[Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for this episode and any episodes preceding it]
First off, I love Nashville (can’t wait for volume 2 of the show’s soundtrack to come out today) and after it’s too long hiatus, the country drama finally made its return last Wednesday night*. After the first half hour of the episode, however, I was starting to feel a tinge of concern. Not in a “this show is going down” exaggerated way but it felt like there were too many storylines being crammed in, creating plot lines that repeated notes instead of progressing, skimming over surface emotions (because to go deeper would require more time for a scene to develop). As it turned out, I definitely spoke too soon.
What has been refreshing about Nashville has been their willingness to act on what they threaten, to build up tension not to have it conveniently dissipate, an unnecessary panic, but to actually have it equate to something**. A prime example of this was when they had Gunner’s brother, Jason, get killed in episode 14, “Dear Brother.” Many shows wouldn’t have taken that route, either having his criminal past go away or only wounding instead of murdering him. The fact that they took the bigger risk gave legitimacy to the danger they had been hinting about all along but you didn’t know how seriously to take it. Turns out this wasn’t a joke but a real issue and while I would have liked to see the sibling relationship continue (since we don’t know too much else about Gunner’s family and it was an interesting dynamic), I have to commend the writers for taking that leap when others would have conveniently forgotten it or downplayed any past unease mentioned.
The second half of “Take These Chains from My Heart,” provided pay off to all the factors I had just commented on to my TV buddy*** only a commercial break before, addressing everything while proving that any doubt on my part was greatly unwarranted.
*Unfortunately in the same time slot as the season 1 finale of FX’s The Americans, but such are the tough choices we must make.
** The show’s previews are a completely different story. They tried way too hard to imply that Gunner was going to cheat on Scarlett this week.
*** Hi, Mom!
Problem: Mother’s sponsor (turned daughter’s boyfriend) transforming Juliette into a caricature of herself
- Now I get that Dante is supposed to be unlikable (most people who trick overly trusting members of the wealthy and famous by stealing their money aren’t prizes) but his presence had no bite and only played up everything that’s unlikable about Juliet, while also making her look like a complete, oblivious idiot. Can Juliette be illogical, rude, and rash on her own? Yes she can, and often is, but there’s a pained side of her, too, that usually works to balance her actions out and allow her to be the entertaining singer/drama queen she is at heart. That balance wasn’t maintained here, as this guy’s Yoko Ono influence made her go beyond blindness into a territory where her actions couldn’t be sympathized with at all. Deacon attempted to make her see some reason, but she tears him down (as accustomed as we viewers are to her vocal disrespect of others, she went beyond the excused amount and it wasn’t fun to watch). Even her music, the one area where she usually is able to keep some perspective, gets thrown aside for Dante, displaying the degree of her naiveté towards this person she barely knows but helped her once get an endorsement deal.
- Then you brought in her recovering alcoholic mother, Jolene, (who works as a character in increments but can also, even when in the right and trying to make Juliette see that Dante is a fraud, come off as irritating) to make matters even less pleasant. I know her mother has made a lot of mistakes and has not been there for her daughter but she does appear to be sincerely trying to recover (or at least more so than ever before). Nonetheless, Jolene doesn’t let herself keep the moral high ground by taking any excuse possible to whine about her situation. What Juliette did to her was wrong (you don’t date the sponsor) but she isn’t innocent either.
Solution: Juliette becomes clever again (too late but with humility)
- I thought this was going to be one of those grating situations that dragged out, where the audience knows more than the protagonist for what seems like forever and beyond reasonable logic. Her realizing the truth of the situation by identifying the pills planted on her mother as those her mother is allergic to: very clever and allowed for Juliette to be certain about Dante’s real agenda. She recognizes how stupid she is and even buys the house with the hideous (now broken) mirror as a reminder of her huge error. It’s a positive development for her, and while it will probably make her even less trustful of human beings in the future, caution may also lead to her being able to eventually meet a worthy guy that will last for a little longer than her last few rendezvous.
Problem: Scarlett and Gunner- the much-awaited couple who now rarely share any screentime
- This doesn’t make their being together any less swell, but ever since they took on the “girlfriend/boyfriend” labels they’ve been apart a lot, which kind of puts a damper on any celebration of their relationship’s fruition. Scarlett even convinced Rayna to sign Gunner onto her label yet he turns down the offer, citing wanting to try and find his own signature music style****.
- I know grief can cause unexpected reactions to occur but their getting together as a response to finding out about Jason’s death probably wasn’t the best timing. Along with Gunner’s pre-existing guilt about his brother’s murder he can now add to that “being happy when my brother is dead and it’s ‘my fault’.” To be around Scarlett, who understands and would lead him towards facing the issue isn’t what he wants right now.
- Apparently what he does want is to risk his life multiple times racing train crossings, an exercise that according to new buddy, Will, should help him accept the death of his brother. Then during this episode they spend all this quality time together that seems rushed and too close for what should have been the getting to know you moments of their friendship. Instead they come off as strange and clingy, Gunner too quickly idolizing Will to fill the older brother void left empty by Jason.
Solution: Will is gay
- You get that connotation but then think, nope, reading into this, what do I know? The writers are not going to do that. Well, they did, and now I want to know what happens next because they revealed what I didn’t think they would. Gunner is grieving, seeking an escape from his sadness with a new friend who doesn’t know him so he doesn’t have to account for why he’s acting weirdly or differently because new friend wouldn’t know that. Will can offer him guidance on how he should continue his music career like everything is normal and that’s what Gunner wants, normalcy. Still, where their friendship goes from here with this reveal by attempted kiss I don’t know (except that there will probably be some awkwardness, at least initially). No matter what happens though, the racing trains part has to stop, and my hope is that Gunner will have a wake-up call to the fact that he got his dream girl in Scarlett. Maybe their relationship started under bad circumstances but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something special, as he always believed it would be.
~ SIDENOTE ~
What’s Avery up to? Well, like Juliette he’s going through the humility phase of his rise from being a complete idiot, a time that lost him his band and Scarlet. Unlike most horrible, jealous (ex)boyfriends, though, Avery isn’t without talent, plus he’s being given the scenes to show his attempts to repent for multiple bad decisions. He’s got some dimension and while I don’t want to see him ever get back together with Scarlett, I actually think he works as a secondary plot*****, and their bumping into each other at the concert and standing on stage together earned him an actually deserved recognition by Scarlett that he was starting to act again like, “The boy I met at school. I liked him.”
****…which is really his brother’s. I completely understand him wanting to pay tribute to his Jason, but
a) I wasn’t crazy about his latest song. It traded his unique spin on country for something that sounded more rock, with a focus on appearances and attitude. From the same guy who hit that high note in the song, “If I Didn’t Know Better,” it just didn’t put a spotlight on his capabilities and the talents that make his voice stand out from the rest.
b) He should have told the interested agent that it was his brother’s song. From a viewer’s outlook, it was clear that Jason was the source of this new tune (after telling Scarlett about Jason’s journal containing a lot of his songs only a few scenes before) and his excuse that such an answer would have made for a long story doesn’t exactly work (“Actually it was my brother’s. He passed away recently and I wanted to sing one of his song’s in his memory” would have been effective). Basically, while this was a very sweet, Gunner-ish gesture, his keeping his public homage private by not crediting Jason for his work sort of defeats the purpose of the motion.
***** Unlike Teddy and his Peggy angst, both of who in my opinion could disappear with his and Rayna’s divorce.
Problem: Three’s Company, Part 2- Liam McGuinnis
- If Will wasn’t enough of an interrupter into a solid relationship for one episode, Michiel Huisman (who is wonderful on Treme) shows up in his almost thankless role, for no matter how much energy and bad boy edge he gives Liam, he is still the guy who only pops up every once and a while to try and rattle Rayna and Deacon’s on the rocks (yet really still there) romance. In a lot of ways I wish they had kept him purely as manager of Rayna’s new sound and CD, because then his presence could have remained something to look forward to. Since these two will clearly never be a realistic long-term couple (not that they claim to be, either, but Rayna isn’t a fling person), his occasional appearance has become a predictable sequence of acting as a weak temptation for Rayna that she ends up refusing. To think he could have stayed as the “guy who made Juliette crazy by laying down in the middle of her stage.”
- On the plus side, his being there did lead to a great cover of what we learn was one of Deacon and Rayna’s old numbers, but it also sets off the broken record of the wonderful Deacon telling Rayna he still has feelings for her, and her somehow not jumping up and down with giddiness (yeah, she’s too classy and mature for giddy but this is also Deacon here). I get that they have a long history and in general I appreciate the fact that their interactions come from a close and complicated past, but they are meant to be together so let’s have it happen.
Solution: Rayna James ❤ Deacon Claybourne
- They are together! Finally! And while the network channel’s steamy scene was more of a technical arrangement of close-ups to dramatic music, their declarations of love (“Are you trying to kill me? What are you doing?”) were spot on. Bravo, writers! Bravo Connie Britton and Charles Esten! Bravo cast and crew!
Now, those pesky previews again imply that all will not be sunshine and clear skies for any of these people as the show’s first season heads towards its final stretch, but I for one will happily await the next installment, “A Picture from Life’s Other Side”, this Wednesday at 10 PM on ABC, remembering this time that in the end, Nashville always brings its A-game.
Watch “Take These Chains from My Heart”
Were you as satisfied by the ending of this episode as I was? Disappointed? Voice your opinions on this episode or any of the previous ones (please, no future spoilers) in the comments below.