After a couple of false starts, “Leap of Faith” is the first episode of the new Nashville that made me feel like I understood the direction showrunners Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz are taking things … and I think I like it? Maybe?
Clearly, Zwick and Herskovitz intend to let characters and scenes breathe, instead of frantically cramming every storyline into a single episode. Which probably explains why they jettisoned a few of the series regulars. (A moment of silence for Layla Grant and Luke Wheeler. Wherever they are, I hope they’re living on a farm, writing sad love ballads, and riding pickup trucks through wedding cakes together.) Longer scenes and fewer characters give us more time for full songs (huzzah!) and greater depth in the storytelling. We just need to make sure those stories are actually worth the effort.
In this episode, the focus falls on three main plotlines: Juliette’s recovery and her continued inability to accept Avery’s help and/or love; Will and Kevin planning to move in together; and Rayna mulling over the offer from Zach Welles.
Let’s start with the weakest one first: Will and Kevin. I must confess that I’m not super invested in their relationship. I mean, I want Will to be happy and Kevin seems sweet and all, but the show never bothered to give Kevin any agency. We’ve only seen him in the context of his relationship with Will, and TV relationships work best when we care about both parties.
Anyway, Kevin is all jazzed about this condo with a fireplace and an underground parking lot and he instructs Will to tell the real-estate guy they’re just roommates, in case he’s homophobic. No concerns on that front, though, because real-estate guy immediately hits on Will. (He also gushes about the condo’s “beyond comfortable!” Sleep Number Bed, as one does. Subtle, Nashville. Real subtle.) Will hightails it out there before he does something he might regret, but the truth is, he’s been tempted a lot lately. (In fact, it was his guilt over a previous temptation that prompted him to suggest moving in together in the first place.) He then decides the best course of action is to ignore Kevin completely.
“Tell him I’m not here,” Will whispers to Gunnar, as he lurks in the stairwell when Kevin stops by. (This strategy tends to work a lot better when you silence your phone.) “I, uh, guess he’s here, after all,” Gunnar says sheepishly when Will’s ringtone sounds, which is actually a pretty quick recovery by Gunnar standards. Will pretends he was upstairs the whole time and acts happy to see Kevin. Somehow, Kevin buys this. He also touches foreheads with Will and affectionately calls him “Penguin,” which, as Avery notes, is gross.
Later, feeling even more guilty about everything, Will buys Kevin flowers and invites him to that night’s gig, but Kevin is having none of it because he found Will’s condo application in the trash. This leads to a couple of questions:
1. Why was Kevin rifling through his own trash?
2. Why would Will throw out the application in Kevin’s trash unless he secretly wanted to be found out? (Whoops, I think I may have just answered my own question.)
After just the barest of interrogations, Will comes clean: He’s not ready to move in … and maybe he doesn’t want to be in a relationship after all. The final scenes between these two find Will singing a regret-filled song about Kevin and Kevin crying as he tosses Will’s stuff onto the front lawn. Poor Kevin.
Minor aside: Have they shown Will and Kevin kiss — I mean, really kiss — since the show moved to CMT? Not implying anything. Just thinking out loud here.
Next up: Rayna and Zach Welles. The most baffling thing about Zach Welles is how the show keeps telling us how weird he is, but he just seems like a totally normcore, blandly pleasant rich dude to me. What am I missing? Rayna takes Zach to the Blue Bird, where the actual mayor of Nashville makes a cameo — get yourself a SAG card, Mayor Barry! — and Scarlett and Gunnar sing an entire song. (It’s “All of Me,” the first single from their album. I kind of like it when the show plays the same songs over and over again. Gives me a chance to get familiar with them.) Zach tells Rayna that he has a proposal for her and that “[Highway 65] and me could make a good marriage.” They agree to meet the next day.
That night, Rayna and Deacon talk about it, but I’m distracted by the fact that Deacon isn’t wearing a shirt and how Rayna keeps putting lotion on her legs. (I love when they act all domestic and coupley like that — and did I mention that Deacon wasn’t wearing a shirt?) Naturally, Deacon feels put off by Zach’s “good marriage” line. “That was just a figure of speech,” Rayna cracks. Then they both agree that Zach is weird (but whyyyy?) and that Rayna should at least give the little freak a chance.
The next day, we learn something very important about Rayna: She’s the kind of woman who pantomimes wiping her own face when her lunch companion has barbecue sauce on his mouth. (I’m more of a blurt-it-out-kinda girl.) Alas, Zach doesn’t get the hint, so she has to straight up tell him. “When you’re a billionaire, people don’t always tell you you have food on your face,” he responds gratefully. That explains SO much about Trump’s hair.
At home that night, Rayna gets an envelope from her stalker that’s filled with rose petals and an obsessively long letter. It’s creepy as hell, doubly so since the envelope was clearly delivered by hand. Guys? Who is Rayna’s stalker? It can’t be Zach Welles, because he’s spending a lot of actual time with Rayna so he wouldn’t need to pour his heart out in a letter. Clay Faiken (a.k.a. Randall) is still the obvious choice … but again, too obvious. I’m stumped.
Oh, and one more thing: Zach Welles has arranged to have bad-boy British director Damien George direct Scarlett and Gunnar’s new video. God help us, we seem to have another new character.
The third storyline of the night is the one with the most resonance: Avery and Juliette finally working their way back to each other. For most of the episode, it’s more of Juliette being angry and having survivor’s guilt and rejecting Avery’s help. (How cute was Avery cutting the crusts off her bread, though? Now that’s devotion.) At physical therapy, while propped up in this complicated suspension doohickey, Juliette has a horrible flashback to her crash. “Your body is healing, but your soul needs to heal,” her buttinsky physical therapist says. So Juliette drags Emily to church, then tells her to wait outside, like a dog. Sad!
In church, Juliette seeks guidance from the priest on how to pray. (I guess this is really happening, huh?) He tells her to go with what’s in her heart. So Juliette prays and begs God to tell her why she lived when others died because she knows she’s a bad person, and am I the only one who noticed that Hayden Panettiere somehow managed to have two streams of tears coming out of a single eye? Now that’s acting!
Back at home, she apologizes to Avery for being mean to him (“I don’t want to need you, but I do”), and he apologizes for yelling at her and they kiss and she kind of pulls him toward her, wanting to have sex. He pulls away, not because he’s afraid of hurting her (physically, that is), but because he’s afraid of getting hurt himself. “I don’t think you understand how much I love you,” he says. (I dunno. Cutting the crusts off the bread was a pretty big clue.)
Juliette says she gets it. She’ll be patient and give him time. But she doesn’t have to be that patient because a few hours later, Avery is all, “Lol, JK, let’s bone.”
Ah, young love.