Let's face it, last week's Nashville season premiere was a bit of a non-starter. For all its soapy histrionics, soft-focus flashbacks and bedside hospital scenes, the episode did little more than tie up last season's loose ends and reinforce old conflicts. Last night was another story, offering new developments, new characters and, ultimately, the true second-season kickoff viewers deserved.
In fact, viewers got something even better: The rare chance to once again see Conan O'Brien sling late-night side-splitters on primetime television. Juliette appeared on Conan to promote her new album, which (much to her chagrin) is trailing behind the post-coma resurgence of Rayna Jaymes' Greatest Hits on the charts. After the appearance, during which the host asks her more questions about her rival than the album, Jules is about as stoked about Coco as NBC was a few years back.
Back in Nashville, heads are rolling on Music Row. A shakeup at Edgehill leaves label head Marshall out of a job (and for that matter, probably out of the show for good). In his place, dashing Nashville newcomer Jeff Fordham ("a Harvard MBA bean counter") is the new honcho and he's bad news. First for Juliette, whose initial meeting with the new power broker centers on disappointing first-week sales numbers and critical indifference toward her new, more mature musical direction. "The tweens aren't showing up on this one," Jeff tells Juliette with all the warmth of a death-row warden.
He's a little more welcoming with Rayna, plowing her with poppycock about how he's "got her back" and how her Edgehill imprint Route 65 Records – home to Will and Scarlett – is the "future of country music." He's only half lying.
Meanwhile, Juliette (along with her entourage and a TV crew) takes a not-so-sweet trip home to Alabama so she can exploit her humble, white-trash beginnings and cry on camera for a human-interest piece on CMT. A tour bus in a trailer park sure makes one helluva juxtaposition. "Do you wanna talk about it?" new bestie Avery asks her after she weepily hams it up talking about her father's death. "I'm just trying to sell records," she tells him.
It works, as news breaks that her latest single has topped the iTunes charts before the broadcast is even over. But the celebration is short-lived: mere hours later, Jeff announces, onstage at his Nashville welcoming party, that Jules has been unseated by 19-year-old American Hitmaker (LOL) reality-TV runner-up Layla Grant. The look on Juliette's face when she involuntarily spits out her cocktail is priceless. Then Grant totally turns the knife by performing a Juliette Barnes cover, and with that Rayna goes from motherly nemesis to obvious ally.
Worst off in this situation is Scarlett, who probably quit her job waiting tables a little too soon, as Rayna and Route 65 are gearing up to battle their way out of Edgehill and that recording advance probably ain't comin' in the mail anytime soon. Scarlett, doe-eyed and oblivious as ever to the bad, wicked world around her, is dangerously unconcerned about the looming fallout, or maybe she's just got her hands full with uncle Deacon, who's drying out over at her crib.
Given Deacon's storied history of blown opportunities and surly self-loathing, this is saying a lot, but last night the Deke (never more dour and downtrodden) was in quite possibly the worst shape we've ever seen him. Rayna matter-of-factly realizes their relationship is probably irreconcilable and his hand is still fractured from the car crash, maybe irreparably – a potential career-ender for the guitarist. "I don't have Rayna and I don't have my music," he says. "I've got nothin'; I am nothin'."
His bad attitude runs in the family, as Maddie is an utter ball of impenetrable teen angst and totally ices Rayna throughout the entire episode, and that's not all that's wrong on the home front. In case you've forgotten, Teddy is still the mayor of Nashville and it's not terribly clear he's aware he's got a city to run either. He's too busy playing house and uses taking care of recovering, post-coma Rayna as a ruse to get back under her roof, and (like a natural, do-nothing politician) he's pitifully bad at masking his true motives. Unfortunately, young Daphne overhears it when Rayna calls him out on it. Seriously, Teddy and RayRay suck at keeping secrets from their children.
And lastly, let's hope next week writers will give Gunnar something more interesting to do than get sad over Scarlett (or was it his dead brother?), rat a song about it and sang it at the Bluebird.
Last episode: Girlfriend in a Coma