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 1.15 with Seth Stevenson, a frequent Slate contributor.
Waldman: Seth, our long wait is over. Like Lazarus, Nashville returned from the dead last night. Were you happy to see it?
Stevenson: So very happy. Happier than Maddie getting a tweet about an impromptu Juliette Barnes concert.
Waldman: Me too! I was surprised by how easy it was to fall back into the Nashville rhythm, although I do think some characters transformed quite a bit in the interim. For instance, something amazing happened last night: I was interested in Avery!
Stevenson: Avery was so easy to hate when he was trying to sell out. Now that he's returned to his "roots" (can a 25 year-old have roots?) I find I’m on his side. Question, though: When a Nashville character plays a set at the Bluebird and there's no other Nashville character there to hear it and nod appreciatively, does it make a sound?
Waldman: I’m not sure it makes a sound, but it may send out a pulse of loneliness that tells viewers it's time to pardon any previous vileness. I even forgave Avery that line about "feeling more alive than I have in a while." And I wonder what the show has in store, recasting him as a sympathetic lead just as Gunnar morphs into an insensitive jerk. For one thing, will Scarlett again be trapped in her old dating predicament, now that Rayna’s signed her but not Gunnar?
Stevenson: Gunnar (or rather Sam Palladio) does not do angry well. Or resentful. Or angsty. Or pretty much anything besides cherubic good-naturedness, plus occasional singing. So I have concerns about this plot development. And yes, why is Scarlett always being forced to choose between success and some envious dude? Also: Did you notice Scarlett's old-school underthings when she got it on with Gunnar in the hallway? I'm dubbing that look "Prairie La Perla."
(And by the way, why can't Scarlett just declare that Gunnar is her guitarist—a la Rayna and Deacon? Gunnar doesn't seem the type who needs equal billing, so long as the music's great and he's along for the ride.)
Waldman: Good question! I also imagined that Rayna, having heard how great they sounded as a pair AND having seen in them some version of herself and Deacon, would have practical and sentimental reasons to want to sign both. Anyway, I do think Palladio has a gift for mopey melancholy—he doesn’t have to be happy all the time—but trying to give him an aura of danger (with that hood!) was a fool’s errand.
Stevenson: Oh my, the hood. He was not owning the hood.
Waldman: No. The hood was its own man.
Stevenson: But let’s talk about the actual violence that happened in this episode. A Juliette Barnes show at Two Old Hippies suddenly went insane and turned into Altamont. Maddie got hit in the head. I would have liked a slo-mo shot of her dislodged trilby spinning through the air to the sound of a sad violin.
Waldman: Ha! There has been a growing darkness on Nashville, I think, starting perhaps with the death of Jason, Gunnar's brother. Yes, Maddie's injuries were minor, but we don't know how the five other kids fared. And Juliette taking responsibility for their injuries was intriguingly linked to Jolene acknowledging her past as an addict. I think the show is trying to connect with more serious themes—and succeeding, for the most part. Thoughts?
Stevenson: I like the show's ongoing effort to depict addiction and its consequences in a realistic manner. Juliette is still profoundly shaped by the fact that her childhood was spent with an addict mom. Jolene is trying, and stumbling, and trying again—I like that the show's not making things easy for her. Deacon and Coleman had a chat about the risk of transforming an addiction into other kinds of neediness. ("You strung out on Rayna James," Coleman said to Deacon.)
Some of the other serious stuff doesn't work as well for me. The arc with Gunnar's brother left me cold. And every time Powers Boothe shows up to threaten Mayor Teddy and hatch some sort of nefarious municipal scheme, the show briefly turns into a cartoon.
Waldman: I suspect the show wants to have fun with the Lamar character—have you noticed how every time he appears, the lighting changes to a hellish, red glow?—and I did appreciate the back-to-back scenes of Avery standing up to Wyclef Jean and Teddy defying his father-in-law. What's really tedious to me is the Rayna-Teddy relationship. This episode, they struggled to work out a fair divorce arrangement while being good parents to Maddie and her sister. Are you compelled by the travails of the Conrad family?
Seth: Here is how I would reshape Nashville if you let me: No more Teddy. No more Lamar. The various music label execs are way better bad guys, anyway—who doesn't want to root for artistic freedom and unsullied self-expression?
Also: more singing from Rayna's daughters. They were awesome. I want to see them perform again. Oh, and more shots of Deacon's puppy, can't get enough of this.
Waldman: Yes to the puppy, yes to the villainous music execs—but a cautionary word on Rayna's daughters. Let's say your country star mother presents you with her banged-up first guitar and tells you it will help you express your feelings. Do you feel comforted or CRUSHED BY PRESSURE?
Stevenson: Fair enough, I wouldn't want to see fragile teen Maddie destroyed by expectations. But don't forget, she's also Deacon's daughter! With that much genetic countritude, she cannot possibly fail. (Anyway, I assure you she's the real deal, talent-wise. Check out Lennon and Maisy Stella—the real-life James sisters—performing "Call Your Girlfriend.")
On another note, I didn't realize Deacon had so much game that he can instantly bed any service professional he comes in contact with. Reminds me of the time I went in to do my taxes and ended up sleeping with my accountant atop a stack of 1099’s, and then later that day had my vision checked and got busy with the optometrist up against the eye chart wall.
Waldman: Oh, but in Sue, he has the most efficacious wingman ever. (And let's not forget that Sue, the most lovable creature on Nashville at this moment, comes from Juliette, arguably the least lovable creature.) What did you make of Stacey—and Deacon's efforts to kick the Rayna habit?
Stevenson: I feel like I need to warn the veterinarian that this will not end well. Yes, Deacon wishes he knew how to quit Rayna, but we know he'll never really be over her. Everyone else is just methadone.
Waldman: He does refer to her as “the only woman I ever loved”…
Stevenson: Hang on, I'm still trapped in a Stella Sisters vortex: They are killing me with this cover from Once!
Waldman: Wait, now I'm in the vortex. It's so melodious and enchanting. I'm never coming out.
Stevenson: Stay there. We can be happy there.
Waldman: But I've got an Akita at 4!