An army of emotion invaded Music City last night. Conflict. Bombshells. Emotional armor. There was plenty of each on the third episode of ABC’s Nashville.
Now that we’re pretty well acquainted with Rayna, Juliette, Deacon, Teddy, Watty, Lamar, Avery, Scarlett and Gunnar, we’re getting to see more of what makes them tick in this high-drama time bomb. Last night brought explosive revelations and saw the characters’ developing love triangles grow more complicated in an episode that centered on dysfunctional families, with mommy and daddy issues high in the mix.
Remember last week, when we said Juliette’s got baggage? Well, Juliette’s got BAGGAGE! And she’s about to have more, probably in the form of a misdemeanor shoplifting charge. (More on that later.) This week we learned more about Juliette’s fractured relationship with her drug-addict mother Jolene (yes, just like the Dolly Parton song). In case we didn’t get it yet, pill-popper-skinny Jolene is repeatedly shown looking sallow, going on bug-eyed rants like an arrestee in a Cops segment and pleading for a lifeline from her daughter. What’s worse, she’s from Alabama. People in Tennessee hate that.
Last week’s episode started with a Juliette Barnes music video shoot. This one started with a photo shoot, in which the perennially sparkle-clad diva antagonist strikes poses in front of a green screen. The background will eventually be the heavens and her blemishes will later be airbrushed and concealed. Her main concern, however, is Deacon, whom she desperately wants in her touring band, rather than just in her bed. “The answer is never ‘no,'” Juliette later snaps at her handlers while awaiting the strong, silent dreamboat guitarist’s reply.
At the photo shoot we see thankless, demanding Juliette in her insulated bubble of superstar creature comforts and sycophantic assistants, who bring her un-cubed cheese on demand and praise her picture-perfect smile – “Those whitening strips really worked!” (And they did.)
Juliette’s harmony gets dissonant when her manager breaks a cardinal rule of the music business – never bring bad news into the green room – and informs his client that her junkie mother showed up earlier at the label office mid-binge, in pursuit of fast cash, and a daughter. The label gave Jolene $100 to scram. (Is that a recoupable expense?) Anyway, the c-note was wasted, as mommy dearest still manages to find Juliette and attempt to shake her down as she’s leaving the shoot, performing some variation of the ol’ “I’m stranded far from home with no gas money” hustle.
“My mother is a drug addict, no one can give her anything. Ever,” Juliette instructs her handlers.
Across the Cumberland River, over in gentrified hipster haven East Nashville, Scarlett and Gunnar are hard at work woodshedding songs for their demo session with star-maker producer Watty White. Scarlett’s ne’er-do-well Jeff Buckley-wannabe indie-rocker boyfriend Avery hovers in the background as chemistry builds between the practicing pair. Gunnar tries to clear the air by complimenting Avery’s band and likening his guitar tone to Link Wray’s, which is ridiculous.
While Scarlett and Gunnar are hoping they’re on their way up, things are on their way down for Rayna and her husband/mayoral hopeful Teddy. They’re teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, her business manager says, and with her record and ticket sales in the shitter (and his financial records in the fireplace, as we saw last week), there’s no cash flow to keep them from plunging off the cliff. Despite their mansion, fully-loaded SUV, Grammys and gold records, Reigning Country Queen Rayna James is part of the 47 percent – right where Rayna’s Machiavellian father Lamar wants them, as we’ll soon see.
On the upside: Juliette and Rayna are lining up three three nights together at Madison Square Garden! Harking back to the show’s pilot, Rayna’s managers once more try to persuade her to do a co-headlining arena jaunt with Juliette, who can only do one night at the Garden on her own. Rayna brings what Juliette lacks in artistic credibility, while Juliette’s popularity would re-galvanize Rayna’s fading star by putting her onstage in front of thousands of young, fresh faces.
As far as climax, falling action and all that script-structure stuff goes, this potential tour is a painfully logical destination for the arc of the season. The thought of Rayna and Juliette competing for Deacon’s hot licks and hotter body, and passive-aggressively complimenting each other’s performances, certainly promises some good soapy fireworks to look forward to. I bet the titanic outing, if it does indeed happen, hits an iceberg after the first show.
Lending credence to Team Rayna vs. Team Juliette tour predictions is that Deacon and Rayna’s rehearsals for their stripped-down theater tour stalled over the set list. Deacon suggests focusing on “quiet, intimate” songs like “No One Will Ever Love You” – the pin-drop stellar ballad the pair performed at Bluebird Café at the close of last week’s episode. Rayna wants to play the hits. But, as Deacon points out, without big production and a backing band, the hits won’t hit all that hard, which is beside the point: Rayna really just wants to avoid rekindling her relationship with Deacon by way of surefire precious performance moments and shared stage glances. Certainly that’s an outcome Lamar lives in fear of.
Later, while Rayna is at home with her daughters rummaging through her rhinestone-replete wardrobe, she receives a $500,000 bailout check from Lamar. Not only is it money she has no interest in taking (if she has a choice), it comes with the condition that she temporarily retire from the music business to raise the girls and allow Teddy to focus on his mayoral run.
That evening, Lamar surprises the family at the daughters’ talent show and Rayna, none too pleased, confronts her daddy. Despite having bankrolled the production of his daughter’s debut LP (without her knowing), Lamar has never much approved of his daughter’s career choice, despite all her success. “The girls are at an age where they need their mother,” he says in defense of his monetary ultimatum. “Go home. Go to hell!” Rayna replies. Turns out those concepts aren’t so different for Lamar.
In a poolside heart-to-heart following the talent show, Rayna’s sister Tandy reveals the Wyatt family secret: Lamar’s wife carried on a decade-plus-long affair with – wait for it – a professional musician. So basically Lamar looks at professional musicians the way Bruce Wayne looks at the muggers who killed his parents. Remember, his “take-away message” from last week was “Don’t mess with me.” Well, daddy isn’t so intimidating when Rayna confronts him and calls him out as cuckold. Later, during a dark night of the soul, we see Lamar looking broken as he pours over pictures of his deceased wife.
This episode was all about humanizing the show’s antagonists and showing their shades of grey. Perhaps Nashville’s greatest strength so far is that it ain’t short on three-dimensional characters. Lamar, like Tony Soprano, can’t flex the same muscle and wield the same control under his own roof that he can in the halls of power. Sure, Juliette is a calculating, man-eating primadonna, but more and more, we know why. And it turns out Avery isn’t the jealous, petty pretty boy last week’s episode set him up to be. Or is he?
He’s big enough to give Scarlett pointers about how to record in the studio, after her simmering sexual tension with Gunnar prompts her to choke when the pair tries to cut “If I Didn’t Know Better,” the aching, show-stealing duet that closed out the show’s pilot. Watty shuts the session down and suggests they find a professional singer to record the tune. That doesn’t sit well with Scarlett, who has bigger dreams than we thought.
Back to Juliette and Deacon. While the pair tenderly cuts “Undermine,” the ballad they co-wrote on last week’s episode, Deacon coaxes Juliette into admitting that the last verse is about her mom. “Every song comes from somewhere,” he says. Sure, Jolene was an absentee parent who dropped Juliette on her head here and there, but she did have the good sense to raise her daughter on the sounds of Rayna Jaymes and other classic country singers.
That may not compensate for Jolene banging on the gates of Juliette’s mansion, interrupting some early morning pillow talk with Deacon after they shack up again. Or for getting busted with pills at the bus stop, forcing her loyal daughter to bail her out and take her in.
Unsympathetic, Deacon, himself a recovering drug addict, turns down Juliette’s offer to join her band. “You’re a hard girl to say no to, but I’m gonna have to,” he tells her. Surprisingly, Deacon also asks Rayna to free him of his professional obligations to her, which she does, reluctantly, while straining not to crumble emotionally. This all happens in a montage set to “Fade Into You” – a new song Scarlett and Gunnar cut with Watty, who gives the girl another chance. The song’s chorus, about one lover fading into the other (a nice music-terminology analogy), makes a case for why musical relationships can’t always be monogamous. This time Avery, who we now see is an opportunist, is there for moral support, and for a chance to meet Watty. “Your girlfriend’s got it, man,” Watty tells Avery. This time, singing the song with Gunnar but to Avery, Scarlett kills it. Hey, maybe Avery will end up in artist management. And if you can’t tell, Deacon is a bit of a child when it comes to commitment.
And lastly comes the show’s first true holy-shit ending to date. There’s Juliette, doing some shopping – or rather, shoplifting, as she slips an item from the makeup aisle into her handbag. Not only does a trio of gawking teenage girls see her do it, one catches the act on her camera phone. So we’ve got the fallout from that to look forward to.
This week’s most tender musical moment was the Conrad sisters’ talent-show performance of Juliette’s “Telescope,” from last week’s opening shot. Not only is it clear the girls have inherited their mother’s musical talents, their Carter-esque harmonies on a stripped-down version of the Top 40-ready tune actually makes it sound like a country song. The sisters are played by adorable pre-teen sibling duo Lennon and Maisy Stella, whose a cappella cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” has garnered nearly 10 million YouTube views.
Previously: Love Triangles Blossom