After another break (seriously ABC, you have to stop with this crap; momentum matters, even in a DVR world), Nashville is back. Including this episode, there are four episodes left in the season, and if this one was any indication of where the the series is headed here at the end, we're in for some entertaining, soapy television.
The last episode before the break was a bit of a slog thanks to the dominance of a few supporting characters and middling storylines. But it did set up this ominous feeling of inevitability. If you watch television long enough (about three days should do it) and you can guess how certain stories are going to play out. That's not an indictment of the medium or its storytelling apparatus. Formulas can be very good and very compelling. And while I wouldn't go so far as to call some of Nashville's random threads very good or very compelling, it was enjoyable to see things we've been waiting for—some for much longer than others—finally happen. Some of the conclusions had me fist-pumping in excitement, while others had me sighing in resigned happiness that it was all over, but at least the show keeps pushing the stories forward after suffering some minor stagnation not so long ago.
Let's rip the Band-Aid right off and start with the mediocre, but ultimately maybe okay stuff: Dante was a scumbag all along! I don't know how shocked you are that Juliette couldn't find her True Love with a slimy bro who moved very quickly from concerned sober companion to romantic partner to maniacal business partner. I'm stupefied. There was no way it was ever going to work, even if Dante was a good dude... and, well, he wasn't. "Take These Chains from My Heart" tried to swerve us by once again relying on Jolene's instability and possible lack of sobriety, but in the end, we learned that Dante stole a huge chunk of Juliette's money and ran off with a "former patient." It's unclear whether Dante was ever actually a sober companion, or ever even a junkie; maybe he was just a scam artist preying on an easy target. What is clear that he sucked the life out of Juliette, Jolene, and really the show as a whole. No shots at Jay Hernandez, but the character never totally clicked and his issues were only compounded when he became more central to the story.
He's gone now, presumably at least, but in his wake, we're left with yet another example of Juliette's broken-down immaturity and inability to make smart decisions. There's no doubt that Dante was a bad influence on Juliette both professionally and personally, but I've never totally tracked what Nashville wanted us to think about her declaration of independence three or four episodes ago. She killed it in the sponsorship meeting and made a few other solid choices, and then everything just completely fell apart and she slid right back into borderline monster caricature territory. Every time the show asks us to think of Juliette as a real person and not just a facsimile of Taylor Swift and celebrity culture, it quickly pulls the rug out from underneath both her and us. She's certainly a work in progress who regularly takes one step forward and then at least 2.5 steps back, but now she's had a number of substantial screw-ups in a row and alienating her crew, disowning her mother again, and getting hosed by Dante is just the culmination of some generally poor judgment. I actually want to root for Juliette, or at least to feel for her. And I believe that Nashville wants me to root for her, but it also needs to do a better job of convincing me to do so.
Although it didn't come to mind before this episode, by the time Chris Carmack's Will kept talking to Gunnar about picking up women, it was quite obvious that the character's purpose wasn't to seduce Scarlett and break up the lovebirds—it was to seduce Gunnar. As always, the easiest way to surreptitiously hit on someone of the same sex is to take them on late-night thrill-rides avoiding trains, in order to teach them how to seduce all the young ladies who get sloshed and gyrate to just-fine country music at 11am on a weekday.
Will's an interesting guy, and Carmack's a fine presence to have around, but Gunnar is completely on an island right now. While I could believe that his brother's death had such a profound impact on him that he's fallen into this pit of confusion, self-hatred, and despair, I'm not sure I buy that all of that comes with mostly ignoring the woman he spent a healthy amount of time pining over, and the one who supports him completely. In some ways, it feels like we can see the hands of the writers with this story. So much of this season has been spent pushing Gunnar and Scarlett together and developing their chemistry on multiple levels, but heaven forbid they remain happy for just a few episodes. Nashville isn't the kind of show where anyone is going to be particularly happy for very long, and I understand that, but the two of them are so disconnected and distant at the moment, and they're both going to do something stupid because that's this show. If you can't already imagine a world where Gunnar uses the tricks Will taught him to pick up another lady, if you can't picture Scarlett rediscovering her attraction to the significantly less douchey Avery, then you might want to prepare yourself for disappointment.
Well, and that's all that happened this week right?
Oh, wait: Rayna and Deacon. In love. But also in some heavy-duty, sweeps-baiting lust. Talk about inevitable.
It took 18 hours, but the series' most compelling, dark and twisty couple finally reconnected, at least temporarily. As I mentioned above about Scarlett and Gunnar, these kinds of relationships are often difficult to pull off because the tendency is to want to keep them apart for a number of different reasons and really, Nashville has done a nice job all season of leaving Rayna and Deacon in this awkward, intense grey area where their feelings are obvious despite neither one of them being able to do much about it. Their history is difficult to overcome, and I really liked how this episode played that up. Deacon has spent the last few episodes convincing himself that he's happy with the very lovely Stacy, but as soon as Rayna called, he was there and as soon as she and Liam busted out an old song that he co-wrote, it was all over. Maybe it was a little silly to have the final straw be a performance of what was a truly terrible song, but the music and the electricity of the duet is just so central to this show's ethos and Deacon's personality that it worked for me.
For Rayna, the decision to ditch the vacation with Liam and blow up her life by getting involved with Deacon again was both welcome and not smart. She hasn't been free of bad decisions herself, and while shacking up with Liam in St. Lucia probably wasn't a textbook "good idea," it at least involved way fewer strings. But as she told her sister early in the episode, she finally had the confidence and independence to make choices in her personal life. And once she realized that, and saw Deacon's relationship with Stacy fall apart in front of her eyes, there was never, ever a doubt that her choice would be Deacon. It's probably not going to work out, especially once Deacon finds out about Maddie, but it's fun to have them together, at least temporarily.
Nashville has treaded water for its last few episodes, but "Take These Chains From My Heart" kicked off this final string of episodes with some punch. And while it allowed a few big shoes to drop, there are even more just waiting to crash down harder, and faster. Juliette's going to go to a very dark place, and so could Gunnar. And while Rayna and Deacon are happy right now, neither one of them can stay still or happy for more than a few days. There's still a lot of angst—and angsty music—ahead.
– The Subway product placement was so laughably bad that I felt like I was watching an NBC comedy. It felt especially out of place in a straight-up drama like this. Spoilers for next week suggest that Rayna is going to write an ode to the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese $5 Footlong.
– I'm just going to keep beating the "Avery is kind of okay" drum. He's trying to be nice and humble to people. No one will give him a chance! I'm rooting for you, tool!
– Powers Boothe is doing all he can (he was great in the scene with Rayna in the living room), but whatever is happening with his business, Teddy, Coleman, and Tandy makes me want to go to sleep. Or get a Subway $5 Footlong. EAT FRESH. But seriously: Every time I hear the phrase "city contracts," I immediately just close my eyes and wait to hear Clare Bowen's lovely voice luring me back to heaven.
– Not a particularly good week for music this week, but I did enjoy Sam Palladio's work during Gunnar's performance.