By this time in the season for a show like Nashville, so many narrative balls have been thrown into the air that the final episodes are all about watching them all come crashing down. Two weeks ago, I talked about the prevailing sense of the inevitable, and although last week's episode wrenched up the drama too much, it kept pushing characters toward some particularly dramatic and upsetting circumstances. This week's "A Picture From Life's Other Side" rebounded from some of the more hyperbolic, constructed tension that's plagued the story as of late and instead served up some expected, but no less powerful, moments. But whereas the last few episodes kept throwing more balls into the air, "A Picture From Life's Other Side" brought gravity into the picture, bringing those balls down quite quickly, and quite disastrously, for certain characters.
Ever since the rumors started floating around that a few characters were going to die here at the end of the season, it was pretty clear that Dante and Jolene were nearing their expiration dates. Dante is the kind of character who dies on shows like this and the writers had truly run out of interesting things for Jolene to do other than have her get shooed away by an angry and petulant daughter. However, I did not expect their deaths to come in this week's episode, though it was probably the right call, for a number of reasons. Instead of using Jolene's murder of Dante and her subsequent suicide as some sort of cliffhanger, approaching the story this way permits the show to give us a few final moments of true Juliette sadness. I keep hoping that the show will finally allow her to be happy for even a few episodes, but it's clear now that she must bottom out even further before any real rehabilitation can begin.
On a related note, the deaths make sense now because Juliette spent this episode recognizing that she didn't have much of a way out of the deep, deep hole she'd dug herself into. If she gave Dante money for the sex tape, there was zero guarantee that he hadn't saved the video to the cloud, or that he'd ever stop asking for money. Consequently, in one of the season's best scenes, Juliette told her entire team that it was not worth fighting Dante anymore; it was time to admit the mistakes she'd made, even if that meant further harming her burgeoning career (though we haven't seen much of an impact from her previous troubles). As she noted, everyone already knows that she is a trainwreck; might as well turn into the skid before trying to fix the image.
Juliette can now go one of two ways. She can, inspired by the moment of self-realization she experienced this week, take her mother's death as yet another sign that she does need to get her life together. She needs a manager and she should probably be less desperate to find love from anyone who might look at her with an interested eye. Or, armed with that same self-realization, she can fall deeper into depression, close herself off to everyone, and take up that simmering alcohol problem that was on full display last week. I really hope that the show chooses the first option, as this is a character that truly deserves to move forward after quite a tumultuous time. However, I'm nervous that the second option is much more likely. No matter which way Juliette goes, Nashville has done a pretty solid job of convincing us that she is a character who simply cannot let herself be happy (like a lot of people on this show, to be honest). But she is at a crossroads now; time to choose.
Although the stakes are not as high, Rayna and Deacon are certainly in for a rough go of things very soon as well. "A Picture From Life's Other Side" made more movement on Maddie's paternity by introducing Teddy's fairly ridiculous restraining order against Deacon. What frustrates me about the show's treatment of a character like Teddy is that 96 percent of the time, he is little more than a stiff, bitter obstacle between Rayna and Deacon, the show's most important romantic pairing. That version of the character dominated the story for much of the episode, with his arrival at the Conrad-James estate while Rayna, Deacon, and the girls were having dinner resulting one heck of an intense scene between Teddy and Rayna. And yet, at the end of the episode, Rayna pleaded with Teddy to trust her with the secret about Maddie, and suddenly, he seemed like a human being again. I'm not sure if that was just Eric Close doing all he could to make a problematic situation a smidgen better, or if the writers simply cannot decide how evil they want the character to be. He clearly falls into a gray area, but I would like to see some more consistency there in Season 2 (which, by the way, yay renewal!).
Unfortunately, Teddy's mostly failed suit is not the end of Rayna and Deacon's problems. Somehow, inexplicably, Rayna keeps a lock-box full of information about Maddie's paternity in plain sight, under a few expensive dresses. How dumb. The box might as well have said "CONTENTS: IDENTITY OF MADDIE'S TRUE FATHER" it was so blatantly obvious. It's good that the show is pushing this story thread to its logical conclusion, but like with some of the things happening in the Gunnar storyline, it feels like the writers are straining a little bit to get the pieces in the right place for maximum drama. And don't get it twisted: That is exactly what Nashville is going for here. Now that Maddie knows without Rayna having actually revealed the secret, Rayna is going break everyone's heart: Maddie, Deacon, Teddy, Daphne, heck, maybe even Bucky. It will be fascinating to watch her try to negotiate all those relationships and lies, but I do wish that we did not get there because of a lock-box.
And when one story started to reach its apex in problematic fashion, another managed to wiggle away from previous trouble spots to hit some solid beats in this episode. I am glad that we did not have to spend much more time talking about how terrible Gunnar is for stealing his brother's unpublished lyrics, and thankfully, the show simply figured out other things for Gunnar to be a complete tool about. It is no longer just about the lyrics; he's taken on a full "gritty" persona outfitted with more stubble, a smokier voice, greasier hair, more henleys (BAD BOY ALERT) and the most important signifer for Nashville tooldom, the leather jacket. No seriously, think about it: Avery wore the leather jacket earlier in the season when he was an utter douche. He was not wearing it this week when he calmly and earnestly helped Juliette with her song and attended Scarlett's first big performance at the Grande Ole Opry. When Dante turned on Juliette and started swindling her money? Leather jacket. If you see any male character wear a leather jacket on this show, immediately know that he is A TRUE VILLAIN.
In any event, after the bumpy stuff last week, Gunnar and Scarlett's crumbling relationship worked better once the show got to the end. Gunnar has not known who he is for a very long time--even the fleeting moments performing with Scarlett were filled with various conflicts--and the guilt over his brother's death has just been too much. As Scarlett sort of masterfully noted, he became his brother in most facets, and that simply isn't who she fell in love with. Unfortunately for Gunnar, the break-up came at the precise moment where it seemed like he figured it out. As always with overnight jail stints on television, Gunnar worked out his issues with Will in yet another season highlight of a scene. AND BY THE WAY: The leather jacket was gone at this point. I assumed that Chris Carmack would only be around for a few episodes, and maybe his run will end in the finale next week, but he has been really good. His work in the jail conversation is probably the best I have seen from him and Will is now a character I want to get to know more instead of just an angel or devil on Scarlett and Gunnar's shoulders.
I would have to imagine that the show is headed toward a moment where Scarlett falls back into the arms of a now-less douchey Avery, resetting things to a more complex and complicated version of the triangle we started with in the pilot. Much like Maddie's paternity, I am not sure I have enjoyed every moment along the journey, but the destination mostly feels worth it now. And that is really a great way to sum up Nashville as it heads into the finale. Season 1 has been a bumpy ride (sometimes very bumpy), but the stories and characters are about where we figured they would be, and that's a good thing. Now it's time for all of those balls to fall out of the air in one fell swoop.
– Nice little scene between Rayna and Lamar this week. But the less time spent in the boardroom and with Tandy trying to overthrow her father, the better. Yeesh.
– Will's performance for Rayna was quite good. He has to stick around now, right?
– The preview for the season finale looks bonkers. If you had the season finale in the When Will Deacon Fall Off the Wagon? pool, we have a few party favors for you on the way out.
– I want to hear your predictions for the finale. What will happen, and what do you think should happen?