The rivalry in the first episode of Nashville was a large-scale, industry wide face-off. Rayna and Juliette were competing for the hearts and minds of country music fans. Concerts, album sales and record label deals were at stake. But as the tension heated up in “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)”, the battle become much more personal and focused; revolving around one man – Deacon Claybourne.
After watching young singers Scarlett O’Connor and Gunnar Scott snap crackle and pop at the Bluebird. Watty White presents Rayna with a solution to her tour problem. Why not scale down the venues and get back to her roots: up close and personal in an intimate setting? She can save face – and money – by changing her creative direction. Watty’s plan hinges on Rayna singing romantic duets with Deacon, the way they did in the old days when they were still lovers. People love to watch duos with cracking chemistry pour their hearts out on stage. The idea makes Rayna – not to mention her husband – a little uncomfortable, but she doesn’t have any other options at this point.
Unfortunately Juliette has developed a singular obsessive focus on Deacon. She’s becoming frustrated by her shallow image – her reputation as talentless idol for teenage girls, and she’s convinced herself that getting Deacon to join her band will change the way people see her … and the way she sees herself. She doesn’t seem to know exactly how it will make a difference but Deacon has become this symbol of all the things Juliette wants for herself. She pulls out all her tricks to woo him away from Rayna: massaging his creative ambitions by writing songs with him, delighting his inner music fan boy by giving him an expensive historical guitar as a gift, and arousing his … err … ”interest” with make out sessions and skinny dipping adventures.
Deacon is definitely intrigued by Juliette. Her carefree, flirtatious attitude excites him because it’s the opposite of his complicated, emotionally taxing relationship with Rayna. It would be so easy for him to be with Juliette – musically and romantically. But he’s permanently, destructively intertwined with Rayna and he can’t sever that connection. I think part of it is loyalty – he sees her struggling and he won’t abandon her when she needs him the most. But the other part is an unhealthy desire to hold on to his romantic past with her. Not that Rayna is making it easy for Deacon to choose her. While Juliette keeps sweetening the pot to entice him over to her side, Rayna becomes increasingly angry and resentful about Juliette’s advances and the fact that Deacon hasn’t shut her down. Rayna reacts with jealousy when she learns Deacon has been writing songs with Juliette and flies off the handle when Juliette’s extravagant guitar gift is delivered to Deacon in the middle of their tour rehearsal. Deacon rightfully calls Rayna out on some selfish behaviour; like the fact that he’s been playing the songs they wrote together every month at the Bluebird and she hasn’t shown up to watch him in a decade. Rayna can’t give Deacon what he needs … but she sure as hell doesn’t want him getting it from somebody else.
I love the Rayna/Deacon/Juliette triangle because there are absolutely no right sides and that’s what makes it fascinating. Deacon is in love with Rayna but she isn’t a real option for him; she’s married and keeps him at a safe emotional distance. Juliette is far more available, but isn’t looking for real romance with Deacon. She’s just a damaged child who is desperate for attention. She’s attracted to the image and the idea of Deacon, not to the man himself. The whole thing is completely destructive, which makes it unbelievably juicy!
Tensions are elevated even further when Rayna shows up at the Bluebird to make amends with Deacon and ends up performing a love song with him. Juliette, who is also in attendance, becomes visibly upset as she watches Rayna and Deacon sing into each other’s souls. But she isn’t the only one shaken up. As they perform, Rayna and Deacon become entranced with each other, unleashing feelings that Rayna had desperately tried to lock away. Afterwards, they sit together in Deacon’s truck and Rayna whispers, “I wish we hadn’t done that song” before fleeing the scene. Is this something they can come back from? If they can’t even hold it together through one ballad, will they decide to cancel their tour?
There was also secondary a love triangle a brewin’ – between Scarlett, her boyfriend Avery and her new song-writing partner Gunnar. Watty White tells Scarlett and Gunnar he was impressed with their duet and that their chemistry is magic. He offers to record a demo for them. Most people would have immediately embraced the opportunity, but Scarlett hesitates. Avery has been struggling for his big break and she’s worried about upstaging him. And everyone who watched her perform with Gunnar pegged them as a passionate couple in the midst of a torrid affair. How would Avery feel about that if they became a recording duo? In the end, she does the smart thing and tells an excited Gunnar that she’s in.
I love Scarlett and I’m really invested in her fate, but my one issue with her plotline is that I see no real obstacles between her and Gunnar. Avery doesn’t have any appealing qualities yet and Scarlett’s devotion to him seems completely misplaced. I need to see some real reasons for her loyalty or it will start to feel like his presence is just a poorly written roadblock in the inevitable Scarlett/Gunnar romance.
-Juliette’s crushed face at the moment she realizes Deacon is inviting Rayna up on stage and not her. And the way she silently mouthed the words to the song as they performed; moved and depressed at the same time.
-When Juliette asks Deacon to give her his thoughts after he listens to the demo she recorded of their song. He says “What do you think?” and she dodges the question. She’s really insecure and needs other people to validate her. She’s incapable of saying ‘I think I’m good’.
Honestly a lot of my favourite moments were courtesy of Juliette. I really thought she stole this episode.
Okay I’m just going to say it. Hayden Panettiere is a better singer than Connie Britton. That’s not surprising because Hayden actually has a background in music but it interferes with the believability of the Nashville universe. Juliette is supposed to be a mediocre singer who wouldn’t make it as one of Rayna’s backup singers, but that’s so clearly not the case. Connie is such an incredible force on screen, but her singing is kind of weak. I preferred the duet between Juliette and Deacon to the one between Rayna and Deacon that was supposed to be spellbinding.
I was a little disappointed that Watty White’s big idea was for Rayna and Deacon to do an intimate tour together. I hoped it would be directly connected to Scarlett and Gunnar’s sizzling performance – maybe adding new talent to her tour, starting her own record label to launch new, more substantial, stars. I would love to see Scarlett’s storyline intersect with Rayna’s or Juliette’s. It would be amazing if Rayna can’t de-throne Juliette herself, but helps Scarlett become a country music superstar … singing deeper, more authentic music.
I’m not invested in Teddy and Lamar’s storyline; the race for mayor and the shady business past that Teddy is obviously trying to hide. It not terrible, but compared to the other plots it just doesn’t hold my attention.
Photo Courtesy of ABC