This is the kind of Nashville episode that makes me want to slam my head against a wall. For all my crowing about the show turning a corner this season, with episode three we have definitely ventured into “one step forward, two steps back” territory. For those keeping score at home, we’re now two steps back.
Nearly all of our main characters regress this week, in the most maddening ways possible. What’s the point of Nashville if everyone is stuck on the same old merry-go-round?
Let’s start with Rayna and Liam (shudder), with his scruff and his too-small fedora and his pointless scarf. Rayna wants to finish her album, and he’s a frickin’ production genius, who somehow forgives her for standing him up at the airport for St. Lucia so she could go declare her love for Deacon in a fantastic scene last season. No such scene here, sadly. Rayna confides that she’s lost her voice after her intubation, so he agrees to help her, and they fall into bed together. Although this is the first time they’ve actually slept together, the Liam/Rayna flirtation had been played and replayed last year, and just doesn’t offer much. Frankly, Connie Britton shows more spark with smug new Edgehill label head Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson).
Juliette Barnes starts off awesomely in a killer white dress as she pauses in the Edgehill waiting room like a nest of vipers, hurling barbs at up-and-comer Layla Grant by comparing her performance last week to karaoke. Then she rejects appearing at the Edgehill “stockholder showcase” (yet another industry event!) because she’s playing a private birthday party for a member of a media mogul family, the Wentworths, to the tune of $1,000,000. By the end of the episode, however, she has completely regressed.
Teddy and Rayna are officially divorced now, at least, but somehow, the recent threats to his parenthood have made Teddy reconsider his relationship with crazy Peggy, who offers to show him doctored “doctor statements” about her phantom pregnancy and tells him, “I don’t why, I just have this feeling, it’s a boy.” Maybe because you’ve already picked him out from the baby farm? After an awkward amends conversation with Deacon about fatherhood, Teddy goes back to Peggy to face up to his (fake) responsibilities. They then make out on the couch, and I face-plant into my coffee table.
Speaking of Deacon, once again, Charles Esten is our MVP, but with one possible horrible storyline twist. He’s been powering through the pain and avoiding his newly discovered daughter Maddie for the same reason, according to Coleman (who is leaving town; so long, Coleman): to avoid becoming like his alcoholic father. In an amazing scene that choked me up even the second time I watched it, Deacon relays just one of undoubtedly numerous horrific dinnertimes at the Claybourne household. We see why his drunkenness is so filled with self-hatred, because he’s afraid of turning into his father. With the worst parent ever as his role model, how can he be a parent? But in the end, Deacon does accept aid from his doctor in relation to his hand pain (“If you’re still offering me help, I’ll take it”), which probably means painkillers, which probably means a horrible storyline in which he gets addicted to pills instead of alcohol. I really, really hope I’m wrong.
It’s makeover week! Our up-and-comers Will and Scarlett get dolled up for the showcase, where they both perform. Gunnar’s new song, “What If I Was Willing” sounded a bizillion times better with just Gunnar and his guitar versus Will and his slick backing band, but it’s still one of the better efforts this season. The machinations of the music industry are some of the most interesting parts of the show: Gunnar is a songwriter, so on one level he has to sell his songs to other performers; on another, he’s resentful when he’s not up on stage singing his own song himself (despite Will’s generous onstage compliments). Then Rayna thwarts Jeff, her new Edgehill boss, by having Scarlett perform at the showcase instead of her (thereby dissing him while saving her loss-of-voice secret), and Clare Bowen sounds great in the smoky, torchy “Waiting On A Broken Heart”
Juliette Barnes has a shining moment on stage as well: “Trouble Is” is probably Hayden Panettiere’s best song so far in season two, like a Carrie Underwood b-side, which is about how high we’ve reached this season. She’s charmed by Charlie and Olivia, the romantic Wentworth couple, but when Charlie calls Avery her boyfriend, she’s quick to dismiss the guitarist as the hired help, which OF COURSE he overhears. When Avery confronts her about her refusal to get close to anyone: “It’s your choice! Unattached, unavailable…”, she fires him, even as she looks devastated as he walks away from her. Because a few episodes of friendship is all we can hope for out of Juliette. Then she runs into Charlie at the after-concert party, and when he kisses her, she at first is not just shocked and outraged, but pained, which Panettierre pulls off so very well. Even the guy throwing the mega-million-dollar birthday party for his wife can’t be trusted. But when he starts tossing his own unavailable, unattached lines at her, she does a split-second reversal and goes off into the bedroom with him. It’s not just annoying. It’s downright disturbing.
It makes sense that Juliette would be at her most vulnerable right now, after the loss of her mother. But we’ve seen her attempt connections before, with Deacon, Fake Tim Tebow, and even Dante, her mother’s cokehead counselor. She’s usually horribly betrayed (cokehead) or runs away screaming herself (Tebow). The Avery relationship was promising because it offered her a new level of emotional intimacy—actual friendship—that she sorely needed. A whole new progression of Juliette pulling away from everyone is not promising, especially when the performer (Panettierre) is capable of so much more.
Nashville giveth; Nashville taketh away. The musical improvement this episode is noticeable, but so are the storyline stagnations. Liam and Rayna, another round of Teddy and Peggy, Deacon’s possible new addiction, Juliette’s continued self-destructiveness: None of these developments bode well for the rest of the season. But as the previous two episodes held such promise, I’m still not giving up on Nashville.
- Post-pillow talk from Liam and Rayna: “I thought you were going to make my night.” “I already made your afternoon.”
- Completely random: Connie Britton looks amazingly stunning throughout the entire episode. No wonder Liam jumps her in the middle of the day.
- Maybe I’m missing something: Rayna had to know that her voice was gone immediately after the accident, right? And finishing her album would most likely involve some vocal work. So why would she tell both her label and Liam that she wanted to finish the record, knowing she wouldn’t be able to?
- “If I had a suspicious nature… Oh wait, I do have a suspicious nature!” Why don’t you just twirl your villainous mustache while you’re at it, Hudson?
- Love Juliette’s parting shot to Jeff Fordham, complete with handshake: “I’ll send you some crabs.”
- Nashville, when Avery Barkley is your voice of reason, you know you’re in trouble. But Jonathan Jackson deserves credit for helping transform a thoroughly unlikeable character last year into one of the few guys Juliette could depend on.