In the 1950 movie All About Eve, established actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is tortured by young, up-and-coming star Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), who steals her parts in plays, her friends, and even tries to take her man. Eve eventually becomes a star in her own right, and in the film’s final scene, she gets her own Eve (who actually calls herself Phoebe), who will undoubtedly now hound Eve and try to overtake her.
Nashville has a few parallels to this classic film, as the show started out with country music legend Rayna James (Connie Britton) being overshadowed by irrepressible newcomer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere). Barnes even steals James’ guitar player/true love Deacon (Charles Esten) for awhile, as she ushers in a whole new generation of fans, including Rayna’s own daughters. In this awesomely paced second episode of what is shaping up to be a superlative Nashville season, Juliette gets her own Juliette: the second-runner-up in an American Idol-type program (Aubrey Peebles), who debuts at an industry party with a “Juliette Barnes classic” (like the Rayna James “hit” from last week, disappointingly lackluster. “Telescope”? “Boys And Buses”? Anyone?). Which offers both sweet revenge for Rayna and promising plot developments for former upstart Juliette, who now is not only battling established stars like Rayna for world-country-music-domination, but also up-and-comers.
The machination that kicks off this turn of events: Edgehill Records, home to Rayna and Juliette, has a new man in charge. Bucky (David Alford) reports to Rayna (in a delightful scene that seems so organic you could almost forget the two were actors reciting lines for a moment) that Jeff Fordham, a money guy, has taken over the label. (Fordham is played by Oliver Hudson, brother of Kate, son of Goldie.) Fordham puts up a good front at first, but eventually reveals that he wants Juliette to go back to her top-selling bubble gum and glitter, and all he wants from Rayna is her back catalog and to poach Cowboy Will (Chris Carmack) from her “fledgling label,” Highway 65.
Juliette being Juliette, she decides to take this matter into her own hands. I know I will probably keep raving about how awesome Hayden Panettiere is every week, but just watch as she exploits her own history to try to boost her record sales by offering the press in-depth tour of the Alabama trailer park she grew up in. Not sure of the logic of this method, but it soon seems apparent that Juliette has opened her own emotional Pandora’s box, as she runs into a woman that use to care for her when she was left by herself by her parents. Juliette is obviously gutted, yet still determined to put on a good show for the cameras. (Despite an extremely unfortunate ensemble: She’s a beautiful girl, but too-tight Pippi Longstocking braids and a sad trailer-park outfit fail to highlight this.) Avery (Jonathan Jackson) and Glenn (Ed Amatrudo) are concerned, but Juliette maintains that she’s just trying to sell records, even if she has to expose her own soul to do it.
Juliette’s storyline highlights an excellent plot development that hopefully will continue over the rest of the season: Our three female leads are focusing on themselves and their careers, not their love lives. None are attached at the moment, not even Scarlett, thank God. Deacon and Rayna finally have their first meeting after the car accident, when he calls her from the roadside memorial fans have set up. She gives him back the ring he once gave her, then goes home and thankfully kicks Teddy to the curb as he’s been “helping out” since her return from the hospital. Britton’s quiet strength leaves no doubt that Rayna will be able to put her life back together all by herself.
No-nonsense Scarlett (Clare Bowen) is my favorite Scarlett, when she’s checking guns for bullets, shooing away photographers because she’s not going to sign any “re-leases,” or in this episode, almost-but-not-quite rolling her eyes at Gunnar’s reveal that he torched her couch. She’s also the one to kick some sense into her martyrous Uncle Deacon, who is sober, at least, but ready to give up his entire musical career due to his hand injury until a talk from Scarlett convinces him to saw off his own cast.
Gunnar’s songwriting suffers without Scarlett, until even he benefits from a female pep talk, this time from Scarlett’s friend Zoey, more engaging this week, who encourages him to use his recent heartache for inspiration. (She also has great rhymes for “beer”: souvenir, insincere, persevere.) Nashville creator Callie Khouri’s husband, T Bone Burnett, has turned the music direction of the show over to Buddy Miller this season (citing conflict with a variety of other projects, like Elton John’s new album), and sorry to say, the transition is obvious. Will’s bar band hit, “Tears So Strong,” is a pale shadow compared to the awesomeness that was “Gun For A Mouth” last season. The song that Gunnar (Sam Palladio) eventually performs at the Bluebird, an ode to his lost brother, is the only one I’d even think about buying on iTunes tomorrow.
This songwriting effort unfortunately inspires Will to sign with Edgehill Records over Rayna’s Highway 65 label, as he realizes he’s not really an artist, or much of a songwriter: he just wants to be a country music star. And a closeted one at that, as his ex Brent coincidentally works for Jeff doing marketing and PR, which also sets up some drama for this season.
All of these events come to a head at Fordham’s little soirée “just for the artists” in his mansion that includes a giant stage set in the back. Nashville excels at these pressure-cooker high-profile events or industry parties that throw everyone together just to see what happens. The high point of the episode is everything else that’s going on during Layla Grant’s performance. Juliette’s spit-take when she finds out that Layla’s single went past hers to number one on iTunes even after her trailer-park reveal, Avery’s slow roll toward Juliette when Layla announces a “Juliette Barnes classic,” Rayna’s motherly smile toward Scarlett, and Scarlett’s flummoxed grimace toward the Layla performance: sheer poetry.
I can’t think of another show right now that features so many strong female leads, who are all strong in different, multi-leveled ways, and they all take a stand in this episode: Juliette in her usual borderline self-destructive manner, Scarlett as she does when she occasionally gets pushed beyond her limit, Rayna as she realizes that she and Deacon can’t save each other, but have to save themselves, and she has to move forward alone.
- “What, you couldn’t get the winner?”
- Cowboy Will’s enthusiastic “Welcome to Nashville” to Jeff was a pretty funny nod to Chris Carmack’s famous “Welcome to the O.C., bitch!”
- Possible future storyline: the return of Juliette’s dad? There were a few mentions of him at the trailer park; maybe Jolene told Juliette he died because he ran off and abandoned them, or something.
- Loved Juliette on Conan, gritting her teeth and answering questions about Rayna.
- Juliette and Avery: “Shut up!” “I didn’t say anything.” “I can hear you thinking from all the way over here.”
- If Jeff doesn’t like you, you can pretty much tell as you’re being introduced, as he dismisses Scarlett with: “Nice dress.” This exchange was pretty funny, though: “I’m Avery Barkley.” “Oh.”
- Rayna understatement: “It’s been a real crappy month.”