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Nashville's Charles Esten Forecasts Deacon's First Post-Rayna Date

Ladies and gentlemen, Nashville‘s Deacon Claybourne is officially back on the market.

And in tonight’s episode (CMT, 9/8c), the Highway 65 chief goes on his first date since Rayna’s death last season — an occasion for mixed feelings, star Charles Esten says, if ever there were one.

“It’s a horrifically hard position he’s in right now,” Esten says during a stop at TVLine’s New York offices,”mourning this woman that you thought you would be with the rest of your life. And then you meet somebody else that had every quality or attribute that you might look for in somebody —but you’re not looking for somebody.”

That “somebody,” of course, is Kaitlin Doubleday’s Jessie, with whom Deacon had a slightly flirty friendship — which paused on a rather ambiguous note — at the end of Season 5.

“They’re both in a place where love is not the first priority, and neither one of them is looking,” he says. “I thought that was great, the way we dealt with that last season and the way we made that clear, because once that was clear, then the friendship was allowed to grow.”

But just because Deke has gotten to a place where he’s ready-ish to give romance another shot doesn’t mean that everyone in his family is on board with the plan, as evidenced by Daphne’s tearful confession in the Season 6 trailer: “I want him to be happy,” she tells sister Maddie, “but I hate this.” Esten acknowledges that unlike the emancipated and nearly adult Maddie, Rayna’s younger daughter is “still right there, she’s still going to school, she’s still right in it” and therefore has even less reprieve from the notion of her stepdad moving on. “I think she’s the voice of a lot of viewers,” he adds. “I get that. We all get that, that she’s like, ‘No. This is not how I want him happy.’ I don’t know if there was intentionality behind that or not, but it serves a purpose.”

Elsewhere in the episode, Juliette gets even deeper into the self-help group she learned about in the premiere. When we bring up the potential problems in Highway 65’s biggest artist joining what seems a lot like a cult, Esten says Deacon’s not overly concerned. (At least, not yet.)

“He starts off, not downplaying it, but going, ‘This is Juliette. This can happen. If you find something that works, as a guy that has been through it, you get a little gung-ho in the moment. It’ll wear off, you know, how things do,'” he says. “So it starts off with [Deacon] being not just the label head, but the friend.”

Press PLAY on the video above to watch Deacon and Maddie discuss his upcoming date, then hit the comments: Are you on board the Deacon-Jessie train?