Credit: CMT

WARNING: This article contains spoilers from Thursday’s episode of Nashville. Read at your own risk!

In Thursday night’s episode of Nashville, Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) discovered during a therapy session at the Church of Coherent Philosophy that she’d been sexually abused as a young girl by a man who paid her mother to allow him to do so. The harrowing moment left the country singer broken and unsure where her life would go from there.

EW caught up with the show’s executive producer Marshall Herskovitz for more insight into the sadly very relevant sexual abuse story line and to find out what this means for Juliette’s future.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was it always the plan to have this information come to light? Had this past abuse always been part of Juliette’s story?
MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ: It’s an interesting question. Sometimes it’s hard to work backwards to figure out when something solidified like that. I think when we started to think about this year that’s when it happened. It had been in the air before, but the idea of really coming up with a smoking gun like that really solidified when we talked about what her story line would be this season.

We already knew she’s had a terrible childhood (her mom was an addict and neglected her), but we didn’t know for sure she had been abused in this way. The whole thing is made so much worse by the fact that this was a business transaction for her mom. She was making money by allowing a man to abuse her daughter.
That’s the true horror of it — well, it’s all horrifying, but the notion that her mother was more than just complicit, she was a part of the arrangement, is just truly horrifying.

The timing of this story line is crazy. I assume you’d already written a lot of it, if not all, before the #MeToo movement began?
Right, absolutely. I was just thinking, here we were are speaking right after this monster has been sentenced for abusing all those athletes (he’s referring to USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar). This is one of those things in our society that people are afraid to look at. They’re afraid to see how widespread it is and how deeply, deeply, damaging it is to people. The idea of childhood trauma, as a dramatist, is really interesting to me because it’s so powerful to people’s lives. The need to reveal it and then to process it is something that I think as a society that we need to face. And by the way — not to give away anything — we have another story line later that people will think was inspired by #MeToo, but it was also in the works way before it started. Maybe it’s the zeitgeist, I don’t know.

How important was it for you to have Juliette confront this now in the show’s finale season? She’s been through so much; will we see some sort of resolution for her?
It’s a very interesting challenge writing a show like Nashville where it’s in the DNA of the show that people’s lives are messy. It’s in my nature as a dramatist to show people’s growth and show how they can resolve conflict — sometimes those two things collide. What I will say is that it’s been very interesting watching the reaction of the fans on Twitter to this whole situation with Darius and the movement. Most people say, “Get out of there! Don’t join a cult!”

Yes! I was so skeptical until this episode!
Well, that’s the thing, it was always our intent to say this is a very complex situation. It’s not just one thing. Even before this episode, there’s not one word that Darius says to her that I don’t 100 percent agree with in terms of modern psychological therapy and yet there’s this sense of wait a minute, what’s wrong with this picture? So it’s walking a fine line — any more than that I can’t say without giving things away.

Juliette has this kind of addictive streak where she just throws herself into things. We saw it last season with Hallie and the church and now we’re seeing her do it again with Darius. Did the Darius story line come about as a catalyst for this big sexual abuse reveal or was Darius part of it regardless?
I think it was at the same time. In other words, we wanted a process whereby she could go deeper. When you think about what that process could be and where you can create story, yeah she could’ve gotten into therapy, but this just gave us many more dramatic possibilities than just simple therapy.

How is this going to affect her relationship with Avery? He’s always stuck by her, but he really doesn’t trust Darius and now he’s sending her home broken.
I wish I could just tell you what’s happening because there’s great stuff coming, but it’s also not simple; this is a complicated road. I can say this: he will certainly be very moved and affected by what he learns — anyone would be — and very supportive, but at the same time he continues to have his doubts about the organization itself and how controlling they are. The story will continue and a lot of other big things are going to happen — more than that, I just can’t say!

Let’s talk about Hayden’s acting in that scene and the one immediately following it. She just looks completely broken sitting there with the blanket around her. Was it hard for her to go there?
I stand in awe of Hayden, I really do. I find her to be the most extraordinary actress. She goes where she has to go and she does it with so little fuss. That was probably take one. She’s just, “That’s what you need? Okay, I’m doing it.” She’s amazing that way. She just has an understanding of what the story needs and she finds it in herself and she goes there. She was very supportive of the part. It’s been hard for her at times on this series to play the things that she’s been asked to play, but I get the feeling that she feels good about the story line and where it’s going and, certainly, she’s been utterly game at playing all these things.

To switch gears completely, I have to mention the ‘NSYNC moment with the guys performing “Tearin’ Up My Heart” at the end. Did you think you needed that as light relief after the Juliette bombshell?
I didn’t think of it that way. It’s interesting when you have this many characters and this many story lines in an episode, you have to develop them independently of each other. The ‘NSYNC moment was not in response to Juliette, it was really in response to the boys themselves. It was a way of saying, wait a minute, we’re here to have fun and we forgot that and what could we do that’s fun? So, it’s an interesting counterpoint to Juliette, but I don’t think that was our instinct. That was a happy surprise.

It was one of the best musical moments I’ve seen on TV recently. Were the guys game to do it?
I will say two of them were game and one of them was going “I don’t think I would do this,” and I had to talk them into it but I won’t tell you who it is! In the end they all just went for it.

Nashville airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on CMT.

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