Nashville, Season 1
What if Rayna hadn't recovered from her onstage panic attack?
Michael Huisman and Connie Britton in ABC's Nashville.
Photo by Jon LeMay/ABC.
We were promised a public nervous breakdown! Two weeks ago, the “next week on Nashville” teaser featured a shot of Rayna, frozen on stage in front of all her fans, in what looked like a still from a non-singer’s anxiety dream.
But in the actual episode, Rayna barely faltered under the hot lights. No one but Deacon and her staff seemed to notice when she missed her cue, and then she flashed a winning smile and launched into song. Phew, sighed all the nice viewers who want TV show characters to have happy, uninteresting lives. Boo, I booed.
It’s not that I want Rayna to be miserable. For that matter, it’s not that the episode stinted on showing us an unraveled, messy Rayna: She goes from drunkenly dancing with Liam to kissing him to crying in his hotel bathroom. But the anticlimactic quality of that early concert scene felt like a hurdle the rest of the hour had to overcome. We were teased with the prospect of total crisis and then reassured: When it counts, Rayna will do what she’s always done. Pick herself back up. Sing.
A conspicuous crackup could have plunged Rayna’s character into vertiginous new territory last Wednesday. Everyone takes her crystalline finish for granted, but what would happen if it broke? Yes, it is strange and captivating to watch Nashville’s country queen lose control in private, since she’s normally so composed, but her “vacation from life” with Liam also seemed like compensation for the public fiasco that wasn’t.
Had Rayna not recovered from her woozy moment on stage, what would her fans have done? What would Deacon, Teddy or Juliette have done? Would the exposure and drama and sympathy of it all electrify her career? Or would a media culture oversaturated in celebrity scandal not even bat an eye? (In real life, artists lose it on stage all the time and emerge no worse for wear: See Jennifer Lopez, Nelly Furtado, Billie Joe Armstrong, Madonna.)
More importantly, what would such an experience mean for Rayna? Would she downplay it and pick up the pieces or use it to fundamentally change the way she relates to her audience? Would she begin to bridge the gap between her somewhat staid/lackluster public persona and her unruly emotional life? Whereas the night with Liam was fun and illuminating but ultimately a digression that can be bracketed, an onstage meltdown would speed the plot forward and perhaps leave us with a more interesting cliffhanger than Rayna’s daughter informing her mom that Teddy and Peggy are still together. (Who cares?)
OK, fine, I’ll admit it. I think the public reckoning is coming and I want to get it over with. It’s stressful watching the first lady of country teeter on the edge of disaster week after week! Let’s have the bottom fall out, soon please, and then get to part where Rayna realizes she belongs with Deacon, puts together a fabulous new album, earns $40 million from hair commercials, drop-kicks her dad and sister into Kingsport, and replaces Teddy as the mayor of Nashville. Or I will suffer a psychotic break.
Katy Waldman is a Slate assistant editor.