There’s a lot to chew on in this week’s episode of Nashville, but first I feel I should say something about ratings. They’re dropping. A substantial two million from the first episode to the second, and a much smaller drop from the second episode to the third. ABC just handed out pickups to Scandal and The Neighbors, but Nashville remains on the cusp. Even if I wasn’t crazy about tonight’s episode—and the issues with pace and organization it presented—I firmly believe that, if given the chance to find its legs in a full first season, Nashville could go on for three or four seasons, at least. There are so many dynamics at work to keep an audience (albeit a smaller one than they’d hoped for, I’m sure) engaged past the first few episodes. We can’t lose Rayna James this early.
If Nashville is failing anywhere, it’s in the time management department. When you have this many dynamics going on in several different spaces throughout the show, it’s a real dance in trying to figure out which elements get more time than others. That’s something I think Nashville is still working at. To recap, here are the dynamics we’ve been presented so far, and where they stand after last night’s episode. Because, if you saw it, you know a lot changed last night. (Or, at least, there’s a lot threatening to change.)
Rayna’s career: The preparations for the pared-down, Rayna and Deacon lit by candlelight tour are absent from last night’s episode. It just didn’t get any play. We’re not sure yet how set-in-stone the tour is, when it starts, and how long the show plans to follow it. As much as I enjoy Rayna at home and with her family, there’s a part of me that really wants to see a handful of episodes in a row where she’s just touring. I want to see her in her element, and I want to see the ways in which her relationship with Deacon enhances her music but ruins her life. I’m hoping against hope that we get that chance, if a full season order comes in from ABC.
Rayna and Deacon: Well, Rayna’s having sex dreams about Deacon. (Nice cold open trick, Callie Khouri. I almost bought it.) It’s clear that the conversations she’s shared with Deacon in the last two episodes, and don’t forget that duet at the Bluebird, are weighing heavily on her mind. She seems absent. And everything comes to a boil when, despite Rayna’s anxiety about it, everyone is gathered in the same room. Her husband, her ex, and her father. The tension is tactile. So much is left unsaid between them that everything they do and say feels inauthentic.
They are all backstage at Lamar’s country club, where a fundraiser for Teddy is occurring. Rayna’s agreed to play a few songs, and, because he’s so sad and in love with her, Deacon agrees to join her on stage. Never mind that he’s supporting Coleman, and that he’s in love with the candidate’s wife. Again, poor Deacon. This guy is a sad sack. Lamar starts in about Deacon being late and underdressed.
“Why would you begrudge one tiny little favor for a family that’s carried you on its back for twenty years?” Lamar asks.
“I think you’ve got me confused with someone else,” Deacon responds, pointing to Teddy.
And then the fireworks go off between all of them. Teddy insinuates that Deacon’s a moron who’s probably still drinking, and Deacon calls Teddy a straw man for Lamar. They know the other’s insecurities so well. The fight is broken up by Rayna, who reminds everyone that there’s a show to put on.
The song Rayna and Deacon sing, “Changing Ground,” is one of the best on the show yet. (I’m wondering if it’s written by Gillian Welch, because it sure sounds like it.) I was super bummed to go on iTunes this morning and see that they hadn’t released it. Connie Britton really does work a stage with confidence. But the best part is Deacon staring straight into Teddy’s eyes in the audience, slamming at an electric guitar like a war drum, singing a song with Teddy’s wife.
After the show, Deacon seems to think Rayna will agree with him about the absurdity that took place earlier, but she doesn’t. “Seemed to me like you were taking the bait,” she said. It’s so hard to love her in this moment because she’s being so cruel. There’s considerable silence between them. They’re both aware that, suddenly and without permission, things between them are changing. So much time they’ve spent in suspended animation, as understudies for one another, but now there’s consequences to be paid. Amendments must be made to both of their lives if they ever expect to find happiness.
Later that night at home, Teddy doesn’t have to say much. Rayna knows.
“I can’t deal with it anymore,” he says.
“I know,” she says. “I’m firing him.”
There’s devastation on her face and in her voice, but she seems to be telling the truth. What will this mean for the rest of the show, if it does happen? Maybe Deacon will became a larger part of Juliette’s story. That’s something that interests me, as the scenes I enjoy most in Juliette’s arc involve her interacting with Deacon. We’ll see!
Juliette, the shoplifter: After footage goes viral of her shoplifting from the end of last week’s episode, Juliette’s manager rounds up the publicists. They want her to release an apology, or at least spin it, but she says she wants neither. She seems oddly proud of what she’s done, charmed by her own edginess. But that’s only her story until her manager informs her that the sponsors are pulling out of the tour. Now everything is jeopardy. The tour meant getting away from her mother. It meant a vehicle by which to win Deacon. It meant a lot. Her manager—again, I’ll never know his name—gives Juliette an ultimatum. Either she starts listening to what he has to say, or he quits altogether. She agrees, with tears in her eyes. There’s one condition, though.
“Why’d you do it?” he says. “Why’d you take the nail polish?”
“It’s something I used to do as a kid,” she says. “It made me feel like I could take care of myself when nobody else would.”
Probably the best line of dialogue the writers have given Juliette. Just a really informing distillation. It says so much by saying so little. Her mother has reentered her life, against Juliette’s will, and this is the way she spirals.
I’ll be interested to see what damage control her team manages for the next episode. The story about her mother’s arrest has already broken, information we get from not-such-a-great-actress Robin Roberts. Maybe they’ll come clean with all of it.
Gunnar and Scarlett and Avery and now Hailey: Things across town with Scarlett and Gunnar are going well. The demo they recorded with Watty got picked up by a publishing house, and subsequently they are both hired to write for the studio. I love moving them out of the Bluebird and into this space, but I hope we do get to go back to the Bluebird, too.
Gunnar meets Hailey the first day on the job, and is bed with her in no time. She’s little more than a plot vehicle, and so I won’t devote much attention to her. I’m almost positive she will serve to force Scarlett into realizing it’s Gunnar she should be with, not Avery, who’s even sadder than Deacon. Avery hasn’t shown an ounce of support; only jealousy and hostility.
How long the show will keep Gunnar and Scarlett apart and from being Rayna and Deacon 2.0, who knows. That’s all depends on how many episodes they’re given, if they’re given any more at all. But what I like most about the show would be in full bloom if that’s what the show covered. Rayna and Deacon. Scarlett and Gunnar. Some accessory family and politics on the side, too, of course. But get all the couples and dynamics into strong position before testing them and rearranging them, right?
Looking forward to next week’s episode, which, bizarrely, isn’t on TV Guide right now. I hope this is not a bad sign. It very well may be.