All you need to know is that Hayden Panettiere completely won TV in this episode. Forever. Until the next time she wins it. How’s THAT for a teaser?

We begin this hour in Rayna’s house, which is as brimming with Christmas Cheer as if it were all sponsored by Pier 1 Imports.

Which, in fact, it probably is. She and Luke are filming an extended holiday special — which, by the way, in real life ties into the Nashville Christmas album. The whole thing is a bit Easy Listening for me — the big winner is Aubrey Peeples on “Merry Christmas, Baby,” though Chaley Rose sounds pretty enough on a Lite FM cut o “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” that it’ll just make you wish she’d had more solos on the show. Mostly, you need to know that Connie Britton performs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and she does so as if Mr. Grinch is getting handsy with her on the sofa and she doesn’t entirely mind. (There may have been some orgasmic-sounding moaning?) REALLY not a good match of star and song. Go preview it on iTunes; you won’t be sorry, except for the ways in which you will be sorry.

Luka and Rayna (and thus their real-world counterparts) do “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” at some point, but this stuff is all the cheesy interstitial blah that makes it feel like it’s all a trick to make you shop at Walmart. And anyone who thinks EITHER of those people personally trimmed every visible inch o that tree with ribbon and balls is out of their minds. There’s a lot of talk about Rayna’s regular holiday stuff, and how great it is, and I hope next week she has an actual tree that’s slightly crooked and unevenly lit, with a melange of ornaments that clearly were purchased over 20 years and/or handmade by her kids when they were toddlers. THOSE are America’s trees.

Did Teddy sign off on using the girls in this thing? Or Deacon? Everyone is suddenly super comfy with Maddie and Daphne flarging around on-camera. At least let them sing, Rayna. Also, I hate to break it to you, but your belt is ridiculous. You don’t need to cinch something that is skintight. Unless it is a ripcord? If you pull it, will Luke get sucked up out the chimney? PLEASE PULL IT AND SEE.

Speaking of The Trees of America:


That’s more like it, Deacon. That thing almost looks like two very small trees standing next to each other. I love it. I do not love Scarlett’s shortie overalls, but FINALLY her wardrobe feels like Stuff She Had Lying Around and not Stuff She Meticulously Curated By Robbing Anthropologie and Some Old Lady’s Attic. So, stamp of approval, conceptually.


Zoey is crashing out on Deacon’s couch, because she’s depressed: no Gunnar, no local job prospects, no storyline. She sleeps through everything Deacon and Scarlett do, until Scarlett wakes her up and basically suggests she do something resembling anything. That “something” is about to come through for her…


… because Sadie Stone and Gunnar are co-writing a song together (HOOK UP). Here, two things happen: Gunnar gets all mushy about missing performing, and Zag (the name of his band with Zoey and Avery), who are supposed to play some festival in Nashville, but now that G and Z have broken up there is no bread for the sandwich. Sadie tells him that if he wants, she’ll have her superfamous bigtime manager — the one who was nowhere in sight when Sadie was switching record labels, by the way — listen to their stuff. AND, Sadie also needs a producer. Enter Avery. But do not, Sadie, I REPEAT, DO NOT, Enter Avery in any sexy kind of way. HE IS TAKEN.

Indeed, he and Juliette are at the obstetrician when the call comes in, and only hears Avery say things like, “Yeah, she’s hot,” and how much he’d love to meet “her.” So she assumes Avery is being set up on a date, and lets the jealous rage flow straight through her placenta and then out all of her cavities.

Please also note how these three are staged in reverse-alphabetical ZAG order. Avery is caught in the middle between the warring factions as Gunnar convinces them all they can still perform together. Everyone BUT Gunnar is skeptical, but this is just Act One, so you know they’re going to give it a stab. It’s hilarious to me that Avery brought his guitar with him up on to the counter for this conversation. As if he might need it. He could pluck out Seinfeld riffs as they banter back and forth.

Princess Derpface up here just saw her Rolling Stone article, and yeah, she’s going to get in a tizzy that everything she said about Deacon SHOCKINGLY makes it look like she said a bunch of stuff about Deacon. “But that’s not… that’s not how I…” she says, pretending that there is ANY way any of that could have been taken out of context. (The quote in question is something like, “Why hasn’t Deacon moved on? I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.”) This whole, “Whaaaa? It doesn’t look good?” reaction is completely disingenuous and absurd — it makes the character look dumb, and it’s false even from a basic plot perspective. She knew this was coming. She KNEW, when she walked into — and out of — that interview exactly what would happen, and that she’d just sold someone to the devil. She should have been walking around with a hard hat on waiting for her sky to fall, because she knew it would. It’s crap like this that makes Rayna impossible to root for a lot of the time, and really, the only reason I DO root for her anymore is because Deacon loves her and I love Deacon, ergo, I want Rayna to unplug her head from her anal canal.


That is the cover, by the way.

And that is Deacon, enraged that he can’t enjoy a shot of Rayna in a towel because he’s too busy healing the wounds from her verbal darts. He even shoos Scarlett out of the room, although in fairness, he does that a lot. She really needs her own place.

And THAT is Rayna, wearing what are red SLACKS — I couldn’t get a shot, but I promise it’s true — with a really ugly black bow around her neck like she’s an off-duty Sanders at a chicken convention. Deacon is not calling her back. NO KIDDING.

So, Will and Layla are tired of being Will and Layla. Everyone thinks he’s all pecs and she’s all stupidity, so they decide to go a place where nobody cares who they are, and nobody they know will be. Which is… wait for it… all the way to EAST NASHVILLE. Because HIPSTERS live there. And HIPSTERS are allegedly incapable of being aware o anything that doesn’t involve, like, artisanal teas and Portlandia, so their anonymity is CLEARLY assured. To the point where when a girl hails Layla, it’s not because of her face; it’s to enquire about where she got her rad beanie. Hipsters: They’re Nothing Like Us: They Don’t Absorb Stimuli From The World Around Them. (Also, for what it’s worth, I’m sure some hipsters are watching Love & Country because they’re pretending they think it’s super lame but in secret are totally hooked. ALSO ALSO, Nashville is a savvy music town, and these are two Nashville musicians, and so I’m fairly sure anyone who loves music enough to go The East Nashville Hipster Conclave and Jamboree would have been at least faintly aware of Will and Layla from the live scene.)

And of course, what happens is: Everyone who knows them goes to this festival, braving the hinky wilds of East Nashville. Scarlett is there because she’s now managing Terence, who is performing on the big stage and doing a nervous interview with the local news about his story — which, somehow, was not supposed to include any questions about his family. Which is like talking to Scarlett about performing and not mentioning the fact that the last time she did it she hid under a piano and screamed. It just isn’t realistic, and it’s why she is a lousy manager for this person. Also, Mykelti Williamson plays Terence as SUCH a shambling cliche. It’s a bummer. His musical scenes are nice.

Let’s get Will out of the way: He uses his time to drink, and observe this manly bartender kissing his boyfriend in public. Will prods him a little about being out and proud, then later tries to get a little free nooky out of him, at which point Committed Bartender scolds him that being gay not about getting it when you can in the dark. “If you knew who I was, you’d know why it has to be that way,” Will growls from underneath his Snood of Shame. “WHO ARE YOU?” squawks the bartender, as Will stomps away. Okay, I like that they’ve set up Will with some real obstacles, and as someone who’s so lonely for a connection that he’s going to out himself whether he intends to or not, but we are JUST getting to the point where this thread has been stretched on long enough and we need a game-changer. Hopefully one is coming in the next episode.

Luke tries to comfort a depressed Rayna, who can’t get Deacon to return her calls. He shrugs that this is all just Part Of The Business. Nobody here is a good friend to Rayna, or else someone would have said, “You knew this was coming and you should have warned him, you idiot, you had WEEKS to tell him that you’d sold him out.”

But let’s blow past Luke’s private pain and get to the amazing stuff: Hayden Panettiere on WHEELS.

Yes, pregnant Juliette is stalking Avery out of jealousy. And she and Emily tail him all the way to the East Nashville Hipstermagorium — let’s pause for a second and note that Avery TOTALLY seems like a hipster to me, so Will is out of his mind that their crowds wouldn’t cross here (not that anything comes of it) — and she ends up RENTING A SCOOTER FOR HANDICAPPED PEOPLE so that she can zip around after him.


And she’s trussed herself up to look like Darkman, which is unfortunate because it’s SOUTH Nashville that caters to that crowd. But trust that all the scenes of her having full conversations with Emily through a knife scarf ON HER SCOOTER OF NUTBALLSIA were totally amazing. Here’s the crazy thing: Hayden made this both funny AND sort of sympathetic AND almost gave it a strange brand of dignity even as she was totally humiliating herself. I know. Such are the miracles that she works on this show.


Tee hee. Look at her parting crowds in that sucker. Juliette Barnes is going to make the most TREMENDOUS insane old lady. Strap in, Hayden, we need 60 more seasons.


I laughed out loud at the sight of her staring across a field at Avery and Sadie.

And Avery’s reaction is priceless. Naturally, as soon as Juliette realizes she’s rumbled, she takes off — and her scooter catches on a tent and knocks a bunch of stuff over, and causes a totally insane scene. Which would get a MUCH bigger reaction anywhere else in Nashville, but here at the East Nashville Emo Center nobody even bats an eye.

Well, except Sadie. Who seems kind of freaked out that the producer she was about to hire has a mental patient following him. Even if that patient is her labelmate Juliette Barnes. ALSO: Is not Sadie’s manager, nor her label president Rayna Jaymes, participating in the selection of a producer? DOES RAYNA DO ANYTHING? Are there any people working at Highway 65 other than Bucky, who we all know is off banging Tandy at some inn in Napa Valley as often as possible?

Juliette, awesomely, rebounds from this shame to kick back in her Dopemobile and flagrantly rub her pregnant belly with a big ol’ smile, as if to mark her territory. Sadie flees, and Avery quickly corrects Juliette’s misconception and then blames her shenanigans for him probably not getting the job — and thus not being able to provide for his child. Ooh, the Provider Offensive. An epee of testosterone and ego is tough to parry.

Layla and her Magic Beanie, which seriously does look more like a snood to me — then again maybe things are all topsy-turvy in the East Nashville Emo Lodge and Hempery — have found a couch on which to alight and sing about pain. And no one recognizes her. Because of the hat, obvs. Never mind that she JUST played a set like this in a venue that I think East Nashville would approve of heartily. I am so glad they’re finally letting Aubrey Peeples do something; she sounds fantastic, and it’s a great song, albeit another one about how her husband is gay and it sucks (that is a huge paraphrasing on my part).

Oliver Hudson is also there, and the clouds part and a giant trumpet wielded by the Angel Gabriel whacks him upside the back of the head. He sees true talent, and INSTANTLY his curtain of awful evil condescension lifts and he becomes a human being who feels. He and Layla have a conversation about how she discovered music through Joni Mitchell but used the reality show to get a foot in the door because she never had anything deep to write about until now and it made her hard to market, and he had a band for a while; this ends in him playing guitar for her, but not singing, which may answer the burning question of whether Oliver Hudson can do that. She aptly needles him about whether he was in a Dave Matthews cover band in college (answer: yes, and OF COURSE HE WAS). And I’m pretty sure we all figured out exactly where THIS was going:


However, I dispute that Oliver Hudson would have fallen asleep after sex with her in bed next to him. He is not sleeping the sleep of an innocent after his first pure-feeling ejaculation in four-score and seven moons. He would probably be lying awake going, “Shit, did I just nail a twenty-year old? Isn’t this why I stick with hookers?!?”

Scott Reeves, once of The Young & the Restless, pops by to play Sadie Stone’s manager. He tells Zag that the band could be hella super famous and they should all sign with him and hit the road IMMEDIATELY. Dude, maybe you should be more concerned with Sadie picking a label AND a producer without your input. But of course, this leads to Zoey and Gunnar picking a fight right in front of him: She is desperate to go out on the road and be famous because she has no other prospects — because apparently that time at the CMAs when Oliver Hudson offered to listen to her demo has been, like Marty McFly’s family before him, ERASED FROM EXISTENCE — but Gunnar is at Defcon Micah. What’s a girl to do? I’ll tell you: She goes to Scarlett for help, but Scarlett is busy.


Busy having her BEST HAIR DAY YET ON THIS SHOW. They are like actual real-person tresses, and not a combed-out Cabbage Patch Kid. Our girl is finally growing up.


See, Terence is doing his thing on-stage, and it’s wildly successful. He earns a huge ovation, and of course it makes him think about his family lying dead on the road while he played music DEAR GOD NOT MUSIC NOT THE DEMON MUSIC in Chicago. So he does what everyone in Regular Nashville (but no one in East Nashville because they speak a different language here) calls Pulling a Scarlett, and runs off-stage in a complete tizzy. Scarlett is desperate to find him, so she doesn’t have time for Zoey’s dumb problems, which, in actual fact, at this exact second really are rather minor. Zoey doesn’t feel that way, though, so she hails a cab and leaves.

Oh, Deacon. I guess Rayna and Luke are now doing a whole wedding special that for some reason requires them to be in Australia — their tours are merging, and maybe that’s just where it was scheduled to happen — so they’re going to be Down Under for Christmas. Deacon is too classy to let Maddie go without a present, so he gives her a traveling guitar, and tries to slip out of there without any further conversation. That does not happen, though, because Rayna has her hair done up all nice and you ALWAYS plead your case to a wronged man when your hair looks good. It’s Newton’s fourth law.

Rayna explains that she traded Deacon for Maddie’s privacy. Chip Esten, to his credit, makes sure to build in a moment where his gaze flicks over to Maddie the second he hears she was making out with a boy — as if he wants to march right over there and put her pants in the upright and locked position. Rayna promises him it was the only thing she could do. Deacon SOMEHOW DOES NOT MENTION THAT SHE COULD HAVE WARNED HIM BEFORE HE FOUND OUT THE HARD WAY COME ON RAYNA YOU ARE A FOUNTAIN OF JERKITUDE and instead tells Ray that he doesn’t think any of this makes any sense, and that the whole way she’s living her live right now doesn’t jibe with who she is or ought to be. He does not let her have it nearly as hard as he should, and what I had really hoped for was for them to be at their cabin or whatever while he read some of the more cutting lines to her and she had to justify what she said and how. But, whatever, I guess there are other characters in this show.

Yeah, Rayna, you should be sad. You are wearing that outfit on national television.

Clearly, when Scarlett finds Terence, he’s crawled back into a whiskey bottle. He overacts a bunch of really slurry, pointed things to her about how she’s trying to force him to do the thing she’s too afraid to do herself, and he shames her into running right to Avery and Gunnar and offering to pinch-hit for Zoey. Because she’s brave. Because she is STRONG. Because the drunk plot device does not have her number, oh no, not this girl’s.


Wait, never mind, she’s totally fine. Actually, it’s sweet. Avery and Gunnar notice that she’s getting an attack of the yips, and lean in and sing right up next to her face so that she doesn’t feel alone. You will be stunned to know that it not only works, but that Scott Reeves thinks this is an improvement over Zoey, ignoring the fact that ZSG is not pronounceable as a band name. LATE NOTE: I have a sinus infection and it clearly affected my ability to process information and/or spell. Obvs the band is now… what, SAG? GAS? ZSG might be better.

Rayna bags out on Luke to go hunt down Deacon and try to make him understand. And he really lets her have it, oh, boy, does he — by which I mean, he ABSOLVES HER COMPLETELY. He tells her she was right to say all those things because he needed to hear them,and it cements for him that the reason he never lets go is because he loves her. Still. Always. Even though she sold him out to Rolling Stone. And THEN she seizes the upper hand by telling Deacon that he needs to f’ing GET over her AND FAST because she’s marrying Luke in two weeks. Let me get this straight: The one really morally questionable thing Rayna did is NOT GOING TO BLOW BACK IN HER FACE AT ALL? Can’t Maddie at least give her a hard time about hanging her father out to dry? Can’t Teddy call and be like, “Hey, I’m the OTHER person affected by all your revelations about Deacon but shhh don’t tell the writing staff that, or else they’ll remember I exist”? Why can’t life ever BACKFIRE on this woman?

And the thing is, Luke is so wigged out by how depressed she is — about the Deacon awkwardness — that I’m concerned HE is going to be the one to call the whole thing off, which then removes Rayna from having any agency over her own life. If she’s the victim of other people’s decisions, then nothing she does in reaction to them is bad, is that it? I don’t know. BOO.

Speaking of BOO, Scott Reeves calls and reiterates that he wants SAG to make it big with a concert tour, and Gunnar turns him down because it’s not the right time for him. He did not ask Avery or Scarlett. He just said no. I hate his sudden son — it’s been so badly handled, and is so clearly a piece of convenience that has no lasting emotional meaning beyond Gunnar’s inevitable heartbreak when Kylie and Mr. Tulsa come to take him back and she admits he was never Gunnar’s to begin with; let’s just GET THERE and keep on going. And if I’m wrong about that, I’ll be sad, because I want Micah to leave. Then again, THAT is a bit of a redux of when Scarlett helped him cope with his dead brother, but it’ll probably push her back into his bed, so… yeah. If Gunnar and Sadie can’t have sex, then I guess stick him with Scarlett again.

Juliette gives Sadie an impassioned plea on Avery’s behalf, and it works: He is hired. He comes by to thank her with total I’mma Do You eyes.

And she is so thrilled for him that she almost stars to cry, and promises not to be a jealous freak when he inevitably starts dating. This ends with her teasing him about why he didn’t just CALL rather than come over, which is great, but… seriously, if they are setting up Avery and Sadie, I will have a super hard time with that. I am way too secure on board the Juliette/Avery train, so Sadie needs to find someone else to sleep with. Like Gunnar (although that will feel weird), or Luke. Yes, Luke. TAKE LUKE.

Even Rayna is thinking, “TAKE LUKE.” Her girls are bummed out that they’re not doing their usual Christmas traditions, and when she voices that to him, he’s like, “Eh, we’re ALWAYS on the road for Christmas, whatever,” so clearly this is going to keep rearing its head.

Rayna and her zippers are singing on TV for Luke, all cosy and comfortable but with hideous groin storage…

… as Zoey leaves town, and Will realizes Layla never came home from the East Nashville Beanie vs Snood Rumble…

… and Deacon rips an old Rayna Jaymes sticker off his guitar case, which actually made me think, “Ack, but where can he get another one of those? It’s a collector’s item.” Yeah, and also A PROP. I need to get ahold of myself.

Finally, we end on the same shot on which we began: a wide of Rayna’s home, with the crews in place, except this time the cameras are off and she looks lonely and miserable as they all bustle around her. Wah-waaaah. Should’ve picked your soulmate, Rayna.

Tags: Nashville