Nashville‘s mid-season finale on Wednesday night offered examples of what this fascinating production does right, does wrong, needs improvement on, and should just plain get rid of. Oh, plus one absolutely shameless scene that I sorta loved. The show is clearly a work-in-progress, but that doesn’t mean it’s in artistic trouble — it means the folks making this show seem to be trying hard to stay true to the pilot’s original conception and also reach out to a larger audience.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for this week’s Nashville.
The episode began moments after the triumphant duet between Rayna and Juliette at the Ryman; everyone, even the squabbling songbirds, was elated at how well their voices meshed, that the song the two cobbled together at the last minute turned out to soar. I’m glad pestering record-company head Marshall Evans is still hellbent on putting these two out on this road for a tour — it makes both dramatic sense for the arc of the series thus far, and promises to be a lot of stressed-out fun.
I’ve been skeptical of Juliette’s romance with footballer Sean Butler, but this week, that storyline paid off in a couple of scenes. The shameless one I referred to earlier was that ridiculously golden moment when Juliette, having been invited to accompany Sean and his family to their church, is invited to sing with the choir. Somehow I doubt that, even in Nashville, any choir director has ever spontaneously asked, say, Tanya Tucker in her young plucky prime or Connie Smith or Jennifer Nettles or Taylor Swift to git on up here and sing on the side of the angels.
This was Nashville‘s Glee moment, but it will survive it. Hayden Panettiere really sold that moment, as over-the-top as it was.
The other good scene occurred when Sean’s mother took Juliette aside and told her no way was her clean-living son going to stay connected to trailer-trash like Juliette: Fine soap opera development.
The hour spent much of its time separating characters. Deacon’s decision to tour with “sober band” the Rebel Kings was a smart move (“To sex, no drugs, and rock & roll!”), as was having Peggy OD on pills (way to try and tarnish your image a little, Kimberly Williams-Paisley — I’m liking you as a distraught woman pining for a guy you can’t/shouldn’t have!).
The lugubrious would-be love triangle — Scarlett, Avery, and Gunnar — had been dismantled quite nicely by the end of this episode. And that option that was taken on one of Scarlett and Gunnar’s songs — well, you know me, I’ve been hoping we’re going to get into a little screwing-over-the-newbies music-biz corruption, so I’m hoping this well-deserved success leads to a heap of trouble. Let Avery go off to “ATL” with Wyclef…
As for Teddy’s political future, the scandal has shifted in the direction it ought to: The betrayed feelings of Rayna, righteously peeved at just now learning of the bribes and embezzlement. Her stand-by-her-man moment at Teddy’s press conference cannot help but be compared to The Good Wife — now the gold standard of wronged-wife politics — but Rayna’s false-smile speech to backers and the media (“What he is not is a cheater!”) was perfectly calibrated.
My two cents to creator Callie Khouri and the producers: Going forward, Nashville has to ease Rehab Mom out of Juliette’s life. Have Sean accept Juliette’s proposal is an excellent idea — heaven knows she can afford a starter-marriage whose break-up will be entertaining. Scarlett has to be fine-tuned just slightly to demonstrate more backbone, allowing her to act as both artist and artistic muse (think early Emmylou Harris with a less-self-destructive Gram Parsons). Let Rayna go off on that tour with Juliette, where they can do a little carousing, together and separately. Meanwhile, Teddy can stick around town consolidating some power and growing more sympatico with the greed-is-good-and-power-is-better ethos of Lamar. And keep the music coming — more, more, more, wherever it can be squeezed in. Don’t worry about the Glee comparisons smart-alecks like me make; in the phrase of poet Frank O’Hara, you just go on your nerve.
Guess I’m gonna have to plunk down some money and buy the new album of music from Nashville to tide me over til the show comes back, eh?