Let’s start with a mental-health check: You guys hanging in there? Need a hug? We all just saw Deacon engaging in pillow talk with Jessie and I want to make sure everyone is okay. Deep, cleansing breaths, people. As a chapeaued dog in a burning room once said, “This is FINE.”
Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nashville was in a bind with Deacon. There was only so much they could show of him being the human embodiment of a World’s Greatest Dad mug before it would all start to seem wasteful. When God gives you a romantic leading man, you must provide said leading man with romance. It’s the law.
But enough about that. It’s actually not Deacon, but Jessie’s ex, Brad, who looms large over this episode. It starts with Daphne secretly auditioning for Nashville’s Next Country Star (how this is not already a real show is beyond me), which Brad executive produces. Of course, she crushes the audition with an original song (on the piano — this kid is going places, I tell ya). As she’s auditioning, Brad slithers in. “You know who that is, don’t you?” he whispers smugly. “Rayna James’s daughter.”
A few thoughts: Wouldn’t the folks beyond Nashville’s Next Country Star, of all things, recognize Rayna James’s daughter when they saw her? (Come to think of it, they’re probably a bunch of Hollywood carpetbaggers so this actually checks out.) Also, isn’t Daphne a bit young for this competition? It’s not Nashville’s Next Underage Country Star. (Uh oh, I hope I didn’t just give some enterprising CMT exec an idea.)
That night, while picking at her burger, Daphne finally comes clean to Deacon and Maddie about the audition. I love when they show what a good kid she really is. Deacon is angry at first — he thinks she’s too young and, frankly, too good for Nashville’s Next Country Star (tell me where he’s wrong) and he sure as hell doesn’t want her involved with anything having to do with the oleaginous Brad. But eventually, he comes around. Sometimes you have to let your kids forge their own path, even if that path is complete crap.
Needless to say, of the hundreds who auditioned, Daphne is one of three to make the show. Meanwhile, somewhere off camera, Brad is undoubtedly mouthing the actual words, “Mwah ha ha …”
But that rascally Brad is not done yet. His new evil plot is to send Jake to boarding school. I’m pretty sure he can’t just decide this, willy-nilly, on his own, but I seem to recall there was some drama about Jake’s custody last season? So maybe he can? (Season five is a blur at this point.) Brad shows up at Jessie’s place to collect Jake — but when he sees Deacon, he makes a crack about Deacon enjoying some Afternoon Delight. (His actual words: “[Did you] stop by for a little sky rockets in flight?” Dude, gross.) Jake refuses to come out of his room and Brad threatens to break the door down, which he eventually does. Then he tries to yank Jake off the bed, as Jessie screams for him to stop. Deacon, who had been sitting on the couch this whole time trying to not to interfere (not quite his specialty), decides it’s time to interfere. He bursts into the room, pulls Brad off Jake, and slams him against the wall, telling him to calm down.
“Did you just assault me?” Brad says, with a malicious grin.
Brad is the human embodiment of a mug that reads: World’s Worst Person.
Back on the ranch — literally — Scarlett has what I’m calling her Aaron Sorkin Moment of the Week. An Aaron Sorkin Moment is when a young, self-righteous upstart challenges an authority figure and is ultimately vindicated, often in a public, triumphant way. In this case, Scarlett takes Sean to The Bluebird, despite Ranch Lady telling her not to. (The thing is, Ranch Lady is right. Scarlett is not a therapist and probably has no business testing Sean’s emotional boundaries.) Indeed, Sean gets a little shell-shocked and has to bolt. Scarlett runs after him and tells him that he shouldn’t feel so alone, everyone has pain and darkness in their life. (Her argument would’ve been that much more effective if she’d added, “For example, I once hid quaking under a piano during a concert!”) The next day, Ranch Lady is mad at Scarlett because Sean was pretty freaked out by the outing. But then Sean sends Scarlett a text: He wants to show her something. He’s sitting in his big empty music-video barn again. And he plays a song for her. It’s good. Scarlett tells Sean he needs to share his talent with the world.
“I don’t think I can do that,” Sean says.
“Baby, I don’t think you have a choice,” she replies.
Of course, Ranch Lady has overheard the song and the exchange and has a look on her face that says, “I was wrong to challenge the wisdom of this young, self-righteous upstart. I have learned a valuable lesson and I shall never do it again.” Somewhere, Aaron Sorkin is getting misty.
Speaking of sharing their talent, the Last Highways — yes, that’s their official name — have a gig on The Chew. The same drama that’s been playing out for the last several episodes plays out here, with those crazy Chewers (Masticators?) wanting Alannah to sing lead vocals on both songs. She objects, privately, to Bucky, and arrangements are made for Will to sing lead on one of the songs. He gets all rage-y and says he doesn’t want to be a charity case. Also, he keeps having dizzy spells and has a low-grade fever. Then he makes the rookie mistake of looking up “Steroid use and low-grade fever” on Google. Dude, nooooo! All health-related searches will lead to a diagnosis of cancer, trust me on this. It’s never clear what Will learns, but I’m sure it wasn’t good. (I googled it myself and came up empty — except now I’m pretty sure I have cancer.) Backstage at The Chew, Will seems overly hyped up, but otherwise okay. On stage, he’s sweating a lot. His bandmates sense something is wrong and keep exchanging glances. Will starts to get more aggressive with his guitar solos and then he’s dizzy and disoriented again, and then he passes out.
“Talent down!” someone yells.
Readers, I laughed.
The cutest thing during all of this is how upset and freaked out Gunnar is. He’s actually crying. The least cute thing is Will’s glassy, unfocused eyes. Yikes, I hope he’s okay. Screw you, midseason finale!
The last thing I want to talk to you guys about is Avery and Juliette — and brace yourselves, because I’m about to lay down some tough love. When we first see Avery, he’s flying home from Bolivia, staring plaintively at the empty chair where Juliette was supposed to be. Then he gets home and we have the rare season-six Emily sighting in the wild. She’s aliiiiiive! He picks up Cadence, who kisses him and strokes his face (I briefly had to pause the show to perform CPR on my ovaries). Later, Avery tells Deacon that he’s done with Juliette, for real this time. And here’s the thing: I agree with him. Enough is enough. We all know that at some point, Juliette is going to come home and sweetly beg Avery for forgiveness. And we all know that Avery is going to fall for it — and, what’s more, so are we. This pattern has played out countless times before, over the course of several seasons. But here’s a crazy thought: What if we collectively decide, here and now, that we won’t fall for it?
I realize it’s counterintuitive in this romance-obsessed world, but Avery’s happy ending would actually be if he gets away from Juliette. It’s a toxic relationship. He knows it, we know it, and the show knows it. Juliette is a mess, a broken person, and it’s not his job to fix her (although lord knows he’s tried enough times). So now what? The show is marching inexorably toward its final episodes. Are they really going to have the courage of their convictions to end Nashville with Avery and Juliette not together? Would they dare? And more importantly, could we handle it?