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Nashville - New Strings - Review: "The Beginning of the End" + POLL

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Welcome back to your weekly Nashville reviews. For those of you just joining us, I will be your tour guide for this final season. For those returning members, I applaud your dedication to the series. You’ve made it this far, so you might as well see it through. Now that we’ve gotten introductions out of the way, let’s talk about “New Strings.” There was a lot to like about the season premiere. The good news is that many of my major complaints from last season have been rectified – a Scunnar breakup that actually stuck, less screen time for Zach, an evolved Juliette, a more tolerable Maddie, a bigger focus on the friendships. While there were still some things that annoyed me, such as Avery still being a “bridesmaid,” I really do feel like the showrunners have found a decent rhythm. Hopefully, they can continue this momentum throughout the final season because when Nashville is on brand, it really is something special. So let’s hope the series ends on a high note, pun intended.

After Juliette goes overboard in planning the kickoff of her first tour in two years, her performance doesn’t exactly go off without a hitch. In fact, it’s pretty much a train wreck. After being heckled by some fans with negative signs, she stops the concert to confront the naysayers. It wasn’t exactly the smartest choice, as Juliette has learned time and time again – but apparently forgot – there is no pleasing everyone. Someone is always going to have an opinion or take issue with something you do; at a certain point you just have to accept that. What I will say about her speech is that it was harrowingly honest. I’m not sure we’ve seen Juliette openly acknowledge that she has problems. Sure, it wasn’t the place to tell thousands of fans that if they knew her, like really knew her, they wouldn’t love her, but it was real. We’ve seen Juliette wear so many masks that it was refreshing and heartbreaking to see her be vulnerable like this. While she can be difficult at times, people who know her still do love her. Avery has stood by her side through thick and thin, and Deacon gave her a second chance after she openly admitted to stealing Maddie’s song. What Juliette is feeling right now is just her insecurities and the depression talking. As she later admits to Avery, the past two months have been a living hell, where every morning is a struggle to get out of bed. As an individual with anxiety, I completely understand what it’s like to struggle with every day activities. Things that can seem so mundane and easy to others could be the hardest thing in the world for someone dealing with mental illness. So I was so proud when Juliette ultimately decided to put her tour on hold while she focuses herself. Of course, I would have been prouder if she sought help from a therapist instead of turning to some random guy she just met less than a week ago. I mean, who seeks help from a complete stranger with no credentials?

And if anyone had Juliette joining a cult on their bingo card, now would be the time to cross it off. While Juliette and Avery are on vacation, she ends up meeting this random dude named Darius at the hotel lounge. At first, he just seems like a creepy guy, who speaks only in clich├ęs and sappy sayings that are meant to sound pious and deep, but we then learn, along with Juliette, he’s some sort of cross between a television evangelist and motivational speaker. And apparently because Darius left Juliette a message at the same time she him on television that must mean something, that they were fated to meet or whatnot. I was right with Juliette at the beginning when she asked Darius if he was a stalker, but then he somehow convinced her their meeting was no coincidence. Telling Juliette he recognized her pain and saw someone in need rather than her celebrity is such bullshit. Anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows that Juliette isn’t exactly the poster child for stability. From her drug addiction to the plane crash and stealing Maddie’s song, the entire world is familiar with the Juliette Barnes show, so it’s not really a stretch to figure out she’s sort of messed up. And don’t even get me started on when she went to visit the cult, and yes I’m calling it a cult because that’s what it is. Darius was such a tool and completely crossed when he asked Juliette if she was a good mother. It’s not like it was hard to figure out Juliette just wants to be loved; she literally just said that less than a week ago in front of thousands of fans. I’m sticking with the belief that Darius is a fraud and is only interested in Juliette because of her status, fame and fortune. Of course, since Juliette doesn’t see this yet, we’re most likely going to have to watch her accept his ridiculous rhetoric and be indoctrinated into the cult. Such a great way to spend the final season, right?

And then we have Maddie, who seems destined to be involved in another romantic relationship no one cares about. Maddie gets the opportunity to perform at a benefit in Los Angeles, where she ends up meeting a Justin Bieber-esque popstar name Jonah Ford. From Daphne’s fangirling, the audience learns that Jonah is newly single, having just broken up with his girlfriend, so anyone with half a brain can put two and two together and realize this guy will probably be Maddie’s new love interest. At the benefit, Jonah introduces Maddie to the audience, claiming she’s a favorite artist of his, and it’s pretty clear he’s interested in her. Later when they officially meet, there’s some light flirting, with Jonah saying all the right things. He coyly gets Maddie’s number and invites her to the studio. All signs point to a potentially good first “date,” until Jonah bails at the last minute and doesn’t have the decency to text Maddie until after the fact. If you’re not planning on showing up somewhere, the least you can do is let the person know so they don’t have to waste any more of their time. I mean, how hard is it that? And after that lame apology Jonah tries to reschedule with Maddie. As hard as I can be on her, I was proud of her for initially rebuffing his efforts. But then Jonah surprises Maddie outside the hotel with flowers and apologizes, offering to fly her home on his private jet. Maddie, being a teenage girl and all, quickly gives in, and the audience is treated to a quick sappy scene of them having dinner. While we don’t know much about Jonah, his initial interaction with Maddie makes me wary of him. He seems like the kind of guy who does whatever he wants when the mood strikes. He probably didn’t like being “rejected,” so he decided to make this grand gesture. However, now that Maddie has shown interest in him, he’ll probably go back to ignoring her. Maddie hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to boyfriends, so it’s not really a stretch to think this relationship will implode before it gets off the ground.

Now let’s take a break from the complaining and focus on one of my favorite bromances of the series: Gunnar and Will. It was such a nice and unexpected surprise for these two to share as many scenes together as they did this episode. Like I said in my preview, I can’t really remember the last time we got this level of bonding. The two of them playing basketball was a nice touch of normalcy, reminding us these characters actually have somewhat of a life outside of music. As we saw this episode, Gunnar was nervous about performing by himself. The whole world knows him as part of a duo, so it makes sense he would question who he is as a solo artist. Will, being the bestest friend ever, offers to coach Gunnar. And then when Gunnar feels like he can’t compete with Will’s showmanship, Will tells Gunnar that the performance is just a cover. Apparently, Will can’t connect with the audience like Gunnar does. While I’m not sure that’s true, it was something Gunnar desperately needed to hear, to realize that he does have what it takes to make it on his own. When these guys get up on that stage, they risk everything. Their job is to pour their heart and soul into the unknown, no matter how humiliating or terrifying it may be; that’s what they do. Putting yourself out there is scary, just as Gunnar experienced firsthand during his performance. Luckily, Will came to his rescue and joined him on stage. There aren’t really words to articulate just how supportive and an amazing friend Will was this episode. He was constantly there for Gunnar as the newly blond singer’s personal cheerleader. Will never once waiver in his confidence of Gunnar. I know no one really likes Zach and wouldn’t shed a tear if he was gone, but how can that pompous jerk think he can do better than Will. After being underutilized last season, this episode just reminded me of how great a guy Will really is.

And then we have Deacon, who continues to be the highlight of the series, even when he’s given reduced screen time. The episode opens with Deacon looking forward to spending New Year’s Eve with his family, but things take a disappointing turn when he realizes Maddie’s benefit conflicts with their plans to spend the holiday together. Spending New Year’s Eve alone wouldn’t be such a big deal, if it wasn’t his first one without Rayna. I’ve lost track of how long it’s been in the series since Rayna died, but this will be the first new year without her. Starting a new year without the love of your life sucks, and it’s only made worse by everyone constantly reminding Deacon he’s alone. Scarlett, Daphne, and even Zach all seem very concerned with the fact Deacon isn’t dating or thinking about getting back out there. While Scarlett’s advice for Deacon to take some time for himself isn’t bad, people really need to stop pressuring him about not being alone on New Year’s. There isn’t some exact timeline on when someone needs to move on after losing a love one. It’s not like Deacon’s been mourning Rayna’s loss for ten years; it’s been less than a year. Some people would argue that may be too soon to get back out there. Just because Deacon is lonely, doesn’t mean he needs to fill the void with a love interest. He could choose to focus on his music or being there for his girls; he doesn’t need to hop into bed with the next person who bats her eyes at him. I’m not against Deacon moving on; I just don’t think he needs everybody constantly telling him what to do. If he’s ready to start dating again, great, but it should be because he wants to, not because he feels like he has to. I’m assuming we’re going to see Deacon getting back out there sooner rather than later, and I’m sure I’ll have my opinions when the time comes. I just hope the series remembers to emphasize that just because Deacon is moving on, doesn’t mean he didn’t love Rayna; that he’s not trying to replace her with some other woman because no one could ever replace the great Rayna James.

As for what else happens this episode, we get several scenes of Scarlett moping around about how she misses Gunnar who she used to be. Thankfully, these scenes are few and far in-between, but I’m really not looking forward to watching Scarlett feel bad for herself for an entire season. While I’m glad she and Gunnar finally made a clean break, it most likely won’t last. With this being the final season, Scunnar is probably endgame, which means the characters will most likely rekindle their romance before the series finale. If I were, and I’m not saying I would, to once again hop on that bandwagon, I would need to see some serious character development from Scarlett, like Maddie-level proportions. Scarlett can continue being her whiny self or whatnot for all I care, but I refuse to watch Gunnar get dragged down with her once again. Granted, I would prefer for her to actually grow up and get some help – from someone other than a cult leader – but that may be too much to ask for with 15 episodes left. I would settle for bearable, but I’m not even sure that is possible. What I did enjoy this episode, in regards to Scarlett, was her acting as a sounding board for both Deacon and Maddie. She’s much more likeable in small doses when she’s helping others figure out there lives. The scene with her and Maddie just eating ice cream and talking about their feelings was sweet. It was a nice reminder that they are actually family and rely on each other. So if anyone out there has any power over what happens in the final season, I would appreciate seeing Scarlett in a supporting role only. Of course, since the final season has already been filmed that probably wouldn’t happen, but a girl can still dream.

Some stray thoughts:
- Why is Brad Maitland, also known as Jessie’s ex-husband, still hanging around? It’s bad enough we still have to deal with Zach, although in a limited capacity this episode. Do we really need to devote screen time to another grade-A jackass?
- For the first time in a long time, the music was amazing. It felt like a lot of the songs were being recycled in season 5 instead of introducing new ones. I hope this is only the beginning and we get to hear more.
- Once again Avery is relegated to the background. Would it kill the writers to give him a plotline that didn’t revolve around Juliette? I mean, whatever happened to his tour or album launch?
- While I’m super happy Zach had very little screen time this episode, does the introduction of his new boyfriend mean we’re going to have to see more of him or are the writers attempting to create a pointless love triangle? I’m not particularly excited about either option.

So hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts. Did Juliette really join a cult? Does Maddie really need a new love interest? Will Deacon find love again? Why can’t Zach see how great Will is? Will Scarlett spend the entire season moping around?

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