There has been lots of (bad) talk about Maddie Conrad on Nashville and her emancipation storyline. Personally, although there were moments I wished were executed better, I don’t think any of these things.
I think this story is actually pretty inevitable because it didn’t start just when Maddie met Cash, saw Deacon punch a wall or had a boyfriend, got up on a stage with Juliette and had sex.
It started much earlier back in the days she still wore glasses and wanted to jump out of
the car to watch her idol Juliette Barnes filming a music video but her mother locked the doors to keep her inside.
To me, Maddie’s story is a combination between yes, an ordinary teenage rebellion but also a painful disillusion that comes from discovering your parents are only regular people; growing pains of a sensitive girl who struggles to establish her own identity while living in the shadow of a very dominant and successful mother; artistic needs searching for an outlet at any cost; privileged life in music city that bring fast and relatively easy access to success and lots of unresolved family issues that reached a boiling point.
Is it harsh, extreme and painful? Yes! Is it unrealistic? I’m sorry but no!
It’s also the one thing that truly puts a spotlight on Rayna’s behaviour as well as to everything that’s wrong in her relationship with Deacon. You see, Maddie’s story more than it is about Maddie, it is about Rayna.
IT’S ALL ABOUT RAYNA-
Nashville is an ensemble show but on top there is only one person – Rayna Jaymes.
The queen of country music stands tall on top of the Nashville pyramid as she is the shining, strong, independence, good and wise ultimate Nashville hero.
Only Nashville is not exactly a sci-fi show filled with superheroes or an idealistic show interested in educational role models. If anything, it’s a show that loves exploring the messy complicated reality behind and beyond images.
In other words, Rayna is not superwoman or Tami Taylor.
She is, however, a very powerful woman. That means, among other things, she is the one making all the difficult decisions. The way she goes about it, if you’re still looking for role models, is quite admirable because she always stays true to herself and her values.
But as I said, she’s not perfect….thank goodness.
There’s a scene on Nashville season 2 where Deacon goes to visit Rayna at her house after her father dies. He was worried about her and it isn’t hard to see why since she keeps insisting everything is fine and retreat to formal good aristocrat southern behavior by offering him tea.
Deacon refuses the tea and urges her to open up and talk to him.
When she keeps refusing, stating he wouldn’t understand, Deacon says that if there’s anyone who would understand it’s him, because he was there.
To that Rayna reply, “You haven’t been here in a long time”.
The emotion that came out of her in this line is something we rarely see in Rayna – bitterness.
Rayna is not a bitter character and for the most part her strength is celebrated (as it should). But her reaction in that moment is a reminder that “steel is forged in fire” and it burns…
For her (or anyone for that matter) to succeed Rayna had to trust herself and make others trust her. After all, if you don’t believe in your dreams, who will?
Her talent to do so, that probably developed more and more over the years, became a true assent when it comes to her career and in many ways turned her to this powerful, confident knows-her-worth, beautiful woman we know and love.
It became also an assent in other areas in her life because knowing who you are is crucial in every situation and every relationship.
But, as Deacon once said to her, not everyone is as strong as her, and so although she forged her way through, she couldn’t find others to match her power that she could fully trust and share the burden with. That’s where the bitterness comes from; Rayna is not just naturally strong and resilient – she’s also someone who had to be one because no else was.
Rayna is the manager, protector and fixer by default in her life for herself and others. But being like that all the time in all areas of life comes with a heavy price – it’s exhausting, it can make you very lonely and can lead to severe errors in judgement because you’re convinced your way is the only way and you have no one to trust but you.
..and that’s where Maddie comes in.
Where do you draw the line?
Rayna loves her daughter with all her heart. She will do anything to protect her, but when does a mother’s protection turns into being over protective and controlling?
Is it when she hides from her the truth about her father? When she avoids sharing with her her feelings about him and the circumstances that led to major decisions that impact her life unless she puts lots of pressure on her? Is it when she constantly expects her to just trust her and follow her lead? Is it when she encourages her to explore her art but answer to every initiative from her, first with a big no and only after a struggle with a yes, but on her terms?
To be honest, I really don’t have the answer for these questions because even if you don’t live in the heightened Nashville reality these type of questions are ones all parents face in one point or another.
When is trying to be a good parent becomes the exact thing that prevents your kid from growing and how do you navigate in this grey area?
Rayna’s default behavior is to control the situation. To some extent it’s understandable because she does have lots on her plate and for the most part really knows better, but not all the time.
Maddie’s rebellion and fight for independence started very early and every season we witnessed another degree of escalation in this conflict. That happened partially because Maddie grew up and partially because Rayna didn’t really change her behavior.
Maddie kept asking for the truth and was very persistent in her insistence to be a musician. Rayna kept hiding things from Maddie and tried to control not just the pace of Maddie’s growth as an artist but also the type of voice she puts out in the world.
Now it got to a point where this conflict can’t be contained anymore and there aren’t anymore distraction to stall it. There isn’t a car crash, cancer, divorce and marriage to the wrong or right person hanging above their head; there isn’t an outlet in the form of a new cool like-minded dad and not even a boyfriend. One performance at sound check or one night at the Opry and talent shows are not enough and when you live at the heart of music city and basically born into this business you also know it’s attainable…it’s in arm’s reach.
Maddie’s choice to stop waiting, take control into her own hands and basically leave the conversation with her parents and primarely her mom whom she doesn’t trust anymore is harsh, extreme and heartbreaking.
It’s also probably, just like going to Deacon and telling him he is her father, the only thing that truly puts a spotlight on Rayna’s decision-making process and pressure her to change.
Can Rayna adjust? It’s hard to tell. So far Rayna has been consistent in her behaviour where she changes her behaviour usually as a reaction to Maddie and not the other way around and it’s often too little too late.
It All Comes Back to Rayna and Deacon-
Oh, yes, there’s another thing. Maddie’s story is exactly the thing the exposes everything that’s wrong in Rayna and Deacon’s relationship.
Maddie is the result of many things. One of which is the way Rayna and Deacon handled their relationship over the years.
In that context, her emancipation is like another metaphoric car crash.
Once again, Rayna’s attempt to do the right thing led her to control not just her side of the relationship but the entire situation. The others just had to deal, accept and trust her.
Deacon, with his own set of demons, chose in the past to escape to drinking or to aggressiveness.
Maddie just chose to leave.
This is a road to hell paved by the best intentions and the question now is not whether Maddie comes home or not but will this “crash” help Rayna face her “tragic flaw”and help her and Deacon break their tragic cycle.
Will Deacon stay and be fully present this time? Will he rely on his own strength and not seek it outside himself (primarily in Rayna)?
Will Rayna accept some of the blame and allow a merger of error? Will she be willing to open up, share what’s in her heart instead of pushing it down, and truly listen? Will she accept the fact her way is not always what’s best for everyone?
Deacon made a long way fighting his demons. Now it’s Rayna’s turn to make a change.
After all, that’s what they have been fighting for – to be in a committed relationship and not repeat the same mistakes.
Rayna must learn how to be herself without having to control every situation. She needs to learn how to fully trust someone else and how not to act as if she’s alone…because she’s not, not anymore.
Watching this story I have only one question: Will Maddie, the one that (literally) opened the Rayna and Deacon Pandora box years ago, become now through her actions, the catalyst for their healing?
It will require lots of willing hearts.