If you watched, you don’t need me to tell you how great Nashville was last night. “You Win Again” was packed with drama, with texture, tension, and the finest acting we’ve seen so far. [Especially Hayden Panettiere, who brought her A+ game and impressed me quite a bit last night.]
We begin with Rayna and Juliette closing a show in Dallas with “Wrong Song,” which has charted at the number one spot and instantaneously reinvigorated both careers, it seems. There’s renewed public interest, the tour is selling well, and Edgehill is throwing them both a party to celebrate the success of their co-write. Rayna and Liam have great stage chemistry—not unlike the chemistry she shared with Deacon—though they’re putting baby in the corner as Juliette fades into the background. And though the song was a co-write, it does seem that it’s Rayna who is benefitting the most, and getting the most notoriety for it. In fact, the second she steps off stage in Dallas, she’s met by Calista, president of Countless, a rival record label. They agree to meet sometime soon, as Rayna’s about to hop on Juliette’s plane—that Rayna does not have her own is a point of friction, and indicative of previous and present label priorities—and head back to Nashville for the party this weekend.
Then there’s this strange, brief moment between Liam and Rayna in the wings. Liam says that Calista wants Rayna, wants to sign her and pull her from Edgehill. Some small talk is made about how great the show was. And then there’s this second of tension wherein Rayna, like Pavlov’s dog except with lead guitarists, leans in. Who knows what she’s leaning in toward: a kiss? toward intimacy? toward chaos? We’ll never know, as Rayna’s manager interrupts before they’re close enough to have to make that choice. It’s a more telling moment for Rayna than it is for Liam, who doesn’t seem to have much skin in the game. But there are echoes of Deacon here, echoes that back home, are resonating with Deacon, too.
He’s officially out of the Revel Kings—that was quick!—and back home in his sized-to-scale rancher, surrounded by take-out containers and Martin guitars. He’s having a hard go of it already, and then he cracks the spine of the latest music rag and sees a full page spread, the headline of which reads: The Axe Falls Hard on Guitarman Deacon Claybourne. It’s the article Carmen wrote while following the band on tour, and we gather it doesn’t paint Deacon with pretty colors. Not to mention that the reason he left the band—the lead singer mauling his niece—goes unheard.
Charles Esten really impressed me in this episode. Not that he’s been phoning it in so far, because I’ve always enjoyed his character and his delivery, but this episode gives him the best material to work with so far in the series. The screaming match he has on the phone with Carmen, a poignant conversation he was with Juliette, and, later, a blow-out with Rayna: they all give Esten some wonderful opportunities here. We see both a tougher and a softer side of Deacon, both of which endeared me more than his mellow, go-with-the-flow attitude in the first few episodes. Considering that the unresolved business between Rayna and Deacon—twenty years of it, in fact—is the foundation of so much of the show’s drama, all roads leading back to it, it’s good to see that thread be focused on with more intensity in this episode.
Back at the James mansion, things are still pretty tense between Rayna and Teddy, though they’re talking around it. Rayna is more preoccupied with Calista, who is wooing her with watches and model planes. She wants to be partners with Rayna, and it’s something Rayna has under advisement with far more clarity and attention than her own marriage.
“Are we trying to fix things between us or not?” Teddy asks.
“I feel like we took this time apart to get some clarity,” Rayna says. “And I don’t have the answers yet.”
A cop-out? Most definitely.
In a courtroom across town, Juliette waits with her mother and a lawyer that looks like a young Ed Koch. Truthfully, I don’t remember whether or not we were ever clued into what her mother’s charges were, but we know it’s because she was three sheets to the wind, and that’s all that really matters. Deacon, despite the fact that he’s falling apart over that article, comes by to offer testimony as promised, though both he and the lawyer agree that it’d be best if Juliette did it herself. She knows her mother best, and she’s the most affected by her addiction. If she could voice confidence and faith in her mother, the judge might demand nothing more than that she complete her rehabilitation program.
Juliette agrees, begrudgingly, but when it comes time for her to speak, she goes quiet, has little to say, sounds like a translated Hallmark card. No affection, no waterworks. And, surprise surprise, it doesn’t fly with the judge, who grants only a postponement. We can tell that Juliette feels a bit guilty, but this is a young girl who, just last week, had to sign on the dotted line of an annulment that made her out to be a fraud. And that’s on public record. Maybe she doesn’t want to do that twice.
As a consolation prize, Deacon says he’ll take Juliette’s mother as his +1 to the Edgehill party. Juliette agrees, and again, begrudgingly.
In the land of Avery-Scarlett-Gunnar—which is, across the board, on everything I read about Nashville, everyone’s least favorite thing—there are only minor developments, and they resonated with the A-story, save Avery’s, rather nicely again this week. Scarlett runs into Avery’s old bandmates at one of Avery’s shows they’ve both snuck into briefly for gawking purposes. They reminisce about the impromptu show they played a few weeks back, and it is decided that Scarlett will ask Gunnar if he’d be interested in combining forces and creating a band. In theory, this sounds promising. And despite Gunnar’s initial protests, by the episode’s end everyone is rehearsing one of the catchier songs we’ve heard on the show so far. I’m very interested in the possibilities. Will the band open for Rayna someday? Will being with Avery’s ex-bandmates and, eventually, his ex-girlfriend cause Gunnar to have an identity crisis wherein he reads nothing but Kierkegaard and cries about his fugitive brother? This remains to be seen.
Before the Edgehill party, we’re delivered one of my favorite scenes in the series so far, wherein Rayna drives across town to Deacon’s house and finds him putting up a “For Sale” sign.
“I guess you read the article, huh,” he says. “Bunch of crap isn’t it?”
“That’s what I said,” Rayna replies. “You wanna talk about it?
“Cy is a horse’s ass, I quit the band, end of story.”
“Pretty short story,” Rayna says.
Rayna is as good at talking around her issues with Deacon as she is with Teddy. This is a woman who, for better or worse, would rather let frustration and unresolved business simmer, marinate. The bringing of things to a boil seems to scare her in a way she does not know how to handle. Which is why it was surprising, and delightful, that some of that tension was finally released there on Deacon’s lawn, post-pleasantries. Rayna comes out and asks if he’s been drinking, and boy, the dam breaks for both of them. We learn a lot about what happened between the two of them at the beginning—that Rayna put Deacon in rehab five times, that when Deacon left the program clean, Rayna was already married to Teddy—and it provides a new texture to the dynamic that wasn’t there before. Here’s just a snippet of Rayna’s devastating breakdown.
“How many times did I have to go looking for you? How many times did I have to drag you out of hotel rooms because you were so wasted I couldn’t tell if you were drunk or dead? I didn’t know the fifth time was going to take…And it’s conversations like this that make it so that I can’t do this with you.”
Deacon’s response? Only four words. “Then don’t do it,” he says, and walks away.
Great acting by Esten and Britton here, who really bring these characters and their occasionally soapy dialogue to a more meaningful level in the show. And they can sing!
The centerpiece of the episode is, per usual, the party. This is a clever device Nashville has pulled off more than once. It gets more characters in the same room than we’d usually expect to see, there’s music and stage time for our characters, and it’s also a central hub from which the show spiderwebs its plotlines. We’ve seen so many: Watty White’s celebration at the Grand Ole Opry in the pilot, fundraisers for Teddy’s campaign, Edgehill’s anniversary party at the Ryman, and now tonight’s party, which gets a bunch of people in the same room, including some real-life country stars playing themselves, but whose names and faces were lost on me. [I’m mostly into Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette. I don’t know who Big or Rich is, and couldn’t pick a Rascal Flatt out of a three-man lineup.]
One of the guests at the party is of course Marshall Evans, the head of the label, who exposes Liam as a liar in two sentences or less. That impromptu deal from Calista? Liam does have skin in that game, by which I mean that there’s two contracts at stake: one for Rayna, and one for Liam. Marshall Evans isn’t wrong to call it “double-dipping.” And just like that, the partnership is dissolved. Rayna doesn’t suffer fools, and she doesn’t like anything going on behind her back. Goodbye, Liam. We hardly knew you.
After the party, back at the James mansion, Rayna is finally ready to talk to Teddy. It goes well enough, both of them acknowledging the troubled roads that led them to one another, that they love one another, that there have been transgressions. This is a marriage that’s worth saving, if only for their daughters. Teddy says they keep making the wrong choice for the right reasons. A linguistic mask? Maybe. But it makes sense here.
A similar confrontation is happening across town, as Juliette breaks into Deacon’s to find that he’s smashed a guitar, a lamp, some furniture, but isn’t smashed himself. [A smart choice. We don’t need to see him fall off the wagon, not now anyway.]
“You should be on the road,” Juliette says. She tells him about an AA group in her crew that meets twice a week. “Isn’t that why you got sober?” she asks, but Deacon finally admits that he got sober for Rayna, and for Rayna alone. Quite an admission. But it doesn’t stop Juliette from telling him that her offer still stands—he’s welcome to take over her band whenever he wants.
“And from an outsider’s perspective,” Juliette says as she’s walking out the door, “[Rayna] is the opposite of what you need.”
The episode ends with Juliette and Rayna heading out for the second leg of their tour. Liam is gone, and they’ve yet to replace him. But things between Teddy and Rayna, for once, show some promise. The discussion after the Edgehill party brought them closer, renewed their promise to work with one another to make their marriage. There’s also renewal in Juliette’s relationship with her mother, and their promise to support one another. [What a lovely scene that was, no? Panettiere is demonstrating some serious chops these days, crying on cue and what not.]
But then: a wrench, thrown into everyone’s machinery. Before the plane’s about to take off, we see Deacon running down the tarmac. Teddy stares in disbelief from inside the airport. Rayna is shocked to see him step on the plane.
“I’m not here for your band,” he says.
Juliette turns around in her seat and smiles. “He’s joining mine,” she says.
This is about to get really, really good. See you in two weeks!