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Nashville : “Take These Chains From My Heart”



“Take These Chains From My Heart”

Season 1 , Episode 18

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So. Who had con artist working with a fake real estate agent to bilk Juliette out of a substantial portion of her funds in the pool? Anyone? Anybody? Come on! Quite a few of you had Will pegged as a closeted gay guy with a crush on Gunnar from day one. One of you must have known that Dante was playing Juliette, via the most ridiculous and coincidental long con ever. Even if you accept that he and his compatriot were just making this all up on the fly (and somehow the check to buy the house wasn’t a part of the whole deal), there are still so many logical hurdles to leap from “sensitive sober companion to Juliette’s mother” to “boyfriend who’s actually plotting to rob her blind with the help of his real lover.” It’s so bizarre, and it almost entirely plays off the show’s abrupt shift last week to depict the guy as a bad dude, from the sensitive guy he’d been before. Maybe this is what stardom is: a constant parade of people trying to grift you.

Maybe that’s the case. Would it surprise me? Not in the slightest. But the whole storyline has the distinct sense of just needing to clear out to make room for something else. Now, it’s pretty awesome when Juliette swears to never let anyone rip her off again, while staring out at the lights of Nashville from her brand new house. But the second that Juliette’s mom is telling her daughter that, hey, there was this other girl that Dante was kissing, and maybe Juliette should look into it, the basic contours of the story become apparent (and even more so when the other woman actually shows up). This is going to be yet another thing where a wedge is put into Juliette and her mom’s relationship, and then she learns that, hey, maybe mom’s not so bad after all, because something awful befalls her.

I don’t want to keep belaboring this plot, but it is super dumb, and it comes in the middle of an episode that is mostly kind of okay otherwise. I don’t really buy some of the other things the characters do—like Gunnar being so angry about Scarlett getting them another audition with Rayna—but there are some nice moments of forward progress, and the whole thing ends with a sexy, sexy hookup between Rayna and Deacon, which only the whole season has been building toward. In addition, Will tries to kiss Gunnar and strikes out, Avery wanders back into the storyline and casts an eye toward Deacon’s old job, and the world’s least exciting real estate deal rears its ugly head again. “The Cumberland deal,” says Tandy, and Coleman’s eyes sink a little, because he realizes he’s somehow gotten enmeshed in the plot that wouldn’t end. Just when you thought it was safe to be a supporting character on this show again…

The show has usually been at its best when it pushes its three most important female characters toward the center of things, and that’s the case tonight. We’ve already dealt with the terminal stupid of the Juliette plot, but I ended up finding the Scarlett business sort of sweet. She’s reluctant to step out on her own, but circumstances keep pushing her in that direction, and then she gets to spend an evening just hanging out backstage at Rayna and Juliette’s concert, where she bumps into Avery again. For the first time all season, Avery is something more than just a jerk with a bad haircut, and as the two of them talk about their failed relationship, the show takes on a hint of the regret that’s powered many of its best storylines. Knowing this show, it will use this as an excuse to reignite the love triangle, but I like the idea of Scarlett mourning the Avery that was, while loving the Gunnar she has, and I hope the show doesn’t fuck it up.

Of course, “mourning the man that was while loving the man she has” is where Rayna started things on this show, and after she makes out with Liam, then entertains his offer of going to St. Lucia, she realizes that what she really wants is Deacon, who had been planning to quit Juliette’s tour and spend more time with Sandy Bee… Stacy, only to let down the other woman’s hopes by taking up with the woman he’s always loved. I’m not entirely sure why the show can’t seem to destroy the connection between these two, no matter what it throws at the relationship, but the Deacon and Rayna scenes are the only ones that work every time on a romantic level, and their ultimate, surprisingly hot (for this show, at least) hookup is perhaps the episode’s finest moment, if only because it carries with it the impulse to cry out, “Fuckin’ finally!” These two have known this story was heading here all along, but they took their sweet time, even when there was no good reason to. I can only assume they will return to chastely glancing at each other next week.

Meanwhile, Gunnar needs to learn how to “swagger,” so he turns to Will, who gives him all sorts of useful life advice—pick out the prettiest girl in each quadrant of the room, then sing to her—then makes a move on him. I’ll admit that I was bamboozled by Will throughout, to the degree that a couple of scenes before he tried to kiss Gunnar, I was thinking, “I don’t know what those commenters are talking about! This guy is straight!” It ends up being another interesting scene, though more for what it sets up than anything else. What’s it like to be a gay man in the country music industry, which has been traditionally built on more conservative faith and values? That’s a potentially interesting story for the show to tell, and having it intersect with Gunnar and Scarlett’s perfect little life isn’t bad either. I’m hopeful the show doesn’t just forget about Will in the weeks to come.

Enough happened in this episode that I was reasonably entertained by it, even with some of the stupid stuff going on at the show’s edges. It certainly didn’t hurt that the music was pretty good, too. Gunnar’s song at the open mic night, in particular, was really strong, and I liked Will’s number as well. Nashville is that rare show where things work best when it can create the illusion of things moving forward without actually having them move forward all that much, where the plots are best when driven by the female characters, and where everything can be wrapped up tidily with a good song. Nashville kicked off its pretty good February sweeps period with an episode like this, and I’m hoping that as we descend toward the season finale, this is a sign of pretty okay things to come, just so long as Dante is gone for good.

Stray observations:

  • Juliette Barnes sits in the frame with an object of some sort because the director has heard of mise en scene: Though I suppose that the dog could symbolize Dante, who reveals his true nature. Maybe? I hope?
  • “We are so excited to be partnering with Subway on this new deal!” Ladies and gentlemen, Teddy presents… product placement!
  • I actually sort of liked Lamar’s attempts to claw his way back to health that he might smite all his enemies. Maybe we could get a bunch of that in season two, and it would be just like Al’s arc in season two of Deadwood. Probably not!
  • Gunnar gets the interest of a producer who wants to help him lay down a demo. Everybody’s getting a deal but Avery! (And, actually, don’t you think that Deacon’s absence from Juliette’s tour and Avery’s presence as a roadie is going to lead to a sort of 1 + 1 = 2 plot? Or is that just me?)
  • “It'll be a good reminder... to never trust anybody.” Well, so would making a note in your day planner, Juliette, but, hey, buy a giant house that will always remind you of your lowest moment. See if I care!