If there’s something better than hearing Connie Britton say “Previously on Nashville,” I don’t know what it is and I don’t want to. May she go on to say it for seasons and seasons, please TV gods.
I want to start near the end with this week’s episode, skipping right to the scene that made me cry for the second time on Nashville. (Yeah, I cried when Deacon and Rayna sang at the Bluebird, so what, who cares.) It’s telling that the second go-around of waterworks again deals with Rayna and Deacon. It’s because, more than any other, it’s my favorite dynamic to watch on the show. I’m so glad it’s getting a fair amount of spotlight and screen time, because it’s a pathos buffet of longing and Britton and Estes are just so good together. I believe their chemistry just as much as I believed the chemistry between Tami and Coach on Friday Night Lights. This speaks to just how great of an actress Connie Britton is, and how criminally underrated. She becomes these characters in ways that astound me.
But back to Rayna and Deacon and the end of the episode. They’re sitting together outside, together for the first time since their duet at the Bluebird last week. The tension between them is palpable. The song brought up many memories for both of them, wounds made fresh again by those lyrics: No one will ever love you/like I do. They’re years out from their break-up, from Deacon’s drug abuse, but for as much time has passed and things have changed, they’re both still wanting one another. Rayna acknowledges, ever so slightly, her awareness of the fact that she abuses this relationship. She takes advantage of the fact that Deacon is in love with her, holds her love like a dangling carrot to center stage. In a way, she is hindering his career by doing this. It’s clear that he’s a talented songwriter and musician, but he’ll be Rayna’s guitarist for as long as she wants him to be.
All of that, and now they’re supposed to go on a paired-down, bare bones, intimate tour, singing songs they wrote back when they were still together. This brings everything to a boil, and this beautiful scene is a product of that.
“I need to be letting you go,” Rayna says. “Move on with your life, go do that damn tour if you want to, you know, whatever.”
Deacon pauses, then asks why she doesn’t.
“Because you and music, there’s no difference,” she explains. “It’s the same.”
I love that last line, even if it sounded a bit heavy-handed when I first heard it, and I’ll tell you why. Even if, on the face of it, it’s a bit corny, it’s actually kind of a beautiful sentiment when you think about it, when you think of them as artists. They love each other beyond their artistic life, sure, but the music they make together is their livelihood; their passion. It’s losing a lot for either of them to lose the other, in ways more complicated than meets the eye.
“I feel like I’m holding all these hearts in my hand,” she says, Britton’s voice breaking. “And I’m trying real hard not to break them.”
Watching Connie Britton cry hurts my soul like an ASPCA commercial. I want her never to be sad, never, never.
But let’s rewind to the beginning and situate the episode in some context. We learn quite a bit before the first commercial. For instance, Juliette’s still hounding her manager to get Deacon booked for her tour. She won’t accept no for an answer. She’s twice as frustrated when she finds out that her mother showed up at the label asking for money. “They gave her a hundred bucks to leave,” her manager says. Juliette’s face grows tense. She’s as embarrassed as she is furious. And if that wasn’t enough, her methhead mother follows her out of a photoshoot and is subsequently nabbed by security. Poor girl can’t catch a break so far. She wants Deacon, but he wants somebody else. She wants to make better music, but her label likes her best when she’s dumbed down. Things aren’t great for Juliette.
We cut then to the James family kitchen, where everyone’s preparing for their separate days. Daphne and Maddie will be performing at the school’s talent show that night, but first Teddy and Rayna have a meeting with their team—Bucky, the lawyer, the accountant—to discuss their financial situation. Which, we learn, really is in the shitter. The accountant says they have to cut their monthly nut in half or they won’t be able to sustain themselves in a few months. He suggests taking out a line of credit, but Teddy wonders how that’ll look to voters. His other option? Rayna could borrow money from her father.
“Boy,” she says. “Y’all really need to get some new material.”
You can imagine then, when she opens the mail to find a $500,000 check from her father, her fury. The loan comes with stipulations, too. Rayna can’t release a new record unless it’s a Best Of, she can’t tour until after Teddy’s election, and a there’s a bunch of unlesses and in which cases that follow. Rayna is pissed. Teddy tries to lighten her up a bit, suggesting finally that she tear it up if it’ll make her feel better. He knows his wife is too prideful to accept money from her father, and even if the money would really pull them out of their financial ditch, he loves Rayna enough to understand her rejecting it. Teddy is a good guy. We like Teddy.
They decide that Teddy will go see his friends at the bank, the one of which he is a board member. This meeting sets up yet another plotline in Nashville when Teddy learns that the bank is being audited. You can see the terror in his face. Seems like his financial troubles, his mistakes and transgressions, are far from over. In fact, it looks like they might get a lot worse really soon. Am I as interested in this subplot as I am others? No. But I’ll buy it for now.
Rayna and Teddy meet up again to see their daughters at the talent show. All I can say is, Lennon and Maisy are just freakishly talented. They do a Juliette Barnes song, and if it’s chapping Rayna’s ass, she doesn’t show it. How could it? Her daughters are incredible.
Rayna’s father also shows up to the talent show, a bouquet of flowers for each granddaughter, but Rayna kicks him out before the show even starts.
“I don’t want you here,” she says. “I saw those stipulations you put on the loan. Why are you so invested in me giving up my career?”
“Teddy’s in the middle of a campaign,” Lamar says. “And the girls at the age where they need their mother. You better than anyone should know about that.”
Lamar’s comment, shall we say, does not settle well with Rayna. He’s pushing all of her buttons in just a few sentences—her career, her mothering skills, her frustration with him for his absence after her mother’s death. He brings it all to the surface.
“Go home, go to hell,” she says. “But don’t you stay here.” It’s a very soapy line, yes, but Britton plays it so well.
We learn, later on in the episode, just why it is that Lamar’s so fixated on ending his daughter’s career. Rayna’s sister tells of their mother’s ten-year affair with a country singer that lasted right up until her death. She found all of this in letters exchanged between the two. Their father knew about it, and that seems to inform much of his misplaced anger toward Rayna.
In her mansion across town, Juliette lies in bed with Deacon, both of them naked under the sheets. You can’t help but feel Deacon’s a bit pathetic here. He’s twice her age, and for as mature and unsuspectingly deep as Juliette may be, Deacon’s just beyond her. He is. But he’s tempted all the same, and that’s why he entertains the offers from the label that keep piling up. I don’t doubt that Deacon seriously considers accepting them. The tour would bring him more notoriety, make him more money, but more than that it would be growth on his behalf. He’d be saying no to Rayna, who has said nothing but that to him.
The next day, Rayna visits Lamar at his house, now privy to a lot of backstory she hadn’t known before. Powers Boothe plays this scene tremendously, giving the following monologue an almost Shakespearean tone.
“Rayna, you are still my daughter, and believe it or not I care about your happiness,” he says. “I only wish you didn’t put it ahead of your own family’s. That’s a similarity you seem to have unfortunately inherited from your mother. You’ve proven to have the same disregard for your marriage as she did for ours.”
“I have to say, if you treated her the way you’ve treated me,” Rayna says. “I don’t see how she woulda had any choice but to do what she did.”
Lamar gives the greatest angry-smile I’ve ever seen. It’s almost manic, devilish.
“Thanks for this reminder,” Rayna says. “I will never take a penny from you.”
The episode ends with Scarlett and Gunnar, who, after a few hiccups and Scarlett choking the first day of recording, are recording their demo. Watty stands with the now-supportive Avery in the sound booth, both of them aware of something special between the two.
So, there’s a lot at work so far, and we’re only three episodes in. We have more questions than answers at this point, and that’s to be expected. But I’m obviously loving Nashville. They’ve demonstrated a real understanding of tone and character, something that many other shows take a full season to really pin down. That’s saying a lot.
I can only hope we get to see Connie Britton sing again, ASAP. This, was the episode’s only failure.