‘Nashville’ React: Winners and Losers in the Post-Rayna Era

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Back in the Saddle Again” episode of Nashville.

To paraphrase the Barenaked Ladies, it’s been 10 weeks since Rayna James croaked and all of Nashville felt sorry. Nashville‘s mid-season premiere picks up two months after that tragedy, and finds its surviving stable of characters adjusting to their post-Rayna lives — with varying degrees of success. While some are seeking refuge from their grief in the comfort of street urchins and ’90s television, others are moving forward and welcoming new musical challenges and/or significant others. Here’s who’s winning and losing in the Connie Britton-less Nashville.

Charles Esten as Deacon Claybourne in CMT’s ‘Nashville’ (Photo: Mark Levine/CMT)

Winner: Deacon the Family Man
Being a single dad (and widower) has mellowed the former rage-o-holic for the better. Case in point: When a depressed Daphne screams “Screw you,” in a fit of tweenage pique, he doesn’t start flipping tables and punching people. Instead, he takes a breath and responds with love and understanding. He’s also becoming quite the gourmet chef now that dinner is his responsibility, graduating from burned beans to Rayna’s patented Silly Noodle Casserole. Chip Esten should use his Carl’s Jr. connection to franchise that dish.

Loser: Deacon the Businessman
Even before Rayna’s death, Deacon never had a head for business. And it’s pretty clear that he’s uneasy in her seat at the head of Highway 65, and is unable or unwilling to focus on the business, rather than the art, of crafting music that makes big money. Unless he gets his head in the game soon, the power vacuum at the top of the label is going to suck up several employees, as well as Highway 65 itself.

Lennon Stella as Maddie Conrad and Hayden Panettiere as Juliette Barnes in CMT’s ‘Nashville.’ (Photo: Mark Levine/CMT)

Winner: Music Critics
Who said critics don’t matter? A slew of bad reviews sink Juliette’s well-intentioned, but #problematic attempts to appropriate gospel music for her first post-accident album. While she doesn’t like being criticized, Juliette sure can dish it out, telling Maddie she needs to make changes to her potential debut single. That goes over about as well as you might expect at first, but the headstrong teen does — gasp! — listen to Juliette’s criticism and revamp the song.

Loser: Bucky
With his best friend and biggest champion gone, poor Bucky’s perch at Highway 65 is looking awfully precarious. And Zach Welles is more than eager to push him off, whispering in Deacon’s distracted ear that Bucky has outlived his usefulness. Yet one more reason to hope for Zach’s quick exit from Nashville…

Winner: Will
…but then again, Zach is proving himself to be a super-great boyfriend for Will! In addition to boosting his beloved’s confidence before a big show, Zach proves he’s Will’s biggest fan by showing up on his doorstep wearing a T-shirt that screams, “I Want Will.” Crud, now we do want him to stick around a little longer.

Loser: Clay
In other new couple news, Clay commits a major relationship no-no when he claims to recognize which version of Maddie’s song bears her imprint — and then winds up praising Juliette’s preferred cut instead. Maddie laughs it off (or tries too, anyway) but Clay had better listen extra closely the next time she asks his opinion.

Maisy Stella as Daphne Conrad and Odessa Adlon as Liv in CMT’s ‘Nashville.’ (Photo: Mark Levine/CMT)

Winner: Daria
The appeal of the beloved ’90s cartoon series, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in March, truly spans generations. Both Daphne and her new homeless pal, Liv, bond over their shared affection for Beavis and Butt-head’s sarcastic acquaintance. Just FYI: for those youngsters hearing about Daria for the first time, it’s streaming over on Amazon Prime.

Loser: Charles Dickens
With her gently distressed street urchin wear and quick brain for scheming, Liv is basically Nashville‘s answer to Oliver Twist‘s Artful Dodger, minus the charming British accent and adorable top hat. But Dickens was a lot more… um, artful in the way he addressed the plight of homeless children. It could be worse, though. Liv could turn out to be an angel.

Winner: The Exes
News flash! The Exes are now popular enough to have groupies. After their performance, Scarlett is approached by a teenager named Nadine, who credits her with being a personal inspiration. “When the kids at school treat me like crap for being different, your music gets me through,” she tells her idol, who promptly gives her a big hug. Now all these fans need is a catchy nickname. May we suggest Exphiles?

Sam Palladio as Gunnar Scott and Clare Bowen as Scarlett O’Connor in CMT’s ‘Nashville.’ (Photo: Mark Levine/CMT)

Loser: Scarlett’s kid
No matter who turned out to be the father, Scarlett’s offspring was bound to be disappointed. On the one hand, you’ve got Damien, a music video director who fancies himself the next David Fincher, but seems more like the next Uwe Boll. The other option is Gunnar, an admitted screw-up with a lengthy history of romantic failures — one of whom was Scarlett’s best friend. In the end, Damien wins the DNA wars, but either way that poor kid loses.

Winner: Stop Signs
Even though he was in the midst of searching for an MIA Daphne, Deacon still made a point of obeying traffic rules and didn’t barrel into an intersection. Just think: if the nameless, but not blameless driver who plowed into Rayna home after her stalker run-in had paid as close attention to street signage, she might still be alive.

Loser: Classic Country
As our own Ken Tucker noted in his review, Nashville appears to be embracing pop music in a big way now that Rayna James — who represented an earlier era of country music — is no longer recording. Apart from Juliette’s gospel tunes (which also had a tinge of pop about them), all of the music heard on tonight’s premiere sounded more like arena rock rather than intimate mountain music.

Nashville airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CMT.

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