She’s back, thank the Lord. Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) makes a welcome return to Nashville this week: out of treatment, and notably more wistful and less volatile than before. Almost immediately, on the back of her triumphant performance in ‘Cline!’, she’s offered a part in a Steven Spielberg film shooting in Prague. Good news…? Yes and no: her acting career is taking off, but she wants to spend more time with Cadence, and under the terms of her agreement with Avery she’s only allowed two hours of contact per week.
Avery, quite understandably, is reluctant to increase this: he makes the pertinent point that she’s been getting better in a treatment facility, but that doesn’t necessarily prove that she’ll be able to replicate that in the outside world. It’s worth saying that – although the show’s hand was perhaps forced by Panettiere’s understandable absence – Nashville has been commendably reluctant to give Juliette an entirely free pass for her behaviour; yes, she might have been ill, but we aren’t allowed to forget just how much it would have wounded Avery.
She decides, nonetheless, to go to Prague, but then in the middle of a press conference for the new film changes her mind, publicly admits to having had treatment for postpartum depression, and decides to stay at home to spend more time with Cadence. Although it’s generally a mistake to confuse an actor with their role, I don’t think it’s stretching a point to suggest that this scene must have been informed, at least in part, by Panettiere’s real-life circumstances. And by the end of the episode – what do you know? – Avery has conceded ground on contact time, and there’s the hint of a thawing of relations. Do they still love each other? Oh, I think they do.
Juliette’s return offers the writers a chance to get rid of one or two storylines which have, perhaps, delighted us for long enough. Vita’s still missing – see ya, Vita. (Although the writers seem particularly keen to make the point that everyone on the show, particularly Rayna, is bafflingly but remarkably invested in the whereabouts of the cheeky little till-dipping felon they’ve met for like five minutes, so I think we have to assume that Vita’s coming back.) Frankie gets loaded, has a confrontation with Deacon, then starts again at AA – see ya, Drunk Frankie. (Although I have to assume that there was intentional irony in Deacon – Deacon – calling someone else a “mean SOB when you get liquored up”). And Colt wants to join the army – see ya, Colt. (Although the father/son hug was moderately touching, and Colt’s grandfather’s point about Luke’s willingness to support the troops by playing the odd gig but not much more was, on one view, well-made.)
Meantime, while persistently annoying the cops about their inability to find Vita, Rayna also finds the time to set up a showcase for Layla to play a few songs to some country radio guys in the hope of getting some airplay. It has to be said that I found myself really rooting for Layla at this point; I kind of feel that she’s been through enough grief. Fortunately it goes well, and among those impressed is the latest country music superstar to hit the show, one Autumn Chase (played by Alicia Witt, and sharing a surname with Will Chase, who plays Luke. Odd.), who is looking for a support act for her forthcoming tour. Well, Autumn just loves Layla, so they agree to hang out that very night at The Bluebird, where The Exes are playing. The rest, of course, writes itself: The Exes are great, as they always are, and Autumn inevitably decides that they would be a better bet as a support act. And Layla goes home to phone Avery, who had promised he’d always be there for her, but gets no reply – because Avery’s with his ex-wife and their daughter, Layla, better get used to it – and starts sobbing hysterically.
Finally, some good news at last for Will, who first has to endure an almost comical sequence of events in which people are really keen to talk to/write with him, but need to keep breaking off because they get urgent phone calls. He’s finally had enough, so goes storming into Luke’s office to demand that W******’ D*****’ Records allow him to record the songs he wrote with Kevin. Sure thing, says Luke; and while you’re at it, I was wrong when I dropped you, so why don’t you come back and put your music out on my label? I’m pleased that Luke is indeed a decent guy; I’m pleased that Will has had a break; most of all, though, I’m pleased that Hayden Panettiere was well enough at the time of filming to come back to the show. An excellent episode.