before stepping into Rayna's shoes, but what will happen now with Highway 65? Will Zach take over (if he can even recover from the loss)? Is there enough material available for Rayna and Deacon's duets album to be released.
From a purely critical standpoint, had Rayna died a couple of seasons earlier, the idea of Nashville getting past her departure would have been utterly unthinkable. Connie Britton had expressed a desire to leave the show for various personal and creative reasons and has said, rightly so, that the idea of Rayna just leaving her family would have been completely unrealistic. There was really no other option than for her character to die. But in the more-than-capable hands of showrunners Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, the series has grown stronger, showing renewed confidence in its storytelling.
Nashville is, as hard as it is to see at the present moment, about more than just one character. But when you have a character like Rayna Jaymes and an actor as profoundly skilled as Connie Britton, the loss is real. It will sting for a while and though Rayna's song is finished, but her soul will no doubt live on in the rest of the characters and the songs they have yet to sing.