After so many episodes packed with bad news, things are looking up again for the Nashville characters — well, most of them anyway.

Episode 20 of Season 5 opens with Daphne Conrad (Maisy Stella) and Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) waking up-and-coming star Maddie Jaymes (Lennon Stella) with the news that she’s been nominated for an American Music Award. It’s a huge honor for Maddie, who is up for the award alongside Katy Perry and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the latter of whom Maddie is still pretty furious with after learning that Juliette stole her hit song away. When Juliette hears the news, however, she’s less than enthusiastic, perhaps afraid that her comeback hasn’t been as successful as she might have hoped.

Also on the rise is Nashville’s newest character, Jessie Caine (Kaitlin Doubleday). Despite Jessie's protests, Deacon insists on hearing a new song that she’s written, which she plays over FaceTime; she doesn’t seem exactly pleased with the song, but Deacon obviously sees something there. So, Jessie tries to squeeze in recording time at a friend’s studio, pushing away Deacon’s offers to record at a studio left empty by Juliette.

Things are even getting better for Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio) and Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen), who are still reeling from the terrifying robbery they endured and tragic miscarriage Scarlett suffered in the two previous episodes. Gunnar is out on the road with Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson) in his home state of Texas, so he makes his way to the fictional town of Aurora, apparently his hometown, to visit the grandmother who raised him -- but not without a little encouragement from Avery.

When Gunnar goes to the nursing home to visit his grandmother, it becomes clear that she was not exactly the kind of warm and comforting old lady that viewers might imagine: She’s bitter and resigned to her fate, and Gunnar starts having flashbacks from his childhood that are the definition of traumatic. So, he gives Scarlett a call, and the two decide that they’re going to try to give each other a little space ... which was originally the plan.

The only problem is that Scarlett, who is home alone, is totally freaked out by the prospect of being alone, and rightfully so. Every creak and critter in the empty home startles her, so she packs her bags and heads to Deacon’s, where she camps out with Daphne and Maddie. Gunnar, meanwhile, tries to leave his totally depressing hometown -- until an old crush from high school makes an appearance. After they talk for only a few minutes, Gunnar decides to stick around.

For his part, Deacon is trying to ease along Jessie's fledgling career: The two meet to talk about the song she played for him over the phone, but end up talking instead about her terrible ex and the way that he manipulates their custody situation as a way to hurt her. Deacon continues to insist that she take some time in the studio, but Jessie takes that encouragement as Deacon being overbearing, so she continues to resist. Eventually, though, she realizes that she’s projecting her ex-husband’s behavior onto the situation and gives in to Deacon’s wishes.

By Episode 20’s end, Deacon has explained why he’s pushing so hard to help Jessie: For pretty much all of his life, Deacon has been the screw-up, the person in need of help, and he’s finally in a position to help someone else who’s acting just as stubborn as he did all along. Once Jessie hears that, she softens to his input, and the two are getting awfully close — and smiley — together as they record her song; only time will tell whether a romantic relationship will blossom alongside their creative chemistry.

At Maddie's suggestion, Scarlett decides to face her fears and take a self-defense class. The gruff instructor and tough classmates intimidate her (a self-described “wimp”), and during Scarlett's first class, the instructor is barely able to get anything out of her, because's she's too scared to hurt anyone to try to defend herself. Although Scarlett initially seems resigned to her fate as a wimp, she ultimately decides to go back to the class.

During her second self-defense class, a one-on-one conversation with the instructor totally unleashes Scarlett’s power: She tells him that she’s taking the class after being robbed at gunpoint, and he asks her what she wanted to do in the situation and encourages Scarlett to start hitting him. At first, she’s barely putting out any effort, but her rage eventually bubbles to the surface and culminates in Scarlett beating the crap out of his padded chest. Later, viewers see her dancing in the kitchen with a smile, which could mean that she’s starting to get on the other side of all this bad news.

At the same time, down in Texas, Gunnar is hanging out with Kelly, the high school flame he encountered at the gas station. The two head to their old high school, which is set for demolition, and Gunnar’s memories of his parents dying and of his late brother, who was killed early on in Nashville's first season, begin to flood back. When Gunnar asks Kelly if she’s single, she avoids the question -- because, viewers find out, she is, and to the same “meathead” that she was dating back in high school.

Gunnar also visits his childhood home, which keeps the memories coming, and not in a particularly positive way. He smartly decides to leave that drama-packed minefield alone, and Episode 20 closes with him driving away from Aurora -- whether or not he’s planning to return to Scarlett, though, remains to be seen.

With just two episodes in Season 5 left, Nashville’s producers are doing one hell of a job ensuring that there are plenty of loose ends to tie up in the impending finale episode. At this point, the fates of Gunnar, Scarlett, Maddie, Jessie and Deacon are as up in the air as they’ve ever been.

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