Nashville has only been gone for five months and suddenly everyone is platinum blond.
First, we’ve got Maddie, giving Taylor Momsen realness with her new towhead. (Seems vaguely out of character for her, though. Isn’t she supposed to be the all-natural type?)
Then, the shock of my life: Will playing basketball with some skinny blond fella — “New boyfriend?” I wonder — and it turns out to be Gunnar! I swear to God, the adventures of Gunnar’s hair deserve their own TV show.
As it turns out, my thinking that Gunnar was Will’s new boyfriend was not completely off the mark. Gunnar and Will basically had their own mini rom-com inserted inside this episode (okay, minus the actual “rom” part). It started, as I mentioned, with the two boys on the basketball court. Unsurprisingly, Gunnar is still pining away for Scarlett (see also: seasons one through five) and can’t concentrate on the game. Will expertly spins a ball on his finger and Gunnar tries the same move and fails, as adorably clumsy ingénues in rom-coms tend to do. Turns out Gunnar has some sort of New Year’s gig coming up and he admits that he’s nervous to perform — he hasn’t been a solo act in a while. (This is a bit contrived, because he’s definitely done a fair amount of solo work on the show, but this is the story line the writers are going with, so let’s just go with it. Come to think of it, that is solid advice for watching Nashville in general.)
Will gives Gunnar some performance pointers — shaking his butt and doing his flirting cowboy routine — which Gunnar finds intimidating. He also tells Gunnar that he doesn’t need to go so big with his performance: While a lot of Will’s own success depends on charisma and stage presence, Gunnar “connects” more with his audiences. (This is a damn accurate self-assessment from Will.)
Meanwhile, Gunnar isn’t the only one with romantic woes. Will sees Zach (yes, we still have a Zach) with some hunk-of-the-month and gets jealous. Also, the episode is kind of making it seem like Zach dumped Will, but I thought it was the other way around?
Anyway, Will and Gunnar compare notes on their broken hearts, while spending lots of time together. Hey, they’re both single! And sharing emotional stuff! And they really get each other … but I’m ahead of myself.
Then, it’s New Year’s Eve and Gunnar gets on stage. He starts to sing but panics and forgets the words. From the back of the theater, Will rushes onto stage to rescue him. They sing a perfect duet. Then it’s almost midnight.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … and they … don’t kiss. But they should’ve, man! It was a really good rom-com up until that point.
Over at Chez Claybourne, the gang poses for a late Christmas photo in front of the tree. Maddie, Daphne, and Scarlett all wear matching red frocks and Deacon wears … the same flannel shirt he always wears. Deacon is excited about spending New Year’s Eve together as a family, but then Maddie gets invited to perform at MTV’s Hits and Hunger concert. Deacon can’t deny his disappointment, but he encourages her to go and asks Scarlett to chaperone. Daphne and Maddie then have the same conversation they always have.
Daphne: Can I come to New York with you?
Maddie: LOL no.
Turns out, Maddie was invited to the concert at the behest of this teen-idol type named Jonah Ford (Nic Luken), who kisses her hand and winks at her (gross) when he brings her up on stage. He’s very mesmerized by her performance and physically shoves members of his entourage away when they try to distract him. After the show, he extends an invitation to watch him record some music in the studio, but when she shows up the next day, he’s not there. Jonah is officially cancelled. Alas, he later turns up at Maddie’s hotel, all contrite with flowers, offering to fly her home on his private jet and take her to dinner. She agrees and then leaves with him. (Scarlett, I believe, was just Daphned.) I’m no Nancy Drew, but I’m getting the sense that this Jonah Ford character is not the best guy.
While all this happens, Deacon is moping around the house, reading a Teddy Roosevelt biography while sporting unfashionable reading glasses. Basically, Deacon has turned into your grandpa. He’s very sad about being alone on New Year’s (hello!? Is Daphne chopped liver??) and even ventures onto a dating site called Kissmet, but chickens out before putting up a profile. (Also, I’m confused. Didn’t he almost kiss Jessie last time we saw him? I had resigned myself to them becoming a thing.) It all leads, inevitably, in light out of how thickly they were laying it on, to Deacon being surprised by Maddie, Daphne, and Scarlett with fun hats and noisemakers before midnight. Not completely sure how Maddie got home from her date with Jonah so quickly, but again, I just went with it. I love me some force-fed sentimentality!
The other big story line of the episode has to do with Juliette, who’s now signed with Highway 65 Records and is prepping for the first performance of a major tour. She’s being old Juliette — hilariously barking at stage-lighting guys (“I will ruin you!”) and seems poised and confident when she gets on stage. But then, midway through her first song, three female audience members — with coordination worthy of Cirque du Soleil — raise three signs, in unison. One reads: “Backstabber!” Another reads, “Song Thief!” and the third reads, “You’re No Rayna.” Ouch. Then they start heckling her. Of course, Juliette takes the bait and responds to them, although she seems more pained than angry. “My whole life is asking people for their love,” she says. “I am tired. I think I just need to stop. I’m sorry.” And then she walks off stage. The incident is immediately dubbed the “Music City Meltdown.” (A montage of various Nashville characters having an emotional breakdown on stage and flouncing would be longer than The Lord of the Rings trilogy.)
She and Avery decide to take a vacation and go to Asheville, North Carolina, of all places. Juliette can’t sleep and wanders into the hotel lobby at 2 a.m., where she meets this self-help guru guy named Darius Enright (Josh Stamberg). He is the king of psychobabble-y one-liners:
“Complication is just an excuse to avoid the truth.”
“Sarcasm is the last resort of the fearful.”
And his personal favorite: “You have to give up control to get control.”
I briefly toyed with the idea that Darius was a figment of Juliette’s imagination — or some sort of Clarence the Angel–type figure — but he is real. Worse than real, even: We eventually find out that he stalked Juliette to Asheville because he “felt her pain.” Security!
Later, she visits him in his gleaming white temple of sorts and he tries to recruit her into his self-help program, which is totally legit and definitely NOT a cult.
“Are you a good mother?” he asks her.
“Damn good!” Juliette replies.
He asks her to close her eyes and count to ten and really answer the question. Juliette obliges, gets sad, and Hayden Panettiere does her patented Tears on Command routine. (It never fails to impress.) She says she’ll think about his offer.
Juliette then decides to straighten the record on the whole Music City Meltdown by going on some radio show. I’m breaking my own rule here — namely, you have to just “go with it” if you want any hope of enjoying the show, otherwise it will drive you slowly mad — but it makes zero sense that she would choose a confrontational, “edgy” DJ to do the interview. She’d pick someone nice and nurturing, like Ellen or Hoda.
“Let’s open it up to callers — if there are any Juliette Barnes fans out there,” DJ Resting Bitchface says.
A caller immediately lays into Juliette about stealing Maddie’s song and Juliette begins to lash out at her. But then she stops, counts to ten — out loud, awkwardly enough — and comes clean: “I struggle with depression,” she says. “It’s been really bad lately. There might be a lot of listeners who know what that feels like. I’m trying to get it under control.”
Then she announces that she’s postponing her tour. DJ Resting Bitchface isn’t even slightly moved by Juliette’s candor and instead seems enormously pleased to get the scoop on the tour.
That night, Juliette calls Darius Enright. “I’m ready,” she says.
Juliette’s gotta Juliette.