There’s nothing like a wedding to bring deep-seated family issues to the forefront. Rayna (Connie Britton, “Friday Night Lights”) and Deacon’s (Charles Esten, “Enlightened”) tumultuous past has finally found its resolution in their marriage. But what should seemingly be a happy occasion for the two deserving characters ends up being a rollercoaster of doubt and family drama.
After the years of alcoholism and bitter fighting that have plagued Deacon’s relationship with Rayna, the two have overcome more painful experiences than many other TV couples to finally tie the knot. Though the two are finally happy, Rayna’s overprotective sister Tandy (Judith Hoag, “Armageddon”) can’t bring herself to share in their joy after everything Deacon has put her sister through. It’s understandable, but still a banal point of conflict for the episode. Her dislike for Deacon seeps into the minds of Maddie and Daphne (Newcomers Lennon Stella and Maisy Stella), who are already feeling conflicted about their mother’s nuptials. Pretty much your average celebrity mom getting married to the recovered alcoholic love of her life family dynamic.
The family goes to great lengths to keep the wedding private, but the location and date are of course eventually leaked to the tabloids. In a spontaneous moment of post-rehearsal dinner action, Deacon attacks a particularly tenacious reporter who sticks his camera in Maddie’s face. For some reason, her father trying to protect her from media parasites causes Maddie to become terrified of her father and the thought of him and her mother getting married (though their wedding is all she’s wanted since discovering that he’s her birth father).
Poor Daphne, the youngest and inevitably neglected member of the family, also has reservations about her mom marrying someone who’s her sister’s birth father but not hers. Going along with the show’s efforts to make Rayna both a acclaimed country singer superstar and devoted mother, the various conflicts threatening her wedding are neatly resolved in just a few calm, reasonable conversations with her sister and daughters. That’s essentially how most of the show’s conflicts end — with a family-friendly, unsatisfying, dull invocation of emotional reasoning.
While handling all this with her usual poise, Rayna must continually reassure Deacon that their wedding should happen. Though it’s hard not to support their relationship, which Deacon has worked hard to reclaim, it’s disappointing to see him as the anxious shell of a man agonizing over losing it all at any sign of trouble. While the show doesn’t fall into the trap of once again creating irrevocable conflict at Deacon’s expense, turning to textbook family conflict falls short of the show’s typically thoughtful and compelling dramatic narrative.
With Juliette’s (Hayden Panettiere, “Heroes”) absence sorely felt in the episode, the triviality of some of the drama is especially salient. Her character adds allure and drama to the series, drawing us in with her brazenness and emotional plights. While she receives treatment for her postpartum depression, Avery (Jonathan Jackson, “General Hospital”) helps sustain her public image and care for their daughter. This culminates in an abrupt emotional meltdown at Rayna and Deacon’s wedding, when he can no longer stand lying to the wedding guests about Juliette’s whereabouts.
The consequences of Juliette’s struggles are especially moving, given Hayden Panettiere’s real-life grapple with PPD. Though the show had no way of predicting that Panettiere’s reality and Juliette’s storyline would intersect under unfortunate circumstances, her story demonstrates the show’s ability to tackle difficult topics with poignancy and depth. With one of the show’s most well-written central characters temporarily gone, there’s even less content to hold our attention, leaving the remaining characters floundering to hold the story up.
While there’s still some drama left to go around without Juliette, it’s not much to stretch through the remainder of the season. Layla still reels from the death of Jeff, who fell off the roof trying to save Juliette from killing herself. It’s apparent something’s brewing in her mind as she quietly sulks through the episode. Though we can’t blame her for hurting, her pattern of falling victim to forces in the series more compelling than her, then bouncing back with some ego-driven, half-baked plan to stir up trouble is getting a little old. I’m honestly not really sure I even care what she’s up to this time, and it seems like the writers were more interested in delivering an audience-pleasing TV wedding to the show’s fans anyways.
Rather than continuing the show’s dramatic momentum, the midseason premiere serves more as a chance for the audience to catch their breath. The wedding itself offers an overarching resolution to one of the most riveting storylines of the series, forcing the show to have to think up sources of tension elsewhere. The remaining subplots either tie up loose ends from conflicts in previous episodes or introduce inconsequential problems that are immediately resolved within the episode itself. Though the midseason premiere feels more like a conclusion than a new beginning, the soapy nature of “Nashville” has the potential to galvanize new subplots that will reenergize the series. But if the show’s going to do so, it’s going to have to do it quickly.