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Nashville Recap: The Dead Wives Club

NASHVILLE - "Just For What I Am" - Scarlett's career is on fire as she sings "Free" in concert with Zac Brown (guest-starring as himself), but the demands of fame are burning her out. Rayna asks Deacon to help write a much-needed hit for her new album, and it's like old times--perhaps too much. Concert venues are dropping from Juliette's tour and Jeff, her label head, is furious, and Zoey is bruised by Gunnar's inattention when he gets an invitation to co-write from Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts, (guest-starring as himself) on "Nashville," WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 22 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Mark Levine)CHARLES ESTEN, CONNIE BRITTON

I like how the second half of this season announced itself immediately by giving us exactly what we wanted right out of the gate. We wanted more Juliette, and there she is, looming large, Max Headroom–style on our screen. We wanted more full songs (or at least larger chunks of songs) and she’s singing a lovely ballad. And, most of all, we wanted Peggy dead — and damned if they’re not zipping up her body bag and carting her away before the opening credits. Good night, vaguely villainous Peggy. We hardly knew ye (mostly because you were written in a really inconsistent way, to be honest). But we’ll always have pig’s blood.

So is it just me or is it weird that, like, the next day Teddy is giving a press conference about it? Is this protocol? It seems like they might have some sort of deputy mayor or press secretary or something to handle the big “your wife’s been shot dead” press conference. (“Mayor, my sincerest condolences on the death of your wife, but before you leave: Any thoughts on that water main break on Jackson Avenue?”)

As for who’s the trigger man: It’s either just some random disgruntled citizen or, as Teddy fears, it’s part of some larger conspiracy. (But I think Teddy is just supposed to be losing it? Not sure.)

So if Peggy is dead that means Will lives! Huzzah! But where is he? Brent is beside himself with worry (oh, poor Brent). He goes over to Gunnar’s and then Gunnar and Zoey commence a search of Will’s browser history and they find a link to Echo Ridge Camping Grounds (so not what I thought they were going to find) and then they cut to a swarthy, sexy bearded guy and I’m like, “Whoa. Wilderness Will is hawt!” but it’s actually just Liam.

Anyway, more on Will in a bit, but the story is basically going to shatter your heart into little bits, so let’s put that off for a while, shall we?

Rayna is freaking out because the market research says there’s no single on the album. It was all fine and good to have artistic integrity when she wasn’t the one footing the bill. She’s heavily in label head mode, auditioning a band called the Cadillac Three. How do I know they’re called the Cadillac Three? Because the show gave us multiple close-up shots of their drum kit, emblazoned with the giant words “The Cadillac Three” and then Rayna said, “Hey, the Cadillac Three! You guys are great” and then repeated, “that was great” a minute later, leading me to wonder: Which three people did these guys have to sleep with to get this gig?

Liam and Rayna argue about the single, but in a sexy way. I love the fact that Liam and Rayna are basically SWBs (songwriters with benefits). He starts pawing at her right away and she says she’s in a relationship with Luke Wheeler and instead of being hurt or emotionally wounded, he takes it in stride. To be honest, I was kinda hoping that this Wheeler guy was out of the picture. After the opening scene, I naively thought this was going to be the episode where we got everything we wanted, like one of those Oprah shows where everyone in the audience gets a car, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Which leads us to Megan.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes!” Deacon says when he sees her, and that’s when I knew the show was messing with us.

Deacon is trying to write some songs but has writer’s block and he’s super dicky to Megan, although he does have a point about the word artiste. Justifiably, she leaves, and then she comes back later and she and Deacon have a heart-to-heart and he says he blames her for his writer’s block and I think, Ohmygod, we’re losing Peggy and Megan in one magical episode, and then he says, “Because I’m so happy.” (Record screeching sound.) Ugh. Nashville, why you gotta play us like that?

Later, Rayna comes over with the girls and Maddie helps Deacon emerge from his writer’s block and they sing the most amazing song, made even more perfect when little Daphne chimes in with unexpected harmony. And then Deacon and Rayna make moon eyes at each other as if to say, “Wow. We are perfect human beings who partially co-created this amazing, beautiful troubadour family and we should probably be together forever” — or at least that’s how I read it.

So Deacon and Maddie may be able to make beautiful music together but it’s not quite so easy for Gunnar and Scarlett. They play one of their songs for Kelly Clarkson (!) and it’s a very pretty song — I could seriously listen to those crazy kids harmonize all day even if Scarlett’s flannel-bathrobe-over-sundress look is hella distracting — but it’s just so not Kelly Clarkson (more like a ballad track off a Mumford & Sons album). So Kelly, perhaps recognizing that the song isn’t for her, asks them if they’d like to write some other, less “Mumfordy” songs (not her actual words) and Gunnar’s all, “Boy, would we!” and Scarlett’s all, “Um, we’re going to have to pass.”

Man, does Scarlett hold a grudge or what? I mean, I previously took her side over Zoey because, well, Girl Code, but she’s got to let it go. As Avery says later, “You broke up with the guy. Now he’s seeing someone else and so are you.” But then Avery cuts to the chase: “Why is he so hard to be around? Do you still have feelings for him?” “I don’t know, do you have feelings for Juliette?” she snaps back.

So turns out, Scarlett didn’t just fall off the turnip truck last week — they were gourds, actually, and it was months ago — and figured out that 2 a.m. visits to discuss songwriting is not standard industry behavior.

And then, you guys, Scarlett and Avery break up — clearing a path for Avery to be with Juliette and for Scarlett to be with Gunnar except for the fact that Zoey tells Gunnar she loves him and instead of replying, “That’s kind of awkward since I’m still in love with Scarlett” he says — and I quote — “I love you, too.”

I have emotional whiplash, y’all.

At least Avery is free, because Juliette could really use a friend (or more). Those West Baptist Church loonies (or, well, a thinly disguised stand-in for them) have been protesting her shows ever since she broke up America’s favorite couple (still not buying it). And then one of the protesters starts badmouthing Juliette’s mama and Juliette says, “There is no God who would listen to a crackpot like you” and someone Vines the hell out of it so it just seems like she’s saying “There is no God” on an endless six-second loop, which doesn’t sit well in the country music world (attendance was apparently poor at last year’s Atheist Country Jamboree). And people are throwing black paint on her and calling her a godless home wrecker and all in all, she’s in a bad place. Such a bad place that she asks Layla, who witnessed the confrontation with the protester, for help. Layla does help, out of the goodness of her heart (just kidding, she wants Juliette to owe her one), but it may not be enough — Juliette’s in real trouble.

All right, now we may as well go from bad to worse, huh?

Poor Will. He’s filled with self-loathing and despair. He even hates himself for not having the guts to kill himself. So Gunnar seeks him out at the campgrounds and is just incredibly dear and tells Will that times are changing (they are!) but Will says, “not if I’m going to keep doing what I do for a living.” Aww, man. But maybe he’s right. Will is in no position to be the flag bearer for gay country singers when he can’t even love himself. Still, I was hoping that his little heart-to-heart with Gunnar and his days off the grid to clear his head would put him in a better place. Almost the opposite is true. When he gets back to civilization, Will angrily tells Brent to get out of his life. He’s in as much denial as ever. So sad.

All in all, a pretty great episode, huh? We didn’t get everything we wanted — but I’m willing to acknowledge that might not be such a bad thing. After all, it gives us something to complain about look forward to next week.

Photo: Mark Levine/ABC