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Nashville Recap: Dog Days Are Here

NASHVILLE - "Dear Brother" - Juliette plans a surprise birthday party for Deacon, which is attended by real-life country stars Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), Vince Gill, Pam Tillis, Kate York and Kip Moore. During the celebration, Rayna sings, backed up by Pam Tillis and Kate York as themselves, Watty White (JD Souther) and Adria (Erin McCarley). However, Juliette's own performance is derailed by her mother. As Rayna and Teddy's divorce moves forward, the tabloids move in, speculating about Rayna's cheating and thrusting her children into the spotlight; Teddy decides to bring Peggy into his mayoral fold and holds a press conference to make it look like it's all business; and Gunnar's brother charms Scarlett with his singing, on "Nashville," WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET) on ABC.

Last night’s episode could’ve been called “Checking in With Little-Used Cast Mates Whose Contracts You Thought We Had Voided.” Look, there’s Coleman! And Lamar! And Rayna’s sister! And, in unrelated news, an assortment of your favorite country music stars of the past! (More on them later.)

So it’s Deacon’s (unspecified age) birthday. And Juliette gets it in her head that she wants to throw him a surprise party at the Bluebird, although multiple people inform her that he doesn’t like parties and, in fact, has a proud birthday tradition of staying home and brooding and watching Old Yeller. (That movie is almost a little too much on the “Deacon is both sad and sensitive” tip — but a funny recurring joke all the same.)

Although Juliette has invited Jolene to live in her house, she’s way too busy planning the party to help out with her recovery, even when the dishy counselor from rehab (played by Jay Hernandez of Crazy/Beautiful fame) comes by and wants to start some “family counseling,” if you know what I mean. (I actually mean family counseling.)

Scarlett comes home from the grocery story (a leitmotif of this week’s show), where she seems to have bought ... bags. Gunnar and his brother do a wacky routine with the bags on their heads that, at best, has them looking like Chef Boyardee and, at worst, pledging members of the Ku Klux Klan. (This is all to establish how much the brothers love each other so what happens next is THAT MUCH MORE DEVASTATING.)

Later, Gunnar is collecting laundry and finds a gun in his brother’s pants. Both he and Scarlett know how to handle a gun and empty its chamber, which I guess is a Nashville thing, and Gunnar promises to confront his brother and get rid of the gun and Clare Bowen does a lot of acting with her face.

Meanwhile, Rayna is at the grocery store with her sister and the girls (stars! they’re just like us!), when they discover that news of Rayna’s divorce from Teddy is plastered all over the tabloids, with speculation that Rayna’s cheating — with either Liam or Deacon, or possibly both — is the cause. (In true tabloid fashion, they manage to get it all wrong, while sniffing out some tangential version of the truth.) Rayna beats a hasty retreat and tells her sister to buy up all the store’s magazines, cause that’ll make the problem go away, for sure.

Gunnar meets up with his brother on a bridge — which allows him to dramatically hurl the gun into the water as his bro yells, “Nooooo!” (I wonder if the producers had mapped out Gunnar’s story arc this far ahead when they named him “Gunnar” — if so, that’s a lot of work for a mediocre pun.)

Scarlett gets a terrifying, late-night, drive-by party invitation from Juliette and is tasked with bringing Deacon to the party at eight. She explains the whole Old Yeller tradition and notes that the only way she could possibly get Deacon out of the house is if he thought she and Gunnar were hitting the stage. “Well, pick your favorite song and we’ll see you there,” Juliette says.

The next day, Scarlett shows up at Deacon’s house bearing a birthday cupcake, and I get the feeling the producers have figured out that a lot of us don’t like Scarlett, because why else would they have her teach us that magical cupcake trick?? (She basically takes the bottom of the cupcake and puts it on top, thus creating a fabulous cupcake sandwich with icing in every bite and changing my life for the better.) Deacon is so mesmerized by her trick, he agrees to come to the Bluebird that night.

If tonight’s ep is about rehabbing the images of some characters, it’s Lamar who gets the biggest boost. He seems genuinely upset about Rayna’s impending divorce — and tells his daughter to ignore the tabloids and hold her head high. Go, Lamar. Lest we think he’s completely gone soft, though, he goes to Teddy and hands him his list of “suggested” cabinet members. And by “suggested,” he means “do this or else.” But, as we first reported in this very space, Teddy has found a spine — not only does he ignore Lamar’s cabinet ideas, he brings on his old rival Coleman as deputy mayor and no less than Peggy (!) as a “financial advisor.”

Party time, and it’s a random who’s who of famous country stars that ABC was able to assemble — Vince Gill, Pam Tillis, Kip Moore, Kate York, and, weirdly, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. (If you were racking your brain — like me — trying to figure out who pudgy Vince Gill in those clear glasses looked like, do a Google image search for the late, great director John Hughes.)

Deacon is, indeed, surprised, and almost happy — or at least, flattered by all the attention. (Who wouldn’t be flattered? They took the time to make hand-held Deacon face masks! I’m trolling eBay for one of my own as we speak.) But he’s happier still when Rayna shows up.

Gunnar and Scarlett sing another of their perfectly calibrated, winsome duets — stop being so adorable, you two! — and Juliette is impressed. “If I’d known they were that good, I might not have asked them to join the stage with me,” she quips to Deacon.

After the song, Gunnar gets approached by some cops and is told to come with them. I’m no law-enforcement expert, but this can’t be good. And, in fact, it isn’t. That body in the morgue from the preview? Gunnar’s brother. (A-plus acting from Sam Palladino in the scene where he has to identify the body, by the way.) Well, damn.

So Juliette was planning on singing at the party, but Jolene has done gotten herself drunk again, so Juliette whips into concerned-daughter mode and takes her home. This means Rayna gets a chance to sing her new song, while doing some intense eye-sexing with Deacon. The new song is good, but the lyrics “Pour me something stronger than me” are perhaps not the most sensitive in light of Jolene falling off the wagon moments earlier.

Later, Rayna and Deacon talk about her divorce, and Rayna says, “I want to do right by you” — whatever the hell that means. But at least they seem to have patched things up since the whole Liam debacle.

As Juliette tucks mom in bed, Jolene sleepily murmurs, “Sorry I ruined your  party.”
“Deacon loved it,” Juliette replies.
“Not Deacon’s party. When you turned 9,” Jolene says.

This was such a seriously beautiful, lump-in-the-throat moment that I actually wish the show hadn’t felt compelled to later spell out what actually happened when Juliette was 9. We kind of already knew without having to hear the gory details. (Ruined party. Drugs. Fire. Bad.)

The next day, Juliette’s assistant delivers Deacon a gift from her boss. And it’s a puppy, for God’s sake. (It seems a little too early in the show’s run to be adding adorable puppies to the mix — usually a late-season, desperation move. That being said: Deacon + puppy = squee!).

Gunnar finally stumbles home, in a daze, and Scarlett is really angry at him for running off like that, but then she sees his face and asks him what’s wrong and he tells her about his brother. Then she straddles him on the couch and, look, I understand she’s supposed to be trying to alleviate his pain with her magic cupcake, but I find the whole “Sorry you just lost your brother, let’s get it on” thing a bit creepy.

I’ll say one thing for Nashville, it manages to keep almost every possible relationship permutation on the table. I still think Deacon and Rayna are the OTP, but I like the affectionate ease between Juliette and Deacon. Then there’s Liam and Rayna, Teddy and Rayna (well, maybe that one really is dead), Teddy and Peggy, Scarlett and Gunnar, Avery and Scarlett, Deacon with Anyone in a Skirt, Lamar and his eldest daughter (kidding!), and now — whoa — are they bringing in yet another love interest for Deacon next week? What is he? The Bachelor? Enough already!

Photo: Katherine Bomboy-Thornton/ABC