'Nashville' Recap: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Stars come out to honor Deacon, Gunnar and Scarlett finally consummate after tragedy

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Katherine Bomboy-Thornton/ABC
Charles Esten as Deacon Claybourne, Hayden Panettiere as Juliette Barnes and Kip Moore on 'Nashville'.
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Between Rayna's road spats with Juliette, Teddy walking out on her, Avery gloriously failing at life and Liam's general smarminess, Nashville was really on a roll until that last uneventful dud of an episode aired. Luckily, that snooze-fest was merely a hiccup. Nothing like some tabloid controversy, celebrity cameos, a relapse into alcohol addiction and the show's first death to get the drama back into gear on what was Nashville's darkest, heaviest tearjerker to date. And all in an episode that centered on a party? Even better. 

"Deacon's a little funny about parties," Scarlett warns Juliette when the superstar calls on her to help throw a surprise birthday bash for her sad-bastard bandleader, who usually spends his red-letter days at home watching his favorite silver-screen laugh-riot, Old Yeller. The ruse? Scarlett interrupts Deacon's movie time to give him a cupcake, then guilts him into coming to see her and Gunnar rock open-mic night at the Bluebird. Upon arrival, the Deke finds high-placed friends including Pam Tillis, Kip Moore, Vince Gill and Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach wearing masks bearing his likeness. Surprise! But par for the soap-slicked course, the night has an ending sadder than Old Yeller, and sexier than Mulholland Drive.

'Nashville': Rolling Stone's Complete Coverage

Before we get to that, let's get Rayna and her hot probs out of the way – the first of which being that her broken home doesn't have the Internet. How else do we explain Rayna and the kids finding out at the supermarket, through print media, that her and Teddy's dirty laundry is making tabloid headlines? One minute Rayna and Tandy are gossiping and grocery shopping like regular folk, the next Daphne and Maddie are reading the salacious details (factual and fictional) of their parents' extramarital escapades. Does Rayna really not have a Google alert for herself? Nevertheless, despite filing for divorce in Podunk County, Tennessee, to skirt media scrutiny, the media finds out anyway. 

Of course, this news is no news to Maddie, who, in the last episode, overheard papa bear on the phone whispering sweet nothings to Peggy and reported back to mama bear, who confronted Teddy at his office with a stern fatwa: "They're my daughters too. . . . Keep your girlfriend away from them!"

The relentless paparazzi hounds and tabloid dirt prove the ultimate test of Rayna's resolve. Like a grieving widow (or a shamed harlot, depending on what people read) she must face an onslaught of catty commenters, sympathetic starers, judgmental gawkers and answer to their insincere "how are you doings." Even from Deacon. "Seriously?" he texts her, along with a photo of a headline. 

The silver lining in this mess is that Lamar is back. Finally! And for the first time we see that under Rayna's father's black heart lies a soul. In an uncharacteristically touching, scene, Lamar goes to console Rayna. "You only have to explain yourself to the people you care about," he tells her. "All the rest of them, well, they can go to hell." Bonded by the pain of infidelity, shouldn't Lamar and Rayna repair their own fractured relationship by snitching on Teddy and ruining him? With what they know, they could have Teddy and Peggy in prison scrubs before Coleman can shout "recall election!"

All of these developments left little for Avery to do this week. Aside from getting shut out of Deacon's birthday soiree, foolishly dropping a quarter of his six-figure publishing advance on a guitar and getting some bad bumper-sticker advice from Watty White, Prince Soul Patch Feather Head was a non-entity. As such, hating Avery was a challenge (another first), which is unfortunate, because hating Avery is one of the best things about watching Nashville. Luckily, we still have Teddy.

Teddy's really not that smart. He may be mayor of Nashville, but his actions suggest that being a dipshit is, unlike his marriage, a lifelong commitment. What does Teddy do when every sensible person around him say to stay away from Peggy – his partner in both crime and bed? He hires her onto his staff as a "financial consultant for special projects" (like embezzling millions, sleeping with him and half-hearted suicide attempts?) and even holds a press conference to announce the appointment. The audacity!

Never is Teddy smugger then when he tries to go toe-to-toe with Lamar over a "suggested" deputy mayor appointee. Now, all of a sudden, Teddy's got a steadfast moral compass and thinks he doesn't have to bow to Lamar's brand of backroom politics. "I took an oath!" he tells Lamar, who snaps back, "Isn't that kind of like a vow?" Surely that's far from the sickest burn Lamar's got in store for his insubordinate puppet. Biting the hand that feeds, Teddy pulls a shocker, makes peace with Coleman and asks him to be his deputy mayor.

The idea for Deacon's birthday party actually came from Jolene, who's fresh out of rehab. And she parties pretty hard. A champagne toast is all it takes to send her tumbling off the wagon. For all of Juliette's entitled prima donna sass mouth, at day's end she's perhaps the most mature fool on this ship. With Jolene's relapse taking priority, Juliette takes responsibility for her mother, brings her home, tends to her and passes up a chance to fulfill her dream of playing the Bluebird moments before it would have come true. Adding insult to injury, this frees up the mic for Rayna, who unexpectedly shows up and – with help from Tillis, Moore and Kate York – sings "Stronger Than Me," a meditative ballad ruminating on her recent woes. "Pour me something stronger than me," goes the song's refrain.

The tune goes over well. But Scarlett and Gunnar's performance of their wistful weeper "I Will Fall" fucking kills! As an incentive for getting Deacon out to the party, Juliette lets the duo open the show. She almost regrets it when she actually hears them: "If I'd known they were that good, I might not have asked them to go on stage before me," she says. Given the company they're in, this is a pretty big gig for the pair. Rayna, Gill, Auerbach and everyone else in the room is captivated by the performance. "They are the real deal," Deacon says. And for the viewers, Scarlett and Gunnar once again prove their worth to the show with another stunning duet.

"I Will Fall" and "Stronger Than Me" are pretty sad songs for a party. But then again, it was Deacon's party. And this is Nashville, where every tear is an emotional rollercoaster ride away from every beer.

From Jolene's beefcake drug counselor (who I'm predicting will soon become Juliette's next love interest), we learn that Deacon's isn't the first birthday party Juliette's junkie mama has ever planned. For Juliette's ninth birthday Jolene rented a room at Dewey's Ice Cream Parlor, but had to cancel when she spent the birthday money on drugs. Juliette ran away, then came back to the trailer to find her mother passed out, lit cigarette in hand, with embers falling onto the carpet. Juliette put out the fire. "But the truth is, I wanted her to die," she confesses.

Though Jolene lived to see another drink, Gunnar's jailbird brother Jason isn't so lucky. Gunnar hardly has to time to celebrate a killer Bluebird performance before authorities show up, discreetly brandish their badges and whisk him away to the station. Actually, it's the morgue. Jason's dead (I know, famous last words to anyone familiar with the Friday the 13th franchise). The fuzz found him beaten to death in an alley. Maybe if Gunnar and Scarlett hadn't stumbled upon Jason's revolver in the laundry, Gunnar wouldn't have kicked his brother out of the house and turned his back on him. Maybe if Gunnar hadn't confronted Jason by the river and chucked the six-shooter into the water, Jason would have been able to defend himself and he'd still be alive. But he's dead and it's all Gunnar's fault. Not really, but the wrenching anguish on the G-man's face when he identifies the body means he'll see it that way. We may not have known Jason long enough to give a shit whether he lived or died, but, thanks to an excellent, convincing performance from Sam Palladio, our hearts break for Gunnar. Not the way Scarlett's does, though.

Scarlett might come off like a delicate pixie tinkerbelling around in a magical fairytale land, but she's hiding a dark secret: She has a death fetish? Could it be? Worried sick, she waits through the night for Gunnar to get home. And then comes the moment we've all been waiting for: Scarlett and Gunnar finally fuck. But like this? Really?! What starts as consolation quickly turns to making out and, soon after, boning when he breaks the bad news. Seriously, his brother is dead and he hasn't even had time to shower before Scarlett treats him to what has to be one of the darker pity fucks in television history.

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