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Nashville Recap: Bad Romance

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)CONNIE BRITTON

Music-star cameos are a big part of Nashville’s success, or at least I guess they are, because they keep ramming them down our throats, logic be damned. Tonight, little Scarlett — she of the new record contract at the newly formed label and just a few weeks removed from crippling stage fright — is rockin’ on an amphitheater stage with Zac Brown, a prospect so unlikely that they had to go all showsplainy right away.  “Do you hear that?” Bucky says to Rayna waving his phone in the air (like he just don’t care). “Zac’s such a sweetheart, he’s really doing me a solid,” Rayna says.

Oh, okay.

Later, in the lobby of his hotel, Gunnar bumps into Jay DeMarcus from Rascal Flatts, who decides they need to immediately hole themselves up in a room and write together, which actually serves two functions: celebrity cameo and convenient obstacle for Gunnar and Zoey — a deus ex Rascal Flatts, if you will.

Next week Brad Paisley (Peggy’s real-life husband!) is coming on and I can only imagine the negotiation went something like this a few months back:

Brad: I’d love to do a cameo, but I don’t want to take the limelight away from my wife.
Show: Uh, we can take care of that.

Anyway, last night’s show was all about partnerships — the ones that come naturally, the ones we try to make work, and the ones that just might mean more to one person than the other.

“For better or for worse, we’ve written lots of hits together,” Rayna says to Deacon, after explaining that her album could really use a single. “What are you asking me?” Deacon replies, not exactly his swiftest of moments. 

But they start to write, sitting side by side on the floor, just like old times (except for that one song they wrote, um, elsewhere). And it’s all just so easy and perfect between them — the songwriting, the eye-sexing, the baby-making. It’s such a shame they can’t be together anymore because ... wait. Why can’t they be together again? This was one of the major issues I had with last night’s show. There’s literally nothing keeping Deacon and Rayna apart except for the show’s continued deployment of artificial roadblocks.

Yes, Luke Wheeler is back in the picture, trying to figure out what his and Rayna’s celebrity portmanteau will be. (Female celebrities, a word of advice: If the male celebrity in your life is trying to come up with catchy Brangelina-like nicknames for you two, run for the hills.) And then of course, there’s Interrupting! Megan, back to her old ways, literally walking in on Rayna and Deacon, just as it looked like they were about to kiss. (Aaaaaargh!) And yes, there’s some intimation that Deacon can never be his own artist, his own man, if he’s constantly following around Rayna like a lovesick puppy dog — but so what? Can’t he be a lovesick puppy dog and his own man?

“We shouldn’t work together again,” Rayna and Deacon agree. “Too easy to fall back into old patterns.” So they shake on it and then it turns out they even have their own special handshake, which involves clasping and kind of massaging each other’s forearms, in a moderately sexual way, which is just so them.

But what about Gunnar and Scarlett? The show set it up for them to be alone at his No. 1 Hit party — first Gunnar’s spat with Zoey, then Scarlett basically being dragged to the party kicking and screaming by Bucky — and Scarlett finally admits that writing songs with Gunnar is too hard for her because of that thing between them, and Gunnar says basically: I don’t get it, that thing between us is music. Huh. I didn’t see that coming. I had assumed, blithely, that Scarlett still loved Gunnar and he loved her right back. But is it possible that he really does love Zoey? (Meh.) Because last night’s shmoopy romantic moment was not between Scarlett and Gunnar but between Gunnar and Zoey. (Gunnar left his own party, on the advice of Jay DeMarcus — everyone’s a life coach — and joined her out with her friends.)

That left Scarlett in a really foul mood. Such a foul mood that she got into some really bad drugs and ended up chewing out Rayna in the bathroom. (Okay, so I made up that part about the bad drugs because who was that? I half expected her head to start spinning, Linda Blair style.)

Speaking of bad drugs, last week’s teaser kind of misled us into thinking that Juliette had OD’d. But nope, she was just passed-out drunk. Not that passed-out drunk is appropriate behavior, mind you, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as they made it seem. (One scene later, she was sitting up on the couch, sipping coffee, sober as you please.) And who could blame her for taking to the bottle after Jeff Fordham’s insane little display? Not only was he a total douche, he was a douche in a particularly rococo way, calling her “trailer trash hiding under a pile of sequins” and telling her she should “thank God for [her] good fortune, not deny he exists.” Then he gave her really horrible advice, too, suggesting that she apologize for being a godless heathen.

“I won’t lie,” Juliette said.

“You are a lie,” he spat. “An uneducated, mildly talented lie. You will own this sin, whether it’s true or not.”

Whoa. Slow your roll there, Jeff Fordham. I mean, what kind of advice is that? Even if she really had said, “There is no God” — which she didn’t — denying it, of course, would still be the better course of action. (Where’s Olivia Pope when you really need her?) Jeff’s little display, as entertainingly wackadoo as it was, was just another one of the show’s unbelievable contrivances to me. What could Jeff possibly gain by saying such vicious and triggery things to Juliette and giving her such horrible advice? Nothing, frankly, except that it would lead to Juliette feeling like crap about herself and passing out drunk and being rescued by Avery. And Avery’s version of a rescue? Dressing Juliette up as Beatnik Barbie — black wig, beanie, hipster glasses, tambourine — and having her busk with him on the streets of Nashville. Oh, sure, no one would pick up on that. (It wasn’t so much that she looked like Juliette Barnes in a disguise — it was that she looked like somebody in a disguise.) Anyway, it seemed to work, to some extent. Juliette has possibly gotten her groove back.

Finally, Teddy is still going all CSI: Nashville on us, trying to figure out who tried to kill him. He’s discovered a connection between Peggy’s murderer and Lamar, so you know he’s going to be like a dog with a bone until he gets to the bottom of things. I give the show credit: They’ve kept all the politics stuff to a bare minimum and while I can’t say I’m dying to see what happens next, it is at least mildly interesting.

This seemed like a one-step-forward, two-steps-back kind of episode, after the fireworks of last week, but even mediocre Nashville episodes are always entertaining. (Once again, loved all the songs. Every last one of them.) Now excuse me while I slap on a black wig and a beanie and go write some poetry under an alias.

Photo: Mark Levine/ABC