"Nashville" returns to ABC on Wednesday, March 27 (10 p.m. ET) and just because Rayna's (Connie Britton) marriage to the duplicitous Teddy (Eric Close) has finally dissolved, don't expect her to hop into bed with best friend Deacon (Chip Esten) at the drop of a cowboy hat.
"It's very confusing for [Deacon] because he, like everyone else, might think, 'Well, we can be together now!' But the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that she has children; she has to honor the end of that marriage in the right way and do things right," Esten told The Huffington Post at "Nashville's" recent PaleyFest event in Los Angeles. "It doesn't make sense for us to suddenly go, 'Now me and you!' because that makes it look cheaper than it actually is, and Teddy would go, 'Oh, I see what it is -- he's the reason.' She wants to pay it a little more honor than that."
In fact, the couple will face another obstacle before the path clears -- namely a vet played by Susan Misner, who will appear as a love interest for Deacon for several episodes.
"Everybody else is so tied up in the same world and everybody knows everybody -- it's such a breath of fresh air to meet somebody who not only is not deeply entrenched in that world, but who doesn't have a clue who you are, isn't a fangirl over Deacon on any level," Esten previewed. "The fact that she's not impressed is probably the most attractive thing that he can run into, and it happens quickly. But he doesn't handle it well early on. What I like is the dignity that [Susan] gives her character ... that she wants more than he's willing to give, so maybe he'll step up if he wants more."
But Britton doesn't want audiences to feel bad for Rayna over her complicated romantic life. "Everybody keeps saying, 'Oh, poor Rayna, poor Rayna. She's having a tough time.' I see Rayna as a very self-made woman and I think that even what she's going through right now is, to some degree, of her own making," she told HuffPost on the red carpet. "I think she's always about moving in the direction that feels like it will be the most evolved for her, so it's always important to me to make sure that she is not wallowing."
While romance might not be in Rayna's immediate future, Britton said that her career will continue to flourish, both through her new record label and her forthcoming album: "She's going to get back to working on her album with Liam [Michiel Huisman] and she really is just going to channel all of this negative stuff and I think it's gonna make her a better artist."
Still, as producer Dee Johnson pointed out, the pair has "a bond that ultimately always has them crisscrossing and being pulled towards each other." And Esten says there's plenty more on the horizon for both characters, regardless of whether or not they get together right away. "It's always gonna be hot and beautiful and deep and wonderful, but there's also gonna be problems. Is he suddenly gonna be an easy guy to live with? What [would that] be like? There'll be a million things like that, not to mention the secrets that have yet to come out, which are gonna make it very hard."
They're not the only couple who is struggling right now. In the last episode, Gunnar (Sam Palladio) lost his ex-con brother, and that grief spurred him into hooking up with Scarlett (Clare Bowen) even though the writing/singing partners have yet to define their complicated relationship.
"Grief does terrible things to people and it also does wonderful things to people," Bowen pointed out at PaleyFest. "It can be either crushing or eye-opening or both at the same time."
"He's in a bad place and will be for a while," Palladio agreed. "It's such a tragedy, what's happened, after him finally forging this relationship with his brother again after eight years. To have that taken away just leaves him numb; it affects his songwriting, it affects his music, it affects the relationship with Scarlett because they don't enter into this thing in an easy fashion."
Johnson previewed hard times to come, but also a light at the end of the tunnel for the couple: "It isn't the ideal situation for them. The genie's out of the bottle. Now what? I don't think it's going to be easy for them to unring that bell, so they're gonna have their trials and tribulations. There's love there, although it hasn't been articulated, so it's gonna be complicated."
One character who might finally be getting her life together is Juliette (Hayden Panettiere), who just fired her manager and appears to be trying to take her career into her own hands. "You want to get to a certain place and do certain things in order to have the freedom of choice and the freedom to be picky and the freedom to have an opinion about what you want to do," the actress admitted. "But she doesn't go about things in the right way and she dives at them headfirst with this complete lack of the right kind of emotion. It's hard to see the message past Juliette's fog of evil, or mean-spirit, but she's right a lot of the time. She has good instincts and she does need to take this into her own hands and she does need to stop being puppeted by these people, because they will take it and run with it and they'll create whatever machine they want to."
That newfound independence might even lead to new romance, according to Johnson: "This sober companion [Jay Hernandez] comes into the picture and grounds [Juliette and her mom] a little bit, and fills a need for her in her life now that she's fired her manager ... He's cute, too -- you can't have a male character in her orbit and not go there."
"Nashville" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.