Nashville, Season 1
Is Nashville the most joyless show on television?
Posted Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, at 2:36 AM
Every week in Slate’s Nashville TV club, Katy Waldman will have an IM conversation with a different Nashville fan. This week, she rehashes episode 1.11 with June Thomas, a Slate culture critic.
Katy Waldman: Hey there, June! I hate to start with the last scene, but I’m so glad circumstances have finally thrown Deacon, Juliette, and Rayna together in a confined space.
June Thomas: And at the crack of butt, no less.
Waldman: With Deacon as Juliette’s new guitarist, the Red Lips/White Lies tour seems destined to become the hot, melodramatic mess we’ve long hoped it would be. But what were your impressions of tonight’s episode?
Thomas: I feel a bit churlish saying this, since You Win Again had very few of the plot threads that bore me (For instance, Rayna's daddy—OK, pretty much everything except Rayna, Juliette, and Deacon), but my enjoyment was a little marred by the episode’s ridiculous on-the-noseness. I mean, it's enough to show Liam and Callista doing their best impression of the snake in the Garden of Eden, tempting Rayna to try something new. They don't also need to turn Liam into a patchy-facial-hair-twirling bad guy who states flat out that Edgehill is like her marriage, "stale, old, and boring." Give us a little credit, bad boy.
Waldman: I knew Liam was naughty, but I was surprised and saddened to see him become a straight-up adversary. He seemed more interesting as a bargaining chip, or a prize for Juliette and Rayna to wrangle over. (Some critics even thought he’d make a good love interest for Juliette!) And I agree that the parallel between Rayna’s marriage and her career at Edgehill felt too easy, as did Liam’s equation of “stable” with “stale.” Which one is Teddy, do you think? Marshall Evans?
Thomas: Those two, Marshall and Teddy, are only bad for Rayna in that they limit her future options. She'll be just fine if she sticks with them both. It's unpredictable, melancholy dudes like Deacon and Liam that have the potential to burn down her beautiful house. I'm sorry that Liam messed up Rayna's potential alliance with Callista. Rayna spends so much time dealing with people who are at very different places in their lives (Juliette looking at Rayna's longevity with contempt, Deacon looking at her happy home life with envy, and Teddy being such a drain on her) that I liked the idea of those bread-winning moms each supplying the thing the other needed.
Waldman: I wonder whether this TV Club hasn’t overlooked friendship as a major theme on Nashville. More than a love interest, so many characters seem to need at least one true, loyal friend who has their best interests at heart. Even the main romances on the show are grounded in a deep sense of companionship—with desire functioning, sometimes, as a damaging complication.
Thomas: Well, Scarlett and Gunnar tested out another kind of alliance this week, when they joined up with TJ and the rest of Avery's old band. They formed with the explicit intention of winning one for the good guys. They're like the Justice League with guitars.
Waldman: Yes! It’s the Super Friends vs. Avery, the narcissistic loner.
Thomas: They love to play with duality in this show--even though we know that Rayna and Juliette are actually sisters under the skin, for the moment we're supposed to see them as polar opposites. So maybe Avery's the other side of friendship?
Waldman: Back that truck up. What makes Rayna and Juliette so similar, besides profession?
Thomas: Rayna and Juliette both have a difficult, damaged relationship with a parent. They're both shouldering more responsibilities than is fair. They're both single-minded, hard-working, charismatic, and of course talented. At first I thought the path the series was taking was leading Juliette to accept Rayna as a mother figure. Now I think the path is toward recognizing each other's shared qualities.
Waldman: Another thing Rayna and Juliette have in common is a fierce sense of independence: Neither wants to be beholden to anybody! That said, Juliette's animosity toward Rayna has always puzzled me. For someone as savvy as she is, wouldn't it make more sense to play nice with a reigning country music queen? I wonder if her mommy issues have affected the way she relates to musical "mother" figures—the women who paved the way for her career.
Thomas: It would be one thing if we made life choices based on cold calculation, but this is the emotional world of country music. Juliette definitely has some major mama issues, yet she's also blinded by pride. She clawed her way up to the top without anyone else's help; she doesn't need to play nice to the queen of Belle Meade.
Speaking of her real mom, I found the rapprochement between Juliette and Joleen tonight surprisingly moving. As a good Brit—a working-class Brit, to boot—I was so glad to see class make an appearance. I’ve been thinking for a long time that Juliette’s issues with her mom aren’t only about the pain her mom’s addiction has caused, but also that Juliette is embarrassed by her mom’s inability to fit in with the middle and upper-class folks that Juliette mingles with these days.
Waldman: It will be interesting to see if improvements in the Juliette-Joleen relationship translate into some sort of detente for Juliette and Rayna. But yeah, I agree with you about the class dimension. Perhaps that’s why Deacon was so wise to link himself to Joleen when he spoke to Juliette. He forced her to confront that the musical hero she so wanted in her band had a lot in common with her mortifying mom.
Thomas: Yes! Juliette knows how to read Deacon, whereas she's too close to see her mom clearly, but he made that connection. And it was almost as though Joleen allowed Juliette to see all the hurdles she'd had to leap over to get to where she is today. That was really lovely.
Waldman: Right, and in Juliette’s eyes, Rayna never had to lift a finger for her stardom. She’s just hanging around gobbling up all this unearned attention. (I love jealous Hayden Panettiere!)
Thomas: Juliette thinks it's time for Rayna to retire her tour bus and leave the business to the next generation. Sometimes I think Rayna would like that, too, but her family needs the money that only her music career can generate. And with Teddy's in public office, that need isn't going away any time soon.
Waldman: True. Songwriting is still very much a job for all of them (with the possible exception of Gunnar and Scarlett, for whom it's basically foreplay. I kid, sort of.) Nashville is so interesting in that it doesn't sentimentalize music—it's a show about the music business—but the songwriting and the performances are also so genuine, often the most emotionally affecting parts of the show.
Thomas: I agree. We often see people sitting down and writing songs. They don't make it seem easy peasy lemon squeezey, but when they really apply themselves, they can all do it. That's an amazing achievement, and ultimately it's because they've all got something to say. I can't think of a single time when any of the songwriting shown on Nashville has seemed cynical.
Waldman: Before we part, what do you make of Gunnar’s fugitive brother? Is this plotline plausible? Irritating?
Thomas: JASON! That boy's a heartbreaker. Too bad it's his kid brother's heart he's breaking.
Waldman: I hope he steals Avery’s fancy new car.
Thomas: I do have one last thought, before I leave you in Tennessee and head back to Yorkshire. Every time Nashville cut to a commercial break, I was aware that everyone in the promos for other NBC shows seemed so much happier than the folks on Nashville. There doesn't seem to be much joy on this show. And when there is, it's fleeting: Rayna and Liam's special connection turned into betrayal and breakup in the blink of an eye. Will we ever see adoring looks that last longer than the time it takes to sing a love song?
Later This Week: Further analysis of Episode 11.
Katy Waldman is a Slate assistant editor.
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.