I had doubts about the music this season without T-Bone Burnett — I mean, generally, life is better with anything T-Bone, except maybe when you’re talking about a type of car wreck —  and it’s true that it’s been only okay at times. I didn’t like any of Scarlett’s stuff, and Rayna’s new single is so blah, and her duet with Juliette is the worst. But Gunnar/Avery/Zoey were awesome together, and G’s stuff is generally still great, and I enjoy Juliette, and “A Life That’s Good” is also awesome but I can’t remember if we heard that one in Season 1 or not. Anyway. The point is, it wasn’t all bad, and yay, season three. ONWARD:

Maddie and Deacon are bonding over their mutual loves of super old country stars, with Deacon doing some subtle name-dropping of all the people who’ve invited him to play with them, because Deacon can make that kind of stuff seem folksy and charming because he’s not Gwyneth Paltrow and he’s not calling Billy Joel “William,” or in this case, Merle Haggard… um… Merlegatroyd.

Oh, and Maddie gave each of them this truly subtle photographic gift adorned with pieces of hope.

Juliette’s hair is looking mildly better, but if you look at it here, and how it’s all a uniform color and there’s no shading at her hairline, you can tell this is a wig as compared to her hair later. Aren’t you glad I’m obsessing over this? Anyway, she is attempting to swallow the bitter pill that is the memory of Oliver Hudson’s saliva, and is thus trying to be lovey-dovey with Avery; for his part, he’s writing a song for her that he’s going to perform later, and it’s a mild spoiler to tell you that HIS song is really NOT good. Avery has only ever worked when he sings backup on other people’s inspiration.

Scarlett is indeed back to dressing like the floatiest nymph in the wood. She sees the photo Deacon gave Maddie and makes an extremely judgmental noise and face, like, easy there, Speed Freak, you’re not really allowed to judge how people follow their bliss right now. She’s either worried that he’s getting sucked back into the Rayna Vortex, or about to put bologna in his gas tank — she’s also back to delivering her lines as fast and low as possible — and he blows her off, because she’s right, and nobody ever likes to give their mumbly and smug friends the satisfaction.

Back on the world’s worst reality show, Oliver Hudson is waiting in the laundry room — real talk: does anyone take the time to hang a print over their rented home’s dryer? — so he can “spontaneously” come on and deliver Will the wonderful news that Sam Boone is giving away 200,000 free downloads of his single and it’ll guarantee him a kick-ass No. 1. album launch. Also, we need to pause for a second to note that Layla keeps saying this reality show will help Will’s album launch. Are they actually implying that this show is coming out that fast? Have they ever met anyone who’s done a reality show? It’s not LIVE, y’all. AND ALSO:

They have Jeff walk in on them while they’re IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INTERVIEW. THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. INTERVIEWS ARE NOT SCENES unless something blows up in the middle of it. They would have Will and Layla in the kitchen pretending to make grits on the stove when Oliver rang the doorbell, with surprising two-camera coverage given the “unexpectedness” of the visit, and he’d tell them that way, and then they’d CUT TO an interview bite in which Will and Layla are speaking about this in full and complete sentences and preferably in present tense and then SCENE. I’m concerned that these producers’ main credentials are, “Ownership of camera; ability to point it at things.”

WHAT IS HAPPENING on Rayna?!? She looks like she’s wearing a cardigan backward. She is finding out that she’s been bumped from GMA by Will Lexington, in a very personal salvo from Oliver Hudson, and apparently them’s fighting words, because Rayna Jaymes hasn’t spoken to Robin Roberts in about three full weeks and where will she get her fix?!?

She spirals into a panic so deep, she actually puts on this shirt. Did Connie Britton randomly wake up five months pregnant? It’s SO WEIRD. Tandy convinces her to throw money at her problems — money that, at last accounting, I thought Highway 65 didn’t have, which may explain why nobody in Rayna’s family knows how to manage their money and stay out of legal trouble at the same time — and so Rayna shells out a fat pile of cash to make sure Sam Boone gives away 200,000 copies of HER single instead. Nobody explains quite why Sam Boone gets over his Juliette-based ethical objections to Highway 65, but Tandy said something about going to school with one of his relatives, so maybe it wasn’t money at ALL and they just BLACKMAILED him. Which would be great except I’m not sure Rayna is interesting enough to blackmail anyone, and certainly Saint Rayna isn’t allowed to do anything truly morally questionable.

Juliette, with hair that’s basically a different color AND texture than it was an hour ago, shows up and demands that Rayna let her out of her contract so she can re-sign with Oliver Hudson to get him to keep his mouth shut, and Rayna won’t do it because she needs Juliette to perform with her at Fancy Nashville Stadium. So Juliette flounces out of there on the fumes of her bratfest.

Never tell these two anything, because they cannot keep a secret. Avery bumps into them — they’re at a benefit for Deacon’s rehab center — and asks if they’ve seen Juliette, and because Gunnar Saw Everything and then he told Zoey and now they’re basically just trying to save Zoey’s job with Juliette’s tour, they handle this situation in a manner as calm and measured and normal as if a fish strolled by on four legs.

The benefit is in a BEAUTIFUL location, though, so well played on THAT. Any actual Nashville residents in the Fug Nation house? I’d love to know where this is. It’s amazing.

It’s not a good thing that Juliette showed up trashed to a rehab center — which Deacon points out when he hustles her away, but not before Rayna sees her. Oliver Hudson had slithered over to her and made some lewd implication about Juliette, and Rayna is apparently now figuring out that a-squared plus b-squared equals banging. Although it IS good for Juliette that she couldn’t possibly have registered any of Avery’s droning song in this state. I am not entirely sure how we’re supposed to think she got there. Did she drive herself? Doubtful. Did her chauffeur actually drop her inebriated ass off at a rehab center and not notice? Maybe she took a cab. Although would Juliette Barnes EVER take public transportation, especially while wasted? The dude behind her is event security, I believe, so the whole thing is confusing in a way that is NOT IMPORTANT AT ALL but whatever. I’m just distracting myself so we don’t have to think about that shirt.

It’s REALLY BAD, and Juliette Barnes NEVER would have bought it unless she went to the mall ten minutes ago and was throwing up all over Sears and this was the only thing she didn’t sully.

Will is depressed about acting chipper and heterosexual.

Juliette is depressed that she plucked Oliver Hudson’s banjo. And she is doing her venting to Rayna…

… who showed up to have it out with Juliettte and made this AMAZING FACE when Juliette drunkenly slurred that she slept with Oliver.

And then, also awesomely, she holds Juliette’s hair while she vomits. This then becomes a pep talk about how Juliette needs to come clean with Avery before anyone else — LEAST of all Oliver — can do it for her. She’s actually pretty non-judgmental and great, even though she also makes it clear that imagining Oliver Hudson having sex with anyone is about as appealing to her as drinking gasoline. It’s a nice scene, though, and Rayna also refuses to let Juliette out of her contract just to appease a skeezy Hate-Sex-Faced blackmailer.

These two AGAIN bring out their very worst covert faces — they are totally the two dipshits at SD-6 who get stuck answering the phones while Sydney Bristow traipses through there in wigs with bloody lips, because they couldn’t spy their way out of an open grave — and Avery finally demands that they come OUT WITH IT ALREADY and Gunnar heaves a huge sigh and goes for it. Although we don’t hear it. Instead, we cut to Chez Juliette…

… while she lies in wait for Avery. He comes home, a wreck, and asks if it’s true. Juliette doesn’t even bother asking him how he found out; she just admits to it, and does sort of a weak job defending herself. Her gambit is, “It didn’t mean anything,” and of course, like a hundred million people before him, Avery tells her that makes it worse somehow. She says she loves him, and that she knows he loves her; he acknowledges that yes, he really, really does, but that unfortunately he’ll have to get over that now. And walks out. It’s EXTREMELY sad to me, if also unsatisfying, because she did such a crappy job discussing any of it. Because this is TV, though, she gets another shot, so I can’t complain. Also, this is a plain white t-shirt and it’s about 90 percent better than 90 percent of the rest of her wardrobe.

I can’t even remember what Rayna was whining about here, but her blouse is good, so at least SOMEONE in the wardrobe department had their coffee this week.

Maddie is pissed because she asked Rayna to sign her to Highway 65 and produce an album for her, and Rayna and Deacon quite sensibly — and legally — told her she’s too young. (They did not hand her a dictionary open to the word “nepotism.”) So Maddie pours herself a cup of coffee, laced with a ton of milk and sugar so that it’s drinkable, and whines about it to Teddy, who has no sympathy for her at ALL and also has some intriguing wallpaper. Does Teddy have hidden interior-design depths?

“Dear God, please can I get a good storyline next season.”

Scarlett is packing up to leave town, and sniffing whisks, and other such things.

Will finds out that while he was flirtily Face-Timing with his personal trainer, Layla was giving a tearful interview about the problems in their relationship. The reality crew plays him this footage and asks for his reaction. Because they are TERRIBLE AT THEIR JOBS. Don’t try to make all your action happen DURING AN INTERVIEW WHEN THE PERSON IS SEATED. Just have Layla waiting for him in the living room and make her try to start a conversation with him about it, and when that goes to hell, boom, you have some reality you can frame with bites. Worst show ever.

Instead, there’s a chirpy little moment with him holding his Free Download card, and then Oliver Hudson calls and rains excrement all over his dream by telling him that the download deal is off. Will storms off-camera and freaks out that his album launch is RUINED, RUINED I TELL YOU, and then weeps his way over to Gunnar to confide in him that the reason this is breaking his heart is because he doesn’t want to think that every lie he’s told to himself, and to other people, is in vain. Gunnar is great about it, and gets in his face and tells him to Get A Grip, because when it’s all said and done Will deserves a real life and is a talented guy and it’s terrible for his mental health that Gunnar is the only person with whom he can speak truthfully about himself. Will actually appears to take this pill and swallow it, rather than running screaming up a hill.

Juliette sadly tells Rayna that it’s over with Avery, but that she’ll stick by Rayna the way Rayna stuck by her. (Sort of. Rayna actually did ALMOST nothing to help promote Juliette — the military show being the exception — although it’s true that Juliette kind of screwed her a little early on.) The two of them stand firm against Oliver Hudson and enjoy telling him to go eat a large hot plateful of shit sandwiches, and he storms out of their in a panty-wadded tizzy.

And when he does, Juliette leaves, too, and we see the back of Rayna’s shirt. WHAT IS HAPPENING. Rayna, you are not an old pair of L’Eggs in a sock drawer.

Poor Teddy. He’s super enthused about the stadium show, and Maddie is IRRITATINGLY blase in that bratty teenager way RIGHT until Deacon comes out, at which point she hugs him and fawns all over it too. This is note-perfect. She is SO fourteen.

But here is my question: Rayna had a stadium tour with Juliete. The girls have visited her on it. Why is this that much of a big deal? I’m GUESSING she needed Teddy to help get the venue so she wouldn’t have to pay for it out of their non-budget, but even that… wouldn’t you think at the reigning Queen of Country Music would have some pull of her own, regardless of what other people are on her dinky label?

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Rayna. Thank you for always making me right.”

Actually, she thanks him for a lot of things, the last one being her life. She does not thank him for saving her voice, but I’m sure it’s implied. Although Rayna probably forgot that plot hiccup ever happened.

I love Connie Britton, but they are kidding NOBODY with the Photoshop job on this album cover. Also, “The Parts I Remember” about what, exactly? Deacon is the one who doesn’t remember half of his life. I know she’s allowed to use any album title she wants, but I read that and rolled my eyes and was like, “Oh, stop being such a DRAMA QUEEN, Rayna.”

She goes out on-stage and sings The World’s Worst Duet with Juliette, and for once, they are BOTH in sparkly short dresses…

… although Rayna may live to regret that, because I’m pretty sure about 200 Instagrams were full of upskirt shots.

And Juliette looks like exactly the kind of cheesy country blonde she hasn’t been all season. AS IF she would have agreed to ANY of that. She actually reminds me of Stephanie Zinone in the big musical finale of Grease 2. Everyone go celebrate that movie, please. It’s the hottest of hot messes.

Scarlett shows up at Avery’s place to say goodbye, and finds him drunk on the couch. He tells her that he and Juliette broke up. Bearing in mind that this was the girl who sniffed disapprovingly at the idea of Deacon maybe having feelings for the mother of his child and his erstwhile lover, she then sits down and tells Avery that whatever Juliette did, she’s sure Juliette is a real nice person. And I mean, I know I am rooting for them to get back together, but it makes ZERO SENSE that SCARLETT is rooting for that. On ANY level. ESPECIALLY the one on which he fell in love with Juliette while they were still kind of dating, Juliette was terrible to her on the tour, and Juliette slept with someone else. Remember when she was a great Get-A-Grip person? Now she is the worst. It was a very unsatisfying pep talk, is what I’m saying. I don’t know. Maybe I missed the good part while I was trying to get a good screen grab of her awful peach dress.

And so then Luke and Rayna finish the concert with “Ball and Chain,” and they shimmy and rub up against each other a WHOLE LOT, and her children are watching and it totally spooks me. Luke then takes this tender and intimate moment to propose to Rayna, because when you really, really want the person’s most sincere answer, you propose to them in front of a massive crowd of people with cameraphones.

Deacon and Maddie exchange this look. Oh, Deacon. I know. Come here.

BUT SERIOUSLY WHAT IS WITH THE CLOTHES IN THIS EPISODE. That dress is GHASTLY ON HER. CUFF IT. CUFF IT AND LOCK IT AWAY FOREVER. It’s like four sizes too small. What is going ON over there? Were they so overbudget that they scrounged for clothes from people’s teenage nieces?

And this was SO GOOD. Avery goes back to talk to Juliette, and she haltingly delivers a moving and amazingly self-aware explanation of her sself-sabotage, in which she’s clearly ashamed of it and offering it up as a reason but not an excuse. She then begs him not to make her be alone again, in a way that’s rather heartbreaking and not pathetic so much as achingly sad. Juliette is by far the most richly fleshed-out character, with the clearest motivations, and Hayden Panettiere is wonderful at playing her. The episode ends with what APPEARS to be a shot of him turning to leave. AVERY. I KNOW YOU SHOULD NOT STAY WITH HER BUT PLEASE STAY WITH HER OR SOMETHING. Except don’t, because them finding their way back to each other is much better. They can be the new Rayna and Deacon. Minus the drunken rages.

Gunnar had told Zoey to give Scarlett the song he wrote for her, because he seems to think it’s best that he not go say goodbye, or something. Scarlett shows up to bid him farewell and he decides to sing it to her, and she joins in, and it’s wonderful, because her voice on this show only ever made the best sense when paired with his. At the end of the song, they share a poignant glance, and he tells her he doesn’t think she should go. I can’t tell if they’re realizing that there are still feelings there, or what, but the song is all about her gift and the refrain is, “It’s not yours to throw away.” And it’s nice. I am not actually invested in whether the character comes back (sorry, Clare Bowen, it’s not personal), but then again, the show has’nt been great at introducing new people this season. Zoey is a cipher; the only story there is that she used to sing at Church. They never had a handle on who Layla was: She was an ambitious, flirty, schemey climber, and then she suddenly was a virgin who only ever did what her parents pushed her to do, and now she’s just a warm body for Will’s plot. They danced around trying to give her substance and never really took it anywhere. Luke Wheeler is JUST A Good Ol’ Country Boy. Oliver Hudson is pure evil in a suit, although he’s trying to have as much fun with it as he can, and I think it’s his performance that has given the character’s assholery any semblance of a fun twinkle. Maybe the writing team will come back refreshed, and they’ll bring in new characters that are actual PEOPLE, but maybe I should also not be so casual about dispensing with the old ones that do have some shading.

Speaking of: Will runs straight to Layla, drags her into the bedroom where no cameras are supposed to be, and blurts out that he’s gay.

Then he sobs and throws himself into her arms, weeping and hugging her, while she LOSES HER MIND but extremely quietly. And with a glimmer of anger, methinks. Here’s to this making her interesting?

And HAL is like, “Just what do you think you’re doing, Will?”

Deacon shows up at Rayna’s house and tells her, point blank, that he’s ready to be the husband and father she wanted him to be 20 years ago. I am unclear on why Luke is not with Rayna, given that they just got engaged (they may have thrown in a line about this and I missed it), and it’s extremely ballsy to do this in a place where her children could walk in and see Mommy Kissing Santa Clausbourne. He also might’ve let himself sit with it a day or three, to make sure he wasn’t just overreacting to her getting engaged. I mean, she said yes, the ring was on her finger; the ship had already left port and set sail for the tropics. Might as well take twenty-four hours to make sure, and also milk it for some soulful new music. Speaking of, whatever happened to his big musical comeback? EXACTLY.

But he does get right up close to her, plant a sultry kiss on her, and tell her she can think about it. (How nice of you to mess with the engaged lady’s head and then give her permission to sleep on it.) And then…

… he drops her original engagement ring into her palm and tells her that he never should’ve let her give it back to him. So we cruise into the abyss of hiatus with Will outing himself to Layla and probably to his reality producers; Juliette and Avery broken; Scarlett and Gunnar maybe on the road to repair; Teddy doing nothing, not even computer-shopping for his mayoral office (could they AT LEAST have shown him buying a tablet?); and Rayna torn between two lovers. And WE DON’T KNOW HOW HIGHWAY 65 IS DOING. HOW WILL WE SURVIVE THE SUMMER, Y’ALL? HOLD ME.

Tags: Nashville