The date is fast approaching to say so long to CMT’s “Nashville,” but in true country music fashion, the show’s six-season song won’t end without one last heart-wrenching refrain.
“Nashville” has had a journey nearly as turbulent as the complex unfolding relationships of its musically gifted characters. Within a span of just two years, the country music drama has been canceled by ABC and resurrected by CMT only to kill off its anchor, Connie Britton, in the fifth season. With the series end in sight — for real this time — cast mates Charles Esten and Clare Bowen say the final half of the sixth season doesn’t hold back any drama for its farewell.
“We always appreciated each other, but I think once you’ve lost it and you got it back, and then you know it’s going away again, you just sort of live it out in a different way,” Esten tells Variety. “That was true this whole last season.”
For six years, Bowen has played one half of the show’s young heartthrob couple, Scarlett and Gunnar. She’s aware that, despite their many dramatic quarrels and scandalous splits throughout the seasons, fans likely want their relationship to have a fairytale ending. But not Bowen.
“People think that there’s this romance — just the idea that two people should just be okay together even if they’re completely different and one of them is developing at a completely different rate mentally and emotionally,” Bowen says. “It was interesting playing her and having her say no to Gunnar.”
The first half of the final season saw Bowen’s character repeatedly turn a cold shoulder to her most devoted suitor, and while Bowen says “Nashville” fans will get closure for Gunnar and Scarlett by the series finale, she teased that it won’t be “what everyone expects.”
“I think it’s so much more important that people actually communicate and understand one another and respect one another,” Bowen says. “[Gunnar has] shown so many times that he does not really respect her, or he’s uncomfortable with how bright a light she could be, and so I think they’re both on their own journey.”
Esten’s character, Deacon, has endured more than his fair share of blows throughout the show’s often merciless plot. Over the course of the series, Deacon has faced alcoholism, liver cancer, newfound paternity, the loss of his sister, and most notably, the loss of his longtime musical and romantic partner, Britton’s Rayna James.
“If my character was a car, the gasoline that he clearly ran on was Rayna James, and so to hear that she wouldn’t be there, it was hard to wrap my head around at first,” Esten says. “I was going through exactly what the character was going through, which is ‘How do I go on? What now?'”
Since the program began, Deacon has seldom known reprieve from hardship, and Esten says the remaining episodes will be no different. As the show comes to a close, his character must confront one of his darkest demons yet: his father, who was the catalyst for much of Deacon’s trials.
“Instead of just skating to the end there, we go, no, let’s deal with the deepest wound and see if we can get through that,” Esten says. “We could do other story lines, certainly. We have the creativity to do that. But I gotta say, it seems like, if he can get through this, then that would really be a good place to end it.”
Both Esten and Bowen agree that one of the most rewarding aspects of working on a show that tackles dark psychological material is the response from viewers coping with similar situations in their daily lives.
“Storylines are not just storylines, if you do them well,” Esten says. “They are part of people’s lives, so it’s almost incumbent on you to do them as well as you can. There are people who are in recovery; there are people who are fighting cancer; there are people who just lost the one person in their life they could never imagine being without.”
Bowen has had a similar experience through her interactions with fans who have taken inspiration from Scarlett’s journey from shrinking violet to country music superstar.
“The best part of being Scarlett is maybe helping people find the words to voice things that have frightened them for the longest time, and suddenly they’re able to confront them because of this fragile little person on television,” she says.
Besides the show’s hometown and the music, which both actors say have permanently shaped their lives for the better since they started, Esten and Bowen will take with them the community of actors, writers, singers, songwriters and so many more who supported one another through each hurtle the series faced, just as the characters do on the show.
“If you look back at over all the characters, yeah they all wanted that record, that chart-topping hit, that super successful band, that next album, that production company, that label,” Esten says. “But again and again, they learned that maybe what they really needed was to be there for the person that needed them.”
“Nashville” begins airing its last episodes June 7 on CMT.