Remember when Marilyn Manson and Hole tried to tour together in the mid-Nineties and how well it didn‘t go? Swap out teen angst for hard-worn heartache and fishnets and face makeup for cowboy boats and sparkling rompers and you essentially have last night’s Nashville episode.
Since the first act of the show’s pilot, rivaling country queen Rayna Jaymes and pop-country princess Juliette Barnes have lived, lied, loved and lost in the shadow of an on-again, off-again co-headlining arena tour. This week, the writers finally got the goddamn show on the road with an episode centered on the long-awaited West Coast launch of the fittingly titled (and almost certainly doomed) Red Lips and White Lies Tour.
While the outing ain’t Rayna’s first rodeo, it’s her first one without Deacon. Obviously missing the Lindsey Buckingham to her Stevie Nicks, Rayna is mercilessly hazing his replacement, who gets fed up and quits at the 11th hour. Liam — who has increasing become Rayna’s Greek chorus — reluctantly agrees to pinch hit for Deacon until she finds a permanent replacement, but he draws the line at wearing the cowboy boots she gives him. “I clicked my heels three times and I didn’t turn into Deacon,” he says, calling her out on the torch she carries for her former flame and implied baby daddy, and the trepidation she has about taking the stage without him.
Deacon, meanwhile, is rocking enormodomes in his own right, playing guitar for the Revel Kings. After much convincing, Scarlett gets a hemming, hawing, nervously secretive Gunnar to let her join him on a road trip to his native Austin so she can visit her uncle Deacon on tour. (Scarlett and Gunnar proceed to spend 12 hours in a car together, alone, and we see none of that? The fuck?)
In San Diego, the Lips/Lies Tour quickly proves anything but a lovefest for Juliette and Rayna, who are already at each other’s throats by sound check, opening night. By now the dueling divas seem to love to hate each other as much as viewers love to watch them hate each other, and the scenes of Rayna, Liam and Juliette making a playground sandbox out of an empty stadium yielded pretty funny payoffs, giving us a seemingly realistic fly-on-wall perspective on temperamental superstars and their petty rivalries.
“The song’s not going to get better with practice,” Liam quips of “Telescope” as he barnstorms the stage and pre-empts Juliette’s sound check . . . because it’s running 15 minutes late. A brief standoff ends with Liam lying across the stage in a Jesus Christ pose and Juliette trudging towards the wings. “Can you get my jet ready, please! I need to get out of here!” she demands. Jokingly, Rayna begs Liam to join the tour permanently.
One thing Juliette and Rayna can undoubtedly agree on is that their backstage spats are a welcome departure from their tortured home lives back in Nashville.
Rayna and Teddy‘s terminally infected marriage makes the emotionally estranged couple’s routine phone conversations are about as comfortable as a ropes course harness, and Juliette and Sean‘s short-lived matrimony is colder than a cadaver in a coroner’s office. Coincidentally, Teddy spends most of the episode staring depressively into the distance, looking like he wished he were dead.
Teddy is a regular ol’ Sea Biscuit on the political scene, though. With the mayoral election two days away, the gap between the Conrad and Coleman campaigns has closed and polls are predicting a photo finish. However, awesome civic responsibility and the needs of greater Nashvillians are the last things on Teddy’s mind. Sure, he’s bothered by Lamar‘s secret plot to buy votes and clinch a Conrad victory. But not as much as he is heartsick over watching Rayna slowly slip away.
In song, Jimmy Ruffin once famously asked, “What becomes of the brokenhearted?” Well, in the case of Sean Butler, the answer is a real asshole. Seeing as how Juliette stole his coveted innocence, dismantled his meticulously manicured public image and heartlessly stood up his dumb ass at the alter last week, a little bit of anger on his part is probably more than reasonable. But instead of going about things WWJD-style, forgiving Juliette her trespasses and granting her a divorce she wants (“I’m in no hurry to give you want he want”), Sean’s making like Halford and screaming for vengeance, accusing her of fraud and strong-arming her into annulling the marriage. Though he’s a steadfast Christian fundamentalist (“I only plan on getting married once, to the right woman, and that’s not you”) Sean apparently also believes he can loophole his way out of the whole “til death do us part” thing.
Showing true contrition, Juliette eventually agrees to the annulment, but it does little to soften Sean’s death stare or mitigate his palpable hatred for her. “You once told me I wouldn’t like you if I got to know you real good. You were right,” he says before walking out of her life, presumably forever. Seriously though, shouldn’t Sean be thankful that he dodged the ol’ J-Barnes bullet? Now he can quietly go back to a life of Jesus, football and sexual repression.
Rayna, meanwhile, is having a harder time parting with the husband in her life. “Still processing” the status of their relationship, Rayna at first cancels plans to fly into Nashville for election night. Though she changes her mind, the look on her face says that, deep down, she hopes Teddy loses the race. He wins! And it’s not a happy moment. We don’t actually know if Teddy’s a Democrat or a Republican, but there’s a pretty damn big elephant in the room as Teddy and Rayna sit together in mutually stoic silence and watch Coleman’s concession speech.
Despite the defeat, Coleman could never in a million years be a bigger loser than Avery. This week the morally bereft alt-rocker’s climb to the top got even more cliché. For the second week in row we have the misfortune of seeing a post-coital Avery. He’s back to shacking up with his pro-bono manager, Marilyn. Things get even less sexy when the pair starts discussing Avery’s deal with Dominic. “He knows he can screw someone like you,” Marilyn advises. Take that with a grain of salt. Marilyn and Dom are in a race to divide and conquer, with one of them coming out on top to exploit the singer’s supposed talent. Dom entices Avery to sign by buying a convertible and convincing him Marilyn’s a parasitic charlatan. And Marilyn later tells Avery he can expect the car to suffice for a six-figure advance that he’ll never see. Looks like Dom‘s winning this power struggle, for now.
It turns out Gunnar’s reason for returning to the Lonestar State is his older brother Jackson‘s release from prison. Jackson and Gunnar are thick as thieves, literally. We learn that, at 16, Gunnar bailed on his brother’s plot to pull an armed robbery, which was ultimately a good call, because Jackson got eight years for that shit. Together they reconnect over motel room Merle Haggard covers. Seems all is well until Jackson pawns off Gunnar’s guitar and starts packing heat. Scarlett might be in for a wild ride back to Nashville.
Since no Nashville episode is complete without something traumatic happening to Scarlett, something traumatic happened to Scarlett. Backstage, after the Revel Kings presumably rock Austin, frontman and apparent sexual predator Cy starts coming on alarmingly strong to Scarlett. Just as things start to border on the verge of rape-y, Deacon forces his way into the dressing, comes to his niece’s rescue and trades a blow or two with the scummy douchebag, thus calling an abrupt end to his brief tenure as a Revel King, and setting the stage for his return to Rayna’s band. Since Teddy is giving Rayna little in the way impetus not to resist infidelity (Peggy‘s back), let’s hope we finally get to see Rayna and Deacon’s star-crossed chemistry back in action. Especially since such a hookup will consume Juliette with murderously jealousy. This traveling circus of stars shitting where they eat is bound to get ugly by the time they get out of Denver.
Last week: Courting Divorce