Recap and review of Nashville – Season 1 Episode 11 – You Win Again:
A story like tonight’s “You Win Again” relies much more on the foundations of conflicts built several weeks ago, left to simmer without much in the way of reference before tonight. This is one of the many different approaches to good drama, and Nashville adopts this approach well, as Deacon (Charles Esten) returns to central prominence in the life of Rayna (Connie Britton) and Juliette (Hayden Panettiere). It isn’t that Deacon hasn’t been a fairly important character, but there were frequently instances in which he just wasn’t all that interesting. Sure, it was great to see that he got his life together, that he’s been clean and sober for twelve years, and that he’s got a gig with his similarly-sober rock buddies. But that all came crashing down last week when he caught his friend and Rebel Kings frontman Cy forcing himself on Scarlett (Clare Bowen). That singular act, his quitting the band, has created a domino effect that finally culminated in Deacon’s hidden resentments coming to light. And it makes him infinitely more intriguing as a character, even though the idea of his commitment to Rayna has only been background fodder for what feels like months now. Anchored by Deacon’s plot, and a surprisingly moving Juliette story, “You Win Again” manages to be worth investing in, even if much of the rest of the episode doesn’t rise to the same standard.
The episode frequently focuses on the show’s most interesting aspect, the politics of the music business. In this case, Rayna and Juliette’s “Wrong Song” hits number one, which creates a bidding war between Edgehill Records and a company represented by Calista (Ming-Na Wen), an executive and friend of Liam (Michiel Huisman). Liam and Rayna have a winning, if not exactly Deacon-esque, chemistry together onstage, and he insists that she hear Calista’s pitch. Much of the episode sees Calista trying to seduce Rayna into leaving the record company she helped to build, with Liam in her ear, making unfavorable comparisons between her relationship with Edgehill and her own crumbling marriage to Teddy (Eric Close). The vicious nature of these meetings come to light when Rayna’s manager finds out about the talks, and reveals to Rayna that Liam gets a bonus if she signs with Calista’s label. This sends Rayna over the edge, accusing Liam of lying to her. Not one to be outdone in the righteous anger department, Liam claims that he’s the reason for her career renaissance, with his work as her producer ultimately contributing to her edgier sound. Rayna dissolves their partnership, and though it was probably a long time in coming (brief though Liam’s stint on the show has been thus far), it’s still an exhilarating storyline that gets to cutthroat root of the music industry. It’s to the point where I don’t even particularly care whether or not it’s an accurate representation of how the business actually works. It just makes for good television, far more so than the similar storyline with Avery (Jonathan Jackson), whose ambition is matched only by his manager’s refusal to actually introduce him to anyone. Avery still has a part to play, I would presume, but hell if I have any idea what on Earth it could be, other than to gum up the framework for a potential romance between Scarlett and Gunnar (Sam Palladio).
And complicate things he does, albeit indirectly. Scarlett proposes to Gunnar that they play Winterfest as a means of making some extra scratch, but he shoots down the idea because Avery is going to be playing the show. Scarlett’s own anger at Avery doesn’t stop her from checking out the show anyway, scowling at him while he performs with his band, before beating a hasty retreat and running into Avery’s ex-bandmate JT (Nicholas Strong), who reiterates his offer for her to start up a band with him and Avery’s other discarded friends: an offer that now expands to include Gunnar. But Gunnar, who is reeling from the news that his brother Jason (David Clayton Rogers) has violated his parole, snaps at Scarlett about her fixation with all things Avery, and sends her off in tears. But given that he’s Gunnar, he can’t help but apologize, particularly after he receives his Gibson guitar back from his brother, who dropped it off for him at The Bluebird while “passing through”. Gunnar joins Scarlett and JT in forming the new band, and it seems like a natural fit. So natural, in fact, that witnessing the group practicing together, from a distance, kills the high Avery had been experiencing from hearing his song on the radio. I can certainly appreciate, in theory, why this storyline needed to be here. It helps to move Scarlett and Gunnar’s songwriting story forward, along with their overall quest to make it in the music business. I can also appreciate the parallel aspects to the fame trajectories for Scarlett/Gunnar and Avery. They’re taking different paths, yet I suspect they’ll all end up in more or less the same place, at least for a little while (although eventually, one has to be more successful than the other, and I’m suspecting Avery isn’t going to be that person). That said, while these are all elements I can appreciate, this was just such a dreadfully dull storyline, which is rare for Scarlett and Gunnar, whose youthful energy and traditional soap opera plots usually keep me engaged (to say nothing of how the best music on the show tends to come from their storylines). But I just wasn’t feeling it this week.
Yet the episode found redemption through Juliette, whose struggle to finally accept her mother, Jolene (Sylvia Jefferies), culminated in one of the most nakedly emotional moments of the series. When Juliette is chosen to speak at her mother’s sentencing hearing, the hope is that the heartfelt pleas of a daughter would convince the judge to wave the criminal charges against her, in lieu of her rehabilitation. However, Juliette gives a relatively flat plea, saying that she hopes, more than anybody, that her mother’s rehabilitation sticks. This isn’t good enough for the authorities, and they recommit her to rehab, pending another review. Yet mother and daughter take a day to attend the party being thrown by Edgehill in commemoration of “Wrong Song” hitting number one, and while Deacon is supposed to be there to keep an eye on Jolene, he’s too busy feeling sorry for himself, which leaves the task to Juliette herself. Jolene doesn’t technically do anything wrong, she simply introduces herself to people at the party, but it’s enough for Juliette to take her mother aside and tear her a new one. This conflict leads her to Deacon, who she discovers wallowing in self-pity after a confrontation with Rayna. Deacon, in his misery, encourages Juliette to try and make things work with her mother, since she’s not that different from himself, whom Juliette has gone out of her way to help in the past. Juliette takes his advice in stride, and meets with Jolene.
Juliette tells her she should have fought harder in front of the judge, and adds how proud she is of her progress in rehab. Jolene then tells Juliette, in one of the more poignant moments of the series, that if someone like her could come from a junkie like herself, there’s hope in the world. She’s always been proud to see her daughter come from nothing and rise to the top, and Jolene says she never told Juliette this because she didn’t think it would matter to her. Mother and daughter are in tears by the end of the scene, and it’s a well-earned emotional moment, given how tumultuous the relationship between Juliette and her mother has been. But it also brings us, in a roundabout way, to Deacon’s plight, and the effect he’s had on Juliette, in that he’s encouraging the strength that’s been dormant in her, while failing to recognize that same capacity for emotional resiliency in himself. Sure, he didn’t get wasted after Rayna shot him down, but he might as well have, given how he was sulking about. Rayna had tried to check up on him in an earlier scene, coming upon Deacon just as he was putting up a “For Sale” sign in front of his house, and years of resentment came boiling to the surface. He accused Rayna of not waiting for him while he was in rehab and marrying Teddy instead (to which Rayna smartly responds “How was I supposed to know the fifth time would stick?”). Deacon tries to impart to Rayna that he’s over her, and over the idea of her, essentially telling her that she’s made her choice, and he’s not her responsibility anymore. However, as he later reveals to Juliette, Rayna was the reason he got sober to begin with. He did it for her, and now his life is in shambles, because Rayna doesn’t want him, and the media believes he’s relapsed because of Cy’s spin doctoring, telling the press that he kicked Deacon out of the Rebel Kings for falling off the wagon.
Rayna, unsurprisingly, is every bit as torn up about the confrontation as Deacon was, which added to the blow of Liam’s betrayal and Teddy’s constant inquiries about the status of their marriage. He accuses her of having some sort of a “thing” with Liam, which she vehemently denies, prompting Teddy to ask whether they’re actually trying to make this marriage work or not. It’s a valid question, even if his lies have done considerable damage to the integrity of their union. Rayna takes time to think it over and finally comes to the decision, which she tells Teddy before parting for the next leg of her tour, that she’s sticking with him, and that choosing him in the first place was never a mistake. Rayna is going to make a more forthright effort to maintain their marriage beyond simple appearances, yet as the plane is about to depart, Teddy sees Deacon running out to the landing strip. Without Rayna’s knowledge, Juliette offered Deacon a spot on the tour as her new lead guitarist, and he accepted. The look on Teddy’s face is enough to tell us all we need to know about what he believes is really going on, even if he’s catastrophically off the mark. It’s a great 11th hour twist, made all the more dramatic by the fact that Rayna has nothing to do with this misunderstanding, yet Teddy is going to take the ball and run with that misunderstanding. Even more fascinating is the fact that Deacon doesn’t particularly seem to care about the implications of his presence to Rayna’s marriage, telling her “I came for Juliette. Not for you.”
“You Win Again” is a fine, if unspectacular, episode of Nashville, but it’s an essential building block for the more substantial narratives to come, so by that account, I don’t particularly mind that I wasn’t riveted from start to finish. Even an underwhelming Nashville has enough going on to recommend it.