This week’s Nashville was the one that confirmed how complicated it’s going to allow its two main protagonists to become. Connie Britton’s Rayna is a torn soul now fully entering a mid-life crisis, not sure how she should present her music (to herself; to the masses) or her feelings (to her true love Deacon; to her husband, Teddy). Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette is a three-layered soul: all smiley and upbeat in public; all toughness and anger with her employees and family; and, down deep, aching for love. Love in the form of respect from her professional betters; from a mother she wishes was clean and sober; and from her true love Deacon. Whom she wants to put, natch, under an “exclusive contract” – in her band and in her bed. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS WEEK’S NASHVILLE.
That Deacon is the third element in each woman’s emotional triangle is the shrewdest unifying device of Nashville. (In the ’70s, Deacon would have been played by Kris Kristofferson, the hit-making songwriter playing a hit-eluding songwriter. See also: Songwriter, the 1984 Alan Rudolph film with Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.) The fact that Deacon figures only implicitly (so far) in the series secondary plot – the political machinations of Powers Boothe and his will to voting-booth power – is an indication that this area of the show’s storytelling has to try harder. And this week, it did:
The political became personal, as Boothe’s Lamar wrote out a check for a half-a-mill to the strapped for cash Rayna – along with a letter of conditions that made accepting the dough an impossible option. But these daddy-issue moments revealed something significant: It’s Lamar, not Rayna, who’s working through something deeply emotional. Namely, that Rayna’s mama was a singer-songwriter who had an affair with another man, and he’s never recovered from the betrayal. This was a brilliant move by creator Callie Khouri and episode writer Liz Tigelaar (the auteur of Life Unexpected), having the male take on the traditional female-scorned role in high melodrama.
Then there was the artful echoing of the Rayna-Deacon-Teddy triangle in the younger triad of Scarlett-Gunnar-Avery. These pale kids are, I’m beginning to suspect, possibly be shafted by Watty, who has thus far been portrayed as a Grand Ol’ Man of the Country Music Industry. But one of the ways you attain that status (remember how the pilot’s opening musical number occurred during a Ryman Auditorium kiss-the-ring salute to Watty?) in any business is by screwing at least a few people over, and Watty’s bankrolling the green musicians’ demo session in return for a publishing deal. As in, Watty will probably own at the very least a big chunk of the profits from those purty songs Scarlett and Gunnar are pickin’ and trillin’. (I must say I am really enjoying Clare Bowen’s voice in this show – she’s got an elastic Butcher Holler twang that boinnnngs like a young Loretta Lynn’s.) And JD Souther, who plays Watty, did write “Run Like a Thief.” (Check out Bonnie Raitt’s criminally underrrated Home Plate album.)
Next week, we’ll get a lot of Juliette acting-out following Deacon’s tour turn-down – the compulsive shoplifting we saw at the end of the hour will turn into her scandal moment; she and her mom can hide in her big house together. They’re like a law-breaking version of the Judds. I hope it inspires a good song.
Bonus points: While the traditional country standard was upheld by George Jones singing “She’s Just a Girl I Used to Know,” how cute was Maddie and Daphne’s talent-show version of Juliette’s hit “Telescope,” a wedged-in and welcome showcase for Lennon and Maisy Stella?