Nashville : “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight”
B+

Nashville : “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight”

Nashville turns in another decent, satisfying little episode here. I’m still waiting for the show to take the next step up to the level of an A- or, dare we hope?, an A, but if it has to be stuck in a rut, I’d much rather it be stuck in this one, where things are happening every so often, than whatever it was doing in the latter half of this year. The ratings have also ticked up a bit, which suggests the audience is finding the show right as the quality is turning around. That’s always a nice thing to see, and while I can’t yet say that I think Nashville is one of the best shows on TV or even one of the best shows in its time slot, I’m glad that it’s starting to live up to some of its potential.

Well, to be more specific, it’s starting to live up to some of its potential in the Rayna and Juliette storylines, which have simultaneously gotten deeper and soapier. Now that the two women are going after what they want, complications are springing up all over the place. And I think it’s sort of interesting that the things Rayna is pursuing are often relationship-based—outside of her desire to start a record label and give Gunnar and Scarlett a way to start hanging out with everybody else on the show—while the things that Juliette is pursuing are career-based. Both women are realizing that they’ve been trapped in straitjackets they were never interested in being confined by, but in very opposite directions. There’s a great scene tonight where Juliette—and I never thought a character played by Hayden Panettiere would be my favorite on any show, but here we are—reams out her staff for listening to her manager, instead of her, and it’s the loud counterpart to a very quiet scene where Rayna and Teddy negotiate the end of their marriage, strained silences indicating just how frustrated they are with each other.

The heart of the episode is all about what Rayna’s going to do now that her marriage is ending. The divorce proceeds civilly, with the two telling the kids all of the right things, but it’s still a big weight to her, even if it’s been pretty obvious to both partners in this marriage that it’s been dead for a while now. She’s staggering a bit, and it’s fascinating that she finds comfort by hanging out with Liam, instead of hanging out with Deacon. Liam and Rayna briefly kiss, but things don’t go further than that. Instead, they spend the night in his hotel room, talking and laughing and making us wonder if Jack White has ever hooked up with Reba McEntire. I didn’t really know that Rayna needed another suitor, but the two have a nice, easy chemistry, and there’s none of the tortured past that’s so central to her relationships with Deacon and Teddy. The show apparently just needs to keep giving Rayna suitors to get better, so I can’t wait to find out that she once went on a few chaste dates with Kermit the Frog after hosting Muppets Tonight in the mid-90s.

Meanwhile, Juliette is continuing to press forward with her plan to be more honest or something, but it’s difficult to escape the prison that is the Juliette Barnes image. Plus, at every turn, she’s being undermined by Glenn, who’s skeptical of the new Juliette, to say the least. The show has been building to a confrontation between the two for a while now, but that it comes when they’re in a hotel hallway, with the rest of her crew present, makes it all the more dramatic, and having Glenn quit is a good direction to take the story of Juliette attempting to take charge of her own life and career. Plus, it allows for a nice scene where Deacon gives Juliette a bit of advice while the two ride in an elevator together. As I’ve said time and again, this show is better when the characters are allowed to move among each other’s circles, and this is another good example of what happens when the show starts a storyline in one character’s orbit, then pulls in another character from their own orbit to comment. It’s not the same as everybody getting involved in each other’s storylines, but it’s a close enough surrogate to work within this show’s weird, weird storytelling style.

Deacon, of course, is dismayed to see Rayna and Liam talking so familiarly—like they might have just had sex or spent the evening talking about stuff on his bathroom floor—but he’s a little less central this week than he was last week. Well, he’s also writing songs with Juliette, which provides another reason for Glenn to be upset with her. Really, this whole episode, maybe this whole show, is about the efforts of these two women (and Scarlett, sort of) to avoid being pigeonholed and controlled by the men in their lives. Juliette was discovered at a local TV audition by Glenn, and he’ll always be trying to force her into the box of the little girl with the big voice, instead of appreciating the woman she’s becoming, with her own artistic tastes and failed marriages to Fake Tim Tebows. Rayna, meanwhile, has been held up on a weird pedestal by two men, who somehow simultaneously fail to appreciate many things about her, and maybe she just wants to have a little fun with an alt-country type. Is that so wrong? And it’s not hard to imagine her diving into anything else after her older daughter informs her that Teddy’s reasons for wanting a divorce may not be, shall we say, wholly pure, since she knows he’s been sleeping with Peggy now. The more the show plays up these themes of female empowerment, the more it finds its voice.

Unfortunately, back in Nashville, we’re still constantly reminded that Gunnar and Scarlett are a part of the show. And while I can appreciate that they might get pulled into Rayna’s orbit soon, since that would at least allow us to see if they can be interesting when they bounce off the other characters, I’m just about over everything they have to offer that’s not singing beautifully. Tonight, we’re supposed to care that Gunnar’s brother—who solely took the fall for a robbery, even though Gunnar was also present and probably could have been implicated (though he had no idea about the robbery, and this is a really convoluted way to try to keep the character “good”)—is moving in with the two, and that Scarlett warms to him a bit when he plays guitar opposite Gunnar when she’s singing. And the song’s pretty and all, but, hey, the reveal with that gun reminded me just how bad this show is at the soapy stuff when it skews away from love triangles. Yes, Gunnar’s brother has a gun. Dollars to donuts Gunnar’s brother is going to die by that gun. Oh, well. They can’t all be winners.

Stray observations:

  • The continuing adventures of Avery Barkley: “Whoa!” thought Avery Barkley. “$100,000 can buy many peanuts!”
  • Doesn’t it feel like the cast has gotten a lot smaller in recent weeks? I realize that’s because we haven’t seen Powers Boothe or Robert Wisdom in a while, and I wonder if that’s a permanent call, or if they’re just taking a few weeks off and will roar back in a custom-build Harley-Davidson, shotguns at the ready. Teddy’s going to pay for cheating on their daughter/friend!
  • I liked the moment when Rayna kept missing her cue to come in. I felt like something more could have been done with that, or a whole episode built around it, or something.

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