This fantastic reflection on Nashville comes from our friend Stephanie Phillips:

I have a confession to make: I still watch Nashville.

I realize this hardly makes me a singular phenomenon; last week’s ratings indicate I was joined by five and a half million. The reluctance of my admission finds its basis in the direction the show has taken since around the second half of the first season, when the narrative’s musical focus was usurped by suds: Rayna’s failed marriage (that was quick!); Teddy’s transgressions turning from financial to sexual; Juliette taking showers with a dude named Dante, for Music City’s sake. I considered dropping the recording from my DVR list several times, most of them coinciding with the appearances of Avery’s childish pout, which could have generated its own drinking game.

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But there remained one reason for me to tune in each week. Okay, two: Connie Britton’s hair counts as both a reason and a work of art. Reason number two? The show’s resident addict, Deacon Claybourne.

Unrequited love is a guaranteed viewer-grabber – we’ve all been there, right? Any time Rayna and Deacon shared a scene, sparks flew and message boards cheered. Particularly when Teddy became such an unsavory character, cavorting with Brad Paisley’s wife and scheming to become mayor. Teddy is the Deacon alternative: we’ve all known a guy like him, to whom power matters more than relationships, whose pride is bigger than his heart, who would preserve his public record at any cost. Personally, I’ve dated multiple Teddy Conrads and cried into my beer over each of them until I grew up enough to know that Teddy would never love me as much as he loved shiny things and himself.

But Deacon. Oh, Deacon.

We knew Deacon was an alcoholic from the beginning, and that it was his inability to lay off the sauce that heralded the end of his relationship with Rayna. For the first season, we watched him navigate the golden fields of sobriety with ease, his friend/mayor/sponsor Coleman by his side (Coleman, we hardly knew ye!). Season One Deacon was a paragon of successful addiction-squashing, and though we saw his past wounds show up in those pained glances at Rayna, we felt he had it pretty much together. Especially after he stopped sleeping with Juliette.

Then he fell off the wagon, and everything changed.

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The precipitating event to said wagon-fall was the news that Rayna and Teddy’s daughter Maddie was actually Rayna and Deacon’s daughter Maddie. Fair enough, Deke. If I found out my fourteen-year-old ex-lover’s daughter, who called me “Uncle”, was actually my offspring, I would head for the PBR myself. But a serious car wreck ensued, with Rayna hooked up to machines, Deacon landing (temporarily) in jail, and Teddy twirling his invisible mustache, and dues had to be paid.

It was during this dues-paying, recovery-focused, out-of-the-hole-climbing period that the hero Deacon began to emerge. We have two sources to thank for this: the writers, and the brilliant Charles Esten, who pulls off soulful decency with astounding depth.

I’ll go ahead and say it: early second-season Deacon got on my nerves. His pity party was approaching Kardashian-wedding proportions; his need to punish himself was Opus Dei-esque; his disdain for those around him made me pity the formerly-annoying Scarlett. Then he showed up at an AA meeting and told us about his dad, a mean drunk who beat the family and delivered some bad news to his son:

When you’re a man you gonna be just like me.

This was the moment that made Deacon the emotional center of the show. This was the moment Deacon became my hero.

I didn’t realize how much I could have in common with a guitar-strumming, country-music-playing, secret-daughter-spawning alcoholic until Esten brought him to life every Wednesday night. (Another confession? I don’t even like country music.) But I watched as Deacon ventured, proverbial Stetson in hand, into Teddy’s office to take responsibility for his mistakes and, despite the moral authority in Teddy’s corner, proved that he was the better man in that room. I watched as Deacon weighed his options—no guitar strumming? Let’s try that piano!—and slipped into the courage to reinvent himself. Then last week, a day before I lost my job, I watched as Deacon stepped up to his fears and his past and sang for his daughter. And this after he made his own confession: He was afraid to perform in public, because

There’s a look that people get when you disappoint them. It’s in their eyes, on their face. And I’m just tired of that damn look.

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After I received my job dismissal on the grounds of corporate restructuring, I shed a few tears in the car. I prayed for help. I felt guilt over my still-present student loans and my own Coleman, my husband, who would now be sponsoring them with his salary. I thought about the dent in my car, the weekly copays for our son. Then I went and picked him up, our two-year-old wonder, and found that he gave not one dirty diaper about whether his mom still had a job as he raced toward me, grinning. I called my husband and told him the news and listened to his response: “I’m so sorry.”

Only those who have tasted brokenness can know the depth of the balm of true grace.

Later that night, I rewatched with new eyes as Deacon performed at the Bluebird Café in front of all his friends…and his daughter and Rayna. Here’s what it looked like to me: a resolute step away from failure toward the entrancing yet terrifying light of redemption. It looked like a broken man who, despite the visibility of his wounds, stood within the spotlight’s glare. It looked like his emergence from the ash heap of wreckage was met with open arms and forgiveness, and I felt a kinship. We may not face the same battles, but I feel better that there are people like Deacon in the world. Because when one man takes a step away from fear and toward grace, we can all watch and say, “That’s my story too.”

My name is Stephanie, and I am Deacon Claybourne.

If you’re lucky, so are you.