The season finale on Nashville had the payoff for me. I often find the show difficult to watch because it is so soapy, the characters just pawns for the writers, making bad choices every minute to give that sensational ride needed to keep viewers titillated in a Twitter age. It’s just so different than the early days of television, where stories could play out slowly, in a more languid and naturalistic pace.
For many, the heart of Nashville is the relationship between Rayna and Deacon, who have lived intertwined lives since they were in their teens. It’s romantic and comprehensible.
For me, though, the heart of Nashville is the relationship between Rayna and Juliette, two women who have the awesome power to engage and seduce even when their music is dried down to a bit of vinyl or a digital stream, and who,when they get in the spotlight, shine back the kind of energy that powers up and enthralls a crowd, weaving a shared energy that binds and thrills audiences.
How do you survive in the world as a woman who can make lightening bolts come from her throat? How do you take your own energy and turn it into magic? These women are archetypal wounded healers, their own pain and struggle providing the basis of art that moves and connects, touching people deeply.
In the show, Rayna has been doing this for twenty years but it is much newer for Juliette, whose performance is much more canned and simple rather than seasoned.
In the season finale, Juliette has found Avery, her Deacon, a soul mate who she can actually love rather than just manipulate, and actually trusting her love is terrifying her, because she gets how powerful it feels, how vulnerable it makes her. Of course, vulnerability is at the core of her maturing as an artist, away from pop songs for swooning girls, but it is hard.
When Avery has to pay attention to someone else in need, Juliette acts out with the evil record label executive just to get a fix of attention and control, like she has been doing all her life. The exec blackmails her and she is hurting, with no one to help.
Until Rayna shows up and Juliette lets her in. Rayna holds her hair as she pukes and totally gets the raw emotional power of fear. They bond in a way that only people who hold the lightening inside of them can get, opening up beyond modulation and using the shorthand of queens to share the struggle to be both normal and goddess in the world.
I loved that scene, almost making it worth all the cheap drama of people acting out. It made me laugh in connection.
Jessica St Clair and Lennon Parham also have a new show, Playing House on USA, a kind of follow-on to their Best Friends Forever, a lovely show in with their friendship at the centre.
The deep intimacy of women’s friendships is compelling to me. Ms St. Clair, in Out Magazine:
I honestly feel like, with a good female friendship, you are there to make sure that that person is leading her best life. The show that we wanted to tell was really about childhood best friends because we were fascinated by the idea that those best friends were there when your personality formed. So they can really tell you, as an adult, if you are either pursuing the dreams that you had as a child—like who you were meant to be—or you are not. So the story we wanted to tell was about these two people, these adult friends, who have come back together and, because they have known each other for that long, they can be the ones that can really call each other out on their shit and encourage them to lead their best life. I think that’s what’s really special.
Other women get this power, too. Julie Beck in The Atlantic
More than the men I’ve dated, often more than my family, [female friends] have nourished and challenged me, pushed me to take positive risks, shown me the depth of compassion people are capable of.
I’m not sure that there is any substitute for being seen and checked by someone who really knows the challenges you go through, who has been there, with deeply shared experience and understandings. They will never be exactly the same as you, but they will get you, finding the balance between support and pushing, between tending wounds and invoking healing.
We live in a culture that is heterosexual but homosocial, where we are expected to share our beds with someone who compliments our skills and our desires, but we share our lives with people who get our challenges in their lives and in their hearts.
How can anyone but an awesome diva, a wounded healer who taps into the shared energy to create and concentrate ever understand another diva? This is why Juliette cracking her shell, moving beyond acting out to a kind of vulnerability that lets her really, really love someone even at the price of feelings so deep that they terrify her, is also what lets her open to Rayna, lets her open to the kind of healing that Rayna has had to do.
When the student is ready, a teacher will appear, and seeing Rayna hold Juliette’s hair in the season finale of Nashville told everyone that the student is more ready than ever before.
Everyone heals in their own time and their own way. On television shows, that means when the writers are good and ready to move the healing forward, towards catharsis rather than cheap sensational drama. Still, Nashville got picked up for another season, so you know the path will not be smooth for any of the characters; viewers must be enervated.
But in this finale, two insanely powerful women connected over shared experience, helping growth happen. While it didn’t happen for me, it did happen for them, which makes me think that kind of connection may still be possible in the world, may be something Callie Khouri has seen in the world and brought to her story.
And if stories can’t feed dreams, well, then what are they good for anyway?