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Nashville Recap: The Girl Worth Choosin’

NASHVILLE - "Someday You'll Call My Name" - Rayna immerses herself in her kids' lives and her husband's campaign, and is sobered to learn that she and Teddy are facing financial ruin; Juliette offers Deacon an exclusive contract to write and tour with her; and Juliette's troubled mother, Jolene, re-enters her daughter's life in dramatic fashion. Meanwhile, Scarlett and Gunnar's big break with Watty is threatened, on "Nashville," WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network.

Guest recapper here! Will try not to choke under these Nashville spotlights for the first time. (I’ll just remind myself I have an “obligation” to communicate my appreciation for this show.)

Three episodes in, Nashville clearly knows what kind of television it wants to be. This is well-executed soapy material about smart people working in a creative field — all of whom tend not to follow where the best arguments propose to lead them. Which makes it the opposite of Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom (in which the arguments are always crystal clear and therefore lead the characters in that particular direction).

Take Rayna: No matter how many managers and accountants tell her that a tour in support of Juliette Barnes will help her family avoid bankruptcy and get the label to promote her new album — and no matter how much her husband suggests that it might help their marriage indirectly — she just can’t do it. She hears these arguments — she’s smart, remember; she’s probably already told them all to herself, too — just as much as she knows her own discomfort over the torrent of love-feeling released by last week’s climactic duet with Deacon at the Bluebird. She just can’t act on any of these appeals to rationality because, well, fate has been conjured up here, and it needs its due. This is a pretty old recipe for drama, but hell if it ain’t still effective.

A less interesting version of this show probably lets Deacon decide to go on tour with Juliette Barnes after being mini-scorned by Rayna’s inability to draw him nearer or cut him loose entirely. (In a typically fine performance as Rayna, Connie Britton handles a lot of potentially clunky lines about holding hearts in her hands … and totally nails them.) If Deacon were to go on tour with Rayna, the audience would gasp “no,” and there’d be a long path between that decisive split and the next time that Deacon could meet up with Rayna — and odds are that we’d be willing as an audience to wait (maybe even a full season) for that moment. But this show isn’t into cheap teases like that. It prefers to keep the members of all of its love triangles close together, the better to build suspense and discomfort.

Deacon, too, has to make sense of the fact that he’s going against the best arguments available when it comes to turning down Juliette’s many professional and personal entreaties. (I liked the moment when she cannily guilted Deacon by asking why he picked Rayna to sing at the Bluebird, before asking to tour again, saying, “Sometimes I'd like to be that girl worth choosin’.”) He tells her she’s a tough girl to say no to — and then says no.

Why does this make sense? Because all she’s actually given him are appeals to the head: If he comes to the studio right away, his song might go on her next record; if he goes on the road with her, he can have sold-out shows AND good sex. (The latter one may sound like an appeal to the heart/genitals, but it’s delivered pretty transactionally by Juliette in a postcoital moment that looks more mildly pleasant than world-changingly rapturous.)

In any case, by turning Juliette down, Deacon has to have a lot of faith in a song that tells him “No One Will Ever Love You” in the way that Rayna still does.

It’s good that Deacon believes in these songs that much at a narrative level. If the songs don’t consistently matter to these characters, then Nashville just turns into a weekly talent show. And speaking of talent shows: This week, Rayna’s daughters perform a darling, soulful acoustic version of one of Juliette’s radio-ready hits. To her credit, Rayna doesn’t flinch at her daughters’ appreciation of her rival; instead, she gets into the spirit. Good moment. (By the way: Nashville, ABC/Lionsgate and Big Machine Records seem to have figured out that they need to sell these songs now, as the show is happening. Go look on iTunes/Amazon and you’ll see most of the show’s best performances now available as singles. Last week’s “Twist of Barbwire,” sung by alt-country Avery? Yeah: That was written by Elvis Costello.)

Likewise, when Scarlett chokes at her big recording session with producer Whatty White (still choking on that name over here), it’s because she’s in her head, thinking about the consequences of the music instead of the music itself. It takes boyfriend Avery to step up and put aside his own jealous nature to tell her that she’s just a conduit for the music — and that her responsibility is just to get her head out of its way. This is, again, super-cheesy and sentimental stuff about a form of music that many people watching this show may not enjoy. (This Texas-born viewer really does appreciate all the references to Kitty Wells and the like.)

The love or fear of music also wound up giving the show’s most one-dimensional villain some nice complexity in this episode. As anyone who watched Deadwood knows, actor Powers Boothe does “malevolent slimeball” better than anyone. But he becomes a bit more sympathetic after Rayna finds out (via some sisterly exposition) that her father’s antipathy toward Rayna’s country-music career — and the way it’s threatened her family life — stems from his dear departed wife’s penchant for infidelity. Lamar’s conditions, tied to that unasked-for half-million-dollar check he sent to Rayna, are still gross. And his moralistic put-down of his daughter — “You've proven to have the same disregard for your marriage as she did for ours” — rightly sends Rayna flying from the room. But now we know why he might want Rayna off the road, aside from her husband’s campaign requirements.

Again, this steers us back to the songs actually mattering in some fated way. It actually makes you want to see Rayna sing with Deacon again more than you want to see them get into bed together. The show has settled on an aesthetic that it thinks is worth choosing and decided to love it with all its heart. So far, it’s been a pretty persuasive argument.

Briefly noted/asked:

  • Juliette’s tween-observed-and-recorded shoplifting at the end of the episode is an obvious cry for help in the wake of her mother’s reappearance (and the mother’s apparent Oxy relapse). Is it also a play for Deacon’s sympathies? Also: How hard is it to get someone into rehab if you also have money for an estate that requires you to be driven to your front gate? This was the weakest part of the episode; Juliette doesn’t have to bring her mother inside her house to help her. And just driving away on the street is pretty cold, too. Shouldn’t professional country-music-star handlers more or less have “rehab place” on speed dial? Anyway: Here’s hoping the mom makes all of this worthwhile if she’s gonna be hanging around with Juliette next week.
  • The look that Juliette gives her handler after the latter has the gall to admire the work of the whitening strips: pretty great.
  • Did Teddy really think that by burning the papers from his personal safe last week that he’d be safe from further scrutiny on his old land deals? If he was actually that dumb, he learned in this episode that his old credit union is facing an audit that goes back to the time of his leadership in 2008. That sends him more or less running from any application for a further line of credit on the house. In any case, we're eager to see what Coleman Carlisle does with any opposition research he may have along these lines.
Photo: Katherine Bomboy-Thornton/ABC