Watching Connie Britton on Nashville puts me in mind of a twist on that old nursery rhyme: When she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad, she was...even better. Whether she's annoyed at disloyal record execs (or bandleaders!), all the gushing adulation for Juliette Barnes, or her father's political shenanigans, Connie's disgusted, annoyed and pissed off faces are just the best. Her short temper and slightly diva-ish 'tude are a nice switch up from the saintly Mrs. Coach and even the martyr-ish wife she played on American Horror Story. This show could be an hour of watching Connie just punch things in the face and I'd be loving it. Her line deliveries are just so fantastic when she's pissed off. (Favorite sass? “Miss Sparklypants!,” “What. The. Hell. Is. That?,” and “She's got about 500 miles of nerve saying that to me.”)
(New to Nashville? Don't miss Tara Gelsomino's recap of last week's pilot episode, 1.01.)
But there's lots of other things to love about Nashville too. The music continues to be flawless, especially any of the songs written or cowritten by Deacon, like the two excellent ballads in this week's episode. And Hayden Panettiere continues to be pretty fantastic at bringing some depth and nuance to what could so easily be a puddle-deep villainous vixen role. We learn this week that Juliette is maybe just as sick of her own pop princess packaging as Rayna is and her hunger to make deeper music is part of the motivation to get Deacon on her tour. It's really nice to see these two leading ladies get some complex shading, since some of the other roles continue to be engimatic, most unfortunately Deacon.
Even though he's a pretty hot commodity for both women, we don't get a lot of insight into the bachelor bandleader's state of mind. He pines for Rayna, but he's not very conflicted about making out and skinny dipping with hot young thing Juliette. And hey, maybe no one could blame him, but dithering as a defining personality trait isn't too appealing in a romantic lead, am I right? I mean, we do like our betas to be at least a little bit alpha.
Dithering seems to be the theme of the week, though. As Deacon tries to decide where his loyalty lies, so does his neice Scarlett. Watty's big idea last week after watching the winsome waitress and Gunnar sing their duet was that this kind of thing is exactly what Rayna needs to jumpstart her career. He suggests she goes out on the road on a small, intimate acoustic-type tour with Deacon. (Rayna's husband jumps to the conclusion we're all thinking about “sleeping in a bus with Deacon”.) He also, like a kindly old wizard, offers Scarlett and Gunnar a once-in-a-lifetime offer: he'll cut a demo if they can get three songs together.
Instead of breaking out the bubbly like any other Bluebird Cafe waitress worth her salt would, Scarlett is conflicted because she doesn't want to hurt her hipster boyfriend Avery, who's having trouble getting anyone to listen to his country/rock/alterna-whine band. But Scarlett still needs a serious reality check and maybe a slap upside the head. Stand by your Man was all well and good for Tammy W., but as Gunnar soon rightly points out to her, if you're with someone who'd expect you to sacrifice your own dreams to save their ego...well, what the hell are you doing with them? To Avery's (and Jonathan Jackson's) credit, when he does hear her news, he doesn't come off as half as much of a douchebag as you'd expect about it. He seems much more jealous that she was writing songs with Gunnar (and not telling him), than that she got a great career break. Which just makes Scarlett look a bit more like an idiot. I know we're supposed to love her compassionate heart, but the lil'-ole-me, good-girl routine is just so less interesting than what we get with Rayna and Juliette, and Scarlett pales in comparison as a character.
The whole Stand by Your Man crisis is also still a problem for Rayna, as she dithers about whether or not she should be supporting her husband and his new political aspirations, despite Mayor Coleman being a close family friend for many years. She's still snitting at Daddy for that (as is the mayor himself, who levels a few threats at Lamar on the level of “come at me, bro”) but she and hubby Teddy reach a nice truce where they assert they each want the other person to be successful AND happy and will support whatever that takes.
Unfortunately for hubby, what it will probably take for Rayna is getting back together with Deacon. There's a cleverly set up expositional sequence where we get the details of their back story while Ray is submitting to questions as part of the political vetting Lamar's people are doing to make sure there's no skeletons lurking in Teddy's closet that Coleman could expose. Rayna and Deacon were together for 11 years until his substance abuse problem became too much; she started seeing Teddy but didn't fully break things off with Deacon until he went to rehab, which she paid for; and she married Teddy while Deacon was still in rehab. Rayna answers multiple times that never, ever did she and Deacon have anything romantic ever again, and she tells us and them all of this very matter of factly. But she calls the questions to a rather abrupt halt after a bit, and has to leave the room. Methinks Rayna isn't quite telling them everything, especially if Lamar's hints at Maddie's parentage last week are true.
The tension comes to a head in a screechy fight Rayna and Deacon finally have at a rehearsal at the top of the third act. This scene felt pretty real, like years of repressed anger and jealousy and frustration were finally being voiced. And as I said upthread, I like that they're letting Rayna be a bit of an unreasonable witch at times. But my husband couldn't help but observe right after that scene, “No wonder he wants to go off and play with the other one.” They're going to have to walk a careful line with not making Rayna come off like too much of a nag or sourpuss compared to the fun, exciting Juliette maybe. (Then again, it’s ABC; how many men are actually watching?)
When Rayna and Deacon do take the stage together in the final moments of the episode, the sparks fly. As Juliette sits in the audience beaming at Deacon on stage at the Bluebird (where he's been performing “every Thursday for the last 12 years if Rayna ever bothered to come!” we heard him finally lose his cool and bellow earlier), Rayna slips in the back. Deacon sees her and invites her on stage, and it's one of those cringeworthy moments where Juliette thinks he's talking about her and almost gets up from her seat before she realizes. Gotta say I really felt for her there! Hayden's face! I mean it's no somebody played Felicity's tape about being a virgin to the whole halloween party, but it's pretty cringey. Anyway, Rayna gets up and they do their thing, eye frakking like crazy while singing the song's repetitive chorus “No one will ever love you like I do” for about 17 zillion hours. I liked this duet much more than last week's closer but it still felt exaggeratedly long and repetitive. It packs the emotional punch it should though, with Rayna and Deacon both visibly affected and holding hands at the end of the song. After, sitting quietly in a car together and looking shellshocked, Rayna laments that they sang it, and wonders what happens next, before she runs out of the car and home to hug her husband and tell him (and herself) that she loves him.
A few other random thoughts:
Connie Britton's post-pilot episode voice lessons definitely paid off. She sounds great, as does Hayden, who is far closer to a Carrie Underwood than a Taylor Swift vocally speaking. Which didn't stop ABC from showing about 15 commercials featuring Swift during the episode. WE GET IT, NASHVILLE.
Gunnar came off a lot goofier here than he did last week. Maybe it was the fringe.
I hope the season finale finds Connie and Hayden having a hair-off, in the vein of an America's Next Top Model walk-off.
I also hope they play Shania Twain's “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” when Rayna finds out that Deacon (inevitably) slept with Juliette.
The best exchange of the episode involved society wives talking with Rayna at a political shindig:
“You should release another album”
“It's out. It's new. It just came out.”
“Oh. Do they have it at Starbucks?”
Australian Clare Bowen really looks a lot like Kirsten Dunst. And man her Nashville twang needs to be taken down a notch or twelve.
I can't muster up a lot of excitement about the political stuff, but Teddy burning papers (presumably related to that financial deal gone bad) disappointed me a bit. It would have been far more interesting if he really was just an idealist/dreamer who got swept into Lamar's political plan instead of a potential schemer/bad guy.
For a show about country music and all its down-home values...are we really supposed to be rooting for the married diva to cheat with her sexy bandleader? I'm wondering how that's gonna play in the real Nashville, Tennessee, and all those other red states down south.
Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.