“Nashville” – I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You) episode review 0

Rayna (Connie Britton) and Deacon (Charles Esten) at the Bluebird, twenty years later.

★★★★☆

The second episode of Nashville convinced me of a lot things. Primarily, that the pilot wasn’t a fluke. For as many bad pilots as we see, there are also some pilots that show great promise that they’re unable to sustain for the length of the season. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Nashville, as the second episode is just as good—and, in some respects, even better—than the pilot. No quality has been lost, and the advancement and exposition happening with each of these characters is being handled quite gracefully. I imagine this to be one of the great challenges of creating a show this large in scope, and the team behind Nashville has gained my trust in knowing their long game and my faith in their ability to continue at this pace for much longer.

The episode opens with Rayna stuck in traffic—a situation that has resonance with much of what she’s dealing with internally in this episode. She’s trying to deliver her daughters to school on time, but it’s bumper-to-bumper downtown. Her daughters check Twitter and learn the reason: Juliette Barnes is shooting a music video nearby. They both attempt to flee the vehicle before Rayna hits the lock button. They aren’t going anywhere, and we know it’s not just out of concern for their safety. Rayna, in this episode and the last, seems genuinely irritated that her daughters are fans of Juliette. I find that to be a pretty interesting dynamic, and I hope it gets explored beyond eye-rolling in the rear-view mirror.

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(Tangent: One of my main gripes with ABC dramas in general—I’m thinking Grey’s Anatomy and Brothers & Sisters—is that the sons and daughters of the leading characters so often fall into black holes. And I understand that it’s television and that we’re supposed to buy a lot of things sight unseen, suspension of disbelief and all that, but the inexplicable absences and reappearances of Meredith’s daughter on Grey’s, or Kitty’s son on Brothers & Sisters, always feels a little lazy to me. Or else false altogether. I’m hoping that’s something that won’t happen on Nashville. These kids are too good not to get more of, and I’d like to see them outside of the car every now and then.)

After she finally gets her kids to school, Rayna is off to a meeting with her manager (or another nameless suit, I can’t tell and I don’t really care, either) and Watty, wherein Watty reveals his big idea teased at the end of the pilot: Watty thinks Rayna and Deacon should go on tour together, just the two of them. Lose the big band. Book smaller, intimate venues. Sell those out. Turn a profit. It’s a bulletproof plan in Watty’s eyes. The plot device of a manager agrees.

“You get to do music you actually care about again,” Watty says. “Remember those love songs you guys used to write?”

“That’s because we were in love,” Rayna explains. She says she’s not sure they could pull that off anymore.

When Deacon arrives to the meeting, the episode jumps to Rayna in bed with Teddy, putting on lotion. I love this cut, because it trusts the audience enough that we don’t need to see Deacon say yes. We already knew that’d be his answer. He’s in love with Rayna, and the opportunity to be intimate with her in that way—with songwriters, the making music is often far more consequential than making love—is golden. And it’s because of this that Teddy isn’t so pleased about the idea. Rayna and Deacon haven’t toured like this since they were dating, something that isn’t lost on Teddy.

But Rayna’s got some cachet here. She’s been supportive of Teddy’s run for mayor—which is advancing pretty quickly, as he’s already preparing for a debate—even though she doesn’t particularly feel comfortable with it. Doesn’t Teddy owe her that same support?

Across town at the Bluebird, Watty makes Scarlett and Gunnar an offer to produce their demo. Never mind that they’re not really together and only have one song. Watty sees something in them. He tells them to get three songs together and get back to him when they’re ready. Gunnar is obviously thrilled at the prospect of working with Watty, but the same can’t be said for Scarlett. Her own shyness and insecurity aside, she knows it will hurt her boyfriend, Avery, who’s been trying to get his foot in Nashville’s door with no luck. She doesn’t tell him until the episode is nearly over, and suffice it to say he’s hurt. He congratulates her, but we can tell it’s a kick in the gut that his girlfriend gets an on-the-spot offer from the pope of Nashville without even trying.

We move next to an awkward encounter between Rayna, Juliette, and Deacon. Juliette and Deacon had been discussing the song they’re working on and when they might finish it when Rayna walks in.

“Deacon was just telling me about your little tour,” Juliette says. “Sounds like it could be fun.”

“Yeah, you know, just gonna be old school. Some guitars, some great songs,” Rayna says, all the while smiling that bless-your-heart smile. “Just a show for people who love actual music.”

I love the way Panettiere and Britton play off of each other, because they somehow manage to avoid making their dynamic feel like a southern catfight. Sure, they’re being catty. But there’s an edge to both of them, a grit. They’re both at a crossroads, whether they know it or not, and they both have more at stake in their success than meets the eye. It’s not one another they’re at war with, but the industry. The industry that pushes Juliette toward conventional and brainless, instead of songs with depth. (Later in the episode, she and Deacon sing a really lovely song called “Undermine,” which makes clear that Juliette has a lot more to offer than images like “black mascara tears.”) And it’s the same industry that’s pushing Rayna to reinvent herself in ways that force her to revisit the past and reopen old wounds.

Juliette is growing on me, and quickly. She’s difficult to love in the pilot, especially considering how much we want to root for Rayna, but she gets some nuance and fleshing out here that really invited sympathy. She’s a better writer and performer than she’s allowed to let on, and that has to be incredibly frustrating. And, more than that, she’s lonely. Her mom’s a junkie, her manager has dollar signs in his eyes, and her label sees her as a cash cow, too. She wanted to be a part of country music for the community it offered, the safe space for expression, but she’s learning that the industry isn’t that way anymore. Rayna could tell her it hasn’t been like that in a while. And who better to bury herself in than Deacon? He’s equally disillusioned with the business, and twice as lonely. Even though he may not see much in Juliette, she fills a need that Rayna cannot.

As far as the politics go, episode two has Lamar throwing Teddy a fundraiser at his house, the campaign already in full swing. We get to see Rayna confront her father and express her disapproval in the same scene wherein we get to see her interact with three vapid southern belles who call themselves “big fans.” One tells Rayna she ought to record a new album, and Rayna tells her, in a wonderfully played moment from Britton, that, in fact, there is a new record. It’s out already. “At Starbucks?” she asks. Eye roll.

My initial concerns that Nashville was trying to address too much when it came to the two very different realms with which it’s concerned has been alleviated in this episode, at the hands of an incredibly clever plot device: the background check Teddy, and subsequently Rayna, have to go through as insurance against any attacks Coleman, the opponent, might make in the election cycle. It’s the perfect opportunity to deliver unto the audience a distilled, yet informing, exposition that we didn’t get in the pilot. Here’s what we learn:

—Five years ago, Teddy’s real estate business made an investment in a construction development that just so happened to be supported by a local bank that Teddy was on the board of. He denies any wrongdoing to his campaign advisors, which means there is definitely wrongdoing and we will soon learn about it. (Later in the episode, we get an incredibly soapy moment of him throwing documents into the fireplace.)

—Rayna dated Deacon for eleven years, at the beginning of her career. This was before she met Teddy, but his campaign advisors are aware that, in politics, hay can be made of pretty much anything. Relevance is immaterial. Rayna goes on to detail Deacon’s previous substance abuse, noting that she left him when he went into rehab, even though she paid for his treatment. That’s when she began dating Teddy, and she promises it’s been smooth sailing since then. We know she’s lying through her teeth just like her husband. (Especially considering Lamar’s line in the pilot that insinuated Teddy might not be the father of Rayna’s oldest daughter.)

The night, and the episode, ends at the Bluebird, appropriately enough. Everyone’s there. Scarlett’s serving drinks and Gunnar’s working sound. Watty’s in the audience listening, and so is Juliette. Deacon’s on stage, in the round with some other side players. Rayna walks in as Deacon’s finishing a song, and he catches sight of her and Juliette. We get the sense he’s about to call one of them up on the stage, and he says as much when introducing the next song. “I got a friend out there tonight in the audience,” he says. “A really talented, special friend.” Juliette smiles, smoothes her dress. She has no doubt it’s her.

And I admit that, on first watch, I didn’t know who it would be or who I wanted it to be. My gut hoped for Rayna to take the stage. We hadn’t heard Connie Britton sing all night, but more than that, the show has us rooting for her. She’s the underdog, and we want to see her do well. But, if we care at all about Deacon, and we do, shouldn’t we be wanting him to bring Juliette up on stage instead? Poor guy has been pining for Rayna for a decade, and now he has to sing a song with her in a tiny bar, like old times? What we’d like to see happen is antithetical to how we feel about the characters, especially considering how we’re already coming to be endeared by Juliette. In other words, it’s a complicated moment.

But what happens, of course, is that Deacon brings Rayna to the stage. Juliette looks crushed; Rayna looks content. They sing the best song I’ve heard on the show thus far, though I’ve enjoyed each and every one. It’s a song they wrote twenty years ago and debuted on the very stage where they’re sitting. Britton and Esten are so great here. Not only do they sound lovely together, their faces say it all. We see the wreckage of twenty years ago, but also the love. “No one will ever love you,” they sing. “No one will ever love you like I do.”