Well, that didn’t take long. We’re just four episodes into ABC’s Nashville, and the writers have already thrust volatile pop-country vixen Juliette Barnes into the wood chipper of celebrity scandal, turning her into a tabloid sensation on the precipice of descending into Lindsay-Lohan Land. And unlike, say, Charlie Sheen, winning she is not.
If you remember (and who could forget?), at the end of last week’s episode a gaggle of gawking teenagers caught Juliette on camera, shoplifting nail polish at the grocery store. As viewers roundly predicted, shit really hit the fan this week in the wake of such trespasses. The singer wakes up with the fuzz at her door. They don’t arrest her (and are apparently cool with her sloughing them off and shutting the door on them) but they do inform her that the viral inferno sparked by the fan-cam footage is raging to the tune of four million YouTube views.
Add it together with the rest of last night’s storylines – the torch Rayna’s still carrying for Deacon and the strain that her husband Teddy’s run for mayor is putting on their marriage; Avery’s refusal to see Scarlett as the natural songwriting talent that he, perhaps, is not – plus the host of new characters that came between our host of already-star-crossed lovers, and it’s no wonder why this tear-filled episode was the series’ tensest and soapiest so far.
Things kicked off in rather shocking fashion, with Rayna and Deacon in bed together, cuddling and making out tenderly. Luckily for Rayna, this scandal was safe from the trappings of hidden cameras — because it was only a dream. (Meh, lazy.) I have a feeling the faint look of disappointment with a slight undercurrent of disgust that graces Rayna’s face, as she awakens to the cold reality of pearly-whites-ear-to-ear Teddy handing over her morning coffee, is something we’re gonna see more and more of as the season rolls on.
Meanwhile, starry-eyed Scarlett and Gunnar have landed a publishing deal on the strength of the demo they cut with Watty White. And so they go from slogging it out in the service industry over at the Bluebird Café to finding gainful employment as staff writers for a Music Row publisher. At work, Gunnar almost immediately gains a love interest — their boss Jeanne’s fetching, yogurt-obsessed young assistant, Hailey.
While Scarlett and Gunnar’s musical careers are well on track, Juliette’s battling to hold on to hers. The fallout from her ill-fated shopping excursion has legs. The CMA Awards have cancelled her as a presenter, SNL is planning an opening sketch at her expense and the fate of her arena tour (which she is gearing up for by doing yoga) is in jeopardy. Glenn, her manager, flies out McKenna, her publicist, and the pair go into damage-control mode — dressing Juliette in conservative, church-ready attire (“This does not look sexy, this looks poor!”) and hastily booking her for a Sorry, I fucked up appearance on Good Morning America, which she reluctantly agrees to.
Things aren’t any better for Juliette on the home front. Despite her own run-ins with the law, her junkie mama Jolene is none too pleased with her daughter’s criminal endeavors – although she bakes her daughter her favorite pink macaroni anyway, as if crashing under her roof by court order is all hunky dory. Juliette doesn’t buy it. She accuses Jolene of “pretending to be a good mother” — a ruse to steal valuables for drug money — and proceeds to rummage through her handbag for evidence, but instead finds a mother-daughter baby picture, cueing this episode’s obligatory Hayden Panettiere breakdown-and-cry moment.
On the political front, Teddy isn’t shaping up to be the formidable mayoral candidate Lamar may have hoped for — he’s currently trailing frontrunner Coleman Carlisle (who we discover is also Deacon’s AA sponsor) by an insurmountable 12 points in the polls. “He’s practically on life support,” Tandy tells Rayna. So Lamar organizes a $1,400-per-plate fundraiser at the country club (Rayna’s personal hell on earth, where “it does seem like every other woman in there would make a better politician’s wife than [she] would”) and Tandy asks her to perform. Inexplicably, Rayna’s manager Bucky asks Deacon (obviously a Coleman supporter) to do the gig.
Turns out that was a terrible idea. At the country club, we quickly gather that Deacon dislikes Teddy and Lamar as much as he used to like getting high. Moments before Rayna’s performance, tensions come to a glorious head when Lamar starts berating Deacon for showing up underdressed, and an all-out brawl erupts between Deacon and the rest of the Jaymes/Conrad/Wyatt gang. “I’m gonna do this thing, but I’m not gonna kiss your ass while I’m doing it, that’s [Teddy’s] job.” “You think I want you to be here right now?” Teddy replies. Deacon gets in the best blow — “I’m here to help you?! Hell, I’m not even votin’ for you. … You’re nothin’ but a straw man.”
For a politician, Teddy has a tough time putting on a brave face and watching Rayna’s show, barely making it through the first song (“Changing Ground,” a slithery country rocker that’s, uncharacteristically, the episode’s only spotlighted original song). Teddy doesn’t leave the room because he doesn’t like the number, but because he’s getting the evil eye from country club socialite Peggy Samper. Later, in the episode’s big reveal, Peggy and Teddy have a clandestine meeting on the outskirts of town. They both share a secret. She thinks he should come clean. We all know what that means, right? Looks like a dirty business deal isn’t the only thing that might sink Teddy’s floundering campaign. Can you imagine Rayna standing by her shameful man in a political press conference? I sure can’t.
At home after the fundraiser, Rayna is in tears as she admits to a frustrated Teddy that she knows she must fire Deacon. Wait, didn’t she already do that last week?
Across town, love is on the rocks for Scarlett and Avery. After a chichi dinner exchange with Gunnar, Hailey and Jeanne make the bone-headed boyfriend feel like an unsuccessful pariah. The dinner is pure torture for Avery and his pain is palpable, but our sympathy for him quickly evaporates when we see him storm off like a petulant man-child over having to be the supportive one for a change. “My music speaks for itself!” he proclaims. Granted, he can write songs like Elvis Costello, but what a dick.
Later, Scarlett and Deacon are having lunch (She’s his niece, remember?) and she expresses that, essentially, in a town of musician casualties, she’s already having survivor’s guilt and considering a move back to Mississippi, or wherever she’s from. Seriously, Scarlett’s inability to stop loving Avery for long enough to see his unmitigated self-absorption and kick him to the curb is quickly making her the show’s most cringe-worthy character. Gunnar, on the other hand, is emerging as a cruelly hilarious, mischievous prankster — flirting with Hailey by pointing out her dude-like tendencies (in bed, of course) and stocking the work fridge with post-it-note-marked yogurt.
Never has Juliette’s hunger for artistic cred been more clear as when she realizes that she may not have the clout to weather scandal — unlike Rayna, Glenn tells her, “As good as you are, you haven’t earned it yet.” That doesn’t stop her from completely blowing it on Good Morning America. After making a pitifully prideful attempt to explain away her shoplifting trespasses, GMA host Robin Roberts rattles Juliette by asking her if the scandal has been hard on her mother, prompting her to walk off the set.
Juliette has a come-to-Jesus exchange with Glenn when he threatens to drop her unless she tells him why she shoplifted. She gives what would’ve been a perfectly sympathetic, almost reasonable response for GMA — “It made me feel like I could take care of myself when no one else would.” “I don’t have friends, just people that wanna be seen with me,” she adds. The episode ends with her giving Deacon a booty call. It’s lonely at the top.
Previously: Dysfunctional Families Are High in the Mix