Somehow, we’ve gotten to the point where there are only five episodes left of Nashville‘s first season. It seems like just yesterday that we were treated to that stellar pilot, and now here we are, inching closer and closer to the finale. There’s no word yet on whether or not we’ll see a second season, which means there certainly are no guarantees and that perhaps a lot is riding on the last several episodes. Will they serve as a strong enough petition to warrant a renewal, or will they ultimately come to end what was a promising, smart, though often scattered and uneven, drama?
This also brings to mind questions of overarching plot and resolution—or, what exactly are we heading for come finale night? With five episodes left, shouldn’t we have some sort of finish line in sight, or, at the very least, an idea of what a finish line might even look like? ABC dramas—I’m thinking Brothers & Sisters, Grey’s Anatomy—often struggle with mapping out their seasons, but the aforementioned dramas at least had some traceable path, though often wandered off, that the audience was meant to walk down. I’m not quite sure Nashville has that. It’s had several strong episodes, and in almost every episode there has been some terrific writing, performing, and direction. The music, too, I’ve found to be exceptional most of the time. All of that being said, the organization of the show has been lackluster and continually frustrating. It’s trying to do too much most of the time, but even more than that, the constant reshuffling of the cards with which Nashville plays lends a disjointed, stop-start feel to the season. [The interrupted programming schedule—unannounced weeks off and hiatuses—probably doesn’t help either.]
With all of this on my mind, I went into “I Saw The Light” hoping to get some semblance of where we’re headed. And I’m not sure I got it.
The episode opens in New York, where the Red Lips, White Lies tour has sold out three shows. Rayna has taken her daughters and her sister along for the ride, while Juliette is carting around her assistants, her mother, and Dante, her mother’s counselor. While driving through Manhattan, the James family comes face-to-face with a giant billboard with Rayna’s face on it, promoting the makeup company that’s sponsoring the tour. When Juliette sees the poster—it’s haunting her right outside her window—she is, unsurprisingly, ticked off. Why isn’t it her face up there, she wants to know. A billboard in Manhattan could mean big things for her upcoming single is her reasoning, but it’s clear that the jealousy is about more than album sales. For someone who has felt figuratively in Rayna’s shadow since the pilot, that sense of competition multiplies when the shadow becomes literal.
Upon exiting their hotel, Rayna and her daughters run into Deacon and Stacy, his new veteranarian/girlfriend who won’t make it another three episodes, and his new dog, too. There’s obvious awkwardness, but no talk [or consequence] of Deacon having saved Maddy in the last episode’s Pamplona scene at Juliette’s show. And when Maddy tells Rayna, seemingly out of the blue, at least for Rayna, that she wishes to be a professional singer someday, Rayna raises her eyebrows and expresses concern. There’s some dissonance here, though, because just last week Rayna gave Maddy her first guitar, urging her to channel her feelings about the divorce into her music. What was the expectation, then? Well Maddy asks just that question, and isn’t satisfied with Rayna’s mealy-mouthed response about the pressures of the industry and the importance of her studies. I suppose that these are valid, though oft-visited, concerns, but Rayna’s reaction was more strict and harsh than I would’ve expected. I’m reminded of the talent show the girls were in earlier this season, where, even though they were covering a Juliette Barnes song, Rayna seemed genuinely thrilled to see them on stage.
Back in Nashville, Avery’s been blacklisted by Marilyn after burning his masters in a temper tantrum. No club will book him, citing Marilyn’s strong influence throughout the city. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again just as due diligence: there’s no reason for this guy to be in the show anymore. He’s no longer connected to anyone else in the story; his plotline is wholly insular. This was the case for some time with Scarlett and Gunnar, too. Beyond being Deacon’s niece and the sound guy at the Bluebird, they didn’t have much connection the the center of the story either. But slowly, and not without misstep, Nashville seems to be bringing them into the fold, with Rayna’s new record label as the vehicle. Last week’s episode saw Scarlett being offered a solo contract, an opportunity that we learn she’s hidden from Gunnar for over a month. That doesn’t sit well with him. [Though, in more positive news, he does seem to have recovered nicely from his brother’s death that left us all entirely uninterested.] Also in the picture is their new neighbor, a well-to-do cowboy who wants to be a musician, which is basically everyone in Nashville. He and Gunnar have some nice musical chemistry, and Scarlett’s jealousy is plain as the nose on her face.
The next morning, Scarlett tells Gunnar she’s not going to sign the contract, but he won’t accept that answer. He knows that she’s used to Avery’s bitterness and jealousy, but he holds none of that in him. He was only angry that she’d kept the news from him. He wants what’s best for her, and to turn down a record contract that most everyone in Nashville would kill to sign is craziness.
Also jealous? Stacy, the veterinarian. After coming to realize that Deacon has had relationships both serious and fleeting, long and short, with both of the headliners, she’s confused as to why he asked her along on the tour. She feels out of place, asks if Deacon’s trying to scare her away. And though he insists that it’s all history with Rayna and with Juliette, Stacy’s smart enough to realize that the songs speak for themselves. Nothing is ever over. I think Stacy is trying to be sold as an unlikable nag, but I found it to be a pretty valid concern. We’ll see how things pan out, but I have a feeling we won’t be seeing much more of her.
Later in the episode, bolstered by the support of her mother’s counselor and still bothered by that Rayna James billboard, Juliette pitches herself as the new face of a soon-to-launch smartphone. And she lands the endorsement, 4,500 billboards and cross-promotion of the new record. But when she comes back to the hotel to report the good news to her mother, what happens instead is another of the mother-daughter breakdowns that the Barnes women have exhibited all season. There’s a lack of communication, to say the leastt, but during the last show of the run, Juliette dedicates a song to her mother and her smile barely fits on her face. Bygones, apparently, or at least they would have been had Juliette not bedded Dante later that evening. But Juliette has a penchant for poor decision-making, and if the past is any indication, this can only mean bad things.
And then, without much in the way of transition, we cut to Lamar, alone in his study, having a heart attack and possibly (though unlikely) dying? A cheap end, to be sure, but it’s not the first one Nashville has pulled on us.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the adorable scene wherein Rayna allows her daughters to do a sound check of their very own. The Stella sisters are really something, and they manage to make the insufferably twee “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers completely listenable. Team Stella sisters.
Until next week!