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November 29, 2012 - 7:10pm

'Nashville' RECAP: The rivalry returns

BY GIBSON JOHNS AND KAYLA UPADHYAYA

ABC

ABC’s new musical soap “Nashville” explores the ups and downs of the country music industry. Daily Arts Writer Gibson Johns and Senior Arts Editor Kayla Upadhyaya recap “Lovesick Blues.”

Kayla: “Nashville” ’s greatest disservice to its viewers since the pilot has been keeping Rayna and Juliette’s stories largely separate. Sure, there was some overlap (mostly through their shared complicated relationships with Deacon) and some compelling parallels, but all of that was kind of diluted by the lack of real shared screen time between the two characters. Well, this week’s episode satisfies that need, giving us more Rayna-Juliette interaction than all of the previous episodes combined. Finally, the two stars share the stage, culminating in my new favorite performance of the season.

Gibson: Yeah it's something that we talked about a little after the last episode — that “Nashville” is built around these two incredible stars whose tense relationship has been put on the back burner — so it was nice to see them come back to where the season started. I agree that their duet was amazing and I loved seeing them perform together for the first time, although I was kind of hoping that their writing the song together would end up in a less hostile dynamic between them. Unfortunately, it seems that, Juliette in particular, can't seem to let her negative feelings towards Rayna go.

Kayla: So let’s backtrack a bit. Rayna and Juliette end up singing a duet on the stage home to the Grand Ole Opry (in case anyone wasn’t aware already, these characters made sure we knew just how big a deal the venue is) for their label’s anniversary because Marshall Evans — head of the label — blackmails them into it. His leverage is admittedly feeble: He tells Juliette it will improve her image and informs Rayna that if she doesn’t do it, he’ll release her greatest hits album immediately. Evans isn’t quite menacing enough to be a villain for the show, and right now he’s acting mostly as a stubborn obstacle to Rayna — with little motivation, it seems like — but what’s important is that his actions force the two characters together. And it’s not their performance — which is perfect by the way — that makes the episode so great. It’s seeing Rayna and Juliette write a song together that does the trick, giving us plenty of quips and even some downright nastiness from both women. I loved the hostility. The thing that keeps this relationship from crossing into cat-fight territory is that their hatred for each other doesn’t simply stem from a “I just don't like her” vibe. Their attitudes toward each other stem from the specific psychologies of these characters and from their insecurities. Rayna sees this young girl killing her in the charts and doesn’t think she has earned it. Juliette wants to be taken seriously, and knows that people like Rayna will always just view her as some trouble-loving little girl with a too-tight skirt and snotty attitude.

Gibson: I can’t disagree with that. I guess what I was trying to say before was that I hope, at some point, that these two can at least have a kind of mutual respect for one another — Juliette for Rayna's longevity and Rayna for Juliette's keen knowledge of “how to play the game.” That being said, you’re right in that any sort of friendship between these two is all but out of the question at this point. Sure, they had phenomenal chemistry on stage and, for a moment, forgot that they hate each other, but the bad blood between them runs too deep now. Another reason why their coming together was beneficial for the show was that the awkwardness between Deacon and Rayna was finally addressed after Deacon stood up for Juliette. I thought it was interesting how Deacon mentioned that, when her career was taking off, Rayna was criticized for not being “traditionally country,” much like Juliette is now.

Kayla: This is where Deacon is particularly interesting, because he’s right there in the middle of these women. Sometimes he’s defending Juliette to Rayna, insisting that the girl has it in her to be a great songwriter. And then he’s right there defending Rayna to Juliette, telling her that she could probably learn from someone with her experience. He’s the voice of reason — and in many ways voices what we as the audience are thinking — and he brings a compelling layer to the songwriting scenes. I loved his scene with Juliette as they stood on the stage. I believe I’ve said this before, but their relationship is turning into one of my favorite things about the show, and I’m glad it has become something more than occasional songwriting-slash-boning-buddies. And I hope the Deacon-Scarlett scenes keep coming in, too.

Gibson: In a way, it’s like he’s become a sort of mentor for her and it has proven to be a great way for her to find her voice and hone in on her genuine talent as a songwriter and, in the process, be taken more seriously. What her manager is worrying about, though, is whether her personal life will get in the way of these positive changes. This is where, maybe, the writers haven't yet made up their minds about what they want to do with Juliette. When her manager whips out his iPad with a faux-TMZ article calling Juliette “Country Cryptonite” for Sean's football career, Juliette’s potential for further maturation kind of took a few steps back. This whole Juliette being a target of the tabloids idea, although mostly believable, has just had way too many “scandals” thrown into it. First she’s stealing nail polish and storming off mid-interview on GMA, then she's attacked for having an addict mother, and now she’s bad for squeaky clean Sean’s status as a great quarterback? All this in just a few episodes. I understand Juliette being a less extreme Miley/Lindsay/Britney-type character who can't seem to get positive press, but if the writers are going to do that then they need to commit to it and have the storyline be a little less sloppy.

Kayla: Agreed. I really have no idea what Faux Tim Tebow’s (who is apparently abstinent?) purpose is other than to look pretty (which he is very good at). Now, let’s talk about Scarlett and Gunnar (and Avery and Haley and cougar-manager Meredith’s … how many points are on this love geometric shape?). Their story seems to be headed in a strange place, by which I mean, we know exactly where it’s headed for the most part (Scarlett and Gunnar becoming something resembling the early days of Rayna and Deacon), but it’s getting there in weird, uneven movements. At times, it’s moving too slow, and at others, too fast. The best moment from this storyline this week comes in the form of a letting-loose Scarlett. After weeks of seeing her do little more than sing beautiful songs and argue with her scummy boyfriend, it was fun to see her knock back tequila shots and hop on stage to sing an impromptu rendition of “Ring of Fire.” But then it all gets ruined when the only lesson she learns from all this is that she misses Avery still (WHY?) and Gunnar can be kind of a dick (because he loves her??). When she goes to Avery only to find him and a half-dressed Meredith, her reaction was pretty dumb. I suppose she’s so upset because she believes the two began sleeping together before the breakup, but Scarlett seems a little more rational than that and her over-the-top reaction (coupled with a bizarrely out-of-genre tracking shot) just made her seem petty.

Gibson: I was totally confused for a second after Scarlett stormed out — like, why was she at all surprised that Avery was sleeping with Meredith (who is suspiciously way too invested in his career, by the way)? I also loved seeing Scarlett as an incredibly cheerful drunk — it was a much-needed light-hearted scene for her. She was becoming a little bit too serious. But, like you said, the direction of this love-pentagon (like, what?) does seem inevitable. Although I kinda like Hailey as a character and respect her for forcing Scarlett to go out and let get over Avery, Gunnar will always be hopelessly in love with Scarlett. I’m just hoping that they can finally start writing together again because their potentially promising career (where’s Watty, y’all?) has been put on hold for much too long.

Kayla: I so desperately want Haley to be more than a Scarlett-Gunnar obstacle. She has the potential to be a great character! And yeah, I’m glad that Scarlett and Gunnar have decided to start writing some more songs. The moment when Scarlett tells him that he changed her life by introducing her songwriting bordered on heavy-handed, but was still executed nicely and reminded me of the significance of their relationship outside of Gunnar’s pining. Meanwhile, Coleman has apparently turned into a villain? He claims that he’s just taking a page from the ol’ Lamar Evil Genius book, but in the last episode, it seemed like the last thing he wanted to do was turn to Lamar’s methods. I suppose that Lamar has pushed him into this corner, but I still didn’t quite believe that he would blackmail Teddy into withdrawing from the race using the photos of him with Peggy.

Gibson: Exactly! Aren’t him and Rayna really good friends? Realistically he would not deliberately sabotage her marriage. I guess he did address that by asking Teddy to drop out of the election so he wouldn’t have to leak the photos, but it still does seem out of character. What I did like about these developments, though, it that we finally got to see some emotion and depth to Eric Close’s Teddy. The stricken look on his face during Rayna’s duet with Juliette displayed exactly how painful of a decision he has to make. Does he avoid having to tell Rayna about the photos and drop out of the race and abandon the one thing that has finally made him feel important? Or does he tell Rayna about the photos before Coleman leaks them and hope that she, and everyone else, believes that there is no affair? I am, for once, genuinely curious as to what he’s going to do.

Kayla: I agree, and even though we’re ragging on it, this week probably offers the most lively momentum for the whole mayor story. It’s just all still pretty stupid and drags down the narrative much more than the love pentagon does.

Gibson: I thought this episode was pretty great overall, as it brought Rayna and Juliette together for the first time, really, since the pilot. Not only that, but it also featured the season’s best performance to date: the duet between the show's two female leads.

Kayla: And perhaps this is just wishful thinking, but I really do feel like I saw a flicker of warmth between the two towards the end of the performance. Maybe it was all for show, but I like to believe there was a brief moment where both characters were thinking “hey this ain’t so bad.”

Gibson: I hope you’re right. By the way, not sure if you noticed but how random was it that Wyclef Jean made a cameo in this week's episode as a record exec named Domino? Seriously, so bizarre.


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