This episode had an embedded gimmick: three live performances. And for my money, they TOTALLY BLEW this opportunity to get people talking. Remember how vibrant Gunnar, Avery, and Zoey were as a trio, and when Deacon joined them? Remember how moving and lovely it is whenever Lennon Stella sings anything with Chip Esten? Remember even how “Don’t Put Dirt On My Grave Just Yet” at least had some stompy attitude to it? Hell, Chris Carmack can kick it up there with the best of them, too. But instead of hooking the live viewers with songs that had verve, the show was too married to stitching together lyrics and plot. And so it served up a deadly bland ditty from Will, a bleak slow jam from Deacon, and then like two minutes of Florida Georgia Line singing a ballad while Chip Esten played guitar. So disappointing. It just wasn’t an advertisement for what this show does best.
Nor, in fact, was the premiere as a whole.
WHERE WE LEFT IT: Luke Wheeler proposed to Rayna, and not to be left out, Deacon popped by and slipped her some tongue and a proposal of his own. Will told Layla that he’s gay, as a hidden camera light for their craptacular reality show blinked unseen from their clock. Juliette got dumped by Avery because he found out she slept with Oliver Hudson. And Scarlett promised to leave town. PROMISED. SHE PROMISED. Sigh.
We begin with an anemic peek into the events of act five. Rayna weighs her two engagement rings — Simple Yet Emotionally and Historically Meaningful, and Magpie Bait — and then Tandy pops by and gives us a very clear indication that she is rooting against Deacon. Because Tandy’s judgment is so reliable. Need I remind you, Rayna, who kept Powers Boothe’s power booth plugged in for so many years? Wait, that came out wrong. It sounded saucy. IT WASN’T. It was a sauceless father-daughter business union.
Rayna then calls someone and says, “I love you,” and promises to show up for him wherever he is. So far, we only know that Deacon is somewhere public: He’s at The Blue Bird, waiting to perform. Luke Wheeler drives up, socks Deacon in the jaw, and hisses, “Why can’t you just let her be happy?” And Deacon retorts, “Why can’t you?” with a confident smile. Oh, Deacon. He who has a shit-eating grin… is a shit-eater.
Hayden Panettiere’s hair people clearly got a note about her wigs or extensions or whatever they are, and so Juliette throws a tantrum and gives herself a rage chop. PEOPLE. You got the wrong blonde. It’s SCARLETT who’s supposed to cut off all her hair. I just know it. I’VE BEEN WAITING.
And at The Blue Bird, Will Lexington is singing a meh tune called “If It’s Love” that he dedicates to his wife, all about how he is unimpeachably, genitally hot for her.
It’s safe to say that Layla doesn’t think this is the tenderest of gestures.
I can read your poker face, Layla. It is the emotional equivalent of a large-print book that’s further being held under a magnifying glass. She stomps off angrily and then the two of them fight their way into their trailer, as Deacon watches idly. Because he’s lingering outside by the door, and dude, if Nashville’s hot young marrieds spar their way out of a venue, you stay and listen. This is how I know Deacon is the best.
Avery is drinking away the pain of Juliette’s transgression. Apparently after she made her impassioned plea to him — about why she shoots herself in the foot; Self Sabotage 101, basically — he left and then got drunk and never looked back out the whiskey bottle. Jonathan Jackson spends the ENTIRE episode playing drunk, and actually seems to have a lot of fun with it, but it must have been exhausting. Lots of his forehead vein vibrating. I do appreciate his lack of vanity, and also Hayden’s:
Juliette spends the entire hour with red eyes and the sniffles. I always wonder if pregnant actresses feel uncomfortable playing all th gut-punching raw emotion, given that you’re told to avoid stress, but she doesn’t hold back. It’s impressive. Every single beat Hayden Panettiere plays on this show feels earned, even if that’s not actually true, because she’s that good. Having said that, I miss her being spicy.
Scarlett is STILL claiming she’s going to leave town, and has traded sundresses for denim shorts with eyelet ruffles. Deacon lies that he’s really going to miss her. There is NO WAY that’s true, given that they had about three conversations last season and she was off her head on drugs WHILE LIVING IN HIS HOUSE and he didn’t even notice. You are not going to miss her, Deacon. You MIGHT miss that she probably keeps you in fresh milk and non-moldy bread and such, but that’s about it.
Avery shows up at Deacon’s to get a lift from Scarlett — he wants out of Nashville also — and he loses MAJOR points for walking into an alcoholic’s house with an open bottle of booze. And in a brown bag, no less. RUDE, Avery. You don’t walk into a day care holding an unwrapped popsicle, do you? No. And NO ONE calls him on it, not even Scarlett, who used to fire off one accurately crabby line per episode. I know Avery is drunk, but frankly, that doesn’t make it any better. Deacon is FAMOUSLY a self-destructive alcoholic, and he just dumped his cheating girlfriend (Megan). Keep the gleaming red cape away from the bull, please.
Gunnar throws himself into the car at the last minute to convince Scarlett she shouldn’t move. He refuses to get out until she agrees, so of course, she floors it and off we go on a dysfunctional country road trip. I actually have to give all three actors credit — a lot of their interactions were funny and charming, mostly due to Gunnar being cheerfully doltish all of a sudden. He, like Cyrus Beene on Scandal before him, has spent the off-season backcombing his forelock.
Perhaps all that extra weight on his frontal lobe rendered him addled, because Avery vehemently tries to shush him about what happened with Juliette, and he still blurts that she cheated on Avery. He doesn’t get out with whom, though, because Avery unhooks his seatbelt and leans over to pummel Gunnar drunkenly, with WANTON disregard for the sanctity of The Swoop.
That is going to take hours to fix, and you know NOBODY else in the car has any hair product to loan him. Worst day ever. Let’s cut to the chase on this one, also:
The show uses its usual subtle, tender touch — including a slack-jawed yokel named Cletus who recognizes Scarlett from her breakdown, and a woman hitting on Avery to piss off her large boyfriend, who gets angry when Avery falls into one of her boobs — to get our band of misfits on their way back to Nashville. Sigh. Don’t tease me so, Scarlett. You are under orders to be more interesting this season, and also maybe cut your hair.
Juliette has to pull herself together for an audition to play Patsy Cline, for which she is dressed like a fifty-something opera singer. Luckily, her EXACT heartbreak is mirrored by the circumstances in which her character is performing “Crazy,” and so Juliette gets to infuse her audition with every emotion she’s actually feeling. Hayden Panettiere builds a slow level of brokenness until tears leak down her cheeks and she can’t finish the last lyrics, and of course the whole room acts shocked and she seems embarrassed, even though anyone with eyes and ears can tell she didn’t just crush it — she Hulk Smashed it.
I don’t know how many takes it required, but if it was more than one, they stitched together seamlessly. The plot here is not a surprise — we all know they’re going to be blown away by what they think is her acting, when really, she’s shattered by what happened with Avery. But the little moments are wonderful. This performance is pivotal enough that, again, it’s another argument for why I wish they’d used the live portions to generate a contrasting energy. Perhaps they thought that the road-trip shenanigans would be brimming with hilarious funk. They were fine, but they weren’t THAT good, y’all.
Tandy hates Deacon, and has stopped straightening her short hair. The latter is fine, but the former is why I hope she continues only getting to wear sweatshirts from QVC.
Rayna cruelly puts on her sunglasses so that she looks as hot as possible while telling Luke the truth: that Deacon proposed to her, and she didn’t know what to say. Somebody at ABC must be really high on Will Chase — that, or the actors are pushing Extreme Adult Behavior, because he sits next to her and hears her out with extreme patience, and then explains that he’s in love with her and that he understands if she needs time to think about this. I’m all for people treating each other well, but we already have Saint Rayna; Saint Will on top of that is going to be tough to take.
HOWEVER: We then get some deliriously silly flashback hair.
Rayna remembers her ups and downs with Deacon, and how he’d often be drunk and let her down when she needed him — including one night where Luke Wheeler stepped in on guitar and saved her bacon. And when you see what they did to freaking Will Chase for this, you are going to want to buy him a shot of something.
He looks like a poorly rendered wax figure of Matthew McConaughey. Time is a flat circle.
The best part, too, is that they only did the special-effects work on the close-ups, so both actors look distractingly normal-faced in the long shots:
His ponytail might actually just be made of straw.
Fresh off this flashback, Rayna goes to Deacon and tells him that the two of them can’t be anything more to each other than they are right in that moment: old friends, former lovers, teammates with their daughter. Luke gives her a clean slate, which she and Deacon will never have. Deacon sidles up to her and takes her hands and tells her that he knows how to love her now, and that she’s the Lorraine to his George McFly, the butter to his pancake, the Peyton to his Manning. She starts to cry, but he smiles confidently, because he trusts their bond. And he’s right that sometimes a lady does just want to put on the old reliable pair of shoes, because you never know whether that brand new pair is going to give you blisters ten minutes into your night. Also, his version of coercion comes off a lot more romantic and heart-melting than when Fitz or Jake on Scandal do not take no for an answer, and I suspect it’s because he’s not groping her or trying to nail her to a wall with his man hammer.
Juliette’s hair-cutting meltdown was because she thought she’d blown everything that mattered to her — Avery, the Patsy Cline movie — but of course Glenn comes in and tells her that she’s got the part. So she gets a professional to finish the job and coos, “I like this even better.”
I might have agreed with that, if it still looked like it was actually her hair. I suppose it MIGHT be, but one potential tell is: Look on the left side of her head in this photo, and how none of that hair appears to be coming out of her head. It’s ALL coming out of her part. So if it IS her real hair, they’re styling it like it’s a wig, and if it’s not, I don’t get the point of doing this. Megan Boone on The Blacklist finally grew out her hair enough to please NBC, so they wrote in a haircut scene that was a winky disposal of her much-maligned wig. If Nashville is going to the same trouble, the result should at least PASS as real hair.
ANYWAY, this is the scene in which Juliette gets a check-up because she was feeling queasy, and finds out that she’s pregnant. I understand why they wanted to write in Hayden’s pregnancy, but this might be shooting her into storyline purgatory unless this is the last season of the show. We’ll see. I demand that it be Avery’s baby, which means it probably won’t be. But like… nobody wants to see slimy record exec Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson) become enlightened by fatherhood. That is not a character I need to see wake up and unlock his humanity. I want him to continue hate-banging everything with his eyes.
Deacon feels The Sads because when Maddie shows up to the Blue Bird — with Teddy, in a nice truce between the men — she blithely shrugs that she doesn’t think Rayna was planning to come to the show. And indeed, she is only there in the form of an old headshot, which is probably one of Connie Britton’s actual old headshots, right? It’s great — a really nice touch, and exactly the thing that’s probably hanging, autographed, in a dry cleaner and a Thundercloud Subs and a dentist’s office wherever in Austin they filmed Friday Night Lights. So Deacon goes up on-stage and, as we see Rayna preparing to go somewhere, slipping Deacon’s ring halfway onto her finger, he begins to sing…
… and Rayna exits a limo at Luke’s press appearance, wearing a skimpy white dress that looks like a fancy plaster mold. Her boobs might as well be wearing bells. AND SHE CHOSE LUKE. Which is wrong no matter how nice a guy they try to make him. Mostly because I still don’t trust the way they’ve tried to paint him as such a temperate saint, and also, because he’s not Deacon. YOU ALWAYS CHOOSE DEACON. It’s a horrible choice, as is the dress. But it did at least temporarily distract me from her hair, which sadly photographs much better than it looked in motion, so you’re not really going to get what I disliked about it.
Seriously, you can’t tell from this shot, which crushes me, but: When she walked up to him, it was stiff and crunchy in a way that is heretofore foreign to that woman’s mane. RAYNA. EVEN YOUR HAIR THINKS YOU CHOSE WRONG. LISTEN TO IT. Instead, when reporters beg to see the ring, she makes out with Luke while flicking her hand at them. I seriously think she picked him because having to unaccept his public proposal — which had made the front page — was going to be a really big pain.
And inside the party, after smiling at him from across a room, this expression washes over her face. Regrets. Boredom, maybe. Wondering when this show will re-intersect her with Juliette, which used to be its strength? DEFINITELY. But maybe this will turn out to be the one big messy wrong decision Rayna is allowed to make, and to that I will say, FINALLY, and dig that hole nice and deep so that it’s fun watching her climb out of it.