I managed to make it 34 seconds into this episode without crying, which I think shows some real restraint on my part. From that point on, I didn’t watch a single moment of this episode dry-eyed, but always had one tear tucked in the corner of each eye, like emo bullets resting in the cry chamber. By my count, I actually let those tears loose a grand total of 19 times, which I will henceforth indicate with their corresponding cry number.
The episode starts with Rayna’s funeral right out of the gate, just in case any of you suckers were still clinging to the desperate hope that the whole thing was a fake-out or a dream. Nope, as Connie Britton has made clear on her “I’m Sorry I Killed Rayna” charm offensive tour, Rayna is really gone.
It’s raining, of course — “like the sky is crying, too,” says Scarlett, which is a very Scarlett thing to say — and everyone is holding black umbrellas and white roses, like the saddest episode of The Bachelor ever.
Deacon is reciting W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” (“she was my north, my south …”) and his face twists and contorts into tears (No. 1), as Maddie, who is holding the umbrella for both of them, starts to cry, too (No. 2).
Daphne notices a flock of blackbirds fluttering overhead. So I guess that’s supposed to be Rayna or something.
Teddy and Tandy are there, too, and it suddenly occurs to me that they are not related by blood and therefore could possibly hook up one day. (Sorry, but why should I be the only one in America to have this unsavory thought?) The whole gang is graveside: Avery and Juliette (looking fierce as hell in dark lipstick and this Björk-like French-braid thingy), Scarlett and Gunnar, Will Lexington (who actually gets a story line in this episode, wait, maybe that’s why the blackbirds were soaring!), Clay, and Bucky. Although it seems like a curiously small crowd for a Rayna James funeral, it’s nice to see everyone together for a change.
For the reception, they go back to Rayna’s house (will we ever not consider it Rayna’s house?) and everyone is milling about and hugging sadly, including some extras who are really taking advantage of their time to shine. That’s when Deacon walks in. The moment is filmed brilliantly, with a wide-angle lens, as Deacon shuffles slowly, trancelike, through the room, managing to accept a few hugs and pats from well-wishers, then goes straight upstairs (No. 3).
Tandy gives Clay a tray of hors d’oeuvres to hand out (does she think he’s the help? Oh, lawd) and Zach Welles (remember him?) decides it’s a brilliant time to whip out the cheery video montage he stayed up all night making with the girls. Bucky watches for two seconds and then says, “I’m sorry, I can’t” and walks away (No. 4). Zach closes his laptop and basically hits himself on the head while saying, “Stupid, stupid, stupid” over and over again. “You meant well,” Will says to him. (Code for: Yeah, it was stupid.)
Scarlett goes upstairs to check on Deacon, who is sitting in a chair in the dark, looking shell-shocked. Scarlett asks him if he wants to join the reception and he says no. She kneels in front of him and says, “You can be like this. You can be any way you want to be.” Then, as she goes to hand him the flash drive with Zach’s video on it, she opens his clenched fist and sees that he’s been clutching Rayna’s guitar pick the whole time (No. 5).
Teddy and Tandy, whom I now think of as a villainous power couple, are downstairs discussing the future. Turns out, Teddy is on a three-day bereavement leave, but will be getting out for real in three months. Also, he has no prison tats, which is quite disappointing. (He looks like he just came back from a weekend in Martha’s Vineyard, not 12 months in the big house.) Tandy doesn’t think Deacon can handle raising the girls or maintaining Highway 65 on his own. “I’m worried,” she says. “Deacon is barely functioning.” (Jeez, you think maybe the guy can have a couple of days to get over the death of his wife before you declare him unfit?) Tandy is basically plotting some sort of coup, where she takes over Highway 65 — later, she makes a point of reminding Deacon that she put millions of her own cash into the company — and Teddy ultimately ends up with custody of the girls. Teddy seems receptive.
Meanwhile, Zach Welles gets his flirt on with Will outside before he leaves.
“Hey, I was wondering … am I still on your phone?” he asks Will.
“Okay, good to know.”
Embarrassed, Will tries to explain that he didn’t think calling him would be appropriate, what with them working together.
“I’m not one to stand on ceremony,” Zach says. So cheeky.
Back inside, Scarlett, who has been holding it together and tending to everyone’s needs but her own, finally breaks down, crumbling against a hallway wall in a paroxysm of grief (No. 6). She is spotted by Gunnar, who rushes up to her. “Just hold me,” Scarlett moans. “Just hold onto me.”(It’s that second “hold onto me” that gets me.) (No. 7)
Maddie finds Deacon in the master bedroom and they hug. She tells him he should get some sleep and gently ushers him to the bed. He reluctantly climbs in, fully clothed, and moans, “I don’t know who I am without her.”
“You’re my dad,” Maddie says (No. 8). She stays with him until he falls asleep.
Cut to some of the guests curled up downstairs on the couches, including Bucky, who is sobbing (No. 9). I’m not sure I can handle much more of this.
(I should mention that the soundtrack to all these sad scenes is Lennon Stella singing a very sad version of Gillian Welch’s “I’ll Fly Away.” It honestly feels like piling on.)
In the morning, everything is better. Just kidding, Rayna is still dead and everything is horrible. Teddy, Tandy, and Deacon are meeting with the lawyers to go over Rayna’s will … and it turns out she didn’t appoint guardianship of the children. To complicate matters, Teddy formally adopted Maddie back in the day. Oh, and let’s not forget the inconvenient fact that Maddie testified that she was scared of Deacon at her emancipation trial. Tandy is practically stroking an imaginary cat at this point.
Back home, Maddie overhears Tandy and Teddy planning their coup and rushes to tell Deacon. (It’s actually sad how indifferent Maddie is to Teddy. He’s just, like, some dude who raised her for 17 years.)
“I’m so scared,” she tells Deacon. “They’re saying you’re unfit to be my guardian … they’re planning on doing something behind your back.”
“Nothing like that’s going to happen,” Deacon reassures her.
Later, Maddie tells Daphne that Teddy and Deacon are fighting over custody.
“I just want Mom,” Daphne cries (No. 10). She tells Maddie that she had a dream about Rayna. “I heard her singing,” Daphne says. “I heard her, too,” Maddie replies, marveling over the coincidence. “What do you think it means?” (It’s foreshadowing for the end of the episode, if you guys must know.)
Daphne, of course, is concerned that the judge is going to split them up. “I would never let that happen,” Maddie says (No. 11).
The next day, Deacon confronts Teddy and it gets contentious, just like old times. “I was there for [Maddie] for 17 years,” Teddy says. “And besides that, I was never declared a threat to her in a court of law.”
Deacon charges toward him. “You going to hit me?” Teddy asks, clearly hoping he will.
Although his eyes flash with anger, Deacon has the presence of mind to leave. “Maddie, let’s go,” he says.
“No, I should probably stay here with the man who raised me,” Maddie replies. Just kidding again! She totally goes with him. (Side note: A really nice comeback for Deacon would’ve been, “Uh, dude, you’ve been in PRISON for a year because you embezzled and were blackmailed by a prostitute.” Why is everyone acting like Teddy is Ozzie Nelson?)
There’s also a scene where Tandy is smelling Rayna’s clothes, which is supposed to make us feel sorry for her or remind us of her “humanity” or some such thing, but I’m not buying it.
That night, Scarlett checks in on Daphne.
“Why are we alive if we all have to die?” Daphne asks her. (I’m all ears, Scarlett.) And damned if Scarlett doesn’t give her a good answer. She explains that everyone is here for a reason and we all have lights inside of us that we let shine the best we can. “Your mama, she shone so bright. But the brightest part of her light was you and your sister.” (No. 12) Then Daphne confesses her fear of having to choose between Teddy and Deacon. “If I choose my dad, Deacon and Maddie are going to hate me. If I choose Deacon, my dad’s going to hate me.”
Deacon, who has been lurking outside the door, hears all of this and closes his eyes. A look of grave concern washes over his face.
In somehow less depressing news, Zach Welles has tricked Will into going on a date with him to a museum. (“This is an unusual place to hold a business meeting,” Will says. “This isn’t a business meeting.”) Then Zach uses the occasion of Rayna’s death to talk about the need to embrace life and find your partner, which is such a player move. Then he and leans in and — OMG! — kisses Will on the lips. It’s a chaste, closed-mouth kiss, but, hey, baby steps, CMT.
Speaking of CMT, their awards are happening and everyone is at the Bridgestone Arena. Backstage, Deacon tells Teddy that he can have custody of the girls, but he’s obviously just being selfless because he doesn’t want to put Daphne through the pain of choosing. Teddy gratefully accepts, but Deacon can barely make eye contact with him.
Glenn has arranged for Juliette to sing a tribute to Rayna. But, even though her voice is in fine form, Juliette just doesn’t feel right about singing. She plucks Maddie from the audience, brings her backstage, and tells her she’s the one who should do the tribute. Maddie demurs, saying she’s too upset and emotional. Juliette tries to convince her, to no avail.
Meanwhile, the stage tech is getting antsy. “Two minutes, Miss Barnes.”
“Hold onto your shorts,” Juliette snaps back. Please give us this Juliette forever.
Juliette gets onstage and start talking about what Rayna’s music meant to her, as giant images of Rayna flash behind her on screens. (It’s a damn good thing Connie Britton has such a good skin-care regime, because this show loves giant close-ups of her face.) From the wings, Maddie nods to Juliette. She’s ready to do the song.
Maddie comes out to thunderous applause and starts to sing Rayna’s classic hit, “Sanctuary.” It’s all going well, but then her voice breaks, and she begins to cry (No. 13). Deacon, seeing his daughter in distress, runs onto the stage with Daphne at his side. They envelop each other in a group hug (No. 14). Then Daphne makes her way to the mic and, in her pure, still-little-girl’s voice, starts to sing (No. 15). Deacon joins her (No. 16), and then Maddie joins them (No. 17), and the three of them are tearfully singing “Sanctuary” together — harmonizing like the bosses they are — as the audience stands and cheers (No. 18).
Teddy, who was watching the whole thing from backstage, approaches Deacon. “You’re a good father,” he says. “The truth is, I’m going to be gone for a while. I’d be obliged if you watched over them. Be their guardian. And maybe when I get back we can work something out.”
The two men shake hands and the look of relief on Deacon’s face is definitely No. 19.
There you have it: The 19 times I cried during this painful, undeniably effective episode. Damn you, Nashville. And thanks, too, I guess.