In one month it will be five years since Nashville premiered on ABC and four and a half since it started airing in Sweden and got me hooked completely. Season 5 has ended, without me in the audience I’m afraid, and I feel the urge to revisit the show and share my thoughts on some of my favourite episodes, the stories that got me mesmerised and the scenes that took my breath away.
First up is episode 2 of season 1 and Nashville does a great job in continuing to establish the main characters, who they really are and want to be, and what crossroads they are at, professionally and in life general. By giving us an insight in their backgrounds and letting us in to some emotional turmoil we start seeing the depth and complexity of their personalities. Among those things are the intimacy still remaining between Rayna and Deacon, what some of the struggles are for Scarlett and the many faces of Juliette. It’s just brilliantly setting the scene.
Rayna is at a stop
Rayna starts off being stuck in traffic due to Juliette’s video shoot, which perfectly gives the picture of where Rayna is in her career at the moment and as it turns out, in her personal life. She has come to a stop in her music career while Juliette’s seems to be souring, and she is not really sure where to turn to get back on track again.
As we learned in episode one, Raynas arena shows are not selling and her label, Edgehill, will not support her album unless she goes on tour with Juliette. Watty White, her friend and mentor, suggests she does a scaled-down acoustic tour with Deacon, but it’s one thing doing cosy one-on-one performances when you are young and madly in love, and quite another when you’re past 40, married to someone else and have children. She does not feel very comfortable with the idea, and neither does her husband, Teddy.
Rayna likes being in control and suddenly she is just not. At all.
I love how Nashville is the master of details and in a second gives us a glimpse of just how well Rayna and Deacon know each other. Late for the meeting with Watty and Rayna, Deacon is sweeping in and nonchalantly picking food from Rayna’s plate before spitting out his “What did I miss?” It is a very intimate gesture, I think, something you would only do when you know someone really well, and it becomes clear that these two have shared many intimate meals where picking food from each other’s plates probably was part of the foreplay.
Teddy is not quite satisfied with where he is at either, as the back-seat, not so successful husband to his famous wife, so he has decided to run for mayor. This triggers a background check which forces Rayna to answer probing, uncomfortable questions about her past and we learn the details of the sad and unfortunate history between her and Deacon, one filled with alcohol abuse and rehab visits. Teddy is far from happy letting his wife go on tour with him, but in a marriage you have to compromise. He wants to run for mayor and she rather does a tour with Deacon than opens up for Juliette Barnes, so that is that and it could work, right?
Seeing Deacon hanging out with Juliette does not sit that well with Rayna. It is one thing having the record label’s undivided support anymore, but having the always dependable Deacon slipping away with her biggest rival is just too much. Rayna likes being in control and suddenly she is just not. At all. When she and Deacon finally meets to discuss the tour, the disappointment and some vaguely disguised feelings of jealousy have Rayna (for once, we realise later) unable to keep her calm. And before the episode is over Rayna’s marriage has also come to a stop, even if Rayna will try all kinds of manoeuvres to convince herself that it isn’t so.
Scarlett is trying to please
Scarlett and Gunnar get an offer to do a 3-song demo with Watty and suddenly Scarlett needs to decide if she really wants to branch into the music business or not, which she contemplates in a series of scenes during the episode.
Scarlett writes poems and has no real desire to sing and pen songs, or? She did look quite comfortable singing when Gunnar lured her up on stage at the end of the pilot episode, but no, even if Avery would support the idea, she wants to be with him and support him as planned. Even though both these things might be true, it becomes obvious that Scarlett is someone who avoids creating conflicts or the risk of hurting someone else.
[Scarlett’s] struggles with balancing between pleasing others and pleasing herself as well as understanding that there actually is a difference becomes very evident.
She is very sensitive to the mood of those she is with. In the scene where she is planning to tell Avery about the demo says it clearly. She spots in a fraction of a second that Avery is not happy, immediately changes the plan and lets the conversation be about Avery. In the scene later with Gunnar, who puts her a bit on the spot regarding her decision not to go forward with the demo, she claims it to be about herself and what she wants, even though what actually comes out still sounds like it’s all about Avery. Her struggles with balancing between pleasing others and pleasing herself as well as with understanding that there actually is a difference becomes very evident in this episode.
Juliette is playing roles
Juliette overhears some negative comments about the age of her fan base and she decides she wants to do music for adults, starting now. That decision will take her through a journey of emotions during this one episode that seriously would be enough for the whole season. The episode quite brilliantly gives us an insight in just how Juliette Barnes works, how her self-confidence together with her insecurities impact her actions, and how she quite flexibly takes on whatever role she thinks will suit her goals for the moment.
She starts being very determined and confident. Juliette doesn’t want to do stupid music videos for 12 year-old fans, she wants to be taken seriously. ”I’m doing my part, you need to do yours” she tells her manager, Glenn. He should give Deacon a business offer he will accept and she will help by giving Deacon a personal offer he cannot resist. Having Deacon in her band on is a way of giving her music credibility and writing songs with him will be a way of showing she is a real artist. Getting Deacon into her bed will help her getting him in her band, or so she thinks, disclosing just where her self-confidence is at.
[Juliette] is very aware of that she is playing roles… but somewhere it becomes difficult to see, even for her, where the role ends and the genuine Juliette begins.
Juliette lures Deacon away from Rayna and takes him to her countryside property to write some music and to seduce him. Juliette is very confident in the persuasive powers of her sexual attraction, but she is also letting her guard down trying to show Deacon another side of herself. She is very aware of that she is playing roles. ”I’m whoever my manager is thinking will sell the most records”, she tells Deacon and adds that she has another side too, but somewhere here it becomes difficult to see, even for her, where the roles end and the genuine Juliette begins.
She wants to show him the land and her love for that, as well as her genuine intentions for songwriting, but she still can’t help trying to impress him with rare gifts and flirting with him to get him into her bed, or in this case, the water. When they finally get to the songwriting part, she is too insecure to appreciate his admiration for her songwriting; it’s much easier for her to believe in his attraction to her. During these scenes she shifts between being confident, flirty, vulnerable and modest so effortlessly that it is difficult to know when she is playing a role and when she is honest, and probably she doesn’t even know herself anymore which is what, it’s all just means to get what she wants.
Back home Juliette is getting quite confused! She doesn’t get why Deacon is not thanking her for the guitar she gave him. She wants that validation from him and she just doesn’t understand why she won’t get it. And yeah, Deacon is not the most honest guy here, looking for distraction in all the wrong places as he chooses to ignore the context of Juliette’s “offering”. He takes the sex, flattered as he is, probably without any intention of giving her what he damn well knows she is really after, him on her tour.
Maybe Juliette gets that she doesn’t get it. Later when she shows up at his house to give him the demo of the song, she is back being the sincere girl: ”Something about you wants me to grow up”. And this time we know it’s real. She looks so happy at the Bluebird later, like she has figured things out. But the happiness turns to one big bowl of hurt when Deacon asks Rayna to sing with him on stage instead of her. Even if it was an extra bonus that her actions towards Deacon would spite Rayna, it was never her reason for doing it. Juliette wants first of all to be a respected artist, she wants to be (like) Rayna, although she would probably never admit it.
The Bluebird is where it concludes
The episode ends superbly with one of best performances on the show, Rayna and Deacon’s No One Will Ever Love You at the Bluebird Café. You can literally see those buried emotions being released and coming alive during the song. And while it tells the story about Rayna and Deacon, it manages to impact the feelings and thoughts of Scarlett and Juliette as well, and I love how Nashville always manages to make the closing song relate to the other characters.
No one could watch without being affected by the genuine feeling of that performance, and having Watty point out that it could be Scarlett and Gunnar up there, could not but help Scarlett to make the decision to go ahead with the demo. And she looks pleased having done so.
Juliette is singing the words to Rayna and Deacons song, because she knows and loves the song, or maybe she wishes she had written a song like that, or she wishes she had someone loving her like that (now realising the extent of Deacons feelings for Rayna), or just all of the above. For Juliette the episode ends with that pain of being rejected by Deacon where it hurts most, as an artist, even after she was trying to show him her true self.
It was the moment she realised that her marriage was over.
“No one will ever love you like I do.” Deacon eyes could not more obviously show just how much he loves Rayna and never was there a more heartbroken face than Rayna’s in the car with Deacon after their duet. This very short scene is my favourite from the episode. There in the car she realises that her marriage is over and her ”I wish we hadn’t done that song” is when she admits it, if only for a second, before she goes home to hug Teddy and tell him that she loves him.
We will see this repeating in later episodes, both the same reaction and similar scenes. The moment her emotions gets too real and familiar, when the reminders of the painful past gets too loud, she turns 180 degrees and runs in the opposite direction, because it is only that or giving in. Rayna is the not the one to give in, that would be to be weak and losing control, and Rayna wants to be in control. “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” and it’s obvious that Deacon can’t help it, even Juliette points it out to him. He should focus on the present, not the past, she tells him. Rayna can’t help it either, but that does not mean she has to acknowledge it.
The episode is written by Callie Khouri and directed by R.J. Cutler.
This is the first of My Favourite Nashville posts. Here is another:
My Favourite Nashville: Your Wild Life’s Gonna Get You Down (2×18)