'Nashville' Postmortem: Callie Khouri on Rayna's Choice, Will's Bold Move

The creator of the country music drama talks with THR about lessons from the freshman season finale. "We've shown a lot of our characters grow up," she says.
ABC/Mark Levine

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from "On the Other Hand," the season-two finale of Nashville.]

ABC's country music drama Nashville delivered a more emotional season finale but still managed to throw all of its cards up in the air.

After its freshman finale was met with critical backlash, series creator Callie Khouri opted to tell a different story while bringing a traditionally soapy cliffhanger to the show.

During the hour, Luke (Will Chase) proposes to Rayna (Connie Britton) in the middle of a concert, much to the chagrin of Teddy (Eric Close), Deacon (Charles Esten) and their daughters, Maddie (Lennon Stella) and Daphne (Maisy Stella). But it doesn't end there. Deacon ultimately reveals that he's still in love with her and wants to have what they'd always dreamed of: a family.

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Meanwhile, Will (Chris Carmack) comes out to Layla (Aubrey Peeples) after realizing that having only one person that he can be himself with just isn't enough to make him happy, now that it looks as if his album may not make the big splash he'd hoped for. (Worse: his coming out is caught on camera.)

Elsewhere, Scarlett (Clare Bowen) prepares to leave Nashville; Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) and Avery (Jonathan Jackson) seem to be inching toward a reconciliation after he finds out about her romp with Jeff; and Maddie is looking for a record deal with Rayna's Highway 65.

"We're so happy to know we'll be coming back to answer all we left up in the air in our season-two finale and thrilled to get the band back together for season three," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. 

This season finale was much more emotional than last year. Was any part of that based on feedback to the critical backlash?

I knew we were taking a big risk with that season-one finale and I chose not to go out looking for what the big reaction was, to be honest. It was a moment to throw all the cards in the air and we just decided, what the hell, let's do it. We knew what we had to do, which was show why Rayna and Deacon together never worked and why it might never work. We thought: Why not do a physical manifestation of what a mess they were together. That was last season of really getting to see them in their old dynamic. I know there were plenty of people who hated it, but we had reasons beyond what might have been apparent to a casual viewer.

This finale leaves Rayna to again decide between Deacon and Luke. How will exploring Rayna and Deacon together again be different this time?

It's a totally different dynamic now because they have a kid and Deacon now knows about her. It's different than every other time in the past. Maddie changes everything for both of them. In some ways, it's a deeper emotional pull for Rayna than it was when Deacon didn't know [about Maddie being his daughter]. But we also think Luke is an incredibly viable option for Rayna because he doesn't come with baggage. We call him "Deacon Gone Good" -- that's what Deacon could have been had things been different for him. In some ways, he's caused a lot of problems for Rayna. We wanted to leave her with two very viable options and both come at a price.

Where will season three pick up? Will there be a time jump?

We haven't started breaking it. We're so tired. (Laughs.) We're trying to rest our minds a bit before we jump back in.

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Deacon is growing more interested in becoming a father -- and husband. How will his proposal upset the delicate balance he has with Teddy? Will Eric Close continue to be a regular?

Yes, Eric Close will be back. But a lot of our characters may not be in every episode this year. We're talking about trying to keep the stories real and emotional. I can't say that every single character will appear in every single episode even if they're a regular.

Maddie now wants her own record deal. Will that be a major storyline next season? Will she be a performer more like Rayna or Juliette?

Absolutely. It's really interesting because we get to actually see a microcosm of what it's like for somebody at her age to have that kind of talent. I think it's pretty clear that she's a musician who sings from the heart, so she'd be much closer to her mother than she would to Juliette -- but who knows! (Laughs.)

Scarlett had quite a journey this season. Where does she go from here? Will Clare Bowen be back?

She'll be back next season. It's totally within the realm of things that have actually happened where you have a character who literally just couldn't handle what came her way. We really wanted to show what that was like; to have somebody just thrown out there and have to make their way in a business that's so hard to begin with. Scarlett wasn't somebody who, when we started the show, wanted to sing. She came to Nashville to support her [then-] boyfriend [Avery] and be with him and the next thing you know, she's opening for a huge star. It's a lot to ask. She's with people who maybe weren't the best people for her to be with. We're taking her back to square one. We've shown a lot of our characters grow up, even Juliette is evolving -- no matter how many mistakes she makes, she's still changing.

Will finally came out to Layla, but it was caught on camera. What was behind the decision to have him wait to come out now?

There's no country music star that I know of who is a big star at the top of their game that's out. There's halfway out and then there's really out and at this point, Will is halfway out. He's in a horrible position; Will is as talented as he is gay -- he's as driven for success as he is gay. He's so torn because what he is prohibits him from being what he wants to be, which is a big country music star. That drive for him to have success and do whatever it takes that's been driving him all season, that's the dilemma we put him in -- not whether or not he comes out. That's the least of his worries in a way. Can he achieve the kind of success that he wants to achieve and how much of his soul is he willing to let go of in order to achieve it? To me, it's a much badder place to show what people have to go through because there isn't really a wisely accepted ethos out there for a homosexual in the country music world.

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Jeff Fordham [Oliver Hudson] has become quite a foil for Rayna and company. What was the thinking in having Juliette sleep with him?

It was more a decision for Juliette. A lot stuff that happened in the finale is stuff that you can tie back to the pilot. The pilot, she gets a really f---ed up phone call from her mother and drags her producer into the closet -- and that self-destructive act that she's compelled to do. It was more: What’s the worst thing she can do to herself? And that was the worst thing we could think of -- the things that would be the most hurtful to Avery and the thing that would be the most soul-destroying for her.

Juliette has finally found someone who accepts her for who she is in Avery. How will they rebound from her fling with Jeff?

Funnily enough, they've become one of favorite couples on the show. I don't know how easy it will be for him to just go, "Alright, I get it." That's something that could take him a long time to get over. She's a very damaged person; she was essentially raised by wolves and everything she's ever gotten from life she's gotten under her own scheme, but she's had to do it. She's got a bad case of arrested development. I don't think she's a person who suddenly is enlightened. I think watching a person who has to deal with the consequences of her own actions is interesting to see. We're trying to keep it real and we try not to keep characters one way or another. We want to show the good and bad side to everyone. I don't want characters to be all bad. You want to go back and forth, rooting for them even when they're doing something wrong. You can still be worth something, as they did so beautifully in Breaking Bad.

You now have two seasons under your belt. What was the biggest lesson you learned this year?

This year was better for us just because we weren't behind. The first season of any show is difficult, to say the least. Because our show is so huge production-wise with musical components and because we have so many characters, it was easy to fall behind at the beginning. We were running to catch up the whole time. This season, we felt like we had time to slow down and take things as they came because we were ahead on scripts so we could hammer out story.

The show cleaned house a bit this season, with Powers Boothe [Lamar] and Robert Ray Wisdom [Coleman] both written out and the political storyline largely abandoned. Will there be a similar house cleaning in season three?

We have all of our people in place. We're not committing one way or another to getting rid of anybody. None of those cards are in the air, but I don't see us starting the season with characters having been shot off into space.

Nashville will return in the fall for a third season on ABC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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