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‘Nashville’ Review: ‘Is the Better Part Over’ Sets Up Potentially Tragic Finale

Recap and review of Nashville – Season 3 Episode 21 – Is the Better Part Over:

“Is the Better Part Over” doesn’t feel like the penultimate episode of the season, even with all of its major developments, yet that’s exactly what it is. And as Nashville nears the end of its season, I get the feeling we’re in for some genuine tragedy unlike the show has ever seen.

Of course, it would be sheer, volatile madness for the show to kill off Deacon (Charles Esten), but the ending to “Is the Better Part Over”, which features Beverly (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) arriving to do the right thing and serve as Deacon’s donor, feels like the narrative giving us one last desperate gasp at hope before driving the knife into our hearts. Maybe that’s an overly cruel assessment, but it almost seems like too much of a formality that Deacon will be okay, considering the show spent the entirety of tonight’s episode having the characters come to grips with the fact that he’s going to die. That hopelessness seems completely contrary to what we, as viewers, are usually intended to expect from a series. The more hopeless the situation becomes, the more likely it is that it’ll all be alright in the end. But the more hopeful things become? The more likely it is that things will end up worse than before. Hell, look no further than Deacon’s last near-transplant. I didn’t really think the show was going to have Deacon get the transplant before the season finale, but it was still something of a cruel twist to have the liver prove to be unsuitable at the last minute. But a twist that cruel seems to pretty much telegraph that things will be alright…doesn’t it? I’m seriously asking: does Nashville have the cruelty to continue giving us hope, only to kill Deacon anyway?

Nashville - Season 3 Episode 21 - Recap and Review - Is the Better Part Over

Credit: ABC

Hey, maybe Charles Esten wants to leave. Maybe his contract has run out and he doesn’t want to renew it. In that case, killing off Deacon is the only way to write him out of the show without his absence continuing to be the big elephant in the room, since it wouldn’t make sense that he would just up and leave Rayna (Connie Britton) and Maddie (Lennon Stella) without ever dropping in for a visit (or worse, awkwardly dropping in for visits off-screen that viewers aren’t privy to). But if Esten is planning on bailing, this is the first I’ve ever heard of it. And really, if he MUST be killed off, there has to be a kinder way than to give him cancer, and have him slowly die before our eyes over the course of a season. At this rate, I have no idea what to expect next week, but what I do know is that “Is the Better Part Over” seems designed to give us one last gasp at the possibility that things could change for the better — at least as it concerns Deacon (and, to a lesser extent in the early part of the episode, Juliette). Whether or not that hope bears out in next week’s finale remains to be seen, but I don’t think it’s all that unrealistic to speculate about what, if any, tragedy we’re being set up for in seven days’ time.

Nashville - Season 3 Episode 21 - Is the Better Part Over

Credit: ABC

Naturally, part of my emotional connection with this episode was the uniformly strong performances, whether it’s Rayna sadly asking Deacon why he had to get sick in the first place, to Deacon breaking down upon recognizing his own mortality. There’s something poignant and grim to the notion that once his cancer goes public, Deacon is suddenly treated like a ghost who’s already died a hundred times over. Deacon is an emotionally strong person, but this isn’t Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn watching their own funerals with glee. This is a man who’s essentially being eulogized while he’s still alive. It’s as if nobody believes he can beat this cancer, and that persistent doubt is starting to weigh on him. Similarly, Rayna is being worn down to nubs by the Deacon situation, first when Beverly sends back the million dollar check in pieces, and later when she and Deacon perform at the Blue Bird and come to recognize they simply can’t ever reclaim all the years they’ve lost as a result of being apart. It’s heartbreaking stuff, as the quintessential country music love story has pretty much got a giant anvil hanging over its head. Whether or not the boom gets lowered next week, Esten and Britton have been a joy to watch together, serving as an emotional anchor for the series, and providing some of this season’s best, most moving moments.

Nashville - Recap and Review - Season 3 Episode 21 - Is the Better Part Over

Credit: ABC

In other developments, I was touched by the renewed relationship between Will (Chris Carmack) and his father, although it quickly becomes apparent that the “love” Will’s father has for him is predicated entirely upon his success and his public persona as a straight, old-fashion cowboy. Kevin (Kyle Dean Massey) recognizes, in ways Will doesn’t, that the love Will’s father is giving him isn’t real, because it’s predicated on a lie. Will’s father doesn’t know or accept the true Will, and until he does, that love can never be authentic. And yet, I can see why Will embraces that facsimile of love, all the same. He’s a man who’s been short on love throughout his life — or, at the very least, short on the type of love he wants and needs, which is familial love and true romantic love (the kind of romantic love he can openly celebrate, anyway). He’s still pawing around in the dark for answers, and his father appears out of the ether like a lifeline. It’s no wonder that Will grabs hold of that. But I would imagine it’s all going to fall to pieces once Will’s father learns the truth, and that revelation is likely to come sooner rather than later, as Luke (Will Chase) learns of a tabloid that plans to publish a series of photos of Will and Kevin that will definitively out his sexuality. I’m really hoping Will steers into the skid, and Luke along with him, by getting out in front of the story and embracing Will’s sexuality, even if the rest of the industry doesn’t (and considering how successful Kevin Bicks is, it shouldn’t be hard to believe that they might accept Will anyway. At least, I hope so. I hate the idea that “country music” is somehow short-hand for “bigoted,” since that seems like an incredibly narrow view).

Juliette has postpartum depression

Credit: ABC

Speaking of romance of a certain kind, I’m sort of ready for the business between Gunnar (Sam Palladio) and Scarlett (Clare Bowen) to just get wherever it’s going, since seeing them snap at each other’s significant others is absolutely tiring. On the plus side, they set aside their differences long enough to agree to a record deal with Rayna, but really, I’m more interested in just seeing them either get together or put these complicated feelings behind them. Bitterness really isn’t a look that suits either of them. Nor is “federal witness” a look that suits Teddy (Eric Close), although it’s a necessity in his case. In order to get off scot-free for embezzlement, he needs to wear a wire and bust a Senator who had shady business dealings with the late Lamar Wyatt. Naturally, over the course of this sting, Teddy comes to learn that Tandy was a part of it too, meaning that taking down this Senator might cause him to bring down his sister-in-law too, and that’s bad news considering the girls are currently off in California visiting her. Conflicts of interest reign supreme! But hey, it makes a certain kind of narrative sense, since we see a character get pulled in separate directions. It’s what happens with Jeff (Oliver Hudson), who not only tricks Layla (Aubrey Peeples) into thinking she drunkenly sent the incriminating Jade St. John tweet that got her kicked off the tour, but also gets her to sign a contract promising him control over her career. I kind of hate that Jeff is right back to being a scumbag, but the story suggests that Jeff is torn somewhat between his feelings for Layla and his instincts for self-preservation. And that can be a compelling story, if handled right. As could the postpartum depression story with Juliette (Hayden Panettiere). Avery (Jonathan Jackson) tries to get Juliette to realize how she’s neglected their baby in favor of her career, but Juliette doesn’t want to hear it. She basically accuses her entire entourage of refusing to support her as she tries to get her career relaunched, and feels none of them appreciate her efforts to support them — all arguments that would carry far more weight if she weren’t actually shown to be a horrifically neglectful mother. This is another situation where I feel the show is setting us up for tragedy, maybe not of a life-or-death nature, but of potentially marriage-ending significance. To that end, I’m both anxious to see where it’s going, and dreading it as well.

“Is the Better Part Over” is a terrific setup for next week’s season finale, but I’m convinced Nashville is going to deliver tragedy, in some form or fashion. I’m not sure how it will come, but I sincerely doubt Nashville will ever be the same after next week.

But what did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!

And for future reviews of Nashville, follow me on Twitter: @NickRomanTV

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