For a show that moves rapidly from scene to scene, Nashville has been a bit of a slow burn over recent episodes, reveling in characters' conflicts for a while before resolving or advancing them. Luckily last night's episode was packed with standoffs and power plays.
Nashville's original synopsis promised a drama that revolved around the rivalry between aging, fading country queen Rayna Jaymes and skyrocketing pop-country vixen Juliette Barnes. But four or five episodes have elapsed since writers have acknowledged this storyline; I was starting to worry they'd abandoned it. Since the gloriously passive-aggressive snappy dialogue between the generationally opposed country divas was such a highlight of the show's first couple episodes, it's refreshing to see that they didn't.
Though nowhere near as entertaining, Edgehill Republic Records head Marshall Evans is one diabolically crafty bastard. In his scheme to match-make Rayna and Juliette, Marshall fucks over both singers – who are slated to appear at the label's prestigious anniversary concert at the historic Ryman Auditorium – informing each that their performance is reduced to one song: a duet they will sing together. "It's not a request," Marshall informs Rayna, but a shrewd ploy to force harmony between the label's flagship singers and make Juliette – whose public image and musical credibility are shot – look like Rayna's musical heir. "Living legend. That's just a way of saying, 'past her prime,'" Juliette quips.
Juliette is the first to balk at the idea. "I don't need anyone else's wings," she protests, "I'm not an investment, I'm an artist." Marshall begs to differ, knowing full well that no one, especially Rayna, respects her music and many find her unfit for the hallowed Ryman stage.
Let's admit it, even though Marshall is be-suited Music Row pig, he's got a good idea here – Rayna and Juliette need each other. "You should be happy that I'm even here to expand your fan base!" whippersnapper Juliette tells her elder. "I thought we were here because you've got fans whose parents don't want them looking up to a shoplifter!" Rayna quickly retorts.
(A preview of next week's episode suggests that I was right in my prediction that the tour between the two proposed in the pilot will actually come to fruition.)
Rayna wants to sing one of the gritty new tracks she's cutting with Irish rocker/producer Liam McGuinnis, while Juliette wants to go with one of her megahits. Deacon weighs in by giving Rayna a copy of his track with Juliette, "Undermine," to make the case that Juliette "has it inner to be a great songratter." Liam has a slightly different take on the young singer – "Nice rack, OK voice," he says. "She knows how to play the game."
As a compromise, Rayna and Juliette find common ground in their respective troubled love for Deacon and burn the midnight oil writing the rousing country rocker "Wrong Song," which garners them a standing ovation when they take it to the Ryman stage.
Teddy's also enjoying a surge in popularity – his poll numbers are way up, which means is spirits are about to be way low. To Teddy's surprise, mayoral opponent Coleman – now resorting to Lamar's brand of cloak-and-dagger politics – calls him for a late-night "candidate to candidate" meeting by the riverwalk. "I'm here to discuss a withdrawl: yours," he tells Teddy, in an attempt to blackmail him with those suggestive pictures of him with Peggy. (So much for the Clean Campaign Pledge!)
"This. Looks. Bad," Lamar notes, urging Teddy to come clean about the pictures, deny a relationship, keep the couple's shady business dealings (for which the "paper trail has been wiped clean") from Rayna and silence Peggy at all costs while using the media to resurrect bogus drug charges against Coleman. Nashville without Powers Boothe would be like Nietzsche's view of a world without music – a mistake. The actor's hilariously commanding portrayal of Lamar makes the case that Karl Rove would come off as kind of a badass if only he spoke in a Faulknerian Southern dialect and had an amazing head of hair.
As you might expect, Scarlett is handling her breakup with Avery the same way she handles everything else in life: pitifully. Posters for now-thankfully-ex-boyfriend Avery's next gig that are pasted all over town are a ubiquitous reminder of all the good times we never saw them have. At the Bluebird, Gunnar consoles a heartsick writers'-blocked Scarlett as uncle Deacon sings his sad-bastard country weepers in the background.
For once, Avery is in much better shape than Scarlett. His new sugar mama manager Marilyn has booked him a debut gig at a big rock club, the fictional Tequila Cowboy, and called every entertainment reporter and blogger in town (something I can tell you from experience rarely actually works) to make sure it sells out. But our fame-starved pretty boy is still almost too bummed over getting dumped to enjoy this upcoming 8 Mile moment. Not because he necessarily loves and longs for Scarlett, but because he wants her to be there, cheering him on like she did all those dives. Backstage at the Edgehill Republic shindig, Marilyn introduces Avery to L.A. Reid-esque label honcho Domino Wells (played by Wyclef Jean). Nothing much happens there, but let's go ahead and safely predict that something soon will.
Scarlett is meeting new people, too! Because "the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else," Hailey takes her out for a night of socially irresponsible honky-tonkin', where she drunkenly sits in with the band on a cutesy "Ring of Fire" rendition and encores by making out with some random barfly. This prompts a jealous Gunnar to go faux-boyfriend and get up in dude's grill, before scolding Scarlett for getting too loose – finally cuing the most predictable TV plot development since Tony Soprano woke up one morning and got himself a gun: Scarlett and Gunnar are finally coupling up, whether they know it or not.
Passions are also igniting for Juliette and her hunky quarterback beau Sean. The singer's super flak Makena's scheme to airbrush her public image by engineering the couple worked wonders for Juliette, but not for Sean. Dumb football fans and dumber gossip columnists are blaming Juliette for Sean's poor performance on the field. (Wasn't he already a lame-duck rookie before they met?) "People don't like their heroes dating Kryptonite," her manager Glenn muses.
"That girl seriously needs to get laid," Liam (Or was it Bucky?) points out. That won't happen anytime soon: Because being a charitable, animal-loving star quarterback isn't apple-pie-American enough, Sean is also a bible-beating virgin. No big reveal there. In the show's pilot (and subsequent episodes) we learned that Juliette is definitely not a virgin. Nevertheless, she's hot for this hunk, despite how his arms are horribly scarred with terrible tattoos.
Because Sean is a famous Promise Keeper, and because Juliette is kind of a redneck, she asks him if he's gay. (Seriously!) He claims he's just "weird and old-fashioned."
Put your hands together and pray that over the course of Juliette's grand character arc, Sean inspires her to ditch the big-box MOR-country career in favor of finding her true calling as a faith-based gospel pop singer, because that would be hilarious.
First, while it's true that the Ryman was the heyday home of the Grand Ole Opry, it's also a common-use concert theater that, in recent years, has hosted Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, second-round American Idol auditions, the Wiggles and the Jonas Brothers. If she can sell out Madison Square Garden, Juliette (who's gone multi-platinum twice in three years) is easily big enough to headline the Ryman many nights in a row. At this point in her career, she'd have long completed the Ryman rite of passage.
Next, unless Juliette jet sets Sean to Vegas next week, drugs him and takes him to the altar so she can get him in the sack, I'm just not buying this pair's budding romance. It would be nice to see an intimate moment between them that doesn't have the vibe of an after-school. Just sayin'.
Also, Avery's gig posters are ridiculous. In real life they would be enough to inspire a Music City ordinance, and that's saying something. Why doesn't Marilyn just overpay a publicist to bombard Avery's Facebook friends with event invites and beef up his Twitter presence like every other artist manager in Nashville?
Finally, Rayna's Greatest Hits album: She balks at the thought of it, but couldn't the "cash-poor" singer use a quick buck right about now?
Previously: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly