There was hardly a moment wasted in this week’s overflowing episode of Nashville. Lots of things went down. There was new music, sex, punching, big moments. And, in a pleasant continuation from last week’s episode, a mostly sound structure throughout.
We pick up in Chicago, the most recent stop in a tour that is selling out every city. Rayna’s still frazzled with Deacon being around, though she’s doing her best to hide it from Juliette, knowing full well the satisfaction it would provide her. She knows what’s easiest is to avoid him at all costs and focus on her own half of the show. But then, two minutes into the episode, Rayna and Deacon are already sharing an uncomfortable elevator ride. It’s one of three they’ll take in the episode, and not nearly as interesting as the final one. For now, it’s only an awkward silence.
Rayna calls Teddy from the hotel room to tell him about Deacon—and to remind him that it wasn’t her choice and that it’s out of her hands—and he’s pretty petulant about it. I think this scene stands to support Maggie Lange’s hypothesis over at The Atlantic: Nashville’s men are mopey. The show’s female characters have been nuanced quite impressively since the pilot, but the men have mostly stayed the same. We’ve gotten to know more about them, perhaps, especially in terms of Deacon’s history with Rayna, but there’s a difference between addition and increase when it comes to character development.
Though some things are in motion by the end of the episode that might suggest a change for at least Deacon and Teddy, Lange’s criticism is still valid. Especially when it comes to Avery, who has never had a legitimate claim to this show’s universe, whose story is so disconnected from the core of Nashville that every minute dedicated to it feels like a misuse of time. If there was ever a way to make him matter in the show, I think those days are behind us.
Avery matters even less considering the new developments with Scarlett and Gunnar. That was some pretty obvious positioning in the beginning of the episode, was it not? Scarlett can’t afford her rent. Gunnar’s roommates are rambunctious, loud, and draw turtles on his torso while he sleeps. You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind is blowing here. It isn’t long before Scarlett makes the proposition that they shack up—the conditions being no nudity in the kitchen, no banjos in the shower—and Gunnar agrees. And when Avery drops by at the end of the episode, stumbling in on this new living situation, what happens is that he gets punched in the face by a my-convict-brother-taught-me-how-to-fight Gunnar. Not unpleasant to watch, either.
What’s even more exciting is the out-of-nowhere information Rayna drops at a diner with Watty White: Marshall Evans is giving her a label. I imagine this to be an imprint of the larger label, but all the same: exciting. The conditions are that Rayna must bring a few new acts to the table. She asks of the duo that Watty played her over the phone that night at the Bluebird, way back in the pilot. When she learns that it’s Scarlett—Deacon’s niece, for the remind—and Gunnar, she backs away quickly. Later, though, in the second elevator ride with Deacon, we learn that Rayna has at least listened to their demo and was blown away by it.
It comes with great satisfaction when, toward the end of the episode, Rayna tells Watty to put her in touch with Scarlett and Gunnar. And I really hope Callie Khouri and the team behind Nashville deliver to us on this. It would provide obvious resonance and nostalgic parallels, sure, but it would also serve to fix some of the fragmented structuring issues the show occasionally falls into. This could be known as the episode wherein Nashville finally began to congeal in the way ABC dramas are often so good at doing.
It could also be known, if we’re meant to totally trust the cliffhanger, as the episode where Rayna and Teddy break apart for good. There have been signs all along, of course, but it was never so heightened as it was last night. A chance run-in with Peggy finds Teddy making out with her in his car and then, after the commercial break, naked in bed with her. The third elevator ride Rayna takes with Deacon culminates in some serious make-out action, too. When the cat is away, the mice will play? It seems. And yet it was still somewhat jarring to see Teddy at Rayna’s hotel door at the end, asking for a divorce. We’ll have to wait for more information on this. I like that direction in theory, though there are many pitfalls on the way to it being the smart choice. We’ll see!
I’ve held off on Juliette so far in the spirit of saving the best for last, because, let’s face, this episode—and, as Amanda Dobbins posits over at Vulture, maybe this season—belongs to Juliette. There’s a moment about midway through last night’s episode that, if you ask me, was the best scene for Hayden Panettiere yet. Sick of the limits of her “brand,” sick of bubblegum, sick of being thought of, and maybe of being, a million dollar industry, Juliette takes to the arena stage—not much makeup, no fancy outfit, no pyrotechnics or back-up dancers—and sings the acoustic, off-brand song she’d written with Deacon earlier. It’s not my favorite song that’s appeared on the show, but that isn’t what matters. It was rewarding in a different way.
To me, one of the most interesting conflicts the show is exploring, in terms of Juliette, is the push-and-pull between commercial success and artistic integrity, a line that is always blurry but is especially so in contemporary country. And it’s hard to even identify who the tastemakers are anymore. But Juliette wants to be better. We’ve heard her say it. We’ve heard “Undermine,” and that’s a damn fine song. And so for her to just flip the bird, so to speak, at her label, her managers, her image consultants, all of it, was wonderful. And though the Twittersphere lights up with negativity—tweets that call her a “manufactured poptart,” “not a real artist,” et al—the actual video of the song, posted hours after the show, soon garners a substantial number of views, coverage, and support.
This could mean great things for Juliette. And I’m very interested in what Amanda Dobbins has to say in that piece for Vulture. To me, the show still belongs to Rayna, but certainly some of my Connie Britton bias is at work there. Suffice it to say that Hayden Panettiere has definitely impressed me so far, and that wasn’t what I expected to be saying.
Next week’s episode looks pretty steamy. Stay tuned.