Can Highway 65 survive if Zach walks away?
"NASHVILLE" - EPISODE 521Photo Credit: Mark Levine/CMT
Credit: Mark Levine/CMT
S5 E21
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“Farther On” opens on Deacon waking up on the couch and looking tired. Get used to that image, because Deacon looks wiped out for 99 percent of this episode. A glance at his phone shows he’s inundated with text messages — the most interesting of which invites him to play at the Opry as a featured artist. It’s kind of a huge deal.

Talking about huge things, Maddie is wearing a wetsuit under a red gown, and her hair is ENORMOUS. Due to all of HW65’s brand partnerships, she’s shooting her first commercial. You’re looking at the face of Mascara 24, ladies and gentlemen, and that face says, “I so do not want to be here.”

That night, Maddie has to attend a party with all the commercial peeps. She exhausted from trying on the dress and carting around all those hair extensions all day, and she really doesn’t want to be there. I don’t blame her. It’s as if we’re watching The Hunger Games: Maddie is Katniss returning to the Capitol, and the people making this commercial are those brightly colored, overly made-up residents. They can’t stop touching her and chanting her name. Apparently they’re from New York (which, as a New Yorker, I find offensive), and only the city-savvy Alyssa (hello again, Rachel Bilson!) can save her.

When the crazy folk get a little too insistent that Maddie sing for them, Alyssa steps in and performs instead. I’d say she’s a surprisingly great singer, but come on — this is Nashville, and everyone is always a great singer. (Maybe not Zach, but he’s loaded, so all’s fair.) Alyssa gets a little emotional while performing; I’m sensing some heartache in her past, which I’m sure we’ll come back to explore further. The highlight of this party — apart from Bilson’s dulcet tones — is when Alyssa tries to convince the mascara company’s CEO that Maddie’s song, “Tidal Wave,” is a perfect fit for the ad by telling him that even “a tidal wave can’t wash it off.” There’s a reason she’s the best in the biz, folks.

Back on set the next day, Maddie is doused in water. Well, at first she’s only sprinkled, but the director gets mad and calls for more, and soon Maddie’s shivering and her once-huge hair is entirely flat. (Her lashes do look great, in all fairness.) It’s all very dramatic, and despite the director’s brusque attitude (no, it’s not Scarlett’s baby daddy Damien, just a direct character clone), Maddie manages to pull out a winning performance — until the CEO’s weird assistants inform them they have to change one of the lyrics to include the name of the mascara, and Maddie is out of there. Alyssa is tasked with “making Maddie okay” with the change.

As if Deacon weren’t already having a hard enough time dealing with the day-to-day HW65 drama and juggling a million other things, he now has to deal with the commercial crisis. He and Zach get into it when the billionaire boy basically tells him he has to make Maddie do the commercial with the edited lyric…or else.

At home, Maddie is crying in bed, and Deacon is in the crappy place where he has to tell her to do the ad, knowing that pulling out could put the company in jeopardy. Maddie begs him not to make her do it. Deacon tries to explain that being a grown-up means doing things you don’t want to do, but Maddie believes her songs are all she has; those lyrics LITERALLY came from the bottom of her heart, so she can’t change them. (I’d just like to point out that despite the tears, her mascara is STILL on.) Deacon relents, appreciating that her integrity as a new artist is on the line. Here’s the thing, though: Britney Spears’ Pepsi commercials were some of her best work! Different times, different genres, I suppose.

Back at the office, Zach is not willing to take no for an answer. Deacon says they just have to tell the mascara people they’ll finish up the commercial so long as they can keep the lyrics as is, but Zach tells him they have no legal standing here; if Maddie refuses to do the commercial the way they want it, she’ll be in breach of contract. Deacon is floored, but Alyssa points out that it is in fact written into the contract that Mascara 24 can do pretty much whatever they like.

Deacon is pissed that Zach sold this whole brand partnership to them on a lie, but Zach is equally pissed that he gets pushback on every money-making action he tries to implement. He says he can’t keep pushing the boulder up the hill. He’s done, and if Maddie can’t get in line, he’ll walk away from the label — and HW65 will be out of money. (Recap continues on page 2)

And so Deacon invites over all the artists, a.k.a. the entire cast, to talk through the situation. He explains that Jules and Hallie aren’t there (HALLIE STILL EXISTS, EVERYONE), and Gunnar is calling in. Deacon wants to figure out what they all believe and how much they’re willing to sacrifice. Maddie doesn’t want to lose her integrity, and Gunnar and (of course) Scarlett are on her side, but when Deacon explains that Zach is threatening to walk, Maddie is ready to change her mind to save the company. Scar says no; they won’t let her. Will, Budweiser star and Zach’s boyfriend, says nothing.

Then Daphne — the smartest one on this show — pipes up with, “So this is about fear. If we’re afraid, we can just do what Zach tells us to do, or we can do what feels right.” Deacon says it’s not that simple, but Daphne wants to know what the point of HW65 is if it isn’t what her mom wanted it to be. In the end, they all tell Deacon they support him and trust him to make the right decision. Not helpful, guys.

Juliette, for one, is not on board with losing the label. She calls Avery, who’s still on tour, to vent, but Avery is a little preoccupied with Molly, a flirty member of his crew. To be fair to Avery, Molly’s doing most of the flirting while he’s just kind of perplexed. She keeps putting ideas in his head like, “Relationships are supposed to be fun.” Fun? Avery is very confused. Then again, she’s in an open relationship, and she’s ready to jump into bed with Avery, who is married with a young daughter, so…

In the end, Avery and Jules have a good, open conversation, and Juliette thanks her husband for always being there for her. They end the episode in a good place despite the fact that Molly is propositioning Avery while not wearing a bra. Way to stay faithful, Avery!

Back in the ‘ville, Deacon languishes in indecision and worry until Jessie comes to see him and forces him to get into her car. She drives him to a lake and kicks him out, telling him to take an hour for himself. Deacon is pissed — he has work to do! — but she locks the doors, forcing him on his way. City-dwelling Deacon has some trouble with the trees at first, but eventually he sees the beauty in nature and does picturesque things like running his hand through still water and taking a nap.

Then Jessie ruins it with a metaphor about birds singing purely because they can or something. Deacon, feeling at peace, smiles and thanks Jessie. He confesses that he thinks people want him to get on with his life and move on, but he just can’t. Jessie says maybe he never will — not completely — but Rayna would want him to live this one life right now and not lose himself in pain.

With that, Deacon goes to see Zach and Alyssa and explains that they’re at a crossroads. Zach thinks there’s a way through it, but the D-man doesn’t — not this time. He informs them that they’ve come to a consensus, and they’re done with branding. Zach is hella pissed and calls them all a bunch of hopeless romantics. He reiterates that if they walk away from branding, it’s all over. Deacon says they’re doing what feels right and he should do the same. Oh boy, I bet we’re just scratching the surface of Zach’s wrath. For now, he’s out of HW65.

Despite all the drama of the past few days, Deacon decides to perform at the Opry. (Literally everyone has told him he has to do it.) He’s getting ready for the show when Maddie shows up, still crying. Deacon, thinking she’s upset about HW65, tells her they did the right thing, but Maddie is actually crying because Rayna would have been so proud of him. (But the real question is: Is her mascara still intact?)

Just then, Pam Tillis invites Deacon to the stage. There’s a standing ovation at the mention of the late, great Rayna Jaymes, and Deacon, looking dapper in a vest and shirt, tells the crowd he wishes he could be standing behind her on guitar right now. He dedicates his performance to his late wife and ends with a song he wrote 15 years ago that he believes feels most relevant tonight. They lyrics are all about asking Jesus to make it okay because tomorrow don’t mean anything if she ain’t here.

Deacon hits some high notes, aces some guitar solos, triumphantly throws his pick to the crowd, and leaves the stage to a huge hug from his daughters. Jessie, who has been watching backstage, gives him a knowing look. He walks toward her in slow motion and thanks her before embracing her, too. Daphne does not look impressed.

It’s the season finale next week, guys. Here’s hoping Daphne’s concern is unwarranted and half a season isn’t all it takes to get over the death of the love of your life — as much as I want Deacon to be okay.

Episode Recaps

Legendary music icon Rayna Jaymes struggles to maintain her place in the spotlight while dealing with the ambitious rising pop vixen Juliette Barnes.
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