If this season of Nashville is any indication, it seems all anyone in the country music industry does is throw and attend parties. In the fourteen episodes thus far, a party of some kind—a record release, a fundraiser, a birthday celebration, et al—has been at the centerpiece of an episode more than half of the time. The benefits are many for the staff writers. A party is a perfectly good reason to gather the cast in the same place, heighten the dynamic, elevate the drama. But it’s also a bit easy, a bit lazy. For a show that has often struggled with managing the many narratives it’s trying to present, “Why don’t we throw another party” feels like Nashville has only one oar in the water. This is not to say that, as a vehicle, these kinds of gatherings haven’t been successful. Most of the time, they have. But it does tend to lend the episode at hand—which, for “Dear Brother,” was populated with some pretty stellar moments—an uneven feel.
But before we get to the party, some other pretty important things happen first.
Rayna and Teddy have officially filed for divorce, in a bordering county so as to delay the inevitable press coverage. However, while shopping at the supermarket with her sister and her daughters, Rayna sees that her face is already plastered across the tabloids at the check-out aisle. Earlier in the day, when she’d confronted Teddy and demanded he keep Peggy away from her daughters, they both sounded incredibly naive about their plan to keep it quiet. Nothing stays quiet for very long anymore, and seeing as we’ve been led to believe that Rayna James is a country music magnate, we know better. And by the time Rayna picks up her daughters from the dance studio later that day, the paparazzi are waiting for her by the door, hounding her with questions about the divorce, about Deacon, about Liam, about Peggy. Her daughters look mortified, and so does Rayna. But when Rayna tries to comfort Maddy, her eldest, she’s clearly being evasive and her daughter doesn’t buy it. If the press is right about the details of the divorce, Maddy argues, then surely they must be right about both of her parents’ infidelity.
A publicist is hired to manage the chaos, but Rayna doesn’t respond well to her prying, to her inquisitions, to her invasion of privacy. The publicist wants to know things that Rayna doesn’t feel comfort sharing, or admitting. [Though the publicist’s question about the possibility of any existing sex tapes felt forced and rather lame.] She also makes the great mistake of calling Rayna “madam.”
It’s interesting to see how loosely Rayna handles her public image in contrast with Juliette, whose image so far has been highly-monitored, tailored to a specific audience, and arranged in such a way that it belies much of her truth. It raises some larger questions about the way artists present themselves in the ever-changing country music market. I couldn’t help but think of the Dixie Chicks and the way in which they went down in a hail of bullets, all for what is now an obvious truth they gave voice to. Country music fans, we know, are a mostly loyal breed. But they also apply a unique kind of pressure on their kings and queens that extends far beyond the music. All of this being said, I was glad to hear Rayna say, “I’m gonna write until this whole thing is over.” Yes because it means new songs, but even more so because it felt true to her character, and grew her interior in a way we hadn’t yet seen. This pays off at Deacon’s party.
Though the set-up is remarkably forced, Gunnar and Scarlett learn that the fugitive they’ve been harboring, Gunnar’s brother Chase, is also in the possession of a loaded gun. Scarlett asks Gunnar to retrieve Chase’s laundry and the gun falls right from the pocket of the jeans. Not one of Nashville‘s finer moments, to be sure. There are no less than a dozen scenarios, off the top of my head, that feel more organic than what they decided to go with here. Granted, not a huge distraction, but a distraction all the same.
Clare Bowen is really growing on me. At first I felt her Scarlett was a little too breathy, too cute, too much of a people-pleaser. But we’ve seen her develop pretty drastically since the pilot; perhaps more so than any other character. She’s got a grit to her now, and that works best when she’s on the offensive. She insists that Gunnar handle this and that she will not live in a house with a loaded weapon. Gunnar’s solution is to meet his brother on a bridge on the outskirts of town and toss it in the river, much to his brother’s chagrin.
This small action comes back in a big way in the final moments of the episode, though if you’d seen a single preview in the last two weeks, you knew that already.
Teddy seems to be settling in pretty nicely as mayor, and is already shirking Lamar’s firm grip and making decision for himself, which is nice to see. Unexpectedly, two of these decisions come in the form of some controversial appointments to his administration. First, Peggy Cantor, who is given an incredibly vague title that the audience knows is nothing more than a legitimate reason for Peggy and Teddy to be seen together. The other appointment, even further out of left field, was Coleman Carlisle, who seems to have forgiven Teddy and accepts graciously his appointment as deputy mayor. We don’t get to see Lamar’s reactions, yet. But we soon will, I bet.
Though, the question must be asked: how interested are we in the political elements of Nashville? Before the show even began, I thought the contrast between the two very different worlds—big city politics and country music—might work to enhance once another. That hasn’t proven to be true; in fact, there’s very little resonance to be had from the juxtaposition. They feel like fundamentally different shows, and Nashville already has enough to work with inside of the music world. Extending the political plots feels like it could be unendurable for the show and its struggle for a stronger viewership.
Avery Buys A Guitar
And then, later, returns it. That’s literally all that happens with him this week, and yet the combined sixty seconds of screen time felt wasted. Just get rid of this schmuck.
Juliette’s 9th Birthday
It’s Juliette who takes on the challenge of throwing Deacon a surprise party, knowing full well his distaste for them. I’m unaware when it comes to what Juliette’s feelings are for Deacon from episode to episode; sometimes there’s a tremendous amount of sexual tension, and other times he’s like her gentle uncle. Regardless, she seems to be throwing the party because she loves him and wants to celebrate him; nothing more, nothing less.
We learn later, though, in a conversation with her mother’s counselor, that she also took on the party, maybe subconsciously, to rewrite the narrative of all of the birthday parties she never had herself. The ones her mother planned, then cancelled. The ones her mother fell asleep during, a lit cigarette in her hand. This exposition let us see more of Juliette, and I’m always in favor of that. The more we can understand what informs her—her hardness and her kindness, her vulnerability and her strength—the better.
Which brings us to the party itself. After co-opting Scarlett into luring Deacon to the Bluebird, he arrives and finds a packed house of well-wishers. For someone who says he’d prefer to be watching Old Yeller, he seems to really enjoy himself. [Extra points if you can spot the real-life country stars at the Bluebird.] The song that Scarlett and Gunnar sing, like I said previously, is a really special one. A cursory Google search revealed the original songwriters to be Sarah Buxton and Kate York, who deserve major props. It captured what is so special about them as a duo, and why they’ve won over no less than Watty White, Rayna James, and now Juliette Barnes. They are, as Deacon says, “the real deal.”
Juliette had plans to sing her own song, one that she’d written for Deacon and practiced earlier in the episode, but when her mother suddenly has a panic attack, surrounded by alcohol and those who love to drink it, she does the smart, kind, mature thing, and takes her mother home. It isn’t the first time Juliette has had to tuck her mother into bed, but seeing it on the other side of what is hopefully a positive recovery, it was rather poignant.
The pièce de résistance of Deacon’s birthday bash is Rayna showing up, against the advice of her publicist, her manager, and probably against her best interest in the end. [If pictures surface from the event, she’ll be left to explain them yet again to a daughter who doesn’t believe her.] Joined by Watty White on guitar, she sings the song she’d written earlier in the day, “Stronger Than Me.” It’s not my favorite of the songs we’ve heard from Rayna—I tend to prefer the sound of “Buried Under” and “Changing Ground”—but it was great to see her on stage all the same. The refrain of the song—“Pour me something stronger than me”—has a different kind of resonance considering Deacon’s alcoholism. They seemed to be sharing a lot of unsaid things in their eye contact. Later on, Rayna tells Deacon, rather vaguely, “I want to do right by you.” Time can only tell what this means.
The climax of the episode, or at least what is intended to be the climax, is Chase’s death. The police find Gunnar at the Bluebird and bring him in to verify the body. We learn that he was beaten to death in an alley, obviously unarmed. When Gunnar finally returns to the house, he falls apart in Scarlett’s arms, and then they start to make out. Which was fine. I wasn’t particularly interested in Chase, or what happened between the two brothers eight years ago. It didn’t seem to inform Gunnar at all, and so I’m grateful that this is a chapter closed.
Next week: some kind of stampede at a Juliette Barnes concert, and Rayna James goes on Katie Couric’s talk show.