'Nashville' Recap: Head Games - Rolling Stone
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‘Nashville’ Recap: Head Games

Deacon and Rayna open old wounds, Avery has a hit and Scarlett plots revenge


Connie Britton as Rayna James and Hayden Panettiere as Juliette Barnes in 'Nashville'.

Chris Hollo/ABC

After last week’s road-themed Nashville took Rayna, Deacon, Scarlett, Avery, Gunnar and the gang to locales like San Diego, Austin, Atlanta and Little Rock, Arkansas – cities that are definitely not the show’s namesake – last night picked up pretty much where we left off, in Texas. But first Rayna and Juliette are in Dallas (worlds collide!) bringing the house down, trading verses on a show-closing “Wrong Song,” which is now a bona fide Number One hit. 

Though “Wrong Song” is a Jaymes/Barnes duet, the fierce interplay between Rayna and Liam takes center stage (as demonstrated by Rayna’s mid-performance ninja kicks that the lunging guitarist dodges.) Never a Nashvillian to play second fiddle, Juliette doesn’t take kindly to being upstaged. “That is the third night that this has happened,” she laments, “They’re acting like I’m not even there.” 

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Things get even more insufferable for Juliette when Rayna tries to take credit for writing the bulk of “Wrong Song,” Edgehill Republic Records promo posters picture Juliette almost literally standing in Rayna’s shadow, music reporters ask her if she was intimated to work with the Queen of Country and her own mother holds the duet up as her daughter’s crowning accomplishment. All of this adds up to Juliette feeling like Salieri to Rayna’s Mozart.

That kind of competitive, petty jealousy was the driving force behind one of Nashville‘s best episodes to date. In it, everyone (most notably, Countless Records exec Calista Reeves, “maybe the most power label head” in the industry) wants a piece of Rayna. Liam played Reeves tracks he cut with Rayna and now Countless wants to extricate Rayna from Marshall’s clutches and sign her to a five-album contract (which in the reality of the music business is actually a terrible deal). 

With Liam, who was once too cool to let Rayna into his studio, now effectively milking his creative partnership with the Queen of Country, and with Juliette, whose pop-country coattails Marshall had forced Rayna to ride, now effectively in her elder’s shadow, it’s safe to say Rayna Jaymes is back on top. Good! For too many episodes it felt like the velvet brass Connie Britton brings to the show was going to waste while the writers figured out where the hell to take her character. Here we got Rayna as both statuesque, whip-smart superstar and emotionally conflicted, humanized heartbreaker.

Nothing fuels the fires of jealousy like rejection, and last night Rayna managed to break the hearts of all three men in her life. Let’s start with Teddy. With Rayna in the throes of a comeback and Teddy as Music City’s mayor-elect, the pair is quite the power couple. But only on paper and only for sake of appearances – they haven’t made love in months. What’s more, Rayna is still ice cold toward her husband; she doesn’t trust him and bristles at his every futile attempt at damage control. 

Teddy has come clean about his lies, shown Rayna every ounce of shame he has and thrown himself on her mercy. Now he’s desperate to know where their marriage stands, or more, desperate for her to absolve him. (He’s also fed up with playing Mr. Mom while she’s out on the road, eye-fucking Liam in front of 15,000 people every night, and later accuses her of actually fucking Liam every night, which she is not.) Rayna does, however, fuck Liam in the figurative sense, firing him upon finding out that he has a deal in the works to start his own Countless Records imprint label, contingent on Countless signing Rayna. “This partnership is dissolved,” she tells him in patented kiss-my-decision fashion.

In a late-night come-to-Jesus kitchen fight, Teddy pleads with Rayna, asking what more he can do to regain her trust, foster her forgiveness and ultimately rekindle their love. And the insurmountable answer is, be Deacon – the man she still loves. 

Last night we learned just where Rayna and Deacon ended (rehab) and when Rayna and Teddy began: 12 years ago. That’s how long Deacon’s been sober. And according to the Revel Kings, that’s how long he stayed sober. As you recall, last week Deacon and the regal revelers had a less-than-amicable parting of the ways when, backstage, the hired-gun guitarist accosted the band’s rape-y singer, Cy, just as he was starting to get rape-y on Scarlett, his niece. 

The Revel Kings’ spin, however, is that they fired Deacon for falling off the wagon. His ex-girlfriend, Carmen Gonzales – a music journalist for the fictional Tremolo magazine –ran the story knowing it was false. Now, wouldn’t the egregious conflict of interest sap Carmen’s story of any credibility? Didn’t dozens of other hangers on witness Deacon and Cy’s greenroom row? And wouldn’t that have made a better story for the magazine? Let’s suspend disbelief and pretend not. 

Anyway, false reports of Deacon’s relapse prompt Rayna to run by her former flame/probable baby-daddy/musical collaborator’s crib to make a welfare check. There, Deacon is only drunk on sadness and self-pity. He’s also gets passive-aggressively dickish, terse and testy with her. (“I haven’t heard from [Coleman] since your family stomped all over his dreams” and that it’s “awesome” that she still cares about him are among the Deackster’s better quips.) She asks what’s up with all the attitude and he finally gets his dick out of his heart enough to tell her it’s because she’s always firing him, or breaking up with him, or telling him he needs to find what’s around the next bend in the river, “or some crap like that” and then calls her out on how her life is equally unfulfilled by Teddy, and in a greater sense, calling her out for making the wrong marital choice. “I didn’t know the fifth time in rehab was gonna take!” she retorts, unsuccessfully fighting off 12-year-old tears of regret.

Teddy is all too aware of this choice, reminding Rayna of how he was the “solid” milquetoast WASP she said she wanted. So, 12 years, two kids (actually, one kid) and one successful mayoral run later, Teddy is still just Rayna’s rebound. “That was never a wrong choice,” Rayna tells Teddy, adding cryptically, “Now we just have to choose what we want to do with our future.”

Juliette has her own concerns about fuck-buddy-turned-bestie Deacon, and re-opens her offer for him to join her band. “You’re way too good of a musician to hole up and hide behind patchy facial hair,” she tells him. Later, Juliette goes to Deacon’s and finds that, while he still hasn’t relapsed, he has ransacked his own house. “I got sober for Rayna,” Deacon confesses Juliette with fatalistic dejection. Then, to Teddy’s horror, he sees Deacon running to the tarmac to catch the Juliette and Rayna’s plane. He takes the gig . . . with Juliette! And he takes it for all the wrong reasons: To get back at Rayna (or maybe even back with Rayna). 

“This partnership is dissolved” is what ABC should tell Jonathan Jackson. Not because he’s a bad actor (or singer) but because Avery is such an irredeemably entitled, insufferable and unsympathetic character that the writers have to kill him off. Whether by bus accident, fire, choking on a guitar string, decapitation by cowboy hat, doesn’t matter – at this point the network owes viewers any or all of the above for Avery. Unfortunately, karma was kinder to Avery than he deserved this week. Overnight, he’s got a left-of-dial-hit with his song “Kiss” – which he obsessively channel hops while driving, hoping to hear it – and Marilyn’s got him playing small theaters for $1,000 guarantees. (He even has his own backdrop!) Totally absurd, but let’s try and suspend disbelief. Avery gets so confident that he pitifully hits on Juliette at the Edgehill Republic Number One party for “Wrong Song.” “I’ve never heard of you,” she says, reducing him to the size of a Tennessee fruit fly and swatting him away.

So, anyway, Avery plays some local festival gig, people sing along and, like an emotionally masochistic stalker ex-girlfriend, Scarlett watches from the edge of the crowd with jealous, red-faced stupefaction. There she runs into shafted ex-Avery Barkley Band bassist JT, who sells her on the idea of enlisting Gunnar to join forces and form a band – a stupor group, if you will, that will inevitably prevail as the Metallica to Avery’s Megadeth and ruin his life. Avery catches wind of this and, like an emotionally masochistic stalker ex-boyfriend, spies on their first rehearsal with jealous, red-faced stupefaction as “Kiss” plays in the background. 

Oh, and Jolene is still clean. Some mushy mother/daughter moments transpire between her and Juliette. Sorry, but Jolene was more entertaining to watch when she was popping pills, punching Juliette and bringing home strays from the bus station.

So, to review, going into the back half of the season, Nashville needs at least these two things: Avery’s Darwin Award and Jolene’s relapse.

Last week: Road Trip 


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