“Someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll find someone who makes me feel like the best version of myself.” Will Lexington, of all people, nails everyone’s relationship problems, on Nashville and elsewhere. His off-the-cuff comment to Juliette (who sagely nods in agreement) gets to the heart of why we’re all in love with love. Will, unfortunately, is stuck with the horrible Layla, while he really pines for Brent. Deacon and Rayna were entwined for years while bringing out the worst in each other. Avery and Scarlett 1.0 was a trainwreck, with him being a tool and her being a doormat: 2.0 seems to be going much better, but does it really mean more than his dawning connection to Miss Juliette Barnes?
As Nashville throws these last few episodes at us before the “winter hiatus,” the show has accomplished its usual ricochet from stellar episode (“Hanky Panky Woman”) to lackluster (last week’s “I'm Tired Of Pretending”) to a sensational one (tonight’s “Tomorrow Never Comes”).
Last week spun around some ridiculous conflicts that anyone slightly familiar with the concepts of “television” or “drama” could resolve rather simply. Scarlett’s sulking about Zoey dating Gunnar is pointless, as in a few episodes she’ll probably see how happy they are and forgive them, or Gunnar will realize that Zoey is a poor substitute for Scarlett, or something. Same with the Deacon-Teddy war over Maddie’s paternal feelings: Anyone out there think this isn’t going to come to some friendly resolution, for the sake of the child? And we revisit Lamar in prison, while Tandy has not yet come clean to Rayna that she’s the one who stuck their daddy in there. I’m sure Powers Boothe was cast as a mover and a shaker of Nashville wheelings and dealings (he got his ineffectual son-in-law elected mayor, after all). But now that he’s pretty helpless in prison, and really only comes up in conversation for his possible house-arrest hearings, it’s more apparent than ever that this plotline just doesn’t fit in with the rest of Nashville.
At least Will’s storyline finally hits its high point this week, as he strays between awful Layla and his true love Brent. His festival performance where he basically was having “cheer sex” with Brent, while ignoring his oblivious girlfriend, was awesome. Of course this led to his winding up in bed with Brent; when Layla wandered into his apartment, I completely thought she was going to walk in on her boyfriend’s same-sex romance, but gasped when the next shot showed Will at the tracks, staring down a freight train. I’d forgotten the Nashville “Tonight... they lose one of their own” promo (as well as Will’s own daredevil thrill-seeking) until that moment and thought, “No, not Will!”
Fortunately for Will, and for all of us, I’m willing to bet my own unworn cowboy hat that the real victim this week will be Peggy, shot in an assassination attempt on the mayor that really seemed to come out of nowhere, unless I’m missing something major (Anyone have any theories? One of Lamar’s cronies, perhaps?). So long, Peggy. The pork blood was a clear foreshadowing.
As always, Nashville’s saving graces come through its music, which fortunately has risen to almost season one heights. “Can’t Say No To You,” Will’s duet with Juliette (which she swipes from Layla, protesting, “What? She started it!”) is radio-ready, despite an unfortunate lyric about sweet tea. Gunnar’s melodic plea to Zoey, “Can’t Get It Right” (with an Arcade Fire-ish number of people on his stage), is enough to turn her “I can’t do this right now” instantly into a “Forget Scarlett, let’s be together!”
But my new favorite Nashville moment is Juliette performing “Trouble Is” (my previous favorite Nashville moment also took place on stage, which is where these performers lay all their emotions bare for the world to see). We first heard the song at her performance at the Wentworth birthday party, before all the Charlie trouble. Now, singing at the big Nashville Music Festival after she’s been branded a homewrecker and a tramp (do people really still use words like that?), she falters in front of the fans that have turned on her. She looks back to her band for any sign of support, and Avery Barkley—AVERY BARKLEY—steps up to the plate by taking over her vocals, backing her in a duet that simultaneously improves the song and saves Juliette’s professional life. It’s amazing, especially when you compare the shameful versions of these two characters that existed only last season. Both Jonathan Jackson and Hayden Panettiere started out as kid actors on soaps (General Hospital and Guiding Light, respectively) and I can’t help but wonder if all that drama experience helps them here, in what is basically a country-western soap opera. They bring so much to their scenes together, often without even saying anything.
After their life-altering live song, Avery tells Juliette how awesome it was that she kept going on stage, and helps her come up with a media response she can live with. She rejected Charlie because she realized how he brought out the worst in her, telling her she was royalty. (As Glenn wisely pointed out: Even in that small scene, as Juliette defensively protests, you can see the glint of tears in her eyes as she simultaneously conveys that she’s hurt and she knows he’s right. Every single week, Hayden Panettiere is the greatest thing about this show.) And who makes her feel like a real, worthy person? Avery. I hate the thought of them becoming an item, because right now he is about the only person she can lean on, but I love it too, thanks to the show’s slow, smart buildup (all the way back to them careening into each other in the pilot). Her declaration to him is definitive because it’s about her loving him, not any other way around. Of course Scarlett is there, complicating matters with her poutiness, but I can’t wait to see how this plays out. Thanks to Avery, Juliette finally sees a side of herself she can be proud of.
Rayna, on the other hand, is setting herself up solo, scraping up $20 million (which seems like a hell of a lot of money) to buy out her Edgehill contract and set up her own label (which doesn’t even leave her any startup capital). This plot sets up one of my favorite parts of Nashville, when the show discusses the intricacies of the music business. Rayna is mad at Jeff for deleting songs from her album: “You can’t just drop tracks off of that album: That album is complete!” But according to Jeff’s market research, the songs he dropped didn’t register with her audience, and there’s no hit single to anchor the album. Actually, they’re both right: Rayna wants control of her creative product, but in this iTunes/Spotify age, does the concept of a complete album even exist any more? Jeff says he’s not the villain, he just needs to be profitable, and for the first time I see his point. Rayna doesn’t, however, and uses a giant pile of money to break free of his label. Not sure I agree, but again, seeing her on her own should be interesting.
So we end this first half of the season with a lot of characters at a crossroads (not counting Will, who’s literally standing on a train track): Deacon is trying to be a front-man for once, Rayna is taking a major chance with her career, and Juliette has opened her heart—all positive steps that bode well for the outcomes we’ll view next year.
“I'm Tired Of Pretending”: C+
“Tomorrow Never Comes”: B+
- Deacon and Megan are the lamest couple in this show’s short history, which is really saying something.
- The prosecutor actually rubs his hands with glee when Lamar’s house arrest is denied.
- Hate to knock on anyone’s appearance, but Gunnar’s pompadoury hair is so out of control, it’s distracting.
- Also, nearly all the hats on this show are unfortunate, especially the too-tight fedoras. Except for Will’s cowboy hat. That can stay.
- Meta-commentary from Deacon: “I don’t want to get in the middle of whatever soap opera you got going on here.”
- Sometimes I think Juliette is channeling Neely O’Hara: “If you try to tell me that was nothing to get upset over, I will literally come over there and rip your face off!”
- Loved Maddie pulling the “You’re not my mom” card on Peggy.
- Nashville, please try to avoid tired clichés as actual dialogue: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” “No blood, no foul.”
- Glenn rates the gossip outlets: “TMZ... Radar... ugh, Perez Hilton.”
- All I wanted for Christmas was the end of the Rayna/Luke Wheeler relationship, and I believe I got my wish.
- The merriest of holidays to you all, Nashvillians: see you in 2014!