Nashville s5 ep 21

In the (almost) five years of Nashville’s existence, and in particular during this sui generis season, I’ve completely lost any ability I might have had to tell the good and the bad episodes apart. But what the heck: I liked this one; in fact, it was my favourite for weeks. Don’t ask me why, though.

Maddie is filming a commercial for makeup company Mascara 24, for which Highway 65 will be paid an unconscionable amount of money. In order to comply with the demands of the director she mimes ‘Tidal Wave’ over and over again while soaking wet – yet another difficult director, Nashville, change the record on this one – until the client spots that the words of the song don’t actually reference, you know, mascara, and demands a change in the lyrics. Maddie refuses, because it’s her song and it came from the bottom of her teen heart, or something, and Deacon backs her up until Zach points out that (a) the contract between M24 and H65 allows the former to do whatever the hell they like; and (b) if Maddie breaks the contract, he’s pulling out of H65, which will mean the end of the company. Ruh-roh.

So Deacon – who, as he would be the first to admit, is no sort of CEO – does what he usually does, which is to have a sort of cast meeting to decide what to do. The H65 talent, in turn, leaves it up to him, apart from Daphne’s pert observation that there really isn’t much point in H65 existing if it isn’t what Rayna wanted it to be. Three things at this stage: Firstly, I’m still not convinced that Zach is the bad guy here, exactly; he knows that H65’s future lies in more than record sales. Secondly, I still like Alyssa, who continues to be much more interesting than she needs to be: she’s properly concerned about Maddie’s welfare when the commercial is being filmed, and she also turns out when pressed into karaoke – no, not me, I couldn’t possibly – to have a great voice herself, which makes me wonder if we’ll find out that she’s living her dreams through Maddie. And, thirdly, this might be a good place to point out that Chip Esten has had a hell of a season, particularly the post-Rayna episodes.

We’ll leave Deacon pondering that dilemma for now, and instead head out to see Avery and Gunnar, both having a wonderful time being boys on the road. Avery is having to field numerous phone calls from Juliette, who is being particularly high-maintenance. At the same time, tour manager (?) Polly, another from the Nashville production line of perky brunettes, is wondering aloud why you would want to be in a relationship if it weren’t fun. A light-bulb visibly goes on above Avery’s head at the mention of the word “fun”, and another goes on atop Gunnar (“Whoa!”) when Polly makes it very clear, sometimes even while wearing a bra, that she wouldn’t mind a little what-goes-on-tour with Avery. But Juliette is then conciliatory over the phone, and Avery decides that’s better than bedding Polly, because he’s an idiot who likes being treated badly.

Deacon, meantime, is kidnapped by Jessie, who takes him out to the middle of nowhere to clear his head. When he gets back, he’s decides what to do: he tells Zach to back off, and plays a gig at the Opry which we perhaps get to see just a little too much of (but, as mentioned above, if anyone on this show has earned a showcase it’s Esten). Then he comes off stage and gives Jessie… a firm hug, no more, although one which still has Daphne looking a little perturbed. Don’t worry, Daphne. No-one on this show has sex any more. You’re not about to get a new mom.

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Nashville s5 ep 20

There… wasn’t very much going on this week, was there? Never mind. These episodes can have a quiet charm of their own. Sometimes. Gunnar is on the road with Avery, and there’s a sort of running theme of Gunnar and Scarlett trying and failing to have a phone conversation with each other, which leaves him free to pursue other things. So he visits his hometown, Aurora, and drops in on his grandmother, who brought him up, and is now in a nursing home. As it turns out she’s an appalling human being, and his upbringing – there are some flashbacks – was also appalling.

On the bright side, he’s at a gas station when he bumps into his high school crush Kelly, who’s still – let’s be clear about this – somewhat crushable. They hang out for a while, which is all good; I said last week that I was hoping Gunnar would get a little sugar in Texas. Then they kiss, and get my hopes up even more. But they break the kiss off before it can go any further, and Kelly reveals that she’s married. Booo. Scarlett, meantime, is taking self-defence lessons, which by the end of the episode seem to have restored her sangfroid a little.

Back at Raynadu, Maddie wakes up to the news that she’s been nominated for an AMA. But so has Juliette, and as far as Maddie is concerned they’re still not speaking to each other. That rumbles on for the hour, with Juliette making a conciliatory gesture via Twitter, and Maddie “throwing shade”, as I believe the young people were saying a couple of years ago, back at her.

And Deacon once more offers to help Jessie, although he must sometimes be wondering why he bothers. She plays a new song for him, which he likes, and after she fails to get studio time somewhere he offers to help her record it. But she throws it back in his face: “Why”, she demands, “are you doing this?” It turns out that she thinks he’s trying to control her, or something, but since he’s very obviously just being nice it seems unfair. Nor is this the first time something like this has happened. But since we know her to be, in all likelihood, the victim of spousal abuse, and since Deacon forgives her, I guess I can too. They still haven’t made out, incidentally. They have a nice chemistry as STUPID FRIENDS, I suppose, but I don’t watch TV for platonic friendships between men and women, and I’m left wondering whether ANYONE on this show, post-repositioning, actually wants to have sex ever again.

Nashville s5 ep 19

Ever since Rayna’s death this has been one gloomy show, and it doesn’t get any better this week, starting with Scarlett miscarrying. Her ob/gyn is clear that it’s nothing to do with last week’s assault – these things, tragically, sometimes just happen – but its effects are by no means limited to Scarlett, whose heart is broken.

Gunnar ventures dangerously close to making it about him, but pulls back just in time; he does, though, track down one of the adolescent muggers and beats the crap out of him. Jessie Caine, having been told in confidence by Deacon, turns up on Scarlett’s doorstep and offers her some gifts and sympathy: somewhat presumptuous, perhaps, given that they don’t know each other, but it’s a nice scene. Deacon then rips Jessie, once more putting the chances of romance back for an episode or two, before discovering that her empathy stems from having gone through the same thing herself.

And then Gunnar – who, frankly, has behaved himself more or less impeccably for weeks now – is told by Scarlett that they need to take some time apart, which I thought they were doing anyway, and heads off to Texas to link up with Avery’s tour. It’s unlikely, but I really hope that Gunnar gets to have a little fun in Texas, because Lord knows he deserves it. And in that event it would be nice – if implausible – to think that he wouldn’t get any shit from Scarlett.

No-one else is having any fun either. Juliette is having a launch party for her new album (?), including the song she stole from Maddie. She does her best to keep Maddie and songwriter Travis apart, but inevitably they meet and compare notes, leading to Maddie throwing a drink into Juliette’s face. Juli goes to Raynadu to apologise, and leaves a suitably contrite message with Daphne. “She seems like she really means it”, Daphne tells Maddie. Sure she does; it’s always easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission. Not a bad episode, exactly, but it lay on me like a heavy, wet blanket.

Nashville s5 ep 18

Boy. That escalated quickly.

But let’s back up a bit. Deacon is being badgered on the phone by a fostering charity, who have managed to place Liv in a great home, so maybe we’ll never hear from her again. But the charity – remarkably pushy, I thought, with a man who has very recently and unexpectedly lost his wife – want something of Rayna’s for a forthcoming auction. Something she’s actually worn, they pruriently specify. He digs out a spangly jacket and heads to the auction, where he’s seated at the same table as Jessie, who is approached by her ex Brad (our old friend Jeffrey Nordling). Now, Brad is very evidently a piece of garbage, whose public behaviour towards Jessie is so remarkably controlling that he essentially outs himself as an abuser. He even kinda sorta threatens Deacon, which isn’t something you’d want to do lightly to someone with the Deac’s anger management issues.

Anyways Deacon and Jessie both leave the auction, and Jessie explains to Deacon that Brad managed to get custody of their son because of all the terrible things he said about her. (Although the way in which she kicks some bins over perhaps suggests that she, too, has some “stuff” she needs to “work through”.) Then Deacon goes back in and performs a song – a cover of Waylon Jennings’s stellar ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ – the womens all start cryin’, proving Alyssa’s point yet again, and this week it’s Jessie’s turn to sneak in and listen to Deacon performing. Still think they’re gonna bang.

Avery has gone on tour, and in the very first hotel he stays in there’s a cute barmaid who more or less offers to have sex with him within seconds of meeting him. Which has to be tempting, but he declines. Nice fakeout by the show, though, with Yuri the TV guy. Juliette, meantime, is rehearsing for a tour of her own (I think?) and having to accept that post-plane crash she can’t do what she used to. It being Juliette, this process takes a while.

Daphne goes to a party with that boy she likes, expecting that they’re going to watch a scary movie. But when the parents of the host leave, the teens all start ferociously dry-humping. So Daphne and Boy slip into the garden, where they chat and have a go on the swings, thus putting off growing up for a few more hours. Sweet. It’s all very well handled by Maisy Stella, incidentally. And, once again, one can acknowledge that she and Lennon have been turning in some excellent work this season, while wondering at the same time whether the show needs quite so much teen drama in it.

But we need to end with The Exes, who have been pressed by Alyssa into appearing in a TV commercial for a flatpack furniture company not named Ikea, the message being that while life is complicated putting a table up doesn’t have to be. (And, if The Exes are well enough known to advertise something, I’m again finding it difficult to calibrate their exact level of fame.) Except when they get to the studio it isn’t a table, it’s a crib, and Scarlett eventually breaks down in tears, this not being the first time this season she’s had problems with a director. In passing, though, it’s been pretty obvious for weeks that Scarlett needs a break, and specifically not to be in the public eye for a while; and while she’s properly not ashamed of anything in her life, there’s a point at which well-being has to take precedence over principle.

And then we finish the episode with, perhaps, one of the most bizarre things you’ll ever see on Nashville. Gunnar and Scarlett are in a supermarket car park, where Gunnar – correctly – is telling Scarlett that she doesn’t want to be with him, so stop pretending. He keeps getting interrupted by a mini-gang of boys who look as if they’re like ten years old or something, and who want him to buy them some beer. But when he repeatedly declines, one of them suddenly pulls a gun on him, robs them both, then humiliates him. And when the boys finally run off Gunnar and Scarlett fall, sobbing, into each others’ arms. So are they now back together? Who knows? WTF?

Nashville s5 ep 17

Well. We got all the Nashvilles this week: old Nashville, new Nashville, Public Service Announcement Nashville, #wokeNashville. And I still don’t know quite what to make of it. Avery has found another producer for Hallie, and Juliette – who I’m more convinced than ever is retreating into some sort of parallel universe – faux-disingenuously wonders whether that was anything to do with her. Well, duh, replies Avery: “You went insane”. Juliette still can’t quite read the danger signs, so Avery, who very evidently needs to get out of the house for a while, is going on tour. Which one can hardly blame him for, but as a parent he should really have discussed it with Juliette first, insofar as she’s capable of discussing anything rationally just now. Fortunately I’m not as invested as some others in Julvery, because it looks to me as if that particular ship is heading for the rocks.

Deacon is out for breakfast with Maddie and Daphne, when a woman he knows a little comes up and starts twinkling all over him. He’s endearingly baffled about what’s going on until Alyssa giggles her way through a meeting: the eyes, the sadness, the looks; her friends are all about Deacon. It’s actually quite sweet, but then so is Alyssa. And there’s more sweetness to come: Deacon meets up with Jessie Caine, who Zach wants to sign to Highway 65, and what might have been a ten-minute coffee turns into a long therapy session for both of them. (All of these scenes are really good.)

Alyssa then tells Deacon that Jessie has a crush on him, and Deacon phones Jessie in order, fumblingly, to tell her that he’s not looking for anything like that just now. Whereupon Jessie completely blows her top. Am I being a boy about this, or was Jessie’s behaviour something of an… overreaction? Anyway, Deacon subsequently goes to see Jessie performing a remarkably good song, ‘Learning How To Lose You’, written by Frankie Zwick – some relation? – which reduces him to tears, so I’d say they’re still gonna hit it at some point. And, actually, I’m ok with that. You know, I miss Rayna and all that, but #TeamJessie.

Will is working on his Budweiser commercial, which once completed we actually get to see in full, because Nashville isn’t making any bones about product placement. (Nor should it; as I’ve said before, if a bit of corporate money means that shows can get made, I’m quite happy about it.) He’s also wondering, after a conversation with the delectably waspish Jakob Fine, whether Zach has a bit on the side. No, says Zach; as if. But Zach then gets a call from some dude named Jeff. What the…? says Will. It’s not like that, says Zach; he’s just this guy who loves me but I don’t love him back, and also he’s fragile. But to prove that there’s nothing going on Zach phones Jeff, puts him on speaker, and tells the weeping Jeff that it’s over. It’s pretty grisly. “That was horrible”, says Will. “One day, you’re gonna do that to me”. That’s one significant takeaway; the other is that Jeff wasn’t just a disembodied voice, but someone we actually saw. That being so I’m guessing we’ll see him again soon, maybe dead in a bathtub or something.

This is all quite good. The storyline I can’t quite get to grips with this week, though, is Scarlett’s. Trying to reconnect with her fans after the babydaddy drama, she and Gunnar play a fans-only gig, after which she engages with a disappointed superfan named Nadine. (Sidebar: I have come to realise that I have no sense of how well-known The Exes are. I thought they were relatively low-to-medium on the fame scale, but appearing on Access Hollywood and tabloid covers would suggest otherwise.) Pausing only for another fight with Mackenzie, the journalist who ran the Damien story, she then reaches out to Nadine via social media, and they have a meeting, at which Nadine tries to articulate her disappointment at discovering that Scarlett is, y’know, human: her Gunnlett fantasies allow her “not to be myself for a minute”. Actually, I would have expected Nadine to be a little more grateful that her favourite musician had actually taken her out for lunch, but maybe not.

Anyway, Scarlett has her Big Idea: she gathers together a group of… well, were they her fans? Or specially-selected vulnerable teens? I have no idea, but it’s a group of young people who share their pain with each other. Gunnar chips in, as does Mackenzie, and she and Scarlett have a new understanding of each other, or something. I suspect this is Nashville trying to reach out to the new demographic it wants to nurture, but it felt a little ham-fisted and on-the-nose to me. Still, its heart was in the right place. Maybe I’m the bad guy here.

Nashville s5 ep 16

Well, it didn’t take long for Maddie to discover that Daphne and the appalling Liv were behind the online attacks on her. She quite rightly kicks Liv out of Raynadu, and Deacon – who, let’s be fair, really didn’t ask for this – decides that the best punishment would be to take Daphne’s phone away from her for a month. This simultaneously enrages both Daphne (whoa, all I did was make fun of my sister) and Maddie (whoa, Maddie’s Life Matters), who spend much of the episode sniping and sulking. It’s a return to the bad old days of The Girls.

But then this storyline thoroughly redeems itself: Maddie (managed, thank the Lord, by Bucky, one of the very few grown-ups around these days) has some interviews to take care of, then she retreats to her car and sobs uncontrollably. It’s the most moving scene of the episode, and it underlines that while, yes, Maddie and Daphne haven’t distinguished themselves over the last couple of weeks, they are, after all, a couple of teenage girls who have just lost their mother. So everyone makes up. Apart from Liv, who I’d like to think we’ve seen the last of, unless she and her squad mount a Manson-esque home invasion.

It’s not a particularly fun storyline, though, and the gloom isn’t lightened by anything else going on this week. Access Hollywood excitedly reports that the “online shipping community” – I think I’m part of that – is buzzing because Scarlett has a baby bump, and Gunnar is the presumed father. Then Scarlett sits down with a journalist, who starts babbling about how she and Damien hit it years ago. And, before you know it, Scarlett has wordlessly communicated that she’s carrying the fruit of Damien’s loins. I couldn’t make out whether the journalist was employing a technique, or just a total idiot. Either way Gunnar has now been publicly cuckolded, which probably isn’t going to help.

And even that is more joyful than this week’s turmoil in the house of Julvery. Hallie’s recording her debut album, with Avery behind the desk, and he sides with Deacon against Juliette when she tries to get some bland, bombastic nonsense released as Hallie’s first single. From then on Juliette appears to, well, completely lose her mind, accusing Hallie of being a user, and suspecting her of trying to seduce Avery. He, in turn, back in his accustomed role of the guy who patiently has to explain things to Juliette, reminds her that all Hallie did was rescue Juliette when her plane crashed; thereafter, it was Juliette who chased Hallie. I really do wonder if we’re being set up for a PTSD story arc.

The thing is, though, I could kind of get behind #Havery. Not because I’m that bothered about Hallie, but because Juli’s behaviour towards Avery is so intolerable that he deserves a little fun. In short: she’s not being nice to him, and Hallie is. Being nice to people is underrated, and I suspect it’s also undercounted as a factor in infidelity. Why wouldn’t you prefer the person who’s being nice to you? So fire in there, Avery, and good luck.

Nashville s5 ep 15

Nashville doubles down this week on #Maddiegate. Maddie’s trapped in her huge house – Raynadu, let’s call it – because the press are at the gates. Which is both endearingly old-school, and somewhat unlikely for an incident as trivial as this. Bucky – sacked, but somehow still around – hints that she might want to apologise for the sake of her career. But part of the reason that the incident won’t go away is that Daphne’s exciting new friend, the dreadful Liv, has posted an video mocking Maddie online. Then Clay breaks up with Maddie, which I thought he’d done last week, and Daphne – presumably wanting to make amends for what Liv did, although Maddie doesn’t yet know about that – helps Maddie to make another video, this time offering a partial apology: yes she overreacted, but no she’s not sorry for standing up for Clay.

At Highway 65, meantime, Rachel Bilson has turned up as perky “Chief Strategy Officer” Alyssa Greene, at the behest of perky zillionaire Zach. She points out to the H65 family, gathered round a table, that the record business as it used to be is dying, and (quite sensibly, IYAM) suggests brand partnerships as a way of making some bank. There are varying degrees of scepticism on the Highway 65 faces, but once again I feel obliged to observe that Zach’s only sin, thus far, has been trying to keep H65 afloat through disasters such as Juliette’s ‘The Whitest Gospel Album In The World’. Anyway, Will is ambivalent until Budweiser come calling, then he’s all about brand synergy and selling his soul.

Juliette herself mounts a Hallie showcase at the Bluebird, as a result of which Deacon wants to sign Hallie to H65, with Avery desperate to produce her. The only problem is that they want her to sack her backing group. Hallie isn’t having it, but then Avery arranges for her to sing with some proper musicians who aren’t just her mates and her married boyfriend, and she’s kind of convinced. Juliette also records the song which was meant for Maddie: I think I should allow that it’s better than I said it was last week, although still nowhere near as good as ‘Beautiful Dream’.

And Scarlett is being what is now her usual insufferable self. Babe, if you’re not interested in Gunnar, let him go. “For the first time”, she whines to Deacon, “he’s steady…”, which suggests that the writers are going to keep trying to sell us this fantasy of season 1-4 Gunnar being flighty while loving, loyal Scarlett bravely did her best. We do, though, get a scene of the two of them hanging with Will and Avery, and those are always good. It’s not a great episode, though, and the show needs to move on from Maddie and the video.