NASHVILLE Debriefing: And the award goes to…

WILL CHASE, CONNIE BRITTON

… Anyone not named Luke Wheeler!

Nothing like the Country Music Association Awards to bring out the best and worst in Nashville’s most celebrated residents on its biggest night. After last week’s time jump, we’re right back in the thick of things. Luke (Will Chase) and Rayna (Connie Britton) still think they’re going to get married, but a pre-nup reveals just how little these two actually talk. Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) finally meets Avery’s (Jonathan Jackson) parents, but it doesn’t necessarily go as planned. After the humiliating premiere of their reality show, Will (Chris Carmack) is trying to make lemonade out of lemons, but Layla (Aubrey Peeples) looks like she’s been sucking on those lemons in the meantime. Gunnar’s (Sam Palladio) lapping up fatherhood, but Zoey’s (Chaley Rose) not game with playing stepmom. And everything comes to a head under the spotlights.

When Rayna accidentally discovers a pre-nuptial agreement draft in Luke’s bag, the couple is forced to discuss yet another life-changing topic they’ve failed to broach in the lead-up to their wedding. Rayna is passive-aggressive about it, but Luke rightfully points out how it makes good business sense for both of them, and it protects her assets as much as his. Rayna pretends to agree, but keeps assuring him that it won’t be like that for them, no matter what happens, like any other lovestruck teenage girl. However, since I seriously doubt they’ll actually be making it down any aisle, I’m not too worried about the fallout of this tiff.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Upon their arrival at the CMAs, they play up the “friendly” competition in front of the cameras, but it quickly becomes clear between Luke’s backhanded compliments that he’s anything but joking about this. Obviously, the détente after last week’s Rolling Stone interview is over, and he’s back to resenting his fiancée’s success. When Rayna wins Single of the Year and thanks Deacon as her co-writer, he’s irked, but when she wins Album of the Year and thanks Liam, he’s downright green with envy. When Luke finally wins Event of the Year with Rayna, he hogs the spotlight on stage and throws major shade Rayna’s way, crediting her recent accolades with the success of “Ball and Chain.” Ouch!

She’s left dumbfounded, but on the other hand, keeps racking up awards, so I guess she gets the last laugh. Backstage, the two of them finally duke it out: Luke lashes out at Rayna, who’s as confused as ever. (“I don’t even know what we’re fighting about!” Welcome to the real world, Rayna.) He spits that Rayna’s album only sold so well this year because he proposed to her in front of 70,000 people and created a media frenzy. HARSH! He’s probably not wrong from a business standpoint, but that is a dick move to pull on the woman you want to marry, Luke. On the other hand, I’ve been waiting for this moment ever since he proposed last year: I’ve always believed Luke had an ulterior motive, and though he may care for Rayna, I think he ultimately cares more about his brand. While he embraced “Ruke,” it seems to have backfired for him and threatened his masculinity to boot, since everyone jokes about Rayna wearing the pants in the household. I wanted to see him blow up, because I think it’s been building all season.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

When Rayna unsurprisingly wins Entertainer of the Year, she takes the high road in her acceptance speech: she thanks her daughters for sticking by her through all the twists and turns recently (it’s about time!), and Sadie Stone (Laura Benanti) and Juliette Barnes for contributing to Highway 66’s success and paving the road for more successful female artists. She graciously thanks Luke, but throws a little shade of her own, reiterating that, “what’s mine is yours,” and that the “fellas” out there shouldn’t feel threatened by women’s success, because there’s plenty of room out there for everyone. There isn’t time here for an in-depth commentary on misogyny in the music industry, but it’s so interesting that they’re finally dealing with compelling issues such as these. If we get Rayna standing up for feminism and empowering her sisters in the industry, I’m going to give this show major props.

Luke is appropriately moved to tears by Rayna’s speech, and at home apologizes profusely for his behavior, blaming whiskey and pride. Rayna (disappointingly to me) lets him off the hook for it, but repeats that the reason the pre-nup rattled her was because she wants to share all of her successes with Luke, just as she’d like for him to be able to feel like he could share his with her. “I wanna feel like we’re in this together,” but I’m getting the feeling that’s going to be impossible if they’ve both got different goals for this relationship.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Highway 66’s other big name, Juliette, is feeling out of sorts at this year’s show. She’s got much fewer nominations and little chance of a win, and on top of everything else, she’s meeting Avery’s parents at the Awards. She’s also dealing with some anxiety about her impending motherhood, experiencing flashbacks of her mother, since it was a year ago before this very event when she overdosed. On the red carpet, she’s welcomed warmly by Avery’s mother, but gets a frosty reception from his father. She lays on the charm, but when she walks in on Barkley père doubting her abilities as a mother and a person, she storms out of the auditorium. Like last week, she reaches out to Rayna, because she’s feeling overwhelmed, but Rayna’s too busy collecting trophies to be able to give her any time. (It’s too bad I didn’t get around to reviewing last week’s episode, because their scene at Highway 66 where Rayna mentored her in both songwriting and mood swings was one of my favorites of the series.)

However, Rayna’s absence leaves the door open for Avery to comfort her, because he’s just as upset about his dad’s remarks. He reassures Juliette she doesn’t need to worry about turning out like her mom, because they can rise above their own upbringings. If they were doomed to repeat their parents’ mistakes, then “[He’d] be a judgmental unforgiving jackass just like [his] dad.” Which made me chuckle, because that’s basically what Avery’s been all season, right? Juliette gives him a pointed stare indicating the same thing. They head back to the show, where Avery sweetly soothes her by reminding her she isn’t her mother and he isn’t his father. No matter what, “we got this.” These two may be messed up, but I can’t help but pull for them to figure their mess out when they share moments like this. Juliette then blurts, hilariously, that after last week’s insistence on keeping the baby’s sex a secret, she couldn’t help peeking at the sonogram, and they’re having a girl. Avery is thrilled, and Juliette finally seems comfortable in this pregnancy for the first time.

As an aside, the flashbacks to young Juliette were heartbreaking: really, she never stood a chance at a normal life, and if it weren’t for her natural talent and Glenn’s discovery of her, I shudder to think of what would have become of her. Left alone at eight years old in a locked home when her mom went on dates, screaming for her mom to come back, or in turn locking her mom’s date’s daughter in their house as she goes out searching for attention herself not many years later, her story could have ended so much more tragically. Yet despite her current career slump, she’s a self-made mogul, and her cognizance of how her mother failed her, even if she loved her, is going to make her a great mom, as Avery assured her.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

While I’ve never been a huge fan of Layla or Will’s, I’ve found their story in the last two weeks interesting. I was looking forward to Layla finally losing it in the aftermath of Will’s betrayal and being hell on wheels, as she attempted, but the two month break tempered her anger, and instead she’s focusing on improving her career on her own, which is a noble pursuit. She’s writing her own songs and performing solo, and I hope for her sake someone takes notice. (In fact, she sounds just like the kind of act Rayna would sign… It would certainly continue the Girl Power theme lately.) Unfortunately for Layla, the damage is done from the reality show: she’s seen as country’s biggest airhead, and she won’t be ignored. Whether it’s correcting a reporter’s use of “ironic” while interviewing her (HA! She’s right, too), or irately correcting her teleprompter’s script by reminding the audience she deferred Harvard, she’s no longer content to remain a shrinking violet. She’s mad as hell and won’t take it anymore, but sadly people just think it’s part of the schtick.

Last week, I was impressed that Layla was the one to point out the double-standard at play in how her series was edited. Will is a cowboy who “doesn’t own any clothes,” which only makes him more appealing to his female fans. Yet Layla is portrayed as a ditz who can’t function on her own, even when we all know the schemer she can be. Plus, she’s been all but blackballed by Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson) in favor of Will’s career, because men sell more records. Instead of taking it out on Will, as she would have a few months ago, she’s angrier at the system in which she’s forced to play for her career. I’m hoping this leads to her deciding to buck the industry and stand up for herself — and again, it’d be awesome if Rayna would prove to be an ally in this fight, too. The gender inequality in the entertainment business in particular is so entrenched, that it’d be great to see Nashville explore how these women deal with it. We’ve seen a little of it here: Rayna kills them with kindness, Juliette sasses, but Layla may unexpectedly be the one to kick some butt. Color me shocked. (Is she taking a page out of Taylor Swift’s playbook about the misogyny of it all?)

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

In less compelling news, Gunnar is thrilled about playing daddy to Micah, since Kylie (Alex Penavega) is still MIA and even her parents haven’t heard from her in months. Zoey is increasingly frustrated, and can’t wait for Micah to leave, one way or another. On one hand, well, I kind of agree with her on that one. (Sorry, kid.) On the other, Zoey is being painted as such a pill, and I can’t tell if it’s misogynistic writing, or just her character, period. Look, I get it: it’s a huge change to go from being young and living with your boyfriend, to being a stepparent to a ten year old you’ve only just met. But, if Zoey loves Gunnar as much as she claims, she should understand where he’s coming from, too: he missed the first decade of his son’s life, and he’s now getting a unique opportunity to bond with him, no matter how preposterous a premise. However, I think it is also informed by the fact that it seems like the writers just don’t know what to do with Zoey’s character anymore, and “frustrated girlfriend who’s unhappy with her boyfriend’s life choices” seems to be all they can do, removing any agency from her.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

All that being said, I do agree with her that it shouldn’t be her job to take care of Micah, when it’s Gunnar’s responsibility. When Micah goes missing at the Awards (EVEN THOUGH THEY BOTH TOLD HIM NOT TO GO ANYWHERE WITHOUT TELLING THEM and he is ten so he should freaking know better), Gunnar is way out of line by getting mad at her for it. She was only a few feet away when she talked to Jeff about her demos (ooh, is she going to make a deal with the devil?), so Micah’s disappearance isn’t her fault. I understand that it’s scary for Gunnar, and he acted irrationally, but it only highlighted what’s wrong in their relationship. In any case, later that night after Micah is found and tucked into bed, Zoey can see it too. She states that it wouldn’t be fair to make Gunnar choose between her or his son, so she’s making the choice for him, and breaks up with him. It’s been a long time coming in one way, because it’s obvious Zoey hasn’t been happy for ages, but I’m just surprised this is the issue that was the final nail in the coffin.

In all this drama, it seems like the characters having the most fun at the CMAs were the two who weren’t there at all. Deacon (Charles Esten) and Scarlett (Clare Bowen) spend the night in their pajamas, eating pizza and cheering on their friends from the comfort of their own living room. Frankly, if this episode is any indication, that’s the only way to do it! Why deal with jealous partners or unsupportive family when you could be on your couch snarking on the winners? (Favorite line of the night? Scarlett: “If it makes you feel any better, Luke ain’t won anything yet.” Deacon: “It does.”)

Oh yeah: Teddy (Eric Close) is still making poor life choices, by having a quickie with escort Natasha (Moniqua Plante) backstage while she’s at the Awards on a date with some other bigwig. This will not end well, am I right?

What did you think of Nashville’s CMAs? Was Rayna’s success unbelievable? Is this the end of Luke’s jealousy? Did anyone else get a hinky vibe out of Luke watching Sadie onstage? (Is Rayna going to be betrayed by two people?) Are Juliette and Avery on the road to reconciliation? Does anyone even care about what happens to Zoey next?

Nels

Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

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