Nashville is back! Season three of the hit musical drama returned to the ABC lineup on Wednesday night (September 24th). Rolling Stone Country will be bringing you a post-show recap each week, and we were on the set of the show for an exclusive viewing party that included several cast members along with special guests Florida Georgia Line, who appeared in one of two live segments that aired during the episode.
Show favorites, including sisters Lennon and Maisy Stella (Rayna Jaymes' daughters Maddie and Daphne), Sam Palladio (Gunnar), Clare Bowen (Scarlett) and Eric Close (Teddy) were milling about the set and watching as the drama unfolded onscreen. We also had the chance to chat with the show's music producer, Buddy Miller, and music supervisor Frankie Pine, who let us in on a little secret for an upcoming episode featuring cast newcomer, Broadway veteran Laura Benanti. Since its debut, the show has scored some exceptional songwriters to contribute tunes for each episode and the various soundtracks that have been released on the Big Machine label. Fans can look forward to an upcoming episode (number eight, to be exact), which will feature a tune co-written by none other than Kacey Musgraves.
The season two finale of Nashville left several questions unanswered, although none more nail-biting than which of the two men who proposed to her Rayna (Connie Britton) would ultimately choose. Would it be old love (whose drinking problem nearly got her killed at the end of season one) Deacon Claybourne (Chip Esten), or reliable nice-guy (and hot country superstar) Luke Wheeler (Will Chase).
Scarlett, meanwhile, was packing her bags and leaving town after a very public breakdown. Rising star Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) and naïve opportunist Layla Grant (Audrey Peeples), who got married and signed up for a reality show, now have cameras following them everywhere, one of which secretly captured Will confessing his homosexuality to a horrified Layla. And then there is perpetually troubled star Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), who cheated on her boyfriend Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson) with sleazy record exec Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson). With Panettiere's real-life pregnancy being written into the show, look for the fireworks to escalate as Juliette's baby daddy is revealed!
As the episode opens, Rayna continues to contemplate her choice, as sister Tandy (Judith Hoag) offers her counsel. Meanwhile, a frantic Juliette goes in search of a pair of scissors, chopping off her hair in a fit of self-loathing.
One of the highlights of the episode was a pair of live performances inserted to the pre-recorded show. Legendary songwriter and host of NPR's Live at the Bluebird Café, Thom Schuyler ("16th Avenue"), takes to the stage of the set's meticulously re-created rendering of the Nashville landmark to introduce Will as he performs "If It's Love." Layla, doing a dead-on impersonation of Stephen King's Carrie (minus the pig's blood), is staring in disbelief as Will dedicates the song to her. It's all too much for her and she takes off. Outside the cafe, Deacon is slugged by Luke, who asks him, "Why can't you just let her be happy?" "Why can't you?" Deacon replies with a calm, cool smirk as Luke rides away.
The episode then backs up to 12 hours earlier as a sleeping Rayna is awakened by Luke, who shows her the morning paper's headline proclaiming the King and Queen of Country engaged.
Continuing the episode's theme of awakenings, Avery has been nursing his wounded heart with alcohol and is less than thrilled when Juliette disturbs his sleep at 6 a.m. to beg his forgiveness. No such luck.
Scarlett is packing up her belongings at Deacon's and seems pretty determined not to leave anything behind, including her mug, which Deacon is drinking from, and the pen he's using to write a new song he's going to debut later at the Bluebird. Scarlett's desire to leave nothing behind didn't initially include him, but Avery shows up, still drinking, and asks to hitch a ride with her. When Gunnar literally jumps in up to tell Scarlet he's not going to get out of the car until she decides not to leave, it sets up some of the episodes funniest moments. (Although the way things were going, we half expected Liam to return and hop in the back seat, too.)
Gunnar casually spills the beans about Juliette's indiscretion and as Avery attempts a drunken beat-down on him, Scarlett plays exasperated mom to the pair and pulls the car over. Naturally, she can't get it restarted. Thankfully, Scarlett has packed the perfect waiting-for-a-tow-truck parasol to keep the sun away while she sits outside the stalled vehicle, looking ever-so-genteel and content, as one does in such situations.
Avery's sloppy attempt at deflecting attention from himself and asking how she's doing is interrupted by the increasingly comical Gunnar, who emerges from the woods proclaiming, "I can't be sure but I think I may have gotten chiggers."
Rayna confesses to Luke about Deacon's proposal, and leaves him to make her final decision. Taking a stroll down Deacon-memory lane, we see flashbacks of the pair performing, Deacon drinking and Rayna talking to a younger, pony-tailed Luke (or is that Trace Adkins?) in a sleeveless denim vest. Time has been good to Luke.
Maddie and Teddy have a sweet heart-to-heart and she tells him naturally that she wants her mom to marry Deacon and not Luke, although she knows Teddy hates him. He tells her doesn't, saying, "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have you, would I?"
Juliette auditions for the lead in a Patsy Cline film singing "Crazy," but can't get through it without breaking down. She soon takes the song to heart and chops off more of her hair in the middle of an ugly-crying fit. The Britney-style breakdown doesn't last long, however, as a later look in the mirror has her deciding she likes her hair a lot better. As with most things Juliette, her satisfaction is short-lived when she's informed that her blood tests reveal she's pregnant.
A bar fight sends Scarlett, Gunnar and a drunken Avery fleeing the scene and turning back around for Music City in a beautiful bonding moment during which Avery proclaims Gunnar his "bro" and Scarlet his "girl bro."
Rayna has gone to Deacon's to let him down easily, but he pleads his case and begs her to come to the Bluebird that night to sing with him. At the Bluebird, Maddie, Daphne and Teddy arrive to talk to Deacon. Luke arrives at another venue and is asked by reporters about Rayna's whereabouts. When she shows up outside the Franklin Theater, looking radiant and flashing her seven-carat diamond engagement ring, her decision appears pretty final.
On the Bluebird stage (as the episode once again goes live), Deacon delivers a heart-wrenching song with the opening line, "My broken promises broke your heart." The look on Rayna's face suggests that although she's miles away, she's psychically picking up on Deacon's baring his soul. (The song, "I Know How to Love You Now," was written by Esten with Deana Carter, who was on the set for the premiere.)
The episode ends with Florida Georgia Line live at the Bluebird, joined by Deacon for a performance of their chart-topper, "Dirt," an appropriate closer that reminds us that even when life gets muddied up, there is still a place called home to which we can return. And it's nice to call Nashville — and to have Nashville — home.