On Nashville, songwriting is its own form of foreplay.
Juliette really, really, really wants to write songs with Deacon. Rayna used to write songs with Deacon but probably shouldn’t again because things could get complicated. Gunnar wrote a beautiful song with Scarlett, and everyone who heard it totally thinks they’re in love. All I can say is I’m beginning to see Brooks & Dunn in a whole new light.
So, two episodes in, it seems that the whole show will be a series of burns being passed back and forth between Rayna and Juliette. Juliette scores Burn No. 1. Rayna is stuck in traffic with her two girls. What, oh what, could be the cause of this hellish and maddening delay? Why, it’s Juliette Barnes, filming a music video in the center of town during rush hour. (By the way, does it bother anyone else that there is a rather famous English novelist named Julian Barnes? They may as well have named the character Martina Amis.) Rayna’s daughters try to get out of the car to get a closer look at their hero, but Rayna locks the doors.“What are you doing?” they whine. “She’s, like, the most famous singer in the world.” Kids today. Always insensitively fan-girling over their mama’s arch-rival.
Meanwhile, Juliette overhears one of the crew members bad-mouthing her music (it sounds great “if you’re a 12-year-old girl,” he says) and she has him fired on the spot. You see, Juliette wants the world to know there’s more to her than a bedazzled bustier, blonde extensions, and a well-calibrated Auto-Tune machine. She wants to be taken seriously as an artist. And Deacon is just the man to give her the credibility she needs — and the good lovin’ she deserves (or something like that). But Deacon, of course, is committed to Rayna — at least for now. He’s agreed to go on a small, intimate tour with her — just the two of them. This doesn’t sit well with Juliette, who’s actively trying to recruit Deacon for her tour when she bumps into Rayna at the studio. They exchange insults masquerading as pleasant small talk.
Juliette (smiling sweetly): “Deacon was just telling me about your little ‘tour.’”
Rayna (smiling felicitously): “Yeah, just a show for people who love actual music." (We’ll call this one a draw).
Then Juliette turns to Deacon and tells him, “If you change your mind about the tour, the offer stands.” “I can’t believe she just said that in front of me,” Rayna says, glaring at her after she leaves. “She’s got about 500 miles worth of nerve.” (Watching this show is going to seriously up my quotient of Sassy Southern Putdowns ™.)
After, Juliette tracks Deacon down in the parking lot and convinces him to go on an “adventure” with her. She’s in total seduction mode. But since this is Nashville, the seduction comes in the form of a shiny vintage Chevy pickup, a 1938 Martin acoustic guitar, and some name-dropping about owning Tammy Wynette’s lakeside property. After all that, he’s “ready to get to it.” (Songwriting, that is.) “That’s what I was thinking,” she says, and starts kissing him. (I’m tellin' ya: There’s a wafer-thin line between songwriting and sex on this show.)“This is not how songs get written,” he says. “No, this is what songs get written about,” she coos.
So he finally focuses her — it’s rough, she’s a randy little thing — and they sit in the back of the truck and start songwritin’ together. And I’m slightly distracted by Juliette’s hideous technicolor cowboy boots, but it seems like a pretty good song. (So I guess she is supposed to be talented after all? Confused.) Then, when the songwriting is done, Juliette yanks off her shirt and runs toward the nearby lake. (You can’t stop her randiness; you can only hope to contain it.) “Deacon, you’re a dead man,” Deacon says — to Deacon, about Deacon. And he strips off his own shirt and jumps in after her. (Also, I just figured out who Deacon looks like — besides Teddy, that is. He’s like a swarthier, slightly hotter Greg Kinnear! You’re welcome.)
Meanwhile, back at Rayna’s place, Teddy is being vetted by these lawyer-types who are doing a “vulnerability study” to prepare for his mayoral run. He gets all twitchy and guilty-looking when they mention shady investments but denies any wrongdoing. (Later, he’s seen burning some documents in the fireplace. Always a sure sign of innocence.) Big Daddy Lamar later expresses pleasure in this: “A man with secrets is easier to control,” he purrs. (I’m enjoying Powers Boothe in this part. He wraps his mouth around these villainous lines like he’s smoking a particularly delicious cigar.)
Rayna is also being vetted: They are interested in the timeline of her relationship with Deacon. They dated for eleven years, she says, then she put him through rehab, and now they are just friends and collaborators. The lawyers press Rayna on when her relationship with Deacon ended (there was some overlap with Teddy), and she does the whole “This interview is over!” routine and leaves in a huff. (It couldn’t possibly be because her oldest daughter is actually Deacon’s child, now could it?) Despite the fact that his opponent is a family friend, Rayna is still standing by her man and playing the dutiful candidate’s wife. There’s a funny moment at a mayoral fund-raiser where some Real Housewives of Nashville–types corner Rayna and tell her how catchy they find Juliette Barnes’s music. (Burn No. 2!)
“You should put out another album,” one of the women enourages Rayna.
“It’s out,” Rayna says, adding haltingly: “Just out.”
“Do they have it at Starbucks?” she asks. (I love all the little digs at the record industry this show casually drops in.)
The love triangle among Scarlett, Gunnar, and Avery is also heating up. (In the early planning stages of this show, it was apparently decided that America loves three things above all else: country music, pretty blondes, and love triangles.) Things aren’t going too well with Avery’s alt-country punk band, so Scarlett bows out of her budding songwriting career with Gunnar so as not to make Avery jealous. Again, not totally sure how we’re supposed to feel about Avery. Is he a jerk? He flirts with other women but managed to at least pretend to be happy for Scarlett when he found out about her demo offer from Watty White, which is really what being a good boyfriend is all about. Also, Avery is superhot, and Gunnar is a little too “aww shucks, ma’am” for my taste. (I reserve the right to change my mind on this, several times.)
Backstage at Rayna’s rehearsal site, some pompadoured young fellow delivers the Martin guitar as a gift to Deacon, emphasizing the $50,000 insurance policy Deacon should immediately take out on it. (I know I’m always sure to specify the price of the insurance policy when I give a gift.) “What. The hell. Is that?” Rayna asks, accusing the guitar of being a bribe. “Sometimes a guitar is just a guitar,” Deacon says. Then he accuses Rayna of not being there for him and his songwriting career the way Juliette has recently been. “You wanna see what it looks like, me not being there for you?” Rayna says. “This is what it looks like!” And she storms out. (Juliette is not actually there to witness this little tableau, but if she were, she’d be twirling her hair with malevolent glee. Burn No. 3.)
The episode ends with Deacon onstage at the Blue Bird Café. Juliette is in the audience. Then — surprise, surprise — Rayna shows up.“I have a friend. A special and talented friend. I’d like to ask her to come up and do a number with us ... ” Deacon says. And Juliette actually begins to rise. “ ... Miss Rayna James,” Deacon continues. BURN TO INFINITY!!!! (Juliette may’ve gotten in a few jabs early, but Rayna clearly delivered the knockout punch.)
Rayna and Deacon start to sing, and there is some serious eye-sexing going on between them. Anyone else not really feelin’ the song? It sounds like the theme to some cheesy romance film from the seventies. But it’s supposed to be great. You can tell because everyone is making moon eyes at them onstage. Scarlett, in fact, is so moved, she decides to go forward with her plans to cut her demo with Gunnar. After the song, Rayna and Deacon clasp hands and have another eye-sex quickie. Juliette angrily leaves the Blue Bird. Then we see Rayna and Deacon sitting in his car. “I wish we hadn’t done that song,” Rayna says, practically in heat. “Now what are we going to do?” Deacon says sadly.
And then they don’t kiss, because it’s just the second show, people — pace yourselves. And Rayna goes home and hugs her husband and says, “I love you.” But we all know she can’t love him that much, because the man can’t write a song worth a lick.