Back when I made the realization that songwriting was more intimate than sex on Nashville, I did not anticipate that one of the key scenes of the first half of this season would be about Rayna and Juliette writing a song together, a.k.a., the scene that launched a million smutty fanfics from people who both read my review of Nashville, and write Nashville fan-fiction, which is, honestly, probably just me. But that scene, which exemplified the way this episode finally, finally brought more and more characters on the show into each other’s orbit, was a nice example of how this hour of TV neatly course-corrected much of the stuff that’s been going wrong in the last few episodes. I daresay it’s the best episode since the second one, and there’s enough here that makes me think we may just be writing off the episodes between that one and this one as the show struggling to find its way. Soon enough, we’ll all be on the road with Rayna and Juliette, the champagne will be flowing, and we’ll all be recommitting ourselves to abstinence or whatever was up with Fake Tim Tebow.
Tonight’s episode revolves around a concert at the Ryman Auditorium—which is the real name of the building most people call the Grand Ole Opry, and you learn something new on Wikipedia every day—which is meant to celebrate Edgehill, Rayna and Juliette’s label. (I’m clarifying this because I’d sure forgotten what it was called.) The head of the label basically blackmails both Juliette and Rayna into performing together, hanging the specter of continued bad publicity over Juliette’s head, while telling Rayna that if she doesn’t do what he wants, he’ll release her greatest hits album immediately! (As super-villain plots go, this one is a bit lacking.) In the end, he gets what he wants, and we get what we want, which is lots and lots of Hayden Panettiere being snotty toward Connie Britton, then Britton being passive-aggressive right back. It’s the television event of the century!
Surprisingly enough, given this show’s penchant for wandering way, way off course in search of the opposite of conflict, it’s a mostly satisfying storyline. There’s plenty of snottiness. There’s plenty of Rayna being cruel while keeping that ultra-nice tone in her voice. There’s Deacon asking why we can’t just get along, and there’s Liam sitting back and wanting none of it. And in the end, Rayna and Juliette write a song together, then have quite a bit of fun performing it at the concert. Could it be that their fences have been mended? Will these two come to see each other as super best pals? It seems unlikely, but the song they perform together isn’t half bad, and it’s just nice to have a little plot momentum for once. Plus, Rayna’s kids seem happy about the whole thing, and any time you can make Rayna’s kids happy is a plus in my book.
Meanwhile, all of the other storylines, looking around to realize that every other show on television had left them behind, woke up with a jolt and started moseying along as well. The Scarlett-Avery-Gunnar-record label girl-other woman who can get you a job just by sleeping with you love pentagon is nobody’s favorite storyline here, but things do move forward a bit, as Scarlett goes out drinking and dancing to try and put the memory of Avery behind her, only to realize how much she misses him. (Ugh!) Fortunately, when she goes over to his house, she finds another woman there, and she takes offense, even though there’s really no reason why she should be expecting him not to sleep with other people. (I suppose she’s upset because he almost hooked up with the woman before they broke up, and this is a reminder of that, but can’t we all hope Scarlett would be coolly rational about matters of the heart?) Anyway, she runs out of the house and tells Gunnar how happy she is that he didn’t ditch her, and it’s all rather sweet, even if it’s hard to care, because everybody knows where this one is heading. That’s a problem the show’s had since it began, and I’m hoping we can just get to the place we’ve been headed all along so the story can actually begin. (Oh, also, Wyclef Jean shows up for some reason to tell Avery that he needs to get down to Atlanta. Thanks, Wyclef!)
Meanwhile, the mayor’s race plotline also shows signs of life, though they continue to be deeply, deeply stupid signs of life. Coleman calls Teddy to tell him to drop out of the race, because he has pictures of Teddy’s “affair.” Rather than telling Rayna what’s up, Teddy just lets the weekend play out, enjoying the concert, knowing there’s going to be hell to pay when his wife inevitably sees the photos and decides that her husband hasn’t been so faithful after all. (If the “winter finale” doesn’t end with Rayna and Deacon sleeping together because of this misunderstanding, I will be very surprised.) There are some pretty good scenes where Powers Boothe snarls at his fake son-in-law, but for the most part, everybody involved in this plotline seems vaguely bored of it, particularly with how it seems to connect with nothing else in the show. Back when the series began, I had hopes this would be a look at another side of Nashville. Instead, it seems to have become the show’s biggest demerit.
But all of that doesn’t matter because everything is finally moving in the right direction, even if it’s only a little bit. I don’t know what was behind the show’s stubborn refusal to move this story along, but the scenes with Britton and Panettiere are a ton of fun, particularly with some of the other guys there in the mix. When Nashville debuted, it promised a consideration of the idea of what was “relevant” and timely, and it sort of strayed away from that in favor of nail-polish thefts and credit union scandals. But if all of that was just an incredibly bumpy path to get us to a place where these characters are all interacting together and behaving naturally, well, it won’t be the ideal way to have gotten there, but it also won’t be as if the show completely squandered all of its promise. It sometimes takes a while for a TV show to put itself together. I don’t know that this is a complete acknowledgement that Nashville is figuring itself out, but it’s close enough to be hopeful. I’ll take that for now.
- Back in our review of the pilot, Noel was wondering if the show would ever delve into the fact that Rayna would have been perceived as non-traditional when she began her country music career, and while it didn’t delve too deeply, it at least brought it up tonight. Good work, show!
- Fake Tim Tebow just wants to take things slow. Juliette is having none of this at first, but he eventually drops by with flowers to placate her. Also, when she asks if he’s gay, she asks if he just wants her to be “a skirt.” Is that Southern slang for “a beard”?
- Scarlett gets pulled up on stage to sing a cover of “Ring Of Fire,” and it’s just about the cutest thing that’s ever happened. This is tough, because I didn’t think that song could accurately be described as “cute,” but all this performance needs is somebody tossing in a glittering rainbow in the background, with lots of puppies and kittens singing backup.
- Rayna and Juliette toy with the idea of singing a classic before discarding it as not worth it. May I suggest Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” ladies?
- It was an interesting choice to end the episode on a moment of triumph. On most shows, I’d assume the bottom would fall out in the next episode, but maybe things are going to just keep going up and up.