Two titans join forces.

Two titans—Rayna James (Connie Britton) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere)  join forces.


From the opening shot to the last, I was pleased with what Nashville had to offer last night, and the direction it seems to be taking. I’d say there have been as many terrific episodes so far as there have been mediocre, touch-and-go episodes, but that’s pretty impressive for a show that’s trying to do a lot in its first season. I wondered, during the hiatus, how Nashville would come to grow and constrict in the better half, and if last night was any indication, I think we’re in store for greatness.

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The episode begins, seemingly, a few weeks beyond the previous episode’s end. Rayna and Juliette have both agreed to the tour, and with the live version of “Wrong Song” at the top of the charts, there’s a renewed public interest in both artists to capitalize on. And so the episode begins in the studio, with Rayna laying down vocals for the studio rendition and Juliette missing in action. No one seems to know where she is, causing Liam to express his hesitation about the tour. They certainly can’t have Juliette flying off the rails on a five-month tour, he argues.

We aren’t left to wonder where she’s disappeared to for very long, as we cut to a limousine speeding down the highway, Juliette and Sean postcoital in the backseat. Juliette is wearing white. They’ve just eloped, which is what I expected after the previous episode’s proposal cliffhanger. There’s still some fleshing out of character to be done for Juliette, but this decision seemed to fall in line with her behavior thus far and so I bought it without question. She’s proven herself to be reckless and lonely, and with a penchant for making hasty, half-baked decisions. This seemed just like her.

Later in the episode, under duress from Sean’s parents, it is decided that a church wedding is in order, something Juliette apparently (surprisingly?) has always wanted. She visits her mother in the rehabilitation facility to tell her as much, but for as sober as she is, she’s none the more excited or pleasant. She questions Juliette’s decision-making capabilities and Juliette storms off, which is exactly how every other encounter between the two has gone down.

With the tour almost underway, it becomes a problem of scheduling to make this wedding happen. Sean has games, Juliette has rehearsal. It’s not in the cards or the calendars, but Sean’s parents persist and so a date, right before the first leg of the tour begins, is set. We know, if we’re watching closely, watching as Juliette slowly realizes that she’s jumped the gun here, that she’s in proverbially deep shit, that she won’t be walking down the aisle. But it’s no less surprising to see her in a white wedding dress in the back of that same limousine at the end of the episode, being taken to the airport rather than the cathedral.

Across town, Scarlett and Gunnar are in personal and creative slumps. They’re both fresh out of breakups, so it’s not as if there’s nothing to write about. It’s their connection to one another that’s out of order. The complicated nature of their relationship, as has been explored thus far, was, for me, a bit frustrating. It seemed (and still seems) inevitable that they’ll get together, and then inevitable again that they’ll be torn apart should time allow. Nashville isn’t reinventing the wheel, and this is, after all, ABC we’re talking about.

It’s not a matter of defying expectation, it’s a matter of positioning. How are we meant to view the many storylines in the show? As separate from one another? As cohesive? Are there primary characters and supporting characters, or is this really an ensemble? These are important questions about the show’s fundamental identity, and what Nashville has done in this episode, I believe, is bring us closer to an understanding. At least, it has brought me closer to one.

I think the show works best when thought of as three interconnected narratives of women in country music, but I’m not sure the necessary legwork was done at the start to suggest that that’s the best way to view it. Rayna and Juliette were always positioned quite strongly—though sometimes as rivals more clearly than as individuals—but there always seemed to be some episodic excess; a difficulty in compartmentalizing everything that occurs to the many characters in the show, related or not to the central premise. The best embodiment of this issue is the Scarlett-Avery-Gunnar-Hailey business that took up far too much time in episodes past. I could never get it to jell with the experiences of our other characters. However, if we think of Scarlett as the owner of this arc, if we think of this area of Nashville (both show and city) as the kingdom of which she is king, I’m suddenly far more willing to entertain premises and scenes that are tangential to Rayna James. And that’s no easy feat.

Before, it had always been Scarlett and Avery, or Scarlett and Gunnar, or Scarlett and both. But last night we got to see an independent Scarlett, and it was in perfect sync with the other storylines sandwiched around it. For the very first time since the pilot, I felt the resonance of her character with Juliette and Rayna.

The episode ends with two of our three heroines leaving their titular city and setting out for the open road. A five month, cross-country country tour. I can’t wait. Does this mean more Connie Britton songs for me to purchase from iTunes and subsequently listen to sixty-four times? I hope so.

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