Sam Palladio as Gunnar, Clare Bowen as Scarlett.
Welcome to a very mansplainy episode of Nashville, featuring pompous tool Damien George, sensitive control freak Clayton Carter, Silicon Valley know-it-all Zach Welles, and amateur detective Bucky Dawes. Let’s start with the Damien George stuff first, because it is flat-out bananas.
So, Scarlett and Gunnar are shooting this music video that has an F. Scott Fitzgerald-meets-softcore-porn vibe. It has absolutely nothing to do with: 1) Gunnar, 2) Scarlett, 3) Nashville, or 4) their song.
But Damien George is a geeeen-ius! Or so he thinks — and sadly, Zach Welles agrees. The best thing about the shoot is Gunnar’s guyliner and Scarlett’s finger curls. The worst thing about the shoot is that Damien George encourages Scarlett to tap into some sort of inner carnality that she doesn’t have. (Has he seen her hemp necklace?) His whole shtick is that he wants Scarlett to let go and lose her shame and give in to her inner Jezebel or whatever. To which she responds, “You’re just some dude with screwed-up views about women all being secret sexpots.” This is a glorious mic drop and should’ve been the exact moment Scarlett stormed out of the shoot for good. Instead, she (grudgingly) slithers across a table, punches Gunnar in the face, dances with some random man-bun guy (who lets his hair down on the second take, for maximum sexiness), and performs an angry seduction of Gunnar while he’s tied to the bed. It’s all so awful and cringey and Clare Bowen looks uncomfortable as hell. Honestly, I didn’t know where to look.
At one point, Rayna arrives and senses that Scarlett is unhappy — ya think? — but Zach Welles jumps in to defend all of this nonsense. He convinces her that, yes, Damien George may be “unorthodox” and “on the edge,” but it’s all “part of his genius.” (A fiery death to the notion that it’s okay for a guy to be an asshole as long as he’s some sort of special genius who needs to be coddled.) Somehow convinced by this claptrap, Rayna decides to let the shoot continue.
I’ll be honest: I spent most of the episode waiting for Gunnar to stand up for Scarlett. Instead, he’s all, “Hear me out, maybe you should give Sexy Scarlett a try?” and goes out drinking with Damien. So, basically the opposite of standing up for her. By the time Gunnar does tell Damien to back off, it’s way too late. Scarlett is so angry that she does her (angry) seduction routine, while Damien gets his rocks off behind the camera. Ugh.
What exactly is the point of this? Why did Rayna agree to this? Why didn’t Gunnar jump to Scarlett’s side? Why did Scarlett smear that poor woman’s lipstick? What did it all mean?
I should also mention that Zach Welles bumps into Will Lexington at the shoot and tries to lure him away from Wheeling Dealing Records, which shouldn’t be that hard since Luke Wheeler is no longer a character on the show. Also, was Zach Welles flirting with Will, or am I just having flashbacks to “Sleep Number Bed” guy?
So that was that. Will we ever see Damien George again? I don’t know. Maybe he’ll go off and do a video with Nashville’s other one-episode wonder, Ashley Willerman. Maybe Vita will be there. Maybe he’ll stop by to tell Scarlett more things about herself that aren’t true. Maybe he’ll start a long thread on Twitter about game theory. Only time will tell.
Our next mansplainer (young, hot division) is Clayton Carter, who is certainly well-intentioned, but always winds up giving Maddie lessons on the secret history of country music. Clay seems to think that he must protect Maddie from a lot of things, including himself. Joe’s Club, for example, is “not the best place for a girl like you,” although when they get there, it’s just a normal music club that happens to feature black artists. That night, when she kisses him, he pulls away, first claiming it’s because of their age difference, then insisting it’s because he’s black and poor and she’s white and privileged. Maddie goes to Juliette, who is in this episode for all of three minutes (I really need to recalibrate to this new Zwick/Herskovitz episode structure) and Juliette actually gives her some good advice: “If a guy’s not treating you right, that doesn’t mean there’s some sweeter version of him and it’s your job to find it.” Preach!
Later, Clay gets jumped by some racist bros. (Not to be confused with the homophobic bros who jumped Will a few seasons back, although Nashville may have used the same actors.) When Maddie finds him, he’s so bad off, he passes out. She takes him to the hospital, but after he’s released, he confesses that he’s bipolar and stays off his meds because they zap his creative juices. Hmm, maybe Clay was right. Maybe he is bad news. Maddie says she doesn’t care, but he tells her to go home. The next day, he shows up at Maddie’s door wearing a suit, adorably, and politely introduces himself to Deacon and Rayna, who don’t quite know what to make of him. Maddie comes running from her room and gives him a hug, which is actually pretty sweet. I guess this is happening.
On to our final mansplainer, Bucky, who has his most heroic episode yet! (Somewhere, Glenn weeps for being criminally underused this season. Free Glenn!) When Rayna goes to grab her favorite ceramic box, which she needs for very important ceramic box purposes, she discovers … it’s gone! She heads straight to Randall/Clay Faiken’s desk, opens the exact right drawer, and — dun, dun, duuuun! — there it is. The next day, she and Bucky confront Clay Faiken about the ceramic box and he bursts into tears, hilariously. They ask about the letters and the roses and he’s baffled. He just took the ceramic box to give to his mother, the number one Rayna James fan. (And maybe also the stalker? Sorry, dumb theory.) Bucky, however, is not convinced. He decides to give Clay Faiken an impromptu grammar and handwriting test, instructing him to write, “Their friends are sitting over there,” which is a lot to ask of a guy who’s under so much pressure. Clay Faiken nails the test.
“Why couldn’t it have just been Randall?” Rayna moans, which is going to be my new all-purpose catchphrase.
By the end of the episode, some random guy comes to Highway 65, announcing himself as the stalker while yelling at Rayna, “I just want to talk to you!” Maybe it’s that guy on the street who knew Maddie was back home? Maybe it’s some guy we haven’t met? Anyway, Bucky (manfully) grabs him and drags him outside, but honestly, this guy didn’t even seem that intimidating. It’s so Nashville to have a “Who’s Rayna’s Stalker?” plotline drag out for five episodes, then reveal an answer that boils down to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.