Y’all, can we talk? Because Nashville has a big problem, and its name is Rayna James. I’m not sure how they managed it, but in just five episodes, this show did the impossible: They made Connie frakkin’ Britton unlikable!
OK, well, not Connie herself, but Rayna has just become so much less compelling than I hoped and expected her to be. She’s ostensibly the lead of the show, but Rayna never seems to do much of anything. Except be angsty and indecisive and more than a bit entitled. I think the last time she did anything really likable and worth rooting for was in the pilot episode when she told her label bosses to kiss her backside (and in retrospect, even that comes off as a bit more spoiled than triumphant).
Also, the epic romance I’m supposed to be shipping between her and Deacon just seems so toxic. The scene outside his house when she tries to talk him into approving the use of their song in the commercial she’s shooting to pay the bills made me wonder how they were ever good together. They don’t seem to even listen to each other or care enough about each other to help the other one out of a tight spot. Deacon, finally, emerges as a more fully realized character in this episode and he has a lot of shining moments that we’ll get to, but with Rayna, his petty side comes out, and his protests about the lyrics being changed (in a fairly innocuous way it seems) to promote a beauty product seemed mostly designed to just finally give Rayna a bit of the grief she’s been dishing out to him. But at the same time, her entitled whining and expectation that he’ll just roll over and do as she asks (like always) isn’t very flattering either. There’s something rather condescending in the way she asks him “Is this how you want to do this?”
I don’t know if we’re just supposed to love and root for Rayna simply because she’s played by Connie Britton and irrefutably has great hair. Maybe the producers figured that’d be enough, and I thought it might be too after the pilot, but as it turns out, not so much.
In contrast, Deacon and Juliette have been getting so much more sympathetic shading and fleshing out of their characters. Their storyline this episode was just as angsty as any Rayna/Deacon plotline, and yet it was about their unlikely friendship and the way they show support for each other. When Juliette’s mother gets even further out of control, passing out after a drinking binge with some stranger in Juliette’s mansion, Deacon is the one to offer help, and actually succeed in getting Jolene off to rehab after a really fantastic heart-to-heart about addiction.
Although, on the way into rehab, Jolene still manages to wallop her daughter one right across the face. I really liked the way the show played that off with a horrified expression from Hayden P. but a minimum of drama as Deacon and Juliette sat together and he offered up the wise words that she just needed to leave the past in her “rearview mirror.” When Juliette tries to show her appreciation for his comfort and kindness with a kiss (and how sad is that, really), he gently tells her he only did what a friend would do. And later in the episode when he gets hauled off to jail for finally losing his temper and punching out a heckler at the Bluebird Café who brought up the touchy subject of Rayna not being with him, she returns the favor coming to get him (after Rayna coldly hangs up on his collect call) because “That’s what friends do, they bail each other out.”
It’s nice to see people being nice to each other, Nashville. Especially if they’re supposed to be in love. While I understand that Rayna and Deacon have so many tortured feelings, I don’t really care for the one-dimensional focus on their problems together. Some glimpse of their friendship and goodness together would have been really helpful to sell me on their grand romance. And I wondered again how they managed to work together all these years peaceably if, presumably, they’ve had these feelings all along.
The one ray of hope is that maybe the writers are aware of this problem. Rayna herself realizes she’s been relying on too many other people (and indeed she’s been not much more than a pivot point between all of the men in her life so far) and decides that rather than getting a new songwriting partner, she’ll actually write one by herself. (It’s ironic though that the great star Rayna does not write her own songs, yet she holds Juliette, who at least partially does, in such contempt.)
I’d love to see the show actually explore Rayna’s love for music. She gives it lip service tonight in the scene with Deacon, but so far, they haven’t shown her to have any of that pure creative love for music and songwriting that drives all the other artist characters. But she does seem to have gotten some of that pilot episode fire back when she tells Randy, as the strains of her new song play, to call the label and tell them she just cut the first song off her new record.
Likewise, Juliette is starting over, having put her fancy mansion in her rearview mirror quite literally and moved into a new high-gloss apartment. It seems unlikely her problems won’t be following her here too, but at least she can enjoy that fantastic swimming pool while she broods!
Speaking of brooding, there was a fair amount of that in the other two less compelling storylines this episode as well. Teddy and Peggy’s secret is spilled, and as suspected, it wasn’t actually an affair but a pact to embezzle $2 million when Teddy’s financial schemes left him strapped for cash. A nervous Peggy is worried about the impending audit and urges Teddy to go to the Feds and cut a deal for themselves (what is this, Sons of Anarchy?) but he goes to Daddy-in-law Lamar who makes their problem go bye bye, and warns Peggy that he can do the same to her if she doesn’t keep this quiet.
At the songwriting palace (seriously, that place is pretty sweet for an office), Hailey is telling Gunnar that she wants to keep things light and uncomplicated when Scarlett runs in with big news: They’re going to perform a song for Lady Antebellum’s producers. They need an extra guitar to “round out their sound” according to their boss, so to no one’s surprise, Avery muscles his way in to the session. Unfortunately, he gets jealous over the moony eyes Gunnar and Scarlet make as they sing another sweet lovers’ duet, and grandstands with an improvised guitar solo. His hotdogging loses them the gig, and finally, thank the lords, Scarlett gets a spine transfusion and reads him the riot act for blowing her gig because of his jealousy. She tells him that she already told Gunnar that “I choose you. I always choose you and I don't know when you're gonna believe it and stop making me prove it all the time.” Which…is a bit of a role reversal from her being the insecure one but hey, whatever. When Avery concedes and says he just wishes they could go back to being the way they’ve always been, she actually sasses him with “You mean when I was writing poems and keeping ‘em to myself?” and walks out the door.
And thus we basically end the episode with all three of our leading ladies choosing themselves. Kelly Taylor would be so proud.
There was so much new music this episode, delightfully making up for last week’s lighter slate!
“Yellin’ from the Rooftops“: Juliette’s new single that she’s recording at the top of the episode is pretty fantastic. It’s penned by songwriter Michael James Ryan Busbee (yup, he has four names—this is country music!) and singer Sarah Buxton. Again, it has that Miranda Lambert fierce/sexy bad-girl vibe and it’s catchy as hell. They’re doing a nice job giving Juliette a very clear and consistent image through these songs, and even though she was lamenting them as bubble-gum pop, I think there’s been a bit more substance to most of them. Plus, those misguided autotune cracks from the pilot aside, Hayden’s got a great voice for country, and is actually my favorite singer of all the actors on the show. I’d totally buy a Juliette Barnes album. (Luckily they did release this song for sale on iTunes.)
“American Beauty”: It’d be funny to know what the original lyrics were that got changed for this commercial version of the song. They lyrics are kinda cheesy and contrived and I’m guessing that’s intentional. I think it’s supposed to come off like a Martina McBride or Trisha Yearwood style anthem, but it’s a bit hollow. The staging for this number is kind of hilariously perfect though with its wind machine on Rayna. It totally looks like a perfume commercial. (Although we can all agree, if Rayna’s gonna shill any beauty products, she needs to be doing shampoo commercials!)
“Sideshow“: Another great song by Deacon (I like how the show always gives him the really well-written, insightful songs, since he is the master songwriter of the bunch) performed at the Bluebird. I heard shades of Collin Raye or maybe Chris Young in this one. The chorus “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let her go, or end up next to me in her sideshow” is especially fitting for his past with Rayna and also in a way, Juliette’s dealings with her mom.
“Loving You is the Only Way to Fly”: The producers are really great at picking songs that fit Clare Bowen’s rather unique voice to a T. She and Sam Palladio really complement each other beautifully, but it would be fun to see them change it up and do something fast-paced or hard-charging after all these lovely sweet duets. Interestingly, though it sounds wildly different from Yellin’, this one is also written by Sarah Buxton with Jed Hughes.
“Buried Under": The other iTunes song from this episode is Rayna’s solo songwriting debut. In reality, this song was written by Chris DeStefano, who’s penned tunes for Carrie Underwood. It’s totally about Deacon of course, with its lyrics about apparitions from the past haunting her and truth being her ball and chain and dirty consciences. Mmm hmm. While Britton’s singing style is pleasant, it lacks the power and depth a true country music diva would have so this new tune comes off a bit lighter than the lyrics would indicate, but I imagine it’ll grow on us as we hear more of it in future episodes. This one is also available at iTunes.
Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.