At this point, I’m more interested in watching Nashville as the possibly fictional struggle I’ve concocted between the producers and the network in my head than I am any of the storylines. After February sweeps seemed to finally be pushing forward on a lot of stuff that I had wanted to see since the show began, we’re now back to a bunch of storylines that have nothing to do with anything or, worse, answer questions I didn’t particularly need the answers to in the first place. Did anybody really want to know what the biggest fight Rayna and her father ever had was? I sure didn’t, and even if the scenes involving this were pretty good, it wasn’t hard to feel like they were occurring in yet another vacuum, sealed off from everything else. At least Avery is Juliette’s roadie… for now.
Let’s not mince words here: The direction the show has taken Juliette since February has been pretty awful. What had been a story about a young woman taking control of her life from those who had controlled her for too long has mostly turned into The Dante Show With Dante As Dante. Look, I’m sure he’s nice to look at when he’s not wearing a shirt, but the connection between Dante and Juliette just isn’t enough to get me to believe that she’d sign over so much of her life to the guy. Now, he’s going to be Juliette’s manager, and since Deacon—the voice of reason on this show—doesn’t like him, we’re almost certain to have some scene where he does Juliette wrong and she has to cut him loose. But the show’s heart won’t really be in it, because what it’s really interested in is Juliette’s connection to her mother or something. I mean, I hope Mrs. Barnes and her daughter patch things up, too, but on the list of Nashville plots I care about, whether or not Juliette’s mom gets sober is near the bottom.
A lot of the time on Nashville, I watch a story unfold, and it feels almost as if all of the writers in the writers’ room are covering their eyes, squinting, then saying, “What if…” followed by some weird, improbable thing that will have no grounding in anything. Dante being the perfect person to manage Juliette’s career in this sensitive time is like that. It’s not that I object to this storyline, per se, but I do think it’s been tossed into the show as a fait accompli, as something that the writers wanted to get to but didn’t want to build organically. So they introduced a character to become Juliette’s manager and lover, then mixed in the sober companion business because they thought that might make for good drama.
This is the default mode on Nashville in many episodes. Gunnar is feeling sad about his brother, and Scarlett hasn’t been tempted by a hot neighbor, so Cowboy Will enters the picture to entice both of them. Somebody says, “Hey, what if Watty was the reason Rayna’s father got so mad about her country music career, because he slept with Rayna’s mother?” and somebody else says, “Yes! Print that!” Avery becomes Juliette’s roadie because he needs something to do, then he’s briefly fired because conflict, and then he’s back because Deacon. At least Peggy being the one who leaked all that stuff about Rayna seems to stem organically from whom she’s been established as—or, rather, works as enough of a reversal that it throws the other things she’s done into sharper relief. The plots on Nashville aren’t really driven by the characters—outside of that brief February sweeps period. Somebody decides where a plot is going to end up, then pushes the characters to that point.
Now, some of this is probably just killing time. This late in the season of any serialized drama that runs over 20 episodes, there will inevitably be some plots that simply don’t work. Everybody in the writers’ room is exhausted from having to come up with all of this stuff, and they start throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. This is typical. What’s most dispiriting about this happening on Nashville, though, is that it felt like the show had turned this corner, so to see it sink back down into the world of the conflicts being, at best, surface level conflicts is disappointing. What happened to the way that Rayna and Juliette seemed to be driving the story forward, or how Deacon was finally stepping up and declaring himself? Instead, we’ve gotten roadblocks thrown in the way of inevitability here, and roadblocks are rarely fun, even if they’re played by Susan Misner.
At least we’re getting more time with Watty, who turns out to have had an affair with Rayna’s mother, an affair that eventually led to the car accident that took her life (so far as I could follow). Watty was one of my favorite characters in the early going, but he’s been left behind, like so many guest characters (and regulars!) on this show, as it’s lurched forward into whatever it is now. I have no idea whether this is part of some grand, master plan to bring him back toward the center of the show, or if the series really just wanted to tell us what transpired between Rayna and her dad, but the sumbitch almost makes this material play. He seems genuinely regretful. He misses Rayna’s mom, and he wishes things had turned out differently. How can you not be supportive of that?
Meanwhile, Scarlett’s career heads forward at an awkward pace, her meeting with Rayna (who skips for obvious reasons) transmuting into the entire staff of Edgehill Records saluting her with champagne. I will freely confess that I don’t know what this storyline is supposed to be anymore. Wish fulfillment? I guess so, but it still feels like a storyline that’s utterly uninterested in conflict. I like that the women on Nashville are the strivers, while the men are the piners, but it’s largely resulted in the women on the show getting what they want with minimal internal struggle. This means that external obstacles keep getting thrown in their paths, and that’s nowhere more apparent than in the Scarlett storyline.
Or, put another way, look at how the Rayna storyline begins: She’s going to ditch the tour to go and be with her dad. It’s a family emergency, but it introduces some believable conflict between her and Juliette and (presumably) her and her label. But then it’s almost completely dropped in favor of the Watty storyline once she makes it back to Nashville, while Juliette forgets she was mad and hangs out with Dante a bunch. The only person who seems to care is Deacon, and that’s just because he’s starting to realize the season finale is drawing near, and that’s when he’ll inevitably make his play for Rayna’s heart. Even when this show sets up intriguing storylines, it has utterly no idea how to follow through on them.
- Juliette says New York City is the largest country music market in the country. Theoretical, sure, but does New York have that many country fans? The last time I was there, I don’t think I heard a single country tune while there (unless we’re counting “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”), and most of my friends from the NYC area look at me in confusion when I get drunk enough to bust out the Garth Brooks.
- Even when he’s latched up to IVs, humping a hospital pole down the hallway, Powers Boothe is one scary dude, lest you forget that point.
- I feel like Deacon’s dog was added to the show almost entirely so that scenes could occasionally begin with shots of the dog, thus providing the audience with an occasional boost of goodwill toward the show, no matter what’s going on.