When Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) shockingly died on “Nashville” last week (Feb. 23), it was so frustrating that it was hard to get emotional. After yet another car accident — seriously this woman should never have been allowed in another car — the episode foreshadowed her death by giving Rayna heart-to-hearts with every single cast member on the series.
It was a suspiciously high amount of life-affirming conversations… And then when Daphne’s (Maisey Stella) school choir showed up to sing right before Rayna flatlined, the line of acceptable melodrama was crossed. Even for a soapy country series.
But. Thursday night’s (Mar. 2) episode, “I’ll Fly Away,” in which Rayna’s family gathers for her funeral, really got us. We’re reminded just how much we’re going to miss Rayna, and the reality of her permanent absence is setting in. Watching Deacon (Charles Esten) and their daughters processes Rayna’s death reels us in with emotions we were too distracted to feel last week. Maybe we weren’t ready to deal with Rayna’s death right away… And it’s silly to get that upset over a fictional TV character, right?!
Well, no. It’s incredibly natural. Rayna Jaymes has been in our lives for five years. We’ve watched her through so many ups and downs, in matters of both the career and the heart — and it’s a sign of good TV when viewers can feel so intimately attached to a character.
Watching Rayna’s family grieve is hard to watch, and then the CMT Awards tribute to the country superstar brings it all home. It’s a memorial performance so moving, every viewer with a soul is grabbing for the tissues. The fact that Rayna is forever gone from “Nashville” finally hits home.
While originally Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) is set to sing one of Rayna’s songs at the CMTT Awards show, at the last minute, she passes off the reins to Maddie (Lennon Stella). While it was far from Juliette’s intention, she couldn’t ignore how this could all be perceived as the perfect comeback performance after the plane crash. And personally, she knows that for most of Rayna’s life, she was a horribly selfish diva to work with. But Juliette has since found God, apparently, and finally understands that she can’t take such a huge moment and make it about herself.
Juliette barely makes it through the opening speech without crying — so when she surprises the audience by handing off the microphone to Maddie, it almost seems like this could be an act of sabotage. Who could ever think an emotionally wrecked daughter of the deceased singer could go out before a live audience and, without rehearsal, put on a stellar performance? If this was eight years ago and, say, Billy Ray Cyrus died, no one would ask a 16-year-old Miley to go up on stage to sing.
But no, it wasn’t sabotage all — just truly an attempt at being compassionate and selfless, toward a kid Juliette’s always loved.
Maddie starts off shaky, but the with the audience’s support, her voice gets stronger. Just when you think maybe all will be okay… Maddie turns around to see the in memoriam pictures being shown on the big screen, and an old black-and-white photo of Rayna with her as a toddler pops up. They look so happy, their entire lives still ahead of them, and Maddie gets caught up in it. The tears flow hard, and the music stops.
While were wondering in the back of our minds how Maddie could go on stage without her sister, we figured it was because Daphne was too young for such pressure. But as Maddie cries, Deacon grabs a mic and joins her onstage, as does Daphne.
Together, the three of them are able to get through the song. The unplanned performance came together so organically, and with all of them singing together, using Rayna’s music as the inspiration to band together and push though… It’s the perfect tribute.
What happens next will be interesting. There’s no telling the effects of this devastating occasion on Deacon and the girls. Maddie may stop being such a wild child and take on more of a mothering role to Daphne… Or she could become even more of a brat and run off with Clay (David Joseph-Jones).
And as Tandy (Judith Hoag) points out, Deacon can not run Highway 65 by himself. He’s an artist, not a businessman. So maybe she’ll sticking around to help out with the business — which just bought out Wheelin & Dealin Records — and also help care for the girls. Daphne’s a wild card. But she’s been underused this season, and so whatever gives her more screen time, we’re on board.
And if creepy Teddy (Eric Close) goes after the girls’ legacy… All bets will be off.
“Nashville” airs on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.