Expect the unexpected. That's the takeaway from yet another solidly written episode of Nashville this week. With a series of unguarded moments at the heart of the episode, perhaps the most surprising of all was the very unexpected – and welcome – return of Will Chase as country superstar Luke Wheeler. But as Luke (and presumably Chase) prepares to ride off into the sunset and retire from life on the road and the series, he's approached by Rayna and Zach who want to buy his Wheelin' Dealin' record label to merge with Rayna's Highway 65. Luke and Rayna's last proposed merger, their wedding, was a non-starter, so the irony of the situation isn't lost on either of them, but they finally admit the marriage would have been a mistake.
Zach's motives, however, are growing more suspect, what with his furtive glances at the glistening abs of Will Lexington as he changes out of his sweaty shirt after a performance, and the offhand remark he makes when Luke says he thinks his office must have been bugged, otherwise how would they know about his label being for sale. Rayna, quite accurately, observes that Nashville is a small town after all. But we've got our eye on you, Zach.
At home, Rayna and Deacon are beefing up security after Rayna's stalker spooked her by showing up at Highway 65 last week. Deacon, like Miranda Lambert, thinks it's time to get a gun, but Rayna isn't so sure. They hire a security team of ex-military guys referred to them by Dolly (no last name necessary, but we're suddenly reminded of the gun-toting secretary in 9 to 5 who can "change you from a rooster to a hen in one shot"). Deacon also jokes about putting a guard on Maddie, whose fascination with Clay has her letting her own guard down, much to her mother's consternation. Daphne gets in the line of the night by observing, "But he's really cute… just sayin'." More on her budding hormones later.
When Maddie tells Rayna that Clay is bipolar and won't take his meds because it stunts his creativity, Rayna wants to know how it's affecting his behavior and how he treats her. After Maddie blows up at Rayna's reaction, she actually has a calmer, beautifully written and acted heart-to-heart with Rayna, who tells her, "I would spare you all the hurt in the world if I could. I fell in love with a messed up alcoholic and wasted years of my life trying to figure that out. I just hope you know you deserve to be happy. Everybody does."
Maddie then reminds Deacon that her mother met him when she was Maddie's age, something that he always figured would come back to bite him on the ass eventually. When she tells him that she has figured out that people are like "whole worlds inside" with everyone walking around with their own history and feelings and different ways of seeing things, her dad is impressed by her wisdom at such a young, vulnerable age. And so are we. Rayna, whose mother wasn't alive to protect her or confront her about the sketchy choices she made in her own teen years, keenly observes, "You can't fight about boys with a ghost." We can only hope this wasn't some kind of foreshadowing to a future without Rayna in it.
Juliette's therapy is going extremely well, as she progresses to walking with crutches and is encouraged by her physical therapist, new – and groundbreaking – character Allyson, who's played by transgender actress Jen Richards. Their scene is short, but in it Juliette confesses that she thinks she would have been better off had she been born a guy, because she often thinks like one. What she's really thinking about, though, is Hallie and her church. While Jen is whipping Juliette's physical being back into shape, Hallie is having a completely unexpected effect on her spiritual being, much to Avery's initial dismay.
Hallie invites Juliette to visit her at a community center in East Nashville, where the lines (as they so often do) blur between TV fiction and reality, when Hallie picks up a banjo and, joined by a pair of musicians, introduces them as the "Nashville Chocolate Drops." This is, of course, a clever reference to Rhiannon Giddens' other gig as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. And although we're now suddenly hungry for candy, what we get instead is a lesson on the African origins of the banjo (Fun fact: early banjo heads were made using tightly stretched membranes of animal skin and, as such, sometimes even had remnants of fur attached to them). We also get a nice performance of the classic folk tune, "Sourwood Mountain." Watch the Carolina Chocolate Drops perform the song in the video below.
In this week's "this will not end well" department: Avery, who was playing music on an outdoor truck bed outside a hipster coffee bar, is eating inside when he's approached by a creepy, white-haired guy who wants to be his manager. Juliette's coffee date with Rayna, meanwhile, goes a whole lot better when Rayna doesn't fall on the floor convulsing in laughter as Juliette tells her that if she's going to be re-signed with Highway 65, what she wants to do is make a gospel record. Hey, if it's good enough for Reba. . .
Juliette's vulnerability about her newfound spiritual side isn't really helped by what always sticks out as a completely sour note on an otherwise mellifluously managed series: the presence of paparazzi following her around like she's a Kardashian. Yes, she's a country-pop superstar, and yes, the press would be interested in what she's got going on, but one of the things Nashville is famous for is generally leaving celebrity types the hell alone.
And yet. . . there is also the sad reality of celebrity stalkers, and country stars are certainly not immune to their mostly benign but sometimes way-too-close-for-comfort weirdness. Rayna's stalker has, as the episode begins, been put on notice that he is to stay away from her and her family, which he does… for a while. But outside her school, stranger danger awaits as Daphne is approached the guy. He's quickly apprehended, however, and sent to jail and Daphne isn't really shaken by the whole thing because – in what is ultimately the most unexpected thing to come from the episode – Daphne has an admirer and an actual storyline! The good news? The boy, Flynn, is her age. The bad news? She nearly scares him off by just walking away when he asks for her number. But after the stalker is caught and Daphne spots Flynn waving to her outside the principal's office she decides to stay at school and they finally have a proper chat.
Also caught off guard is Scarlett, who watches the finished music video with Damien the director, and finds the whole thing very surreal – so surreal, in fact, that the image of herself on the screen stares back at the "real" Scarlett at one point, allowing her, as she tells Damien, to see inside herself for the first time and showing herself what she looks like in her own mind. She finally admits that she's happy with the result. She's either enjoying her own unguarded spiritual awakening, or she got a hold of some really bad acid.