One of the things that bothers me about soapy dramas is the glut of temporary recurring characters. Shows like Nashville already have massive casts and a dozen stories going at once, but there's always a tendency to introduce additional supplemental folks, even in the first season, to push stories along and keep some of the more central characters as apart as possible. Nashville has been pretty resistant to go full-bore into a Rayna-Juliette feud, a decision that has mostly worked, but that has also forced the writers to continuously focus on stories like Juliette's struggles with her mother. The same could be said for Scarlet and Gunnar and the rotating cast of guys and gals keeping what is obviously true love on the slow-burn.
Generally, good shows can get away with this. After all, stories have to build, character relationships have to develop, and the audience has to feel like there's something to care about before the show can rip it away or finally give it to us. But when these supplemental characters aren't used particularly well, and when their purpose is to create tension between more integral characters, it can be frustrating.
The problematic use of these kinds of characters dominated "My Heart Would Know," the last episode of Nashville before May. (Because ABC won't stop until this show has one of the worst stop-and-start schedules in recent memory. Seriously, didn't they learn anything from what happened with the second season of Lost)? While this episode featured a few strong moments, particularly from Connie Britton, it was weighed down by some miserable actions from non-essential characters.
The most offensive culprit was Jay Hernandez's Dante, a character who I enjoyed in his first few appearances but who has now completely worn out his welcome. After helping Juliette snag a big endorsement deal—and also helping her score in the bedroom—in the previous episode, Dante immediately started acting like a power-hungry tool in this one. The show tried to warn us last week by having Dante note that he shouldn't be involved in things that give him those old addictive rushes, but it could never have prepared us about how bad this was going to look. Not only did no one suggest that Dante's behavior here might have something to do with his addiction issues, but no one said much of anything—he just did whatever he wanted and strutted around as annoyingly as possible. Dante tried to fire the suddenly-in-New-York-because-why-not Avery from the latter's new roadie gig (thankfully, Saint Deacon was there to put the stop to that injustice), and then after Juliette and her mother fought over him, he didn't even consider that his place on this tour and in their lives is a bad idea.
Nashville has done some solid things with Juliette and her mother, but the show is never willing to simply let things settle for an episode. Each time Juliette and Jolene have a minor breakthrough, Juliette immediately turns around and treats Jolene like trash. I understand that we're supposed to see this as part of Juliette's confused, immature, and even broken psyche, but at this juncture in the season, it's a little tired. If Juliette cares about her mom, like we've been led to believe half of the time, or if she cares about growing, like the show at least kind of wants us to believe, something has to give. I'm not asking for the tension to evaporate; I just want it to progress with more consistency. And using Dante as a wedge to drive between them (something the episode actually admitted) doesn't work, because not only did we already seen that in some fashion with Deacon, but we also don't care about Dante as a character. He's not a character. He's a Motivation 101 textbook. The show needs to do a better job of making Juliette and Jolene talk to one another about their problems instead of creating attractive male sounding boards for those problems.
I feel somewhat similar about Chris Carmack's Will. Though he's not as annoying as Dante (mostly because Carmack's an enjoyable goofball), Will's being used in a weird way. There's an ominous feeling hanging over his relationships with both Gunnar and Scarlet, and we're being left to wait around until something goes terribly wrong. With Gunnar down in the dumps over his brother's murder, you'd imagine that he might be a possible love interest for Scarlet, and this episode suggested a tinge of that with the celebration at the bar. However, by the end of the hour, Will had convinced Gunnar to stay out drinking a few days in a row and pushed him out of his funk by producing a near-death experience. I don't particularly want to see Gunnar go down a dark road where he's jumping from high to high, hoping to find the spark to write and to engage with Scarlet, but I especially don't want to see that story if it involves a Bad Influence New Friend. We probably should wait to see where this one goes, but I'm bearish on its possible development because, like Dante, Will isn't much of a character. It's Chris Carmack in a cowboy hat. Nothing wrong with that conceptually, but I need a little more as the show nears the end of the season.
The episode's other big story was a mixed bag of sudden developments, possible future intrigue, and really good acting. Lamar's heart attack allowed Power Boothe to bellow out commands and stubborn exclamations in a hospital gown, which was definitely cool, but I'm not sure the story produced the emotional impact Nashville wanted it to. Although the mayoral race never held any substantive place in the season's narrative, Rayna and Lamar's relationship held the promise of being interesting—and not simply because Boothe and Connie Britton are the show's two best performers. There's a compelling story to be told about Rayna's rise to the top of the music world and what kind of real sacrifices she had to make to get there, but outside of her marriage, the show hasn't really invested itself in telling that story. Lamar hasn't been around all that often and he certainly hasn't interacted with his more famous daughter very much.
As a result, the heart attack, Rayna's response to it, and her discovery that it was Watty who broke up her parents' marriage didn't pack as much of a punch as it could've. Watty's relationship with Rayna's mother makes total sense, if only because Nashville show loves to draw comparisons between Rayna and her mother, and Watty feels like the older generation's Deacon. And Connie Britton totally sold Rayna's new-found desire to understand her father and make up for lost time. But Lamar's not really a character, and it's somewhat tough to imagine him playing a supremely integral role in the narrative while Rayna's continuously out on tour (especially given his various dealings with Peggy). I want the show to explore Rayna and Lamar's relationship in much more detail, and I hope the events of this episode are the catalyst to get them to do that. But the show still has to do a good job with that exploration.
With just four episodes to go in the season, I'm a little surprised at how unclear Nashville's narrative picture is. The show rarely truly surprises (and that's fine), but it could push some of its stories to dark, dramatic places in the season's final act if it wants to. But wherever they go, I hope that Nashville quits relying so much the characters who are plot devices more than anything else.
– Welcome to weekly coverage of Nashville. I'll be here until the end of the season.
– I'm all in on Rayna and Deacon, but also really enjoy Deacon's relationship with Stacy. Susan Misner is good in a limited role. I guess everyone has electric chemistry with Charles Esten.
– I continue to kind of enjoy Avery. I appreciate that the show didn't just inject him back into Scarlet's life (I guess they have Will for that), and at least he's out there hustling instead of moping around about his life. A bit weird that his former bandmate was so willing to help him get the roadie gig, though—especially since the guy noted that he was leaving town, presumably because he can't hack it as a musician without Avery. That dude doesn't hold a grudge.
– What was more ridiculous: EdgeHill's staff standing ovation for Scarlet, or Juliette's band learning 10 new songs in a few hours? I don't want to nitpick too much but both of those things bothered me, for slightly different reasons.
– Peggy leaked the info about Teddy and Rayna's divorce. Okay.