By the end of the Season 5 finale of Nashville, the show’s main characters have officially proven that they can survive on their own without Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton). However, as on any good TV drama, all is still not well.

As has been the focus for much of the back end of Season 5, Rayna’s legacy — specifically, her artist-friendly record label Highway 65 — is seriously in trouble. The seaon finale kicks off with a pretty surprising meeting between Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) and Brad, Jessie Caine's (Kaitlin Doubleday) hateful, aggressive ex, who is a Nashville record executive. Because Silicon Valley investor Zach Welles (Cameron Scroggins) is threatening to leave the label, Brad offers that he and Highway 65 should join forces; however, Deacon is, not surprisingly, not enthusiastic about the idea.

But he might have to consider it. When Deacon leaves the meeting, he learns that Zach has had Highway 65's power shut off and emptied the label’s bank accounts. Zach is totally MIA, and Deacon dispatches his paramour, Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) to find out exactly where he is; at the same time, the Highway 65 staff packs up the computers, heads to Tracks Studio (owned by a friend of Deacon’s) and tries to proceed as normal.

Of course, with the American Music Awards just a few days away, Zach’s timing really couldn’t be worse. The drama between Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) and Maddie Jaymes (Lennon Stella) is thick, especially considering that the two will be facing off against each other for an award. Juliette is stuck at home with a broken air conditioner and a husband out on tour, and it’s clear that the pressure is getting to her. She blows off a planned recording session at Tracks and instead sets out to find a way to help Highway 65 (and if she can redeem herself in the process, too, that would be pretty ideal).

That drama comes to a head when Juilette attends an American Music Awards pre-party knowing that Maddie will be there. Maddie slinks off as soon as “Water Rising,” the song Juliette stole from her, starts to play. Apparently, Maddie never told Deacon about what Juliette did, and he’s madder than hell when Maddie's sister Daphne (Maisy Stella) finally lets him in on what’s going on. Juliette tries to run, but Deacon catches up with her -- and tells her that if Highway 65 finds a way to survive its financial crisis, she won’t be a part of it. Ouch.

After calling an all-hands meeting at Tracks Studio, the artists of Highway 65 are jamming together as they try to figure out the future. Kacey Musgraves makes a guest appearance, singing with Maddie and Daphne, and says she might just start a protest in response to how Zach is strong-arming the label. Also there is Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio), who’s recently returned from his self-discovery journey out in Texas.

When he made his return, though, Gunnar didn’t give his on-again, off-again flame Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen) a heads-up, which doesn’t sit well with her. The two have a whole lot of problems to work out, so they go for a walk to talk: Gunnar tells Scarlett that the trip helped him figure out what he was missing, and she immediately points out that a woman (his high school classmate and crush!) was involved in whatever progress he’s made — yet again. She tells Gunnar to try to figure out how to deal with himself on his own terms instead of relying on a woman, and Gunnar eventually shoots back that everything isn’t his fault. Considering the amount of back and forth that has gone between these two in five seasons, it’s almost impossible to care where they are with each other at this point.

Daphne, meanwhile, is experiencing the kind of existential crisis that every middle schooler has just before heading into eighth grade. She goes to a pool party at her friend Louisa’s house, only to stay upstairs most of the day, too embarrassed to get in the pool near her crush Flynn. When she does make her way outside, she runs into Jake, Jessie's son (with Brad) and her classmate, who has social anxiety and is spending the party away from all the hustle and bustle.

When Deacon gets caught up in a meeting, Jessie offers to pick Daphne up from that part -- but the budding love story between Jessie and Deacon, sadly, never comes to fruition ... at least not yet. There is one tense moment, when Jessie meets Deacon to return the phone that Daphne left in her car after the pool party, where it seems as though the two might finally kiss. That doesn't happen, but Deacon does later get a surprising kiss from Highway 65 strategy officer Alyssa Greene (Rachel Bilson). Even though he promptly pushes her away, one thing is clear: Rayna is no longer the woman in Deacon's life.

Finally, Juliette decides to make a last-ditch effort to save Highway 65 -- and herself. After a conversation with Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson), Juliette reaches out to McKenzie Rhodes, the reporter who outed Scarlett’s pregnancy, and uses her to threaten Zach into backing off the label. But instead of actually publishing the story about Highway 65, which details Zach as a pitiful fanboy and ineffectual leader, McKenzie tells the story of how Juliette stole Maddie’s song and is withdrawing her name from the American Music Awards.

It’s a decision that has wide-ranging effects for Juliette, Maddie and everyone else involved: Avery gets word while out on the road, just as he’s being tempted by a flirty roadie, and immediately decides to head back home to Nashville. Maddie hears the news, and Scarlett drops by to thank Juliette. At this point, it appears that Highway 65 will survive.

Nashville's Season 5 finale culminates with Maddie’s stunning performance at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. Looking an awful lot like her mother, she wows the crowd ... but doesn’t end up taking the award home. Instead, the honor goes instead to Katy Perry, and Deacon and the girls spend their time in California driving down the highway in a convertible. Deacon asks Maddie how she feels after all the chaos, and she replies with only one word: “Free.”

And so, headed into Season 6, the storylines of Nashville's characters are going in the right direction. Scarlett and Gunnar have maybe, finally, figured out that they’re not right for each other; Maddie’s career is taking off; Juliette is finally acting like a grownup; and Daphne is becoming a woman. Whether happiness follows for Deacon — or anyone else in the Nashville universe, for that matter — remains to be seen. Fortunately, though, it seems as if things are finally looking up.

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