Rayna got blackout drunk, Avery got dumped, Juliette got grounded and Teddy got a good 10 feet closer to the gates of personal political hell on last night’s Nashville. Given three key characters we met in this episode, let’s call it the good, the bad and the ugly.
First, the good: Sean Butler, a lackluster NFL rookie quarterback with a Tebow-esque heart of gold. Juliette meets the wholesome jock at a fundraiser he’s hosting for zoo animals. Juliette, off-and-on ice queen that she is, hates animals – “If any of these adorable baby animals takes a crap on me, I’m going to be very upset,” she says. And, being from Alabama and all, she really hates good guys and bad football players — “He’s boring and he sucks at football!” she protests.
But Juliette’s public image is still in the shitter in the aftermath of Nail Polishgate and her publicist, the endearingly calculating Makena, thinks Sean would make an excellent suitor for the scandal-embroiled bad girl. Let’s take stock: He’s charitable, has the crew-cut and conservative fashion sense of a Romney son and he doesn’t drink (the kind of guy Juliette can take home to mother) – all great coattails on which Juliette can ride her way back into the hearts of Middle America.
Then there’s the bad. If you thought Avery was just the worst (and really, how could you not?), meet his downfall: Marilyn Rhodes: A star-maker Music City manager and noted cougar with a penchant for sexy twentysomething beefcakes that she likes to audition between the sheets, as Deacon – an implied former conquest – informs Avery.
After seeing one of Avery’s sweaty, steamy performances at a local rock club – where he does a fine Jeff Buckley impression on a performance of the original song “Kiss” – Marilyn sets sights on the struggling singer and established pathological opportunist. When it comes to the Free Scarlett campaign, it appears Avery is on the precipice of his 47-percent moment.
Now for the ugly. Admittedly, ugly is a stretch when it comes to describing perennially bed-headed actor Michiel Huisman. Dirty is more like it. No stranger to musically tinged TV drama, Huisman plays Sonny on HBO’s Treme, where he is a fictional New Orleans answer to Avery. On Nashville Huisman is Irish rocker Liam McGuinnis, “one of the top 10 most downloaded artists on iTunes.” Rayna’s got raw ideas for her next record and she wants Liam to produce. He just moved to Music City, a la real life rock star/producers Jack White and Dan Auerbach. (Auerbach actually produced a track for the show that Rayna Jaymes sings.)
Signing Liam on as producer initially proves a problem for Rayna. The rocker swiftly dismisses the idea of producing Rayna, telling her, “You’re moms and SUVs. That’s a language I just don’t speak,” before shutting the studio door in her face.
Meanwhile, Teddy is down seven points in the polls and Lamar’s vision of using him as a mayoral vessel to run Music City are in jeopardy. Naturally this thrusts the Machiavellian puppet master into full-on G. Gordon Liddy mode. Lamar gets some good ol’ boy kangaroo cops to stop opponent Coleman on his way to the Clean Campaign Pledge, where, ironically, he and Teddy (the man voters can “trust during this election to conduct his campaign with honesty and integrity”) are to sign a joint pledge that they won’t go dirty. Though the intended plan is only to delay Coleman and make him look, well, uncommitted to the pledge, the flatfoots strike gold when they find Coleman, a recovering addict 20 years sober, with a bottle OxyContin: The bottle Deacon confiscated from rehab-bound Jolene last week.
“You said you want to be the Mayor of Nashville. You said you’d do whatever it took,” Lamar reminds Teddy. But paving the way for Coleman’s subsequent narcotics arrest is a moral and ethical bridge too far for Teddy. He goes up in the polls, however, and spinelessly lets the story play out, blissfully unaware that the blowback might ultimately deliver a deathblow to his campaign. Those shots we saw a private investigator taking of Teddy and Peggy (who is now one of his campaign staffers!) looking curiously chummy together by the riverfront last week: They’re in Coleman’s hands now. Coleman, a man of obvious honor, is ideologically above such politics, but these photos are perhaps the only weapon in his arsenal that can prevent a Teddy Conrad mayoralty. “Sometimes you have to do a little wrong to do a greater good,” his wife advises, while also reminding him of that giant knife that’s stuck in his back.
Shutterbugs aren’t only harbingers of horror for Teddy. Juliette and Sean’s unlikely budding romance is nearly derailed by the art of photography in Florida. What starts out as an obligatory lunch date with the goody-two-shoes QB quickly turns into a spontaneous South Beach getaway. “We’re young. We’re hot. And I’ve got a jet,” the singer says to the jock, “Let’s go, Choirboy!”
The Choirboy does not drink. Unfortunately, he does play guitar. Mid-flight he proceeds to play Juliette’s own song for her. The pair find harmony and we learn that way to Juliette’s heart is through her ego. She digs this square, stable milquetoast-y man, who is as awestruck by a South Beach club as Tom Cruise at an Eyes Wide Shut orgy. As the pair exits the club a paparazzi starts snapping at them while tactlessly bringing up Juliette’s drugged-out mom and shoplifting addiction. Sean, ever the gentleman, stands up for Juliette’s honor and goes on the attack, physically. Unfortunately for him, the paparazzo gets shots of a very sober Sean looking very drunk and unhinged. Days later, in a dark alley, Juliette pays the cameraman $25,000 for the photos, a gesture that inspires Sean to ask her on a second date.
Likewise, Liam gives a persistent Rayna a second chance – she appealed to his ego, too, telling him how she bumps his Live in Belfast record in her Range Rover while she drives the kids to school. Her pitch: She’s looking to rediscover her voice. “I’m lookin’ for a sound that’s gonna snap people’s heads around and grab ’em by their ears and hold ’em down til I let ’em go.” The next morning the singer wakes up, hungover, to Teddy’s smiling face and a cup of coffee, again. In a flashback we see her in the vocal booth with a whiskey shot in one hand and a microphone in the other. “It’s electric . . . It’s you,” Liam raves of the rocked-out results. It’s on!
With any luck Liam will be the lynchpin for Rayna’s booze-soaked rock ‘n’ roll midlife crisis and comeback. Perhaps that’s why label head Marshall disapproves of Liam as a producer, idiotically refusing to green light the project. A showdown ensues between Rayna and the suit, and the singer has the last word.
Teddy isn’t Nashville’s only weak-willed resident. Scarlett is still a painfully demure, delicate, doe-eyed lass with all the worldliness of newborn unicorn, but she brings home the bacon and pays Avery’s rent while he toils in the vacuum of local-rock obscurity. If Rayna is the show’s Teflon-strong female lead, Scarlett is Rayna’s antithesis: her emotional fortitude fucking sucks and she needs protectors like Gunnar and Deacon to hold her hand through life. Luckily her uncle and work-platonic co-songwriter bestie were there for her last night, each informing her of Marilyn’s salacious antics when it comes to scouting talent. Avery agrees to a meeting at Marilyn’s house, fully intending on more or less prostituting himself for a leg up, but he balks as soon as things heat up.
“Did you sleep with that woman?” Scarlett asks Avery when he walks through the door. Her bag is already packed. (Finally!) He denies it at first. “When you’re lyin’ you won’t shut up,” she tells him. He confesses, she leaves – ending up on thoroughly unsurprised uncle Deacon’s doorstep – while Avery, now single, returns to Marilyn’s to do his dirty work, like an asshole.
But things are looking up for Rayna and Juliette by episode’s end. One has a new beau, the other a new producer. Things are also looking up for viewers, as a promo for Nashville’s next installment shows the pair finally crossing paths again (Only the show’s original premise!) to work, and clash on a duet. Suds will surely fly!