After eight agonizing months, Nashville has finally returned, ushering in its fifth season Thursday night and answering the cliffhanger question of what happened to Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) after her plane went down at the end of last season. On its new home on CMT, the series resurfaces with a more nuanced focus on the characters, which fans clamored for in the wake of the show’s surprise cancellation by ABC last spring. It’s no surprise, then, that rescue, redemption and forgiveness were the overriding themes of the strong two-part opener.
As the episode begins, Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) is driving a Mustang along a back road when she stops for gas. There, she encounters a young autograph-seeking fan and a mysterious blind stranger who’s singing the classic gospel-folk ballad “Wayfaring Stranger.” Although he wants her to join in, Rayna hesitates. The scene then shifts to weeks earlier and the fateful plane crash. Juliette is discovered at the site by a woman she envisions as an angel. She may be mortal, but as played by Rhiannon Giddens, she certainly has an otherworldly singing voice. Juliette, who suffers from survivor’s remorse, remains paralyzed but shows signs of progress (in her toes, anyway). She also shows signs of the same old insecure Juliette, blaming herself for the crash and telling Rayna she was rescued by an angel. “If you were doomed, why would an angel come and save your life?” Rayna asks.
Rayna has also been affected by the crash, which makes sense considering how much time she spends flying. She’s been invited to California to do a private show for Silicon Valley fanboy Zach Welles. Zach has got it bad for his favorite singer but based on audience reaction, he’s pretty much the only country-music-loving techie on the West Coast. He wants to know why she’s not recording and she explains it’s because she doesn’t have anything to say – she’s even forgotten who she is an artist. Rayna tells him that when she was 11 and first heard “Wayfaring Stranger” by Bill Monroe, it sent shivers through her body. “You need to find a way to start shivering again,” he says. Is this his subtle way of hitting on her?
Back in her hotel room, Rayna calls Deacon to tell her she can’t fly home. She watches a clip of Bill Monroe and cries herself to sleep. When she wakes up to “room service,” she’s surprised to find Deacon at her door. If Deacon thought having sex with him would convince Rayna she should get on a plane, it didn’t work. She wants to rent a car and drive back to Nashville by herself. By the end of Part One, as she meets the blind musician, we hear her beginning to sing again.
Meanwhile, Avery attempts to convince a stubborn Juliette that he still wants to be with her in spite of her paralysis. After dreaming of the crash and her “angel,” she talks Avery into taking her to the crash site. The only thing left, however, are her memories of the horrific accident and the nagging question: “Why didn’t I die?” After sleeping in their truck all night, they wake up and visit a roadside vegetable stand, where Juliette hears music coming from a nearby church. She has found her angel.
When she meets the preacher he tells Juliette her angel’s name is Hanna Lee and she’s called Hallie. He also tells her that he can’t provide Hallie’s phone number. Instead, he tells the troubled singer: “God has a great plan for you.”
Although teenaged sisters Maddie and Daphne are initially at each others’ throats about a song Maddie has started writing with Deacon – which Daphne takes upon herself to finish – Scarlett schools Maddie on the value of co-writing, telling her that the gift of collaboration is like being picked up when you start to fall.
Scarlett and Gunnar’s relationship is still rocky, however, thanks to Scarlett’s uncertainty about whether or not they are a “thing.” She’s also curious who the subject of their song, “All of Me” is, and accuses Gunnar of trying to hurt her by making her sing it. Her fear, she tells Deacon, is that she’s becoming like her mother and wants to punish Gunnar like a dog or a horse that can’t remember what they did wrong. Deacon’s advice: “Bring him some carrots or a bale of hay and apologize.” He soon realizes he probably should take his own advice.
Back in Nashville, Rayna is excited about an idea she has for her and Deacon to write their story together and record it as a concept album. She turns out to be the only one who thinks it’s a good idea as even her manager, Bucky, isn’t interested and Deacon is feeling pressured into it. In a brief nod to one of the characters who didn’t make the show’s transition from ABC to CMT, Deacon jokes that having Luke Wheeler do the album with Rayna would be a better idea. Besides, he has been asked to work on a record with a new artist whose name he can’t even remember and whom Rayna refers to as “Ashley What’s-Her-Nuggets,” which may be the worst stage name since Engelbert Humperdinck.
Meanwhile, Will and Kevin are celebrating Will’s birthday at a restaurant where Will gets an invitation to a trunk show from Jacob Fine, who is, according to Kevin, a top menswear designer and world-class flirt, two things Will doesn’t pick up on at all but that Kevin can’t help notice. Will decides to go to the event, where Jacob comes on strong and the two almost kiss. “The offer is open,” Jacob says. Gunnar later convinces Will not to beat himself up over nothing. He also advises him not to tell Kevin. Will does, however, buy Kevin a designer jacket and tells him he wants to get a place together with a studio … and a dog. Presumably, he’s not referring to Jacob.
Fanboy Zach calls Rayna to tell her he’s coming to Nashville to “hack her cloud” (that’s Silicon Valley-speak for “pick her brain”). Rayna, meanwhile, meets her label’s new digital marketing manager, Randall St. Clair, whose fanboy vibes aren’t so much charming as they are totally creepy.
Later, when Rayna gets a huge bouquet of flowers signed, “to the only woman I’ve ever loved,” she assumes they’re from Deacon. She apologizes and thanks him for them, leaving Deacon confused since he didn’t send them. They apparently came from someone who has loads of cash to spend on flowers but at the same time is driving around with a cracked windshield. Our money’s on Tommy, the gas-station attendant.