Callie Khouri’s Nashville-set drama focussing on the country music business has now hit mid-season, and is still going strong. Although it can be predictable, there are enough twists and surprises, especially in terms of character development, to keep you hooked.
Reigning ‘queen of country’ Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) and tween fan-magnet Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) have reluctantly joined forces to ‘co-headline’ a tour for their label, Edgehill-Republic records.
Although there has been animosity between these competing stars throughout the series, episode 12 arguably sees Rayna on better terms with Juliette than with Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten), her old flame and long-term bandleader. After splitting with Rayna’s band and spending a brief stint touring with rock band The Revel Kings, Deacon switches genre once again by joining Juliette’s band as guitarist. But yes, this puts Rayna and Deacon together, and the long-buried emotions which have been swirling all season have to spill over at some point.
However, the agonisingly slow build continues throughout the episode, but when the climactic moment finally comes it literally has jaw-dropping power.
Other developments are far less surprising. Avery turns out to be the jerk he was suspected to be, continually sinking to new lows as he aggressively pursues his musical ambitions with the unorthodox help of manager/cougar Marilyn Rhodes. His break up with Scarlett (Clare Bowen), one half of Nashville’s best up-and-coming country act, is long overdue and allows a more assertive (and far more interesting) Scarlett to step forward.
Scarlett’s relationship with songwriting partner Gunnar is also undergoing a gradual change. At least for this avid viewer, Gunnar and Scarlett have fully established themselves as a pair of characters to root for as a couple. Flirtation escalates when Gunnar becomes Scarlett’s new housemate, but season 1 is early days for will-they-won’t-they plots, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one prolonged a while longer.
A similar but opposing drawn out plot is the crumbling marriage of Rayna and Teddy (Eric Close). Close’s acting is still wooden and unconvincing, but at least the character finally shows some spine by asking Rayna for a divorce, something she seemed to have been putting off for most of the season.
The lyrics of Rayna’s song ‘Long Road to Independence’ seem to reveal feelings towards her marriage which she finds it so difficult to express directly. Comparably, in the closing moments of episode 11 Avery watches Scarlett and Gunnar playing with his old band – the one he abandoned in a rather Josie and the Pussycats manner – and the lyrics rather pointedly affirm that Scarlett is better off without him: ‘one works better than two’.
Although these performances are both integral to narrative development and reflective of other events, Nashville seems to be guilty of showing songs just to fill the run time. There’s also a rather irritating overuse of the signature music at scene changes.
But these stylistic weaknesses cannot hinder the intrigue provided by the characters, especially Juliette Barnes. Some might see Juliette’s changeability as the hallmark of an unrealistic character, but Panettiere’s performance suggests oscillation between a bitchy façade and a hidden damaged self. This has been most noticeable in Juliette’s relationship with her mother Jolene, a recovering drug addict. Despite treating her cruelly fairly consistently, and only showing occasional flashes of affection, after returning from her tour in episode 13 Juliette invites her mother to live with her. A suggestive wide-angle shot provokes the realisation that this is the first time Juliette has been truly alone for several episodes. Is she inviting Jolene to live with her for the right reasons, or merely to avoid being alone?
Nashville has garnered praise for advocating female assertiveness and independence, but these values are certainly not present in the lyrics of some of Juliette’s songs. On stage she croons about how being a girl means strutting around in 5-inch heels – a message which does absolutely nothing for feminism. However, Juliette no longer seems willing to play the part her record label expects. As Rayna did earlier in the series, she now challenges her ‘brand’, describing it as a ‘straitjacket’.
With half a season left to play out, Nashville is far from done with dangling tantalising threads before our eyes; Tandy and Lamar’s involvement in Teddy’s political career will become far more conflicted when Teddy and Rayna divorce, and due to Hailey’s attempts at advancing her career Gunnar and Avery’s episode 12 punch up isn’t likely to be the last one.
The possibility of a second season remains unconfirmed, but hopefully those at abc are as addicted as I am and will renew Nashville so we can see what becomes of all the love triangles and conflicts-of-interest.