Have you ever gotten a box of Cracker Jack without the prize? You shake the box, then peer into it quizzically, then finally make a last-ditch attempt to dump its (empty) contents onto the floor. That was how I felt watching the first 15 minutes of Nashville, until I realized that Juliette basically wasn’t going to be in this episode. At some point, I figured it out — that the show would end with Juliette showing up, unannounced, at Avery’s house just as he was about to get busy with Alannah. And, look, I get it: Cliffhangers are a time-honored strategy to retain viewers, and it’s not like Nashville has viewers to spare. But still … when last we saw Juliette she was getting into a possible ax murderer’s car on a desolate dirt road in Bolivia, while simultaneously being pursued by vengeful cult members. You think maybe we might’ve wanted to see the rest of that scene?
In fairness, we are offered a bit of a consolation prize this episode in the form of veteran character actor Ronny Cox, playing Deacon’s estranged father, Gideon Claybourne (excellent name, by the way). Yes, this is yet another plot twist by way of forcibly inserted long-lost relative/lover/best friend/what have you. But at least Cox and Charles Esten acted the hell out of their scenes.
It starts with Deacon looking mighty adorable in his fetching little vest. The girls tease him for it, but even they know Deacon looks fly. He heads out to an onstage radio appearance/concert (we even get to hear him play a whole half of a song!), and as he performs, a shadowy figured enters the auditorium. Those shadowy figures — you gotta watch out for them.
So yeah, it’s Daddy Deacon, once an abusive alcoholic but now just a mild-mannered old man looking to reconnect with his kin. (I’ve never used the word “kin” before, but it seems appropriate when discussing Gideon Claybourne.) “Do you have cancer?” Deacon spits at him, uncharitably. In fact, Gideon has been displaced by Hurricane Harvey and is now a man without a home. Good luck with that, Deacon says.
I honestly don’t blame Deacon for wanting nothing to do with his abusive Pappy, but Maddie decides to take matters into her own hands. She goes over to the Super 8 motel where Gideon is staying and encourages him to try again. She even personally escorts Gideon to Highway 65 — “Please don’t be mad, I just want you guys to talk” — and leaves them alone. We then see a flashback to young Deacon, maybe 13 or so, pointing a shotgun at his father, telling him to stay away from his mother. That, apparently, was the moment Gideon left home for good.
“I saw it in your eyes, the hate. You were becoming me,” Gideon says now. “And whatever else I did, I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
“Yeah, well it did anyway,” Deacon says, swallowing back tears.
Gideon strongly objects, noting that Deacon wouldn’t have all this — he gestures to Highway 65 — and so many people in his life who loved him if it had. “You did not become me,” he says firmly. And those words seems to release Deacon in a way. By the end of the show, he brings his father home to his family, possibly to stay a while.
Alrighty then. So that was totally out of the blue but at least touching. Let’s see how the rest of the randos fare!
Somehow, we’re being treated to yet another Sean gig, this time at the Blue Bird. (For a guy with PTSD, he seems to perform more than a Cher impersonator in Vegas.) Unbeknownst to Sean, Scarlett has invited Sean’s wife, Angela, which he’s not too happy about. Nonetheless, he performs and the wife seems proud, until Sean invites Scarlett up onstage for a duet. (Their voices harmonize beautifully but kind of had me missing Scarlett and Gunnar, to be honest.) Sensing their chemistry, Angela storms out.
Later, Scarlett shows up at Angela’s house and says, bluntly, “I don’t want your husband.” Then she softens Angela by dropping lots of plainspoken, self-deprecating, aw-shucks Scarlett-isms (“Ma’am, I’m a far cry from the person I would like to be”) until Angela relents. She agrees to let Sean come back home. But once home, Sean finds out that an old war buddy of his killed himself and this sets him off and he has some kind of episode, going outside and banging his head against the side of the house as the camera incongruously pans to a swaying pink flamingo chime. (I only mention this because this is a very breeze- and chime-heavy episode … Art, man.)
Later, Angela calls Scarlett in a panic. Sean has locked himself in the bathroom with a gun.
“Why the hell are you calling me? Call the police!” shrieks Scarlett.
Just kidding: She comes right over and knocks on the bathroom door: “Please can we talk?”
Sean lets her in and suddenly Scarlett is the greatest suicide-prevention counselor ever. She tells Sean to pause to contemplate the wonderful breeze that just came through the window (yep, those chimes again) and how good it felt.
“If it was there for one moment, it could be there for two, three, a lifetime even,” she says. Eventually, this calms Sean down. A scene later, we see Sean sleeping on the bed, curled up next to his baby. (I, for one, wouldn’t have the unbalanced, suicidal dude sleep alone with his baby — but what do I know?) Looks like Scarlett has saved the day again — hooray!
Finally, Nashville is doing Law & Order levels of “snatched from the headlines” material with Alannah and Brad. He tells her that she’s going to open up for the Lumineers. Then his assistant, Kate, nervously mumbles something about “everyone” meeting for drinks at 8:30 to discuss it. The way she avoids eye contact with Alannah is my first clue that she’s not coming. So Alannah shows up the bar and —surprise, surprise — “everyone” can’t make it and it’s just Brad. He hits on her in this slimy, suggestive way — as Alannah notes to Avery later, you could play back the transcript of their conversation and it would almost seem innocent. But there is nothing innocent about Brad Maitland. Egged on by Avery, Alannah confronts Brad, telling him she wants to keep the relationship strictly professional. Of course, he gaslights her, saying, “I don’t know how you could have gotten the impression it was anything else” — but Alannah has gotten her point across.
That night, she gets all dressed up for a planned dinner with Brad and the Lumineers, but when she arrives, there’s no reservation. Kate shows up, once again looking sheepish: The dinner is off; the tour isn’t happening. And Alannah gets it — this is her punishment for rebuffing Brad. Any resemblance to Harvey Weinstein is strictly intentional.
All of this leads to Avery agreeing to write songs with Alannah — to create content for a tour that may never come. But first he has to worm his way out of an impromptu writing session with the Last Highways. It’s a cute scene, reminiscent of the funny chemistry the boys have had in episodes past, as Avery squirmingly mentions that he’s writing songs with someone else. In a small voice, he finally admits it’s Alannah. There are lots of sitcom-y groans and side eyes — and one truly epic eyebrow raise from Will — until Gunnar storms out. But it’s not an “end of friendship” storm out, more like a “I’m pissed at you in this moment” sort of thing. That being said, the future of the Last Highways is definitely in doubt.
Cut to the scene of Alannah and Avery writing songs together, which inevitably leads to Alannah crawling all over Avery’s lap and Avery removing her top, at which point, a slightly bedraggled Juliette turns up in the doorway, looking shocked.
As they say in the business of show … to be continued.