Nashville has a “when they get there” problem. When they get Rayna and Juliet out on tour together, the narrative will really start to work. When they get more of the other characters’ lives to intersect, the world will start taking better shape. When they get Avery as far off my television screen as possible, I might stop throwing things at it. All or none of these things could happen (though I’m really rooting for the third) but no matter where the stories are going, Nashville’s main issue continues to be that the “getting there” is far less interesting than it needs to be in order for the show to work on a consistent basis. It’s as if the show is fighting its own momentum, stretching things out when they should be condensed, and condensing what would be much better served with taking a little extra time.
The big event this episode is the beginning of the preparation for Rayna and Juliette to finally go out on tour together, an idea floated in the pilot and then bafflingly postponed for nine episodes. It’s baffling because the best scenes in the show are the seminars on proper Southern passive aggressive behavior Rayna and Juliette conduct whenever they’re in the same room together. It’s also baffling because neither character is significantly different than they were in the pilot, and one of the most interesting obstacles in their relationship—Deacon—has been almost completely removed from the equation now. Aside from one great scene together, though, this week was more about the ladies preparing to leave than the stresses they’ll encounter once they get there.
For Rayna, this preparation involves shedding the one thing that’s been dragging her down all season—her husband. The Teddy/Rayna relationship started out strained in the pilot and has done nothing but devolve ever since, finally hitting a breaking point last episode when Rayna learned of Teddy’s past money laundering scheme. More than going on tour to make money, Rayna wants to go on tour to get away from her crumbling marriage, a revelation Connie Britton absolutely nails in an affecting confessional scene to Teddy. The power of this scene is muddied by a silly custody dispute over the girls (was Rayna really going to take the girls out of school for five months?) and an even sillier fight with Rayna’s father over Maddie’s true paternity. Why Deacon being the biological father of Maddie has to be a thing on this show is a mystery, but it’s there, and it’s an interesting character point for Teddy that he knew all along and always considered Maddie his daughter no mater her paternity.
As for Juliette, well, she’s her usual mess. Her candlelit proposal to Tim Tebow turned into a whirlwind elopement and subsequent limo sex, which is something God is totally fine with as long as they’re performed in that particular order. Of course the elopement isn’t the quick emotional fix Juliette wants it to be, with the whole thing spiraling into a war of attrition with Tebow’s mother over their proper church wedding, until Juliette—assisted by a self-esteem destroying visit to her mother in rehab—walks away from her big, legitimate paparazzi-attended church wedding and onto a plane to begin her tour instead. Tim Tebow was a joke of a character who was never going to be in Juliette’s life long term, but even Taylor Swift keeps her love interests longer than this. It’s a bit of a disappointment not because the dynamic between Juliette and Tebow was so interesting, but because everything we learned about Juliette’s character throughout this arc were things we already knew: she’s a scared, sad, insecure, desperately lonely little girl who will do anything to give herself the family she’s never had. She did the exact same thing with Deacon. If at first you don’t succeed?
And then there’s Avery, who is just so far from a compelling character he actually actively repels interest. He’s a low-talent wannabe with a superiority complex, and everything Scarlett does in his orbit makes her a weaker character. This episode, that included sleeping with him and then feeling bad about it once she learned, yet again, that he is a user who will do anything to get himself ahead, no matter what the expense to others. Thankfully it looks like the biggest expense will be to Avery’s so-called musical credibility, with the Wyclef-portrayed producer taking his song and overproducing it until it sounds like nothing but a clone of Alex Clare’s “Too Close.” Avery is far too willing to sacrifice others, and in the end he will likely just end up sacrificing himself. Once Scarlett runs away from Avery’s orbit yet again, and back into the safe space of Gunnar, the show can do what it does best: end an episode with a lovely duet.
These endings, though, are just as much a part of the problem now. In building to that end song every week, the characters and their relationships with each other are far too content to stay stagnant, going in circles rather than the forward momentum a freshman series needs to build a solid foundation. How many more times is Scarlett going to cycle between her feelings for Avery and her connection with Gunnar? How many more times is Juliette going to seek out love in impulsive, emotionally destructive ways? How many more characters are going to call Avery a douche, because I really enjoyed that bit?
Like Todd has mentioned time and time again, this show has the tools to be a fantastically fun nighttime soap, all glitz and cowboy boots and country music charm. As a Nashville resident and someone predisposed to liking anything involving soapy shenanigans, Nashville should be a home run for me. The city looks gorgeous. The location shooting and commitment to showing actual Nashville landmarks is impressive. The music is solid. Still, the shallow characters and scattered narratives keep me at a distance. If this show was set in Austin instead, unfortunately I think my season pass would have been deleted long ago.
- Nashville resident nitpicks: Fairly light this week due to mostly interior shooting, although I’m pretty sure that “rehab” was the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. Juliette’s mom was cured by plants!
- Scarlett singing with the band was fine and dandy, but wasn’t she too shy to perform a ballad at the Bluebird Café just a few weeks ago? Maybe she took some unseen shots to loosen herself up.
- I don’t even know what was happening with Deacon this week, but it all seemed like an excuse to get him on that tour with Rayna and Juliette. This is something they could have done in, say, THE PILOT.
- Rayna: “I only hate sunburns and hangovers. This is just business.”