Nashville, Season 1

Deacon Is Nashville’s Byronic Hero
Talking television.
April 2 2013 9:00 AM

Nashville, Season 1

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If Nashville were pants, Deacon would be the drawstring.

Still from Nashville Season 1, Episode 2 with Connie Britton and Charles Esten.
Lord Byron, Edward Rochester, Deacon Claybourne

Courtesy ABC Studios

It’s time to talk about Deacon. Gallant Deacon, sensitive Deacon, mournful Deacon, the show’s very own Deacon ex machina. The pulchritudinous guitar player has lately become the achy heart of Nashville—as well as most of its connective tissue.

Callie Khouri did not need to resort to golden retriever puppies to make us love him. His musical talent, hunkiness, and penchant for rescuing other characters would have been enough. He belongs in a superhero movie, continually called in to save the day, solving everyone else’s problems while wrestling poignantly with his own. Last week, he dashed into a moil of rioting Juliette Barnes fans to save Maddie when a shelf fell on her head. (He even brought her an adorable stuffed bunny in the hospital. Aw.) He faced down Gunnar’s preposterous hoodie without cracking a smile (and, in a lovely soliloquy about friendship and moving on from tragedy, persuaded its owner to abandon his dangerous revenge plot). Earlier in the season, he was the one who got Jolene into rehab. He unlocked Juliette’s songwriting talents when everybody thought she was just an Autotuned Britney clone. When the oily guitarist from the Revel Kings put his hands on Scarlett, Uncle Deacon busted in the door just in time. And, of course, he represents the ultimate goal of the show: Rayna’s romantic and creative salvation.

Shouldn’t it be slightly annoying when a single character gets so exalted? Not when he performs such valuable narrative service (and looks like Charles Esten). Deacon, aside from thoroughly babe-ifying the role of the fairy godmother, has become the through-line pulling together disparate plots. (If Nashville were pants, he’d be the drawstring.) He means something to everyone, is desired in some fashion by everyone, is the consummate musician in a show about music and a romantic hero in a show about love. His birthday party gets all the characters we care about together in the same room. His creative influence flourishes in Rayna’s work as well as in Juliette’s—even, through heredity, in Scarlett’s.

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And I don’t drop the phrase romantic hero idly. Weeks ago, David Plotz suggested that Nashville constituted one long female daydream, rife with celestially beautiful men and more terrestrial-looking women (Still not quite buying it). But whether or not you agree with Plotz, it’s easy to see how Deacon might embody a gal’s (or fella’s) savior fantasy. He’s just a hair too perfect—with perfect hair—and he can guess exactly where a lady is from just by looking at her. His womanizing and “still waters run deep” woundedness make him a sort of Byronic idol. Remember crusty Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, brooding but with a heart of gold? Or, fine, Edward Cullen from the Twilight series? The formula for these heroes is angst plus good looks plus elite status in whatever world they occupy. They’ve always been irresistible and they always will be. Except Deacon is deadlier, because he also has a golden retriever puppy.

 

Katy Waldman is a Slate assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter.