After a mid-season finale that literally contained everything (shotgun weddings! Dramatic breakups! Layla belly-up in a pool!), we seem to be in a bit of a transitional stage with tonight’s return episode. So, as a public service of sorts — as well as a favor to the Nashville writers — I’m going to rate the elements of the episode based on how much of a damn we give about each story line.
1. Gunnar Loses Custody of Micah
Do we give a damn? Not particularly.
The Micah plotline has served its purpose — it was the impetus for getting Zzzzzzoey off the show — and now it seems to be wrapping up, which is a wise move. We never got invested in Gunnar’s love for the directionally challenged little mop-top. Bottom line: Gunnar is better off exercising awkward yet undeniable chemistry with Scarlett while trying to break through in the biz without losing his soul, not frolicking in a pile of leaves with his faux son.
Mitigating factor: I actually LOL'd when Micah starts harmonizing in his lovely boy-soprano with Gunnar. Because of course the kid can sing. Of course he can.
2. Avery and Juliette Squabble Over Furniture
Do we give a damn? About Avery and Juliette? Yes. About the fate of Avery’s man-chair? Not so much.
Look, I love Avery and Juliette. You love Avery and Juliette. But after an unexpected and disappointingly half-assed wedding, these two deserve better than a recycled B-plot from a 1970s sitcom episode (pretty sure Archie Bunker also had a favorite chair that Edith wanted to get rid of). Yes, I realize it’s just one episode into their marriage, but I feel I need to put this out there: These are two of the sexiest, most talented, most interesting people on the show. They cannot be the comic relief. Got that?
Mitigating factor: The final scene where Juliette puts the chair in the nursery is all kinds of cute (even if I could imagine it coming with a canned “awwww” from a studio audience).
3. Deacon Has Cancer
Do we give a damn? Sort of?
Deacon is the undeniable male lead of the show and, by definition, everything he does is interesting. (He even manages to make liver cancer sexy!) But this cancer story is just kind of a drag: yet another artificial roadblock on the way to Deacon and Rayna’s happiness. Also, him not telling Rayna that he’s sick is straight-up annoying. (Raise your hand if you agree that Maddie is going to want to donate part of her liver for Daddy Deacon once she finds out.) Another thing? I just Googled “survival rate after liver transplant.” (It fit rather nicely with all the other medical conditions I’ve neurotically typed into the search engine over the years.) This is what I discovered: “75 percent of transplant patients live at least five years after surgery.” Hooray?
Mitigating factor: “I want to be the one to take care of her!”
4. Maddie and Cole’s Love Is No Longer Forbidden
Do we give a damn? Not so much.
If you'll recall, Cole and Maddie have been indulging some hot “Marcia on Greg” action, which led to Rayna blabbing Deacon’s secrets to Rolling Stone in an attempt to keep her daughter’s own indiscretion out of the magazine. But now that Ruke is dunzo, where does, um, Mole stand? “It could be nice not being related anymore,” Cole says, raising his eyebrows in an “if you know what I mean” kind of way. (Yes, Cole. We get it.) But once you lose the taboo element, there’s not a whole lot of anything interesting between these two. I guess it's kind of cute that the James/Wheeler kids take solace in each other and ultimately manage to be more mature than their parents. But not cute enough for me to get behind this story line.
Mitigating factor: Cole seems to have grown a foot over the hiatus, and — surprise — he’s actually pretty handsome without his assortment of douche caps. You gets yours, Maddie!
5. Sadie’s Got a Gun
Do we give a damn? Nope.
I’ve been dying — dying! — for the writers to give Laura Benanti a juicy part, but this isn’t it. The abusive ex-spouse role has a “we’re ticking items off a topical/controversial story line checklist” feel. Also, the ex-husband seriously comes out of left field. We know nothing about him — and frankly, we still don’t really know much about Sadie either, which seems like the whole point. Nashville has always had a problem organically introducing new characters into the flow of the story lines, and Sadie is no exception, even if her song about being so depressed that she's getting on her guitar’s nerves is nice. Isolating her from the main players is not a recipe for the aforementioned damns being given.
Mitigating factor: Her run-in with the kindly female gun-store clerk (those exist?) had a cool Thelma and Louise vibe to it.
6. Deacon and Luke Have a Fight
Do we give a damn? Hell yeah.
So Luke goes over to Deacon’s place, thinking he’ll find Rayna there, or maybe just looking to pick a fight. Deacon finds out Rayna called off the wedding and literally cannot contain his glee. Luke says something he probably wouldn’t actually say (“I should’ve known better than to go sniffing around that bitch”), which gives Deacon an excuse to charge — initiating a fight that, let’s face it, has been a long time coming. The two knuckleheads roll around a bit on the front lawn so the paparazzi — and later, Rayna — can be sure to witness their wrestling match in all its vaguely homoerotic glory.
Highlight: “Wheels up, jackass!” may in fact be the sickest burn ever uttered on this show.
7. Layla Lives!
Do we give a damn? Surprisingly, yes.
In recent episodes, I’ve come to like Layla more and more — or at least feel sorry for her. In keeping with Nashville tradition, her character veers wildly from scheming mean girl to vulnerable ingenue, but she definitely gets a raw deal in her marriage to Will. (Also, not for nothing, the girl can sang.) It was nice to see Will finally own up to his own role in her misery and let her go. However, it would’ve been even nicer if he let her go by actually, you know, coming out. Still, a divorce is a good first step.
Highlight: Sometimes Jeff Fordham’s sleazy, pit-bull-y ways come in handy: It looks like that blackmailing reality-TV-show producer is out of everyone’s lives. For now, at least.
8. Rayna Holds an Impromptu Press Conference
Do we give a damn: Yes.
Any time Rayna takes control of her life, gets in front of the story, and allows her basic decency to shine through, it’s a good thing for the whole show. Plus, by taking the high road, she puts Luke on the defensive. Somewhere, Olivia Pope is raising a glass of red wine in approval.
Highlight: Bucky and Tandy futilely chasing after Rayna on the front lawn.
9. Luke Throws a Pity Party
Do we give a damn? Marginally, yes.
There should be an amusement-park ride where you get to drive your truck through a giant wedding cake. Looks like fun! (I do, however, feel like the show could’ve milked Luke’s Crazy Cake Collision — Furious Fondant Flattening? Deranged Dessert Destruction? — for a few more laughs. Buttercream on the windshield is never not funny.) Now that the wedding is off, though, where does Luke go from here? Rayna ill-advisedly goes to visit him while he’s continuing his one-man demolition of all things matrimonial (he’s shooting $200-a-pop bottles of Cristal, which is a cry for help if ever I’ve seen one). She tries to apologize, but he wants none of it. Instead, he accuses her of using “Ruke” to advance her career. She storms off and holds the aforementioned press conference. And then he decides to throw a spontaneous party to show just how completely, totally, 100 percent over Rayna James he is. Sure, buddy.
Highlight: Did I mention that the man drove a truck through his wedding cake?
10. Rayna Goes to See Deacon
Do we give a damn? Yes, but …
In all fairness, any scene between Rayna and Deacon is welcome, especially one where Rayna tells Deacon she loves him. But this one feels suspiciously like a tiny bone the writers are throwing us before they gleefully prepare for the next installment of Perennially Crushing Your Hopes and Dreams: The Rayna and Deacon Story.
Highlight: The adorably smug little smile on Deacon’s face every time he’s reminded that Rayna called off the wedding.
Anyway, after the insane mid-season finale, this episode is ultimately a letdown — inevitably, I suppose. (It could’ve ended with the entire cast on a flaming barge in the middle of the Cumberland River, and it would’ve felt like a letdown.) Still, here’s hoping that next week’s episode gives us at least a few more reasons to give a damn.