UPDATE: Tragedy struck Nashville during the Feb. 23 episode, as Rayna Jaymes died. Actress Connie Britton spoke to EW about the turn of events, which began with the Feb. 16 episode of the CMT show. Read on for more on how Rayna wound up in that terminal situation — and head here for an interview with Britton on Rayna’s final moments.
EARLIER: Just when Rayna thought she was safe… bam.
And that’s exactly how life is, showrunner Marshall Herskovitz points out.
We spoke to Herskovitz and star Connie Britton about tonight’s big twist in the CMT drama series, where Ranya comes face-to-face with her stalker for a tense conversation, only to get T-boned in a random car accident on the way home.
First, the confrontation, which is something Herskovitz and fellow lead writer-producer Ed Zwick had planned from the start of the season.
“Marshall wanted it to be a very drawn out, almost theatrical scene,” Britton says. “I was thrilled with it, and I thought it was written very well. What I liked was it feels reflective of Rayna as a character. She’s confronted with this dangerous conflict, and she’s able to dig into the psychology of how to deal with that and also find a way to relate to this guy so that he goes in a different direction. It felt like a cool moment for Rayna, and the actor [Linds Edwards] did a such a wonderful job. It was a really intense long two-person scene — which in television is unusual — and it was fun to go toe-to-toe with him.”
For Herskovitz and Zwick, the scene had two real-life inspirations — a 2005 case in which a woman was held hostage for seven hours by a man who had just killed three people (an ordeal made into the movie Captive) and a 1982 incident when a man broke into the Queen of England’s bedroom, and she calmly chatted with him until a footman intervened.
“In both incidents, there was a woman in jeopardy who managed to keep her head and connect with the man and resolve the situation where she was not harmed,” Herskovitz says. “And I find that to be so extraordinary and fitting for Rayna.”
Also, when he first joined the show last year, the producer recalls being struck by how many characters on Nashville had been the victims of childhood trauma — an observation that led to the stalker storyline.
“Rayna’s father was basically a psychopath, Deacon’s father was an alcoholic who beat him, Juliette’s mother was a drug addict who was horrible — just on and on,” he notes. “This is such an important subject for all of us in America to talk about because it has so many implications in people’s lives. When we talk about the opioid epidemic or child abuse or crime, people don’t necessarily connect that with childhood trauma. So for me, it presented an opportunity. This man who himself was traumatized was drawn to Rayna unconsciously because he understood she was a kindred spirit. He recognized she had been traumatized; that’s why her music spoke to him so passionately. It ends up being this amazing opportunity to have these two people in the most bizarre of circumstances actually connect.”
So why, then, if the episode was going to conclude with Rayna headed to the hospital, did her injury occur from a random accident?
“She manages to reach this man, she makes a personal connection and because of that she disarms him emotionally, so it felt like a contradiction of the entire scene if he harms her,” he explains. “Because she succeeded. It just seemed wrong for her to them harm her.”
But also, Herskovitz points out, this sort of unexpected randomness is exactly how such events tend to occur in real life.
“Time and time again in our lives, the best and the worst happen together,” he says. “The phenomenon that I call ‘the horror that lurks beneath everyday life’ is something that seizes you by the throat when you least expect it. I could go on and on about the ways in which you’re going along and everything’s fine, and then all of a sudden life changes.”
Britton called the crash scene “a tough moment” for her character. “It feels like we’ve just been through this saga,” she says. “If we did it right, the audience is right there with Rayna. It sort of plays into people’s darkest fears of feeling like you’ve gotten through something and then something completely unexpected blindsides you. It’s cringeworthy and scary.”
Herskovitz adds that the stalker stand-off and the accident are not entirely as disconnected as you might suppose. No, the stalker wasn’t somehow driving the car or anything like that, but there’s a thematic connection.
“I guess you could say there’s a deeper thematic point here that this idea of childhood trauma is a profound one, and things had happened to Rayna in her life that she might never escape,” he says. “The fact this was an accident was in a way irrelevant, because this would have never happened if she hadn’t been in this situation with this man and they hadn’t put her in a car and were rushing her home. So it’s entirely connected, but more of a karmic connection rather than a direct connection to the man himself.”
So what does all this mean for next week?
“It’s been our longstanding practice has been to never talk about upcoming stories,” the showrunner says. “The experience of a story is the most important thing. You know she’s alive in the previews for next week. But we want people to be in the same state her family is in.”
“All I can say is Rayna’s tough and she’s sustained a lot,” Britton says. “Let’s wait and see.”
Here’s a breakdown of the stalker scene: