It’s Nashville, y’all.
Okay, I’m sorry. I swear I won’t use my fake pan-Southern accent anymore, even textually. This is my solemn vow, which Nashville promises to test the will of every Wednesday henceforth. But, like our country crooners, I must soldier on and turn my hardship into art!
We open on Rayna in the studio recording “Wrong Song”, the foot-stomper from the winter finale (ugh), immediately putting us in the mood for some twangin’ and sassin’. Continuing the game of catch-up, we flip to Juliet… who has
jumped the shark gotten married to her football boyfriend of ten minutes! They’re literally still in the limo back from the (probably) drive-through chapel when Juliet reveals she’ll be honeymooning in the studio with Rayna, a troubling if obvious omen of things to come…
Next we catch up with everybody’s favorite indie songwriters. It seems clear that Scarlett and Gunnar should be together, both being cute as buttons and an unstoppable writing duo, but alas, they’re doomed to be this show’s perennial will-they-won’t-they victims. At present, they’re at each other’s throats, though I can’t totally remember why. On her way (storming) out, Scarlett nearly tackles Gunnar’s other ex-girlfriend, which just goes to emphasize that old salt: Do not dip your pen in the company ink! Poor Gunnar…
Now we flip to Lucky from General Hospital, alias Avery. And lest we forget, Wyclef is on the show now! As Wyclef!?! Somehow, the absurdity of this casting fits with the larger-than-life theatricality of the show. However, the soul patch/goatee combo does not. Are these still cool in Nashville? Or is the facial styling supposed to comment on Avery’s street cred? Unanswerable quandaries…
Finally the plotting brings Juliet and Rayna together, which is where they were always meant to be. Remember when the pilot tantalized us with the premise of the legend and the starlet out on tour together, two big egos clashing titanically? Yeah, remember when they promptly shot that down? The more screen time these two have together, the better. To wit: Juliet flits in, flashing her new shiny diamond; Rayna and her manager share a hilariously stoic knowing glance. NEVER SEPARATE THEM AGAIN!
But they do. And the problem for each this week will be as follows: Juliet’s new bitchy mother-in-law a) hates her and b) insists on a big church wedding, which you can already tell is NOT this girl’s scene. Watch and wait. For Rayna, she’s decided to abscond with her daughters on the tour, and Teddy understandably rankles at the idea. Rayna’s problem is more compelling, because she and Teddy don’t have the sort of dramatic, explosive fights we’re used to on TV. They speak calmly and maturely, acknowledging a bad situation and differing views but unable to strike a compromise. Who’s in the right here? That’s the rub.
Suddenly we’re back with Juliet, who’s just hanging out in a to-die-for teeny weeny sequined dress, which serves to highlight the priorities of the young, glitzy star. Her new hubby is already applying some pressure on the career front, and you can tell Juliet ain’t havin’ it. This is a girl who’s worked too hard to get where she is to give it up for any guy. In any event, Sean is waaaay too comfortable already with phrases like “it’s what normal married people do.” It’s been two days, relax.
Another great thing about these quick cuts is the flipbook quality between two characters who represent facets of the same woman. You see Juliet, on one hand, desiring the “normal” life with the family and husband and everything she never had growing up; of course, in reality, she’s married to her career. We can picture Rayna likewise at that age, and in watching the elder actress’s scenes, see Juliet’s future: burning the candle at both ends, with work always winning out to the detriment of that “normal” life. Watching this relationship blossom going forward is going to be as richly complex as it is delightfully sassy.
Intermittently, we see Deacon with his new badass straight-edge band. Some reporter lady is Almost Famousing them, and she and Deacon apparently have a history. The storyline is bland and woefully devoid of sequins or bitchiness. NEXT.
Avery goes on to formally screw over his oldest-friends-cum-bandmates, and later to be verbally dissed (though admittedly then sent some very mixed signals) by Scarlett. I don’t know which I enjoyed more – Scarlett’s scathing response to Avery’s saying he still liked the sound of “Mrs. Avery Barkley” that “I’m sure your future wife’ll really enjoy it” or his best friend’s kiss-off, “Good luck in Atlanta. Douche.” The best friend probably wins for remaining steadfast in his scorn, whereas Scarlett lapses into Avery’s arms before parting ways (hopefully) forever. We’ll soon see who gets the last laugh in this pickle.
Back in the mansion of the reigning queen of country, Powers Booth and the mean mom from Halloweentown are conspiring against poor Rayna, having learned her plan to take the girls out on tour and fearing not for the children’s well-being but for Teddy’s campaign. Powers Booth drops the bomb of the night by threatening that a messy custody battle would inevitably raise questions of the children’s paternity. GASP! (And I did, audibly.) The oldest daughter is really Deacon’s! HOLY SHIT! They went there.
We won’t see what comes of that gold nugget yet, because there’s the issue of Juliet’s grand wedding. You can tell the thing is doomed from the start: her assistant will play Maid of Honor, and her manager will walk her down the aisle; the loneliness of these appointments is surely not lost on Juliet herself. Responding to more pressure from Sean, Juliet proceeds to visit Mama Barnes at the drug rehab – solo – so there you have another calamitous secret kept from a husband. Kudos to Hayden Panettiere and the writers for keeping Juliet from being completely unsympathetic; you can really feel her pain at how well her mother knows her when the latter says that marrying someone Juliet hardly knows won’t fill the hole inside her. The mother speaks to the elephant in the room, making Juliet face the truth we all see (and suspect Juliet does too.) The daughter storms away, and the act is telling.
As we enter the third act, it’s clear that these Southern songbirds are all going to get up and get on with it (turning their pain into number-one singles along the way, of course.)
Scarlett agrees to front the former Avery Barkley Band, which turns out to be a rip-roaring success. For a moment I worried that Scarlett’s stage fright had been dispatched as was plot-convenient, but by the end I was convinced the girl had turned her betrayal and heartache into a righteous rage, and I seriously dug it. The band asks her on permanently, but in the end Scarlett makes the better long-term choice to go back to writing her own songs with Gunnar, much to this writer’s satisfaction. One of their sweet songs soundtracks the trademark final-moments-montage.
Scarlett’s uncle Deacon, slightly unmoving throughout this episode, comes back into play for this final motif. He’s finally (almost) taking center stage playing with his new band, instead of lapdogging for lost-love Rayna; he even has a new old girlfriend! None of this is bound to last, as perfect things never do, but for the moment we can appreciate the growth.
Rayna and Teddy find common ground in the strangest of places: with her father’s threat revealed, Teddy offers his own shocking confession: he already knew! The couple stand strong on the issue, and later sit down for a quiet and eerily dispassionate discussion about their unhappiness, where they resolve to do what’s best for their daughters and keep them at home while Mommy goes on a national tour. The nuanced fractures in Teddy and Rayna’s relationship are quite gratifying; it’s not so simple as she never loved him and he was always second best and now they hate each other. The two are still able to find common ground, and there’s still obviously affection there, which only seems to make their mistakes more painful.
Finally, the blushing bride. And you just know where this one is going. I knew it the second I heard that Juliet was being driven over to the church: she is never going to wind up at that church. Throughout the whole episode, the whole show so far, we’ve seen that Juliet is categorically NOT ready or suited to this lifestyle. She is fiercely independent and untamable, and at the last minute, she owns it. You can see her regret when Sean’s grandmother’s necklace is delivered to her. The trinket symbolizes a life she always dreamed of and (thought she) wanted, now at her fingertips. And in the last crucial moment to seize it, Juliet decides she doesn’t (or she chickens out, depending on how you look at it; I tend to think she’s being honest with herself and brave for getting out now.) The episode ends on Juliet in a limo; her driver says they’ve arrived, and she meaningfully removes the necklace and steps out of the car… and into a jet. No one is surprised.
It’s been said a million times, but Connie Britton’s hair is mesmerizing. HOW?!
Credit where it’s due to Hayden Panettiere for the myriad fake smiles she puts on as Juliet: from the unsettlingly convincing to the visibly wavering, it’s always clear that the character puts effort into her façade, belying so much hurt.
When Rayna calls Teddy and her father “thick as thieves,” does anyone else hear echoes of Caroline Manzo?
Seeing Rayna’s girls in the final scenes, it JUST occurred to me to wonder if Deacon knows that child is his?