“I hate and I love,” wrote the Roman poet Catullus more than 2,000 years ago. That’s how I feel about Dante, once Jolene’s sober companion and now Juliette’s manager and new flame. More precisely, I hate him, and I love it—hating him. He is appallingly sleazy and duplicitous, with a Svengali-like pull over Juliette and a velvety tenor voice that croons New Age affirmations about feelings and acceptance. I accept my feelings of loathing toward Dante—in fact, I savor them—because Nashville has long been in the market for a good villain.
Avery was the bad guy for a while, but he’s learned humility. Lamar tried his best, but he suffered a heart attack that led to the illumination of a sad back story, so we had to forgive him. Dante, though—recall the scene in which he goes to Jolene after neglecting her all week and unctuously tells her she would not be better off at home, focusing on her therapy. She needs to stay on the tour, to work through her issues with Juliette; in other words, Dante wants to continue sleeping with Juliette, which he can’t do baby-sitting Jolene in Nashville. And the fragile, recovering addict trusts him, trusts that he has her best interests at heart. In that way, at least, she resembles her daughter, who has thrown over Deacon (Deacon, for chrissakes!) to make Dante her go-to guy.
“I never meant to drive a wedge between you and your mom,” Dante oozes to Juliette. He brings out her worst self and yes ma’ams her most divalicious impulses. “You’re the boss,” he tells her when she frets that the band isn’t happy about learning 10 new songs on the fly. “I am the boss,” she echoes, her wavering confidence restored.
Here is a list of things less infuriating than Dante: hangnails. Insomnia. All of the unfortunate circumstances described in the Alanis Morissette song Ironic. I haven’t even mentioned how he tries to fire Avery for no good reason—how, sycophantic as he may be toward the rich and famous, he has no problem bullying roadies.
It’s not just his detestability that makes Dante such a delicious villain. It’s the fact that we didn’t know what to make of him for so long. He seemed to be helping Jolene and getting through to Juliette; he said the right things at the right times. He lured us into a superficial state of trust and approval before shocking us with vileness. And he works his evil in an arena that feels especially precious to Nashville viewers: Juliette’s psyche. We’ve watched all season as various influences have pulled Juliette toward maturity or, alternately, brattiness; we want her to grow up, and Dante has positioned himself as a huge roadblock on her path to adulthood. In an episode preoccupied by subtle questions of influence—Does cowboy/train-tempter Will have a pernicious effect on Gunnar? Can an ailing Lamar continue to wield his considerable behind-the-scenes power?—Dante is the ultimate false counselor.