Meltdowns and breakthroughs highlight a more true-to-fine-form episode of Nashville this week, with scenes that run the gamut from profoundly comforting (Rhiannon Giddens’ welcome return as Hallie, singing at an in-the-round Bluebird appearance with Deacon) to side-splittingly goofy (Gunnar, Will and Avery’s countrified homage – if one can call it that – to ‘N Sync) to just plain horrifying (Juliette’s “witnessing” at the center which uncovers a deeply buried childhood trauma).
As Gunnar, Will and Avery play together, trying to find a cohesive sound, Jessie confesses to a musical past that includes boy-band crushes and sees this budding trio as a fangirl’s dream. It’s pretty close to the first sensible thing she has said since being introduced, although Will and Gunnar continue to clash about their respective approaches to their recent breakups. Avery compares them to the couple in a TV commercial from long ago – the chocolate lover and peanut butter lover who collide in the street and complain about having ruined each other’s favorite snack before realizing that the two things go together beautifully. There hasn’t been this much homoerotic subtext onscreen since Top Gun. Later, when they finally do stop sniping at each other long enough to perform together, they offer up a scaled-down, twanged-up tribute to Justin, J.C., Chris, Joey and Lance and “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” Well, we call it a tribute – rabid ‘N Sync fans might see it differently. Still, it’s a fun moment and proof the three pals can actually work together without Guns ‘N Roses-style drama.
Scarlett, meanwhile, is visiting an equine therapy center where she hopes to volunteer. It’s a toss-up as to who’s more timid about the entire experience: Scarlett, the students in need of therapy, or the horses. But in spite of a rough start all around, Scarlett helps one of the students have a meaningful breakthrough and, of course, this gives her back some of her much-needed confidence. It remains to be seen where this particular storyline is headed, but that’s a nice change of pace from plots that are too often telegraphed so far ahead.
Speaking of which, that might be the case for the whole Daphne-Jake pairing. Their biology class might as well be a chemistry lesson since the two seem destined to end up together, even though their parents are dating. Their assignment – to dissect a frog – is basically a metaphor for their dissection of each other’s lives at home, but Jake doesn’t get things off to a great start by referring to Deacon as a rage-aholic, dredging up his violent past and the difficult relationship with Maddie that led to her seeking emancipation from her parents. Jake’s own dad, who is, as opposed to well-meaning Deacon, an actual sleazeball, has undermined most of his self-confidence, which isn’t exactly boosted when Jake finds out Daphne told Maddie, who told Deacon, who obviously tells Jessie, who wants him to apologize to Deacon. This particular meltdown and breakthrough is more like a slow burn, and could be headed in a completely different direction, but we see some very weird double dates in the future for Deacon/Jessie and Daphne/Jake. Those first names can’t just be coincidence, right?
As for this week’s heavy lifting in the drama department, that was done – and expertly so – by Hayden Panettiere, whose Juliette gets closer to an intensely upsetting childhood trauma through hypnosis or whatever creepy shit Darius and his cadre of Rosemary’s Baby rejects are subjecting her to in the name of healing. It’s probably no coincidence that in the same week Avery uses the “C” word (“cult”) to describe what she’s gotten herself into, but Juliette plumbs the darkest recesses of her memory and recalls a chilling and creepy incident involving an “uncle,” her mother, a pile of cash and young Juliette’s terrified cries of protest. The fact that most of what transpires is unseen and unspoken in these scenes is what makes it even more upsetting. Without a word of dialogue, actor (and celebrity image guru) Rique Patire single-handedly sets the silk robe industry back hundreds of years. (Fun fact – because you’ll need a palette cleanser to scrub that whole ugly scene from your brain – Rique, dressed in a leather jacket, makes a memorable, and much funnier, appearance in Dolly Parton’s video, “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That“).
After a couple of episodes that felt a bit stale, it was nice to see Nashville breaking through with one that hit us in many of the same places (both light and dark) that the series has touched in seasons past.