Show: ABC’s Nashville
Featured Characters: Deacon Claybourne and Rayna Jaymes
Writer’s Note: I stopped watching ABC’s Nashville after a specific death that I essentially refuse to accept as canon, and therefore, this deep dive will primarily focus on the events before.
Sometimes first love doesn’t equate to the one true love, but for Deacon Claybourne and Rayna Jaymes, it was the opposite. ABC’s Nashville harped far too much on drama, but it always understood that the love between its lead was its greatest strength. It took the second chance trope and ran with it, creating something beautifully compelling even if we could trust no other endgame.
It didn’t matter how many roadblocks stood in their path because they’d always pull through them. It didn’t matter how many years passed or how many mistakes they made because true love like theirs correlates to forgiveness. They were each other’s first love and last love. And for five and a half seasons, we watched them continuously go back and forth, denying the feelings within, falling backward and towards, moving towards places that would eventually lead them back to where they belong. Theirs was the story of a solid partnership anchored gorgeously through music—songs that are still hard to describe.
Deacon Claybourne, Rayna Jaymes, and The Fight of Their Lives
When Deacon and Rayna fall in love, they fall hard. And that kind of love is not only hard to forget, but it’s hard to move beyond. Because ultimately, at the end of the day, Deacon Claybourne and Rayna Jaymes were best friends—the sense of comfort fortified between them makes it difficult to find a connection as profound with another. And that love between them gave them a home in the arms of their other half, in the music they created to harness their fondest emotions.
They’ve always needed one another, and for that reason, even when they broke up, they continued working alongside one another. Deacon and Rayna continued fighting together even when it appeared they’d moved on.
A large chunk of their history boils down to Deacon’s addiction and where it led him before sobriety. Deacon wasn’t his best self at the peak of their career, and even though he loved Rayna more than his demons, he (temporarily) wasn’t strong enough to fight. And understandably, it was too late when he finally got better after the fifth time in rehab. Rayna couldn’t bear to open her heart to him again—she couldn’t go back there because his words were empty promises once, twice, five times. And though she forgave him, she couldn’t trust him as quickly. However, the absence of trust didn’t mean she would give up on him, but it meant that they couldn’t be in a romantic relationship. They would still be best friends. They were still everything to each other, but they needed to move forward without each other to become stronger.
For 13 years, they continued to adore one another even as it appeared a romance was out of the question. As frustrations piled up, and they couldn’t stand being apart any longer, they gave their relationship another go, only to have an enormous secret send Deacon downward. The truth about Maddie being Deacon’s daughter was a massive secret to hold onto, making it difficult for anyone to choose sides. You understood why Rayna kept it from him and why Deacon felt so betrayed. It hurt to watch. It felt like a hopeless situation, especially after the accident, and it made viewers wonder if they could ever return from this.
All hope was lost, but thankfully they found a way to forgive—to start over through a more transparent trajectory, allowing their unceasing love to guide the way. Deacon Claybourne and Rayna Jaymes finally found a way to make it work by harnessing their past as a reminder of what they shouldn’t be or the roads they shouldn’t go down.
It’s been an exhausting journey, butNashville’s done the fight right up until that dreaded episode that we don’t speak of. In most fictional depictions of such relationships, it’s hard to go back even as viewers. It’s hard to want to root for a couple with this much pain in their past, but even in those darkest hours, Deacon’s love for Rayna never wavered. You knew that he’d be living with regret his entire life because of how much he hurt her, making their love that much more enduring. There’s no beauty in the mistakes he’s made, but there’s beauty in the way he’s redeemed himself.
There’s beauty in how he’s loved and supported Rayna throughout their journey, even when it was tough for him to watch her with another man. There’s beauty in the way Rayna continuously saw the best in him and reminded him of the person he could be by ceaselessly having hope in his strength and character. When he got sick, she didn’t leave his side—she fought to remind him of the person he could be. She fought to remind him of hope and faith. She fought to remind him of the fact that their love was true in every way possible.
The Music and The Melodies
The intimacy in songwriting and performing together is a beautiful part of this series that allows viewers an extremely close look into closed doors. There was nothing like watching the two of them perform. There was nothing like watching them lose themselves in the power of music. It’s not easy to work with just anyone when it comes to writing music—you need to trust your partner with your vulnerabilities, for writing and performing demands a person be stripped of all their walls. Music demands to be felt, and for it to be evocative, it must be raw and transparent. And the intimacy it requires can only come from partners that truly understand one another. You don’t have to be in love, but for Deacon Claybourne and Rayna James, it’s what made their music magic. And the perfect representation of their relationship, in my honest opinion, is still “Surrender.“
Why don’t we
Take this time we wasted
And don’t hold back let’s face it
I need you
And baby you need me
We’re all we’ve been missing
If we could just stop resisting
And give in to what’s supposed to be
And I’ll surrender to you
If you surrender to me
I hear you whisper in the air at night
You are in every single song I write
And every melody I play
It doesn’t matter where I run“Surrender” from Nashville Original Soundtrack
I come back to where I’m running from
Your face is everywhere I turn
Nashville gave Deacon and Rayna their second chance through music, allowing them to continuously chip away at each other’s walls even when they were at odds. It took away their defenses, ceaselessly reminding them of the fact that the places they can escape to while they sing are where they’re stronger. In this way, they were connected through indescribable tethers that forced them to meet in the dark corridors that needed the most healing.
Deacon and Rayna have been soul mates from the very beginning. They’d fight for one another in ways no one else would, and their love grew by the day. Their past was dark and messy, but it’s what’s made them better. They’re safe with each other, cherished, and happy. Theirs was the kind of love that comes once in a lifetime, and I love that Rayna makes sure Deacon knows it’s the kind of love she wants her daughters to witness.
Together, they’ve created a healthy, beautiful environment for the girls, and every new beginning improved them that much more. After everything they’ve been through, no matter how frustrating, we knew they’d support each other through anything and everything. And at the end of the day, the most gorgeous part of their relationship was that they’d always find ways to remind one another of how loved they were. In one of my full-length episode reviews of Nashville, I had said: “It’s lovely to see Rayna and Deacon take on life together – even if that means laying still for a moment in an attempt to unwind. The astounding amount of adoration that runs through their veins for one another profoundly resonates with the audience even in the briefest scenes. It doesn’t even feel as though they were apart episodes ago because of how effortlessly they fall back into a state of intimacy stronger than before. The innate contentment that instantly comes over Rayna at the reality of Deacon being there to welcome her home after an eventful day is gorgeous. It authenticates the conception that no matter what they’re going through, Deacon and Rayna have an exquisitely wondrous way of filling each other with the utmost form of hope, love, and serenity.”
They’ll always be home to one another, and to watch them continuously cherish that idea was always breathtaking. The darkest days were brighter with one another, the most challenging decisions were more manageable, and the moments of discomfort were peaceful. They made each other better even while they were at their worst, allowing the adoration, music, and melodies to take them to places where they were unstoppable.