Longtime “Nashville” viewers know the country music drama frequently takes dark turns, from the lead character’s alcoholism to a record label executive plunging to his death from a roof. But on Thursday’s episode, the series revealed a plot twist so disturbing that even the show’s producers found it difficult to stomach.

It started as Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the troubled country star who has wrestled with many inner demons, arrived at the Movement for Coherent Philosophy compound. Juliette has recently embraced this self-actualization group, which some consider a creepy cult, but which its founder calls a training of the mind. (One that takes 30 percent of your income if you join, of course.)

As Juliette walked by a room, she heard a person crying hysterically. When she arrived for her therapy session with founder Darius Enright (Josh Stamberg), Darius informed her that she overheard the next phase in his self-help training, called a “witnessing”: “When you start to free yourself from your past and all the unwanted emotions and traumas associated with it.”

Darius then asked Juliette to remember a time in her childhood when she was happy. She described being about 9 years old and going with her mother to a house, where there were velvet curtains and books and a TV that always played cartoons. They would go there to visit her uncle, an older man who wasn’t technically related, but he was considered an uncle who would gift Juliette stuffed animals. Then Juliette remembered other details, like the stack of $20 bills always nearby. Suddenly, she panicked and refused to talk about it anymore.

Later in the episode, Darius brought in Juliette for her own “witnessing.” Laying on a table, eyes closed and surrounded by group members in a candlelit room, Juliette remembered the real reason for those visits: The $20 bills were for her mother, a drug addict, who would collect the money and wait while the man took Juliette into another room and sexually abused her.

The scene was horrifying: Flashbacks showed Juliette’s mother sitting outside the room while she heard cries of, “Please, no!” and “Stop!” from her daughter. On the table, Juliette started screaming and crying. Darius comforted her and soon, Juliette was sitting up, wrapped in a blanket.

“I think I need to sit here for a few more minutes,” she said.

“You just changed your life. You have all the time in the world,” Darius assured her.

Marshall Herskovitz, one of the executive producers who took over when the show moved from ABC to CMT in 2016, said he can’t remember who on the writing staff came up with this specific idea. But they were discussing ways to more deeply explore Juliette’s backstory during the show’s sixth and final season. Juliette started the series as a demanding, sometimes cruel celebrity diva on top of the country music world. Over the years, she spiraled as she went to rehab; cheated on her boyfriend with a record label executive, who sexually blackmailed her; suffered postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter; and much more.

“We very much wanted to delve into Juliette’s inner life and history, especially history of trauma,” Herskovitz said. So they created the Movement for Coherent Philosophy plot, which would allow Juliette to open up about her past and “maybe understand more of the reasons why she’s been so troubled in her life.”

Juliette’s estranged mother, Jolene (Sylvia Jefferies), was a recurring character in the early seasons. Eventually, it seemed as though they might repair their broken relationship. Then Jolene’s sober coach slept with Juliette and filmed the encounter, and threatened to release the tape on the Internet and ruin Juliette’s career if she didn’t pay him $10 million. So Jolene shot the coach, destroyed the tape and killed herself.

Now, after all of that, Juliette has realized that her mother allowed her to be molested as a child for money. Herskovitz expected viewers to have a very strong reaction and be “moved and disturbed and angry” on Juliette’s behalf when they saw the scene, which he said helps show that childhood trauma “has a much bigger role in our society than we’ve been wanting to admit.” He pointed to the example of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who was just sentenced to 40 to 175 years for sex crimes against his young patients.

“It’s a very disturbing scene, even for us who made it,” Herskovitz said. He emphasized that a public service announcement during the episode would direct people to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “I’m grateful to have [the ability] to raise this subject, which I think it’s a really important one. And I’m grateful to have the PSA so people can know they’re not alone, and that there is support for people who have gone through this.”

In the aftermath of surfacing that repressed memory, Juliette told Darius her mother used to take her to her favorite restaurant after every visit. “She robbed me of everything: my childhood, my innocence,” Juliette said flatly. “She just keeps on taking, even from beyond the grave.”

Darius responded that when people endure pain from loved ones, they self-sabotage by re-creating a similarly dysfunctional dynamic in their other relationships — and the first step to breaking that cycle is erasing that notion of themselves and understanding that they deserve to be happy.

“And the pain? Will it ever completely go away?” Juliette asked.

“I can’t promise you that,” Darius said, adding ominously, “But I can promise if you stick with the training, you won’t be the same person when you’re through.”

Herskovitz wouldn’t share too many details about how this revelation will affect upcoming story lines, though he said Avery (Jonathan Jackson), Juliette’s partner and father of her daughter, will find out about what happened.

“I think that in situations like this, it’s really important for truth to come out and it’s just as important for the truth to be processed,” Herskovitz said. “We’re going to watch that unfold as Juliette processes what happened to her as a child. Where that leads, I can’t say.”

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