It’s fitting that — like the historic, circular block of wood from the Ryman Auditorium that is embedded center stage at the Grand Ole Opry House — the Nashville series finale features more than a few “full circle” moments.
On October 12th, 2012, the musical drama premiered on ABC. Since that time, the series, which also streams on Hulu, was canceled and then revived by CMT to air for two seasons. Six years later, the music that was woven like vibrating threads through each week’s storylines has come to an end, but the memory of this farewell episode will linger on for fans. Credit that to a poignant final sequence that brought back so many favorite characters – or at least the actors who played them. Front and center? Connie Britton, who played Nashville‘s late “queen of country” Rayna Jaymes, standing next to Charles “Chip” Esten, the love of Rayna’s life, Deacon Claybourne, singing together on the Opry stage, just as they did on the series’ first episode.
As the episode opens, Gideon is missing after Deacon discovers he’s been drinking again. Deacon also finds out that his manager, Bucky, has organized a tour for him because “old guys are coming back in style.” Deacon also calls Will’s ex, Zach, who is now running for Senate — another nod to the show’s beginnings, when political intrigue was part of the plot.
After Daphne gets a card from Gideon with a necklace inside, Deacon tries to take it from her, convinced he’s only manipulating her. Daphne wants to invite Gideon to the Nashville’s Next Star finale, but Deacon goes to confront his dad about his drinking. Gideon explains that he only took the occasional sip of alcohol but was destroyed by the look on Daphne’s face when she caught him. He would never hurt the girls, he insists. Deacon walks away — which is, of course, what Rayna did when Deacon’s drinking became too much for her years earlier.
At the Nashville’s Next Star final, sleazy Brad, looking and acting like a cross between a pimp and a carnival barker, introduces the first contestant while Daphne prepares to go on last. In spite of Brad’s insistence that she perform a mainstream pop-country song that doesn’t fit her at all, she defies him and sings a song that is all her. Everyone is enthralled… well, everyone but Brad, that is. Alas, Daphne loses the competition and is heartbroken, but backstage there are some major fireworks between Deacon and Ilse, who was Daphne’s coach and advocate throughout the competition.
Brad, meanwhile, shows up at Alannah’s to tell her that he has scored her a gig in Memphis. After the show, she’s in her hotel room and Brad invites her to a party in another room. There is, of course, no party — just Brad, who finally gets a smack from Alannah right across his smug, slimy kisser. When they return to Nashville, Brad is shocked as Alannah, Deacon and Zach barge into his office. Zach offers him $15 million for the record label. Well, he doesn’t so much offer it as insist on it as Alannah reveals she has memorialized Brad’s slithery moves on her phone. He’s then ambushed by a parade of pissed-off women, including his ex, Jessie, who demands full custody of their son.
Avery shows up at Juliette’s house only to find out she’s leaving to live on a farm outside town. He knows she’s keeping something from him but she doesn’t spill. He talks with Hallie about Juliette moving out to the country and Hallie reveals he’s going to be a daddy again. Juliette’s character arc hasn’t so much come full circle as it has done a 180-degree turn, as she tells Avery she didn’t want to trap him into staying with her. That’s a long way from the tormented country-pop star that could — and would — step on anyone and everyone who got in her way early on in the series. As her boxes are moved from the house and she prepares for a new life out of the spotlight, she sings a beautiful song about being free.
Will, Gunnar and Avery, meanwhile, have various talks about their respective relationships and all agree they’ve evolved from being total idiots when it comes to romance. Gunnar encourages Avery to rejoin their band.
Maddie is in the studio and Twig watches adoringly but when he says he doesn’t have a permanent place to live, she’s not sure what to think. She talks to Scarlett, who takes note that she doesn’t light up when she talks about him. Maddie thinks maybe she needs to give him more of a chance, but while the two are getting coffee, Maddie thanks him for telling him the truth and gives him an expensive pair of headphones. He thinks they are more of a sad consolation prize. He’s right.
At this point, the action jumps a few months into the future and we see quick flashes of Daphne signing a record deal with Highway 65, Maddie moving into her own house, Will and Zach back together as a couple, and Gunnar, who sees a billboard advertising the Lumineers with Alannah as their opening act, jamming together in a band called the Last Highways with Will and Avery. Outside her farmhouse, with her daughter on the swing set, a long-haired and very pregnant Juliette sees Avery drive up. He tells her, “I need you,” and they reunite.
Backstage at the Ryman Auditorium, as Deacon prepares to take the stage, Scarlett plants a kiss on a guitar player (played by actress Clare Bowen’s real-life husband, Brandon Young) and we find out that they are engaged. Gideon shows up and tells his son how proud he is of him, but Deacon is still wary. In his dressing room, he flashes back to a scene that took place in their bedroom after he and Rayna finally got married. “Sometimes, once in your life, somebody gets in your bloodstream,” she says.
Deacon returns to reality and takes the Ryman stage, giving a speech of heartfelt gratitude that sounds like it’s directed not only at the fictional characters, but at the real cast, crew and everyone involved in Nashville for the past six seasons. He invites his dad onstage and asks him if he knows the song he wants him to play on. “Son, I know all your songs,” Gideon says.
With that, fiction and reality are blended together in a truly beautiful scene as the stage fills with Deacon’s family and friends, and then the dozens of real people who made Nashville possible, including production crew and cast members we haven’t seen in a while, not least of all the angelic Connie Britton, back where she belongs.
In a reprise of a song first introduced by Chip Esten and future stars Lennon and Maisy Stella, the entire ensemble sings along to “A Life That’s Good,” an Ashley Monroe-Sarah Siskind tune first heard in the show’s second season and also sung by Rayna’s daughters to their mom just before she died in Season 5. It’s a song that emphasizes gratitude and epitomizes the blurred line of Nashville’s fiction and reality, adding to the emotional intensity of the show’s final, tear-filled moments. Callie Khouri, the Oscar-winning writer of Thelma & Louise who created Nashville, thanks the cast and crew and “the beautiful people of Nashville,” a city that has seen unprecedented growth since the show’s debut. As the music plays on from that legendary stage, she adds, “And that’s a wrap.” To which fans of the series can only add their own sincere thanks for all the drama, fun and, especially, the music.