Scarlett on Nashville Used to Drive Me Crazy. Now I Love Her.

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
May 22 2013 9:02 AM

Character Studies: Scarlett, Nashville

nashville
Chris Carmack and Clare Bowen.

Photo by Katherine Bomboy-Thornton – © ABC.

I got hooked on Nashville fairly early in the season, unable to resist Callie Khouri’s richly drawn dramatic universe and T-Bone Burnett’s insanely catchy tunes—not to mention Connie Britton’s effortless likeability as Rayna and Hayden Panettiere’s tightly wound dynamism as Juliette.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

But the show’s third fair-haired songstress, Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen), made me feel twitchy the very first time she appeared onscreen. Whereas Rayna and Juliette struck me as plausible human beings, Scarlett struck me as a type: a hyper-feminine ingénue who sticks with her obviously horrible boyfriend, Avery (Jonathan Jackson), because she’s infinitely open-hearted and trusting. And Bowen’s thick-as-molasses accent and slack-jawed manner rubbed me the wrong way—it seemed like the Australian actress was conflating being Southern with being infantile.

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In short, Scarlett drove me bonkers.

And yet, over the course of the season, Scarlett has become my favorite character on Nashville. While Rayna’s preternatural charisma has lost its novelty—and her sexual tension with Deacon has finally been resolved—and Juliette has checked items off the to-do list in the out-of-control-starlet handbook I assume her assistant carries around for her, Scarlett has blossomed into a real person. And that person is someone I’d like to join in her backyard to have a beer and sing some tunes with on a Southern summer evening. Really.

One problem with Scarlett early in the season was the tension between her personality and her storyline. We were meant to believe that meek, self-effacing little Scarlett was just so darn talented that—despite her total lack of ambition and desire only to stand by her man—her rise to stardom was inevitable. Of course, that’s not how it works in the real world; women don’t get ahead by keeping their heads down and waiting for a sensitive man to notice their quiet strengths. Whereas Nashville seemed candid about the drive and hard work that lifted Rayna and Juliette to stardom, it seemed to be peddling an anti-feminist fantasy with Scarlett’s trajectory. Eternally passive, Scarlett always seemed to require rescuing by men—whether it was Gunnar convincing her that her poetry was good enough to set to music, or Deacon preventing his creepy bandleader from sexually assaulting her.

But sometime during the second half of the season—between her breakup with Avery and her debut performance at the Grand Ole Opry in last week’s episode—Scarlett started lobbying for herself and demonstrating real self-possession. Whereas in episode 3, Scarlett needed Avery to be present to soothe her nerves while she recorded a demo, in episode 15 she improvises a solo performance when Gunnar is a no-show to their audition for Rayna—and cinches a record deal for herself alone. She’s as kind and supportive a girlfriend to Gunnar as she was to Avery, but she also draws healthy boundaries, as we saw last week when she told Gunnar she wouldn’t put up with his inauthentic outlaw shtick. Sealing the deal for me is the fact that Scarlett likes to have a few drinks—and, unlike Juliette, she seems to get more and more fun the tipsier she gets.

As Scarlett’s personality has grown on me, so has the rest of her. That expressive elfin face! That wardrobe, composed of equal parts peasant skirts, combat boots, and ugly ’80s sweaters! Even her over-the-top drawl and wide-eyed girlishness don’t bug me much anymore—in fact, they make her occasional, unexpected quips (“Am I witnessing the death of a bromance?”) that much more delightful. Now, the only thing that drives me crazy about Scarlett is the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors in her life. In the season finale, it looks like she’ll be choosing, yet again, between two insipid men: Gunnar (recently disgraced) and Avery (newly reformed). Scarlett’s changed a lot this season. Maybe next season, her love interests can, too.

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