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Nashville Recap: Highway Robbery

NASHVILLE - "Don't Open That Door" - In advance of a benefit concert starring all of Edgehill's best acts, label head Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson) demands that his new artists sell themselves as hot, sexy personas-which is a major struggle for Scarlett, and Layla knows it. Since Rayna is unsure about her future as a singer, she plots to buy out Edgehill's rights to her music, and Gunnar and Avery decide to record new songs with Zoey, Scarlett's best friend. However, by the end of the concert night, nothing will be the same, on "Nashville," WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 23 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Mark Levine)
HAYDEN PANETTIERE, CONNIE BRITTON

So that was an elegant hour of television, huh? From Rayna asking Lamar for the $20 million to buy out her contract at Edgehill so she can launch Highway 65 on her own; to her shaky, if ultimately triumphant return to the stage; to her glorious, but short-lived “take this recording contract and shove it!” moment with Jeff Fordham; to Lamar’s arrest (as Teddy gloats at a nearby table); to Rayna getting the awkwardly timed news that Lamar’s accounts have been frozen; to Tandy tremulously visiting Lamar in jail, ready to take her punishment, and his Michael Corleone–esque, “I know it was ... Teddy”(!?!) in response — it was all timed to perfection.

Things start off with the super-meta moment of Scarlett getting media training: “In certain situations the stammering comes across as folksy,” her coach tells her. “But when the camera’s on you, it’ll read as scattered.” (Get out of my head, Nashville!) Scarlett wants to be an authentic artist, not some cookie-cutter celebutante. Enter Layla, who deferred Harvard (huh, never saw that coming) to go on that singing competition of hers and who feels threatened by Scarlett, especially since she’s good friends with Will, whom Layla is (opportunistically) crushing on.

So Layla gives Scarlett the intentionally lousy advice of ignoring her media training (going so far as to rip up her adorable little index cards) and then smirks triumphantly as Scarlett botches her interviews on the press line. I’m glad that our suspicions about Layla have been confirmed. All that bubbly, wide-eyed, “I’m just so happy to be here!” enthusiasm is total bunk. Turns out, she’s going to be formidable competition for Juliette. (She’s an East Coast intellectual, after all!) (Yeah, still not buying it … ) Will is on to her conniving ways, but that doesn’t stop him from agreeing to create a fauxmance with her, to promote their upcoming tour. This is when the show helpfully suggests that we tweet with the #LaylaAndWill hashtag.

Can we discuss this for a moment? First of all, I hate when shows tell us what to hashtag in general. We’re all adults here; we can come up with our own damn hashtags. And this hashtag suggestion seemed particularly cynical. They just finished showing us how studios concoct fake romances for the sake of Twitter publicity and now they want us to ... tweet about it?

Over at the Bluebird, hell has officially frozen over, because Avery and Gunnar are singing together. (And is just me or was there a little eye-sexing going on there?) The song sounds perfectly lovely, but Avery thinks it needs a female voice, so they recruit Zoey. They sing the song again, and it sounds exactly the same, with Zoey basically contributing about two notes as far as I could tell, but that was all just an elaborate excuse for the show to get Gunnar and Zoey in bed together.

Oh Zoey, Zoey, Zoey. It’s on page one of the Newly Introduced Character’s Guide: Thou Shall Not Sleep With Thy Best Friend’s (and Established Character’s) Ex. It does not inspire viewer loyalty. I mean, she didn’t even hesitate, did she? Gunnar kissed her and she immediately just ... went to town. Not even a token, “Uh, this is probably not a good idea.” (Yes, yes, I realize that Gunnar is not exactly innocent here either. But he was the one who was dumped, after all.)

Anyway, much of this week’s action takes place at the Luke Wheeler benefit concert. Luke Wheeler is a new character, an established country star, and I’m not even going to mention that he looks like he could be Deacon’s stunt double. I mean, it’s just low-hanging fruit at this point. (Also, former Smash fans — and there are easily tens of us! — might recognize actor Will Chase as Julia’s disruptive ex Michael on that show.)

Rayna has been asked to make a surprise appearance to tell Juliette she’s been invited to the Grand Ole Opry. (“What’s the bad news?” Rayna trills ironically after Bucky characterizes this as the “good news.”) I had no idea they did surprise Opry invitations this way, like a Publisher’s Clearinghouse win or a strip-o-gram or something. So she goes onstage and tells Juliette the news. Juliette, for her part, looks genuinely touched. After all, what does Juliette crave more than acceptance as a legitimate artist? (That’s why it stung so badly when Luke Wheeler referred to her as a “flash in the pan” and Rayna didn’t object.) Then Luke Wheeler (innocently? egged on by Jeff Fordham?) asks Rayna to sing. By now, the Nashville rumor mill that Rayna has lost her voice is in full effect.

Rayna tries to beg out, but there’s no escape! She can’t sing and she’s ... NAKED! (Oh wait, that was just the nightmare I had last night.) She starts to sing and her voice cracks nervously. Then, seeing she’s in distress, Luke joins in. Then, she sings a little bit more, and the crowd adds its voice to hers and, lifted up by their support, she belts it out. Then … I become a puddle of goo on the floor.

Hooray! Rayna’s voice is back and better than ever. (My short-lived theory that swept the nation — okay, swept a couple of people who follow me on Twitter — that Connie Britton was no longer going to sing on the show has died an ignominious death.) (Hey, it’s not like Chris Berman goes 15-for-15 on his NFL picks.) The bad news? She may have nowhere to showcase that shiny, new voice now. Oops.

A few random riffs:

• Hello, giant ad for Neutrogena on Juliette’s tour poster!

• No one rocks a pair of bedazzled jeggings like Connie Britton.

• Was anyone else slightly confused when Rayna announced it was “time for Jeff Fordham to see the Wyatt side of Rayna James”? (Wyatt is Lamar’s last name, BTW. Which I only know because I have the press notes in front of me.)

• If Deacon can’t play guitar, could he really play the piano? Hmmm.

• Also, Deacon, stop trying to make this pretty lawyer lady thing happen. No one’s buying it.

• Hashtag #SeeYouNextWeekNashvilleNation.

Photo: Mark Levine/© 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.