Strong return from Nashville, ably upping the drama after last season’s already drama-filled finale. Straight out of the gate, we’re going to deal with those major cliffhangers of last season. “I Fall to Pieces” takes place two weeks after the finale, so everything is more or less settled.
First up, Rayna and Deacon. Last we saw of the pair they had just been in a horrific crash and it wasn’t clear which of them, if either, would survive. We strongly suspected that Rayna would, at least, for obvious, show-related reasons. This first episode back doesn’t kill us with suspense – we learn early on that Rayna is in a medically-induced coma and that Deacon is in jail, charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving. He was mounting absolutely zero defense despite the fact that none of the charges were founded in fact, wanting to punish himself for his role (however indirect) in Rayna’s near death. Rayna’s coma was played to great effect throughout the episode – as a source of guilt for Maddie, as a publicity boost for Juliette, as a kick in the face for Lamar – and Charles Esten impressed with his angry, vitriolic insistence on self-flagellation. We were happy that this storyline wasn’t dragged out ad nauseum, though, with a final moments resolution seeing Rayna wake up and Deacon’s release from prison. Another special mention here for Charles Esten, whose reaction to the news that Rayna was okay was perfection. And neat flashbacks seen during Rayna’s coma gave us a new view of her and Deacon’s relationship, and explained a lot. They also let Rayna off the hook for the Maddie situation – it was Tandy who pushed her not to tell him.
Then there’s that Gunnar/Scarlett proposal. The resolution of this particular cliffhanger left us wondering if ABC have some rule about how they can’t have more than one engagement in any given season. Beckett said yes to Castle, so Scarlett can’t say yes to Gunnar… It’s a pity. We loved these two together. But the decision does give some scope for related storylines over the coming season. Scarlett may have said no because she wants to get to know herself without a man in her life, that doesn’t mean the men are listening. Gunnar and Avery are both still waiting in the wings and both still vying for her affection. It’s a little more civilized than last season – their hatred is shown through bandying of words, not throwing of fists – but still smacks of potential for drama. At some point, she’s going to have to choose. We’re just not sure which she should. Last season we would have said Gunnar, without a doubt, but, following on from the last few episodes, Avery seems like a changed guy (and we’re totally loving his new sound).
Peggy’s pregnancy was another of the main cliffhangers, though we were calling bullshit from day one. We were wrong, but not entirely. She was pregnant but lost the baby. And then lied about it. We wish this could have been surprising. Perhaps an illegitimate baby would have been a better storyline – one that could have successfully dented Teddy’s squeaky-clean image.
The issue of the Cumberland Project remains unsolved. It was barely addressed in this episode, other than to offer another cliffhanger of sorts. We don’t know where the investigation into Teddy stands, nor do we know who tipped off the State Attorney. All that happened this week was that a new mystery was thrown into the mix – did Lamar have his wife killed? And what is Tandy going to do about it now that she knows he may have? Is she more likely to roll on her father, now?
Deacon’s reaction to Rayna’s coma isn’t the only one worth mentioning. Maddie’s guilt was also palpable. Confiding in Juliette, she explained that she blames herself for Deacon’s unraveling and for the accident that almost killed her mother. This is going to have long-term implications for the rest of the season. Not only will it seriously color any attempts at paternal bonding from Deacon, it also places highly sensitive information in the hands of Juliette. We’re still not sure if she can be trusted not to use that secret to her own advantage. (She did restrain herself from telling Scarlett, but this may be just in a bid to hold off until it can cause maximum damage.)
And yet we think we might see a changed Juliette this season. This whole episode felt like Juliette was retreating into her old personality just so she wouldn’t have to acknowledge her grief over Rayna. But then came that bit at the end with the candles, Rayna’s CD and the picture of her mom, and her deciding to help Deacon. We felt like that was her finally admitting (to herself at least) that she cares about people and that she cares about Rayna. Her speech at the concert seemed like she was bullshitting, but there was a grain of truth in it – Rayna does inspire her, and we think she’s starting to see her as the mother figure she never really had. Rayna gives her the tough love she never got from her own mother. And I think it’s finally sinking in for her that she needs that.
So what do we have to look forward to over the rest of the season?
Rayna’s insistence that she’s moving on from the past should at least provide a modicum of entertainment. We don’t see her making a long-term cut from Deacon – they will always be drawn together. He will likely spend the remainder of the season (after a stint in rehab) trying to make it all up to her. Deacon’s story won’t just centre on him and Rayna, however. A big part of early episodes may focus on his new Odd Couple-esque living situation with niece Scarlett. The comedy won’t be big, but it’ll be there.
Scarlett’s entry into the music business will be a big arc, bringing her closer to Avery. But will she cope with fame better than he did? This arc has also brought a new character, Zoey (Chaley Rose) to the show. So far, her role has been advising Scarlett, but we doubt that’s the character’s only function. Knowing the show’s flair for the dramatic, and given her job at the Bluebird, she will more than likely become a love rival for Scarlett.
Will’s sexuality will probably become a key issue this season, especially now that he’s living with Gunnar, who’s already telling him to stop hiding from himself. We may very well see him beginning to honestly explore that side of himself.
Obviously we’re also hoping to see Juliette as a nicer person, but we know that conversion won’t be easy or quick. We’re anticipating a lot of difficult choices for her, and some back-sliding, but are expecting a shiny, new, kinder Juliette by season’s end. We’re also looking forward to the exploration of her tentative new friendship with Maddie.
Finally, the fallout from the Cumberland Project will take centre stage now that Rayna is awake, so we can expect to see a lot more of that, and of the potential new dynamic between Lamar and Tandy following the revelations about his role in his wife’s death. That should be the big emotional hitter of the season, now that Maddie’s parentage is out in the open.
We’re excited to see how all of this plays out. – K
“I always loved that one.”
“Him or the song?” – Scarlett, Zoey (on Avery)