Nashville s5 ep 12

Ten weeks later. Juliette’s gospel album is released to predictably terrible reviews (“culturally tone deaf”, “treacly mess”, “hashtag problematic” – OK, I made the last one up, but really. Didn’t she see this coming?). Undaunted, she’s offering Maddie advice on her forthcoming album, although since this – power ballads with a country tinge – is more in her wheelhouse, she is at least able to season her judgments with something approaching expertise.

Deacon is sitting behind a desk at Highway 65, pretending to be a record company exec, while Zach is babbling on about disrupting the industry by securing “mindshare”. Bucky, on the other hand, would prefer some actual old-fashioned cash money, thanks, which is why Zach wants to get rid of him. Nuh-uh, Zach. Bucky is unsackable. Zach and Will now seem to be a thing, incidentally.

As for The Exes: oh God. While Scarlett waits to find out who the father of her unborn child is, Damien is still phoning and texting her. Gunnar – better hair, incidentally – vows to stand by her no matter what. “I’ve failed her so many times…”, he says, once again flying in the face of the show that we’ve actually been watching. As it happens, he isn’t the father, so presumably this is just another indignity that he’s going to have to tolerate because of the non-existent shortcomings in his past treatment of Scarlett.

And Daphne’s in bother at school: cutting classes, not handing in assignments, and so on. It’s hardly surprising, poor little thing, given that through a grotesque set of circumstances she’s now living with her dead mother’s baby daddy, and a therapist says that she’s showing signs of major depression. Once again Maisy Stella is good, whether or not the material is: the end of the episode, when Daphne, Maddie, and Deacon edge towards some sort of accommodation, is kind of touching. On the other hand, I do NOT want to see her cool new rebellious friends from the streets EVER, EVER AGAIN. But I will, next week, which means that this episode barely gets pass marks.

Nashville s5 ep 11

After her performance at the CMTs, everyone wants a piece of Maddie. Scarlett – very much mother hen to the Jaymes/Claybourne family unit this week, which will become particularly significant by the end of the episode – keeps the entire entertainment industry at bay, reasoning that Maddie needs to be protected. Well, says Juliette, Maddie’s having a “moment”, so I assume her manager is handling this wave of interest? Blank looks all round. In that case, she continues, Imma take Maddie to New York City. But relax, everyone; I’ll take care of her as if she were my own. Which should be the very opposite of reassuring for anyone who remembers how she handled Cadence. But no-one – least of all Deacon – feels like arguing, so off they go.

Deacon himself, meantime, is deploying those big puppydog eyes of his, and looking through old Rayna material: a DVD from the 90s, her diaries, that fly-on-the-wall documentary from earlier in the season. But that isn’t going to run a business, and Zach is getting twitchy: Highway 65 is in the red as a result of its acquisition of W******’ D*****’; its best asset is the unfinished Rayna/Deacon album; so when can it be released? When it’s ready, says Deacon, which will be never. This isn’t good. Bucky is aware that if Zach pulls his money out Highway 65 is dead – which might be no bad thing for the show, incidentally – so something needs to be done. But as everyone argues about the best way of strong-arming Deacon, Avery overhears and steps in: “This man just lost the love of his life… we need to be there for him, not ask things of him”. Which is also a fair point.

Back in New York City, Maddie appears on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah then, with increasing confidence, on Harry Connick, Jr.,’s daytime show. But she mis-speaks, says something which could be interpreted as meaning that the death of her mother was to be welcomed, pulls out of further promotional duties, and heads back home. Juliette is “disappointed” in her “lack of professionalism” – don’t ever forget to do your homework, Cadence – but wants to manage Maddie anyway. Which means another step forward in the show’s change of generation, with Juli as the wise older head mentoring Maddie. I wonder whether this is wise, for Nashville and for Maddie.

Not that it matters too much for now, because Rayna, frankly, is appearing as much in the show as she ever did when alive. And a settlement is brokered between Zach and Deacon when the Nashville extended family piles in to provide guest vocals on the unfinished album, although this still feels to me like little more than a pause before Zach asserts full control of the estate of Rayna, H65, W’D’, The Girls, and everything else he can get his hands on.

We finish with Gunnar and Scarlett about to head out on tour, but not before Scarlett reveals that she’s pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is. It’s not a bad episode, but I still feel as if the show is reluctant to cut the cord attaching it to Rayna. Sooner or later it’s going to have to do so, though, and it might happen in the next episode, which in America was screened after a midseason hiatus. In the UK, though, we’re just going straight on without a break.

Nashville s5 ep 10

Previously on Nashville: Rayna died. So… where now? Well, the funeral to start with, and even Mayor Teddy gets three days of “bereavement leave” to come along. Actually, I didn’t realise at this point how much of a part he’d be playing in the episode. But I’m getting ahead of things a bit.

Everyone is devastated, of course, although even within that there’s room for a range of reactions: I was particularly moved, for some reason, by Bucky sobbing. On the other hand, Zach (still pursuing Will in his downtime) manages some remarkably tone-deaf interventions; Clay significantly underperforms in his role as Boyfriend Of The Elder Daughter Of The Deceased before pulling things round; and Juliette sees the opportunity for a little career resurrection by insisting that she, and only she, is the right person to sing a tribute to Rayna at the CMT Awards.

Deacon, meantime, is a black hole of grief. Everyone goes quiet when he enters the room at the memorial service: partly out of sympathy and, one suspects, partly out of genuine amazement that Rayna died and Deacon didn’t cause it. He admits to Maddie that he doesn’t know who he is without Rayna. “You’re my dad”, replies Maddie, one of the better lines this week.

But also, as it turns out, a contentious one. Rayna died without making any testamentary arrangements for guardianship of The Girls or stewardship of Highway 65, now incorporating W******’ D*****’. Mayor Teddy and Tandy pounce: wouldn’t it be sensible for Mayor T to be guardian of Maddie and Daphne, and for Tandy to keep an eye on the business? And you have to admit that they’ve kind of got a bit of a point: Tandy tells Deacon that he couldn’t run H65 on his very best day; and Mayor T is, in fact, still the legal father of Maddie and Daphne, and the fact that he’s going to be in jail for the next three months is little more than an inconvenient detail. “I was there for (Maddie) for 17 years”, Teddy bellows at Deacon. “And on top of that I was never declared a threat to my daughter in a court of law!” Uh-huh. Deacon manages not to hit him, just about. And Maddie is hypocritical enough to complain that Teddy shouldn’t be making reference to her evidence in court: “None of that was even true! You can’t hold that against him!” (Fact check: it was true.)

As I’ve said before, it really isn’t much of a choice for The Girls. But Daphne is agonising about it, noting that one of her fathers is probably gonna hate her if she has to pick a side. This sways Deacon, who tells Teddy, just before the Rayna tribute at the CMTs, that he can be the guardian, although Teddy will later concede that it should be Deacon, because he’s a great father, and not because Teddy’s going to be, y’know, LOCKED UP IN JAIL.

Oh yeah, the tribute. Juliette decides belatedly that it isn’t her place to do it, and that it should be Maddie. (Sidebar: this new, improved, slightly less selfish Juliette is more likeable, but isn’t really making the best use of the range Hayden Panettiere has previously demonstrated in the role.) So Maddie has a stab at singing some Rayna song or other, but understandably falters, because, frankly, it’s kind of barbaric to be pushing a teenage girl – a teenage girl – out in front of a live audience a couple of days after the unexpected death of her mother. But then Daphne, showing a certain steely resolve, takes over. (As I said last week, Maisy Stella is for the watching, and I mean that in a good way.) And Deacon joins in. It’s undeniably moving, provides this wet blanket of an episode with a high point, and puts off for another week at least the question of where the show goes from here.

Nashville s5 ep 9

Spoilers

Rayna has been hospitalised after the car accident which closed out last week’s episode. It doesn’t appear to be too serious, though – a broken pelvis, an operation, a few days to recover – which means that, while we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, the episode is somewhat flat.

Meantime, the other characters shuffle around a bit: Maddie has a panic attack and seems to spend a lot of time being driven by Clay, while being reassured by Scarlett: “You haven’t put your mom through any more than any other kid your age”, which is obvious nonsense. Gunnar wonders what he needs to do to “win (Scarlett’s) trust back”, which once again starts from the false premise that he needs to. Dude. Cut your losses. Juliette has a mysterious pain in her leg, and clearly doesn’t take kindly to being told that she might just need to “push through it”. She does, however, get one of her rare but powerful scenes with Rayna, when she tells her “AlI I ever wanted was to make you proud of me”.

But then the endgame starts. Rayna hallucinates seeing her mother, and although it could be put down to the drugs she’s on, Deacon seems to intuit that it’s a bad sign. And, sure enough – while Daphne and her choir are singing to her in her hospital room, which is a little too mawkishly on-the-nose – Rayna crashes and has to be taken into intensive care.

So, in time-honoured TV fashion, the cast starts to assemble in expectation of a big death. Which is hella moving when it happens; although I was spoiled for Rayna’s demise I’m not made of stone, and if The Girls’ grief is entirely unfeigned they’re acting the heck out of it. But it does leave Nashville with a huge gap at its centre: yes, Rayna’s storylines have perhaps been less than satisfactory for a while now, but to start with she was the show’s raison d’être, and Connie Britton is a proper star. I’m not at all sure that swapping Juliette in as Fading Star and Maddie, in turn, as Rising Star will quite do it, although – as will have been evident – I’ve been more impressed with Maddie’s contribution this season. (And Maisy Stella, as Daphne, is also showing signs of becoming an interesting actor.) As an episode this was two-thirds dull and one-third intense, but it’s what comes next that really matters.

Nashville s5 ep 8

Juliette is off to church, to explain to Hallie and her congregation that she wants to record a gospel album, with them as the choir. A certain amount of criticism ensues: essentially, Caucasian with a bad-girl image and no history of belief in God coming in here making money from African-American Christians. Unsurprisingly, Juliette fires back and leaves, but – equally unsurprisingly, since endgame here is clearly Juli Goes Gospel – she returns the next day with a little more humility and apologises, which does the trick.

Meantime, the extraordinary news is that, after four and a half seasons, I think I’ve finally been cured of my long-standing Gunnlett obsession. And it’s Scarlett who’s done it. This week she decides that she can’t be with anyone just now, but that she might just hook up with Damien, and once again expects Gunnar to be fine with that. It’s not, she tells him peevishly, an “either/or”. Oh yes it is, he (correctly) replies: either you’re gonna sleep with him or you’re not. And she does. With the same Damien who, let’s not forget – although the show has – treated Scarlett appallingly in the name of art a few episodes ago. The only conclusion which can be drawn, unfortunately, is that she’s into that sort of thing. Anyway. Gunnar, dude; you can do better.

The minor drama in the Jaymes/Claybourne household this week is that Daphne has her first period, which is the sort of thing that the Nashville of seasons 1-4 wouldn’t have troubled itself with. Deacon’s befuddlement is quite sweet. The bigger problem is that Rayna’s stalker is… standing over 300 feet from her house. Well, I thought: he’s not much of a stalker, and I can’t imagine the TAU would have bothered itself with him. But then he turns out to be quite proficient at stalking after all – much better at that than, say, Rayna’s security goons are at keeping her safe – and, wielding a knife, confronts her within the Highway 65 offices. Rayna eventually manages to get away, but as she’s being driven home she’s in a car crash. So not a great evening for Rayna, really; but a passable episode.

Nashville s5 ep 7

For the first time this season, I felt as if this episode just didn’t work. Zach’s big idea to promote the Rayna/Deacon Story Of Our Life concept album clusterfuck is to film them writing and recording it, and he despatches one Gene Buckholder to the James/Claybourne house for that purpose. The thing is, the creative process isn’t actually that interesting, and a TV show about a uninteresting process is… uninteresting. And it becomes actively irritating when Rayna and Deacon head out, leaving The Girls baking a cake. “Do not forget to take the cake out!” Maddie tells Daphne, running upstairs to make out with Clay, and the rest – fire alarm, etc. – writes itself. Then Rayna, noting Deacon’s lack of enthusiasm for the concept album, decides to pick a fight with him for no particularly good reason, ignoring the fact that the whole stupid idea was hers in the first place.

So… are the Exes going to cheer me up? Oh no. Scarlett has now visibly decided that Damien, the tyrannical director, is actually quite hot, and goes for dinner with him, at the end of which he kisses her. For some reason she later tells Gunnar that she “felt something” for Damien; for some reason she expects him to be OK with that; and for some reason she compares it to “all the crap (he’s) put (her) through”, which as we observed last week now seems to be Nashville’s established narrative, even though it bears no resemblance to what actually happened. They make up, but there’s trouble ahead: Damien had told Scarlett that he was going to leave the country, but he’s still in Nashville. Fortunately I’m not as invested in Gunnlett as I used to be, because they’re both idiots.

Nashville s5 ep 6

A welcome – if, I fear, temporary – return for Luke Wheeler this week, who was somewhat unattractive when he first appeared in Nashville, but became one of the most rounded and likeable characters in the whole show. Zach has got word that Luke wants to sell W******’ D*****’ Records and get back to being a full-time musician, so suggests to Rayna that she might like to acquire it for Highway 65. With Zach’s money, of course, which starts to prompt the thought that, by the end of Rayna’s corporate restructuring, she might well find herself being, essentially, owned by Zach. Anyway, Luke and Rayna have a rather sweet discussion and Luke agrees to sell.

Before going ahead, though, Rayna wants to clear it with Juliette, which I suspect is really to remind the audience – or me at least – that Juli is on Luke’s roster. Honestly, if you sat me down with a list of Nashville artists and asked me to say which label they’re currently on I wouldn’t know where to start. At which point Juliette drops her bombshell: having started to go to Hallie’s church (the scenes with Juliette as part of Hallie’s church community continue to be charming) she’s decided that her next record is going to be a gospel one. (Cultural appropriation?) To her credit, Rayna blinks, swallows quickly, and is then supportive. And it should be said that, just as the city of Nashville is about much more than the country music industry, so Nashville-the-show seems to be broadening its musical palette, which is fair enough. Just to prove that she hasn’t quite bought into the whole faith=serenity package Juliette tries to pick a fight about nothing with Avery at one point, but he lets it go.

Rayna has other things to worry about as well: she thinks that Clay is too old for Maddie and it isn’t about race, oh no. Actually, I think I believe her on this, because apart from anything else she concedes that having fallen in love with a “messed-up alcoholic” she’s isn’t in any position to point the finger at complicated relationships, but just thinks the age gap is a concern. And the man stalking her, Carl Hockney, approaches Daphne at school, which Younger Girl treats with a certain amount of sangfroid, presumably because the boy she likes is hanging around. Rayna doesn’t know about this budding relationship yet. I expect it’ll be annoying. Meantime Maddie and Clay are still together, just about.

And Scarlett gets to see the video that Mr Jerk Director has made. Whether it’s good is difficult to judge from the few seconds we’re given; what matters is that she clearly thinks it is. Which muddies the waters even more: do artistic ends justify means? (No they don’t. But it maybe isn’t that simple.) Another very enjoyable episode.