Nashville, Season 3, Episode 7: “I’m Coming Home to You”
Directed by Mike Listo
Written by Callie Khouri
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST on ABC
After a short hiatus so ABC could air the CMAs last Wednesday, Nashville returned last night with an episode that felt like treading water. It is quickly established that there has been a two-month time jump, a jarring decision being that the show had only been off the air a week. I’m not sure if this was a scheduling peculiarity – was ABC initially going to give the show a long hiatus through the holidays? Or maybe Hayden Panettiere’s real life pregnancy required Juliette to fast-forward almost an entire trimester in order to physically catch up. In any case, the time jump served to mellow conflicts that had been building through the first part of the season, dissipating tension rather than heightening it.
For instance, the Rayna-Deacon-Luke love triangle is hardly addressed. Now I’m not too invested in this plot – the show so clearly thinks that Rayna and Deacon are soul mates I’d be shocked if the “Ruke”, or is it “Layna” (either way, ugh) wedding will actually happen. But anything is better than another episode of Luke complaining that Rayna isn’t spending enough time with him because she has to go on tour and has press following her around for a Rolling Stone cover story. This is her job, get over it. And poor Deacon is stuck at home the whole episode with a cough. That’s it. Deacon’s cough is such a non-event, low stakes even by Nashville standards, that I almost want to assume that it will turn into tuberculosis or Ebola or something. But honestly, I think Nashville is just the type of show where a character can have a cough for an episode, get some chicken soup delivered by his blonde back-up singer girlfriend, and feel better in the morning.
Another explosive relationship that seems to have cooled down in the last “two months” is the marriage between gay cowboy Will and his Eve Harrington-lite bride Layla. Last we saw, Layla was threatening both Will and evil record exec Jeff Fordham to expose Will’s sexuality if they didn’t help further her floundering career. She’s definitely chilled out since then, forgiving Will for his deception and composing some heartfelt country-folk songs in the meantime. Will and Layla work better as co-conspirators than as enemies, they share the ambition and looks that will take them far in the music industry. But if viewers think their sham marriage will lead to Will’s homosexuality becoming public, and explore the fallout of being a country sex symbol who happens to like dudes, they’ll have to be patient.
Scarlett has been saddled with many silly plotlines in the past, but this burgeoning friendship with a homeless man who turns out to be an undiscovered musical genius might be the silliest. Poor Mykelti Williamson, who was recently so memorable as a Kentucky crime kingpin in Justified, does the best he can with this role, but so far he’s more a plot contrivance for Scarlett, who hasn’t had much to do since her epic onstage nervous breakdown last season. When Nashville started, Scarlett was the audience surrogate, a talented newcomer to the scene navigating the challenges of the music industry. Now, with Gunner stuck with boring terrible Zoe, and Avery slowly reconnecting with Juliette, Scarlett is stuck outside the main action, adrift in a C-plot that isn’t going anywhere.
Hayden Panettiere doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this episode, but she once again has the most memorable scenes, bringing humanity and depth to a character that could all too easily be a two dimensional caricature. Watching her sit in her bedroom, singing her new song into a microphone without any accompaniment, she is every inch a star. And the look on her face when Avery comes in with the crib he bought for their baby – hope, relief, fear, and disappointment all registering simultaneously – elevates the episode and the entire series. It’s a fantastic performance that unfortunately will continue to be overlooked by critics and awards bodies. Jonathan Jackson holds his own in his scenes with her, and there’s no doubt that the relationship between Juliette and Avery is the heart of the show.
Nashville has so many moving parts, so many characters and plots, and the writers often have trouble raising the stakes, propelling their stories forward. This season has been coasting so far, keeping characters in their own orbits with little interaction between them. Even Rayna and Juliette, ostensibly the co-leads and main antagonists, have shared little screen time. There has also been much less music this season, a disappointing development for fans who have come to expect songs almost every episode. Maybe that’s being corrected, with both Juliette and Rayna debuting something new last night. I hope it continues, because without the music, Nashville is becoming just another average network drama with one great performance at its center.