This week’s episode of Nashville begins with Rayna and Juliette giving a press conference in advance of the tour’s first big arena show. They’ve done a few shows in smaller venues and smaller cities to work out the kinks, but the true arena tour has yet to begin. The press conference serves as a good vehicle to ground the audience. Reporters ask Rayna if she’s nervous, seeing as it’s her first tour without Deacon on lead guitar. They ask Juliette about her pending divorce from Sean. They ask about Teddy’s campaign. So much of what Nashville has been planting since the pilot is harvested in this episode, and it’s one of the best we’ve seen so far.
The show has really hit a stride here. The three stories it tells with the most attention—that’s Rayna and Juliette’s tour, Scarlett and Gunnar’s road trip, and the election—have the desired resonance that one seeks out in mapping out an episode that’s doing a lot of traveling, both actual and figurative. And those subplots that branch out—Deacon’s tumultuous tour with The Rose Kings, Gunnar’s brother being let out of prison—felt organic and served to flesh out the characters further. The work that went into making these intersections was subtle and smart.
Rayna’s initial issues with her replacement guitarist made perfect sense considering her attachment to Deacon, and Deacon’s issues with The Revel Kings—and the sleazy lead singer who eventually harasses a visiting Scarlett—may be a plot device that eventually allows him to join Rayna’s tour. But for now, Liam has stepped in on a temporary basis, which, considering Rayna’s charm, will likely be only as temporary as she chooses.
In a later scene, Rayna gifts a set of cowboy boots to Liam before opening night. He doesn’t wear them to rehearsal, and there’s a tension between them until Rayna finally addresses it. This serves as a great opportunity for Liam to voice one of Nashville’s primary points of friction: Rayna’s dependence on Deacon, and his role in a career that she is passionate about. I still think this is an underexplored dynamic on the show, and those scenes I enjoyed best in the beginning were directly related to interrogating this. I hope Deacon makes his way back on the tour.
Juliette’s distracted from the tour by her split with Sean, and his refusal to sign the divorce papers. He wants an annulment instead, and for Juliette to admit to fraudulence. The meaning of marriage, clearly, is very different for both of them. By the episode’s end, though, Juliette makes the surprisingly mature decision to just agree to the annulment and admit, on paper, that she was a fraud. Not the easiest thing in the world.
Though we don’t care about him anymore, or we never did, the show still follows Avery for a few scenes. Really, guys. It’s time to phase him out. We don’t care about his deal with not-Wyclef Jean, or his tryst with Marilyn.
We also don’t really care about Gunnar’s brother, the eight years he served for armed robbery, nor the crime scene that Gunnar fled. Though the song they sing in the hotel together is sweet and briefly moving, covering the context of it is a wrong turn. We’ve got enough on our plate already.
A bit of space on that plate is cleared up by the end, however, when Teddy Conrad wins the mayoral election. Whether or not we’re meant to believe Lamar bought votes at the last minute remains to be seen, but for now we’re being sold a faithful and true win. What does this mean, exactly? We’re not sure. We don’t understand Teddy to be particularly interested in policy. What’s in it for Teddy and the family? The political element of the show has always felt a bit undercooked, and perhaps this will be a chance to change that. Or not. We’ll see.
Despite the fact that I really did enjoy this episode, and disagree with some of his criticisms, I like what Todd VanDerWerff for the AV Club has to say here about the show. It’s concise and thoughtful and captures nicely the dichotomy the show is facing, and hopefully working to amend.
There’s a great show inside of Nashville, a great show about the clash between old South and new and about what it means to try to give people something to listen to in an age when the music industry is splintered beyond all recognition. But if it ever wants to get to that point, then everybody involved will have to make it entertaining first. If Lee would rather it get entertaining by being a soap, by all means. But something should start to come together. Tonight, it almost did, and maybe that’s progress.