The reason that this week’s episode of Nashville is the best we’ve been given since the pilot is simple: they’re starting to figure out screen time. Who gets more, who gets less, who really shouldn’t get much at all. More than that, they’re figuring out who shares the screen best together, and if last night’s episode is any answer, that’s Rayna and Juliette.
The episode opens with Rayna in the recording studio, working on her new record with Liam. The suit from the label—whose name I still have yet to learn (Editor’s note: Marshall Evans)—rudely interrupts and informs Rayna that Marshall Evans, the head of the label, has decided to release the Greatest Hits compilation that Rayna so vehemently rejects. I think this is a clever and characterizing detail for Rayna’s character. It says a lot that she doesn’t think herself worthy of a Greatest Hits just yet in her career, especially in an episode where there are echoes of this idea of what you’re given and what you’ve earned yourself.
The centerpiece of the episode is the upcoming 25th Anniversary celebration that the label is throwing at the Ryman Auditorium. (“High church for country music,” Liam says, in case the audience wasn’t aware.) Despite hesitation from the label suit, Rayna says she’s going to perform one of her new songs to close the show. She’s ready to introduce her new sound to the country music market and see whether or not they bite.
Juliette is in for a rude awakening when she learns that in light of her recent public image issues, the label only wants to feature her in a minimized context at the event. What do they mean by minimized? A duet with Rayna James. Juliette is horrified at the prospect of sharing the stage with anyone, let alone Rayna, but her team tells her that this will bolster public support and surely work to put the recent past behind her. It doesn’t help that since she’s been dating Sean the football player, his game performance has been poor. They’re calling Juliette “Country Kryptonite,” and this duet is a chance to work against that.
“We’re all judged by the company we keep,” Marshall Evans tells her. “And in front of the industry’s heavyweights, I think you’d benefit by performing with someone who’s viewed with tremendous respect.”
Rayna doesn’t take the news any better when Marshall delivers it to her in rehearsal.
“The answer is no,” she says.
“It wasn’t a request.”
“Well, I don’t take orders.”
Marshall then dangles the Greatest Hits threat in front of Rayna’s face and flees the scene. I don’t claim to know anything about the actual music industry, but are all the record execs this insufferable? I’ll take my answer off the air.
When both artists finally agree to the duet, the problem becomes what song to sing. Do they do one of Rayna’s new ones? Over Juliette’s dead body. A country classic? Rayna doesn’t think Juliette’s capable or worthy of that privilege. The two go back and forth, their lead guitarists on either side of them, and it’s one of my favorite scenes from the show thus far. It really came to embody an idea that Nashville seemed to have forgotten a few episodes ago: this idea of what is “real” country and what is “commercial” country. Are those labels arbitrary? Not to Rayna. Juliette knows she’s a better artist than what people perceive to be, and Deacon knows it, too. That’s why he gives Rayna a copy of “Undermine” and storms out. He knows she’s being unfair.
We don’t get to see Rayna listen to “Undermine,” which was an interesting choice. I think I would’ve enjoyed seeing Connie Britton play that scene. But, either way, it’s clear that she listened to it and found something there to respect, because then she’s knocking on Juliette’s door and suggesting they co-write.
All of this screen time between Britton and Panettiere is pitch perfect, and I hope we’ll get to see them share the screen a hell of a lot more in the episodes to come. Keeping them apart was a mistake. (Putting them on tour together? Now that I’d like to see.)
The episode ends at the Ryman, all of the country music industry gathered in its pews. Rayna and Juliette are waiting in the wings as real-life Buddy Miller finishes a song. (Awesome cameo, ABC. Good work.)
“I can’t believe we have to do this,” Juliette says, though you can tell that, just a little bit, she’s excited. Rayna, too.
Rayna walks on stage first, then calls up “a fellow Edgehill Republic recording artist, and a friend of mine, Ms. Juliette Barnes.” The place goes nuts, and I’d be lying if I didn’t get a slight chill when they were both at center stage and Deacon starts on electric guitar. The song—which is criminally unavailable on iTunes as of press time—is great, and it sounds exactly like how you’d expect a collaboration between the two would sound. There’s elements of Juliette’s pop sound, sure, but there’s a grit that’s absent from the more commercial stuff, and that’s all Rayna. It’s catchy as hell, the crowd loves it, and Marshall Evans says, “This is gonna be huge.”
What will this mean for both Rayna and Juliette? We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m excited by the opportunities this song could present for both of them.
Though this duet is undoubtedly what the episode is building up to, there are, as usual, a lot of things going on on the side. And as I’ve stated before, some of these subplots interest me, but none nearly as much as the storylines of our two leads. But these plots can’t be left out, so here’s a quick catch-up.
The Campaign: Teddy gets a call in the middle of family movie night from Coleman, asking him to meet immediately. Teddy expects a withdrawal from Coleman—what with his plummeting numbers and scandal a few weeks back—but, instead, learns what the audience has already known: Coleman’s had eyes on Teddy, and there are pictures of him and Peggy that could quite easily be interpreted as proof of an affair. Coleman gives Teddy the weekend to think about dropping out, but Lamar refuses to accept this, says he’ll come up with a plan of his own. Next week’s episode seems to focus more heavily on the campaign, so we’ll see what happens there, but Lamar seemed to insinuate last night that they’ll play even dirtier. Teddy hasn’t told Rayna a word of this, so expect that to blow up next week as well.
Scarlett and Gunnar and Avery and Hailey, Oh My: This love square has officially run its course, I do believe, and last night’s episode featured some pretty obvious positioning of Scarlett and Gunnar finally getting together. Not only is this emotionally satisfying, but it allows for more moments like that first one in the Bluebird, and that’s what Nashville is all about. Avery’s trying to make it big with his band with the help of Marilyn Rhodes, who’s set up meetings and gigs all over town. I’m not sure how Nashville will justify keeping Avery around after Scarlett and Gunnar get together, but I hope they learn to let him go. The character is stale and familiar, especially in comparison with the nuanced ones that make up the rest of the cast.
Until next week!