Much as I had hoped that the remaining episodes of Nashville would deliver one knockout blow after another, thus convincing the network and the public at large to be interested in a second season—wherein, I still believe, many of the problems facing the show could be fixed—that wasn’t the case with “My Heart Would Know.” Not even a little bit. In fact, looking back on the series as a whole, this episode stands out as one of the weakest, if not the worst we’ve seen so far. It exists in a strange vacuum, wholly removed from what was so promising in the pilot. And it’s not a self-contained episode in the style of “One Man’s Trash,” from Girls, or Enlightened’s “Consider Helen.” It follows the same characters with roughly the same attention allotted each of them, but doing and experiencing things that not only felt out of character, but also cheap and transparent.
The episode begins with Juliette and Dante naked in bed, likely post-coital. But before they start another round, Dante suggests that they discuss Juliette’s mother. [Super turn-on.] He admits that he has crossed a line, though he doesn’t have any real intention of amending this misstep. He was hired to be a sober companion for Juliette’s mother, nothing more, nothing less. When we first met him, he was a bit self-righteous, a bit straight-laced, but ultimately portrayed as a decent person come to walk Jolene down the path of sobriety. Three episodes later, he’s in bed with her daughter, shirking all responsibilities, missing therapy sessions, ignoring Jolene’s phone calls, et al. I’d buy this sudden change of heart if it wasn’t predicated solely on the idea of Juliette’s irresistibility, but that’s the only reason we’re meant to gather. Why she’s interested in Dante remains to be seen, but by the end of the episode she’s changed his title from “sober companion” to “manager,” in one fell swoop. This, from two-weeks-ago Juliette who insisted she was just fine managing herself—a moment and declaration I really appreciated. That character development is gone out the window.
It also becomes difficult to sympathize with Juliette when it comes to her relationship with her mother. There was built-in pathos when her mother was drunk or drugged, waiting outside Juliette’s recording studio or the front gates of her mansion. But now she’s sober. Now she’s trying to make real changes in her life that allow her to be a functioning citizen, as well as a functioning mother. And Juliette, for the overwhelming majority of the time, rejects or ignores this. And then she steals her sober companion for a bedfellow. Beyond feeling undercooked and unnecessarily soapy, this whole plotline sets Juliette’s character back quite a bit. We’d grown to love her despite herself, but the material she’s been given these last few episodes is making that increasingly difficult.
To top it all off, upon learning that Lamar has had a heart attack and Rayna has to cancel the show, Juliette adopts a “the-show-must-go-on” attitude and expands her set, rather than canceling out of respect for Rayna. A low move, but even lower is her expectation for her band to learn ten new songs before showtime. Absolutely unrealistic, and demonstrative of diva (a word I loathe, but it’s fitting) behavior beyond what we’ve seen Juliette exhibit thus far. Somehow, they manage to pull it off—which I can’t imagine happening in real life, no matter the band—and the show goes well. Her new album is on the horizon, and the single is already selling well. This could be such a promising time for this difficult character, but instead she’s mired in drama that makes rooting for her success impossible.
Back in Nashville, Rayna is at Lamar’s bedside with Tandy. He’s suffered a heart attack, and will suffer another halfway through the episode. Everyone around him is of the opinion that it will take nothing short of a bullet to the brain to kill Lamar, but that doesn’t stop Nashville from playing up his potential death for drama. And knowing that Lamar has only ever been portrayed as villainous, Nashville decides to deliver some of the clumsiest, clunkiest, 17-episodes-too-late exposition my own eyes have witnessed on ABC. The story in a nutshell? Rayna’s mother, who died in a car crash when Rayna was twelve, had an affair while married to Lamar. This we learned roughly six or seven episodes ago, and then immediately forgot about it, because why should that matter? Well, it should matter, we learn, because the man she had the affair with was Watty White, the king of Nashville and the man who put Rayna James on the map. When Watty stops by the hospital, Lamar has a full-on freakout, screaming, spitting, the whole nine. It’s Watty who tells Rayna the reason why, and immediately quells her fear that the affair is the only reason Watty promoted her in the early days.
The way all of this was delivered to us made me feel as if Nashville had a lot riding on this moment; this big reveal of why Lamar has been so cold and unsupportive of Rayna and her career for so long. However, though the affair from thirty years ago may serve as some explanation of Lamar’s bitterness, it’s hardly an excuse. Projecting all of that misplaced anger on Rayna when it should be on his dead wife is a pretty ridiculous thing to keep up for three decades. Which is why I was pretty shocked to see Rayna soften by Lamar’s bedside, crying even, more or less forgiving him for his behavior spanning her whole life and career. Connie Britton plays the scene well—she plays every scene well—but it just felt so false to me. None of it resonated.
Shockingly, the most successful parts of this episode were the ones that followed Scarlett and Gunnar around. I do believe that’s the first time this has been the case. We learn that Scarlett has officially signed her contract with Edgehill, and will now be the first artist on Rayna’s as-of-now-untitled label. And even though she’s been signed as a solo act, without Gunnar, it was great to see how supportive he was. It made me like him more than I had before, which is saying something in an episode that left me liking almost everybody less. He’s still reeling a bit from his brother’s death—he isn’t writing, he won’t make music—but that doesn’t stop him from taking Scarlett out for a night on the town, bringing along their new neighbor, Will with a cowboy hat. They drink, they dance. Will and Scarlett cover an old Vince Gill song, and there’s not even a cutaway to a jealous Gunnar. It’s just a good time being had by all, without some looming drama.
When they go home, Gunnar puts Scarlett to bed, but can’t sleep himself. Will decides that it’s time he stop moping, even silently, about his brother’s death. He says he wants Gunnar to look death in the face. So what they do—and I have to admit, I really liked this scene—is drive to the edge of town, to the tracks where a train is approaching. Gunnar isn’t quite sure what’s going on, until Will slams on the gas and drives over the tracks, narrowly missing the front car of the train. First furious, once Gunnar calms down, realizes he’s still alive and that that means something, Will asks, “Wanna do it again?” It was a scene played well by both actors, and where I once thought Will was going to be some sort of evildoer antagonist—which, granted, he still could be—it was nice to see him support Gunnar in this strange, but ultimately effective, way.
The previews for next week promise a lot of drama, as well as a lot of coming together. I’m hesitant, to say the least, after this episode. But does Nashville still have a chance at redeeming itself on its way to the finale? We’ll see.