Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Nashville : “I’ve Been Down That Road Before”

Illustration for article titled Nashville : “I’ve Been Down That Road Before”

This week, three things happened. I think I finally got what Nashville is going for. Also, the show started to move its plot forward in some interesting ways. Also, also, and probably because of all of this, this might be the most I’ve purely enjoyed watching the series since its second episode. Now, a lot of that was because the show isolated all of the best characters in Chicago, so I felt sort of safe in just ignoring whatever was going on back in Nashville. (It involved Avery being a sulky brat.) In Chicago, though, things were moving along, characters were taking chances, and the whole show was starting to feel like it was figuring out how to blend what it wanted with what its network wanted. It was a right enjoyable hour of TV, with some good songs—one notable exception aside, though I suspect that exception was there to prove a point—and some fine, steamy moments. I’ve been sticking with this show because I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it randomly turn the corner. I hope this episode was that corner turn.

But let’s not talk about all of that. Let’s talk about sexy dudes!

In following some of the Twitter chatter on this show, I’ve slowly been realizing that a big appeal for it for some portion of its audience is an appeal that just won’t speak to me, but an appeal I can appreciate. Most TV shows objectify their female characters, because most TV shows are written by and run for men, and when you’re a straight guy, you sort of expect that everybody in the world sees the world the way you do. (I truly apologize for this; we’ve been privileged for way, way too long.) On Nashville, however, it’s far more often the men—men of all ages, no less—who are objectified by taking off their shirts or smoldering at the camera or just basically looking like romance novel cover models. Yeah, the show puts Hayden Panettiere in some skimpy outfits, but you can tell its heart isn’t really in it. Clare Bowen, who’s the most conventionally attractive woman in the cast, is always fully dressed, positioned at the center of two hunky guys who are constantly fighting over her. The same goes for Connie Britton, also a very beautiful woman who’s got two older gents battling for her affections. It’s not hard to feel as if Callie Khouri is doing some of this because shows like this are fairly rare.

I’m not going to sit here and say the love triangle where two guys battle over a girl is never done on TV. Among other series, it’s the driving narrative engine of The Vampire Diaries. What’s unique about Nashville is that it has multiple love triangles, and they’re all triangles that feature women as the focal point. Scarlett, Juliette, and Rayna all have multiple fellas vying for their affections, and those guys aren’t afraid to put it all on the line and be super romantic to declare said affections. The closest thing we have to a more traditional “one man, two women” love triangle features Teddy as its focal point, and there’s always Deacon there to fuck everything up. Even Grey’s Anatomy, another show with a strong female showrunner, mostly features one-man-two-women love triangles. On Nashville, the women have the strongest gravitational forces; the men are just the planets that orbit them.

I actually like all of this in theory, because I enjoy when TV has more shows that are told from perspectives other than that default straight white guy perspective. The show’s problem has been that it seemed to mistake all that smoldering for drama. And maybe I’m just reading everything wrong. In a romance tale, often, the smoldering is the drama. It’s the being wanted—more than the actually following through on that wanting—that drives the action. To me, the idea of being wanted is inherently uninteresting in a dramatic sense. (Horrifying sexual politics aside, it’s why Twilight never did much of anything for me.) So I think “I’ve Been Down That Road Before” righted some of these wrongs by having things actually start to move forward. They moved forward in that Nashville stutter-step way, where it’s never precisely clear just why anything is happening, but move forward they did!

Three elevator scenes essentially spelled out the show’s evolving approach to drama. In the first, Deacon and Rayna rode up to their hotel rooms in complete silence, standing apart from each other. In the second, Rayna pestered Deacon with questions, but he didn’t say anything in return. And in the third, he moved toward her and kissed her, consummating the longing that’s been building up all this time. Then, the elevator stopped at his floor, and every time, he got out. In the first version of the show, there’s potential for things to happen, but nothing does. In the second, there’s conflict, but it’s all one-sided. And in the third, things actually start happening, and the big, sticky wheel of plot starts moving.

I actually sympathize with the idea of a show about things that are always about to happen. That’s how most of life is, isn’t it? You have things you think you might do, and you have things you’d like to do, but all too often, they get washed away by your own terror at the prospect of stepping up and doing them. There are a million good reasons for Deacon not to kiss Rayna, but there’s only one good reason to: He wants to. (Okay, two good reasons to: It would also move the plot forward.) Getting the characters to overcome their stasis has taken over half a season of television, but now that we’re here, the stasis has become a part of the momentum. With all of that emotion built up, the release isn’t a gentle hiss. It’s a slow-motion explosion.


Because, seriously, a ton of stuff happens in this episode. Juliette decides to take control of her own career and is made fun of on Twitter! (Only to have her assistant point out that her true fans love what she did, and why do I think Khouri is trying to have a dialogue with me?) Gunnar hits Avery in the face! Teddy sleeps with that one woman I can never remember the name of! And when he does so, he realizes he hasn’t been happy in his marriage for a long time and flies to Chicago to ask for a divorce! (Also, he’s the mayor? Doesn’t that just seem weird?) Powers Boothe isn’t there, but you know he’s glowering somewhere! And Rayna invites Deacon up to the penthouse, only to have her husband show up at the door instead (to ask for the aforementioned divorce)!

Let me circle back to the beginning here. I said there that I felt as if this episode finally made me realize what the show is trying to do, and now that I have, I can be a bit more charitable about it, while still realizing that “something” may not always be for me. Nashville, basically, wants to put you in its own particular Nashville-ian state of mind every week, a state of mind that’s largely devoid of conflict and plot but one that is sort of like settling back and floating on a lazy river. Yet there’s a momentum to laziness all the same, a momentum to just building up that smolder until the pot boils over. The problem with Nashville to this point was that it was all smolder, no stuff. Now that there’s some stuff, too, hopefully, it will make the smolder that much more palatable.


Stray observations:

  • My screener of this episode cut out right after Rayna answers the door to see her husband standing there. “Hi!” she said, and it cut to black so perfectly that I was prepared to bump this up to an A-… until the stream resumed itself. It was just bad coding, and we got the rest of the episode.
  • That song I hated was Juliette’s updated version of “I Enjoy Being A Girl” from Flower Drum Song. (Okay, a cover of that song would have been better.) But I think that was supposed to be the point: She’s tired of being this facile pop creation, and she wants to do something else. Whatever! It was still a bad song!
  • In Gunnar/Scarlett/Avery news: Gunnar and Scarlett are living together now! Nobody cares! Except Avery, but he gets punched in the face.