Nashville – Recap: Dante’s Inferno
Recap video and review of Nashville – Season 1 Episode 17 – My Heart Would Know:
Nashville generally works best when it focuses on the music industry. As a behind-the-scenes look into the politics of country music and how tours, singles, albums and record deals come together, it’s fascinating. Toss in a bit of personal conflict and backstage drama, and you have the makings of an explosive hour of television each week. Yet Nashville frequently finds its drama in elements that exist outside of the music industry, and it’s a choice that doesn’t always work. For instance, it was difficult to get all that excited about Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) marrying an ersatz version of Tim Tebow, or Teddy (Eric Close) discussing property development deals as Mayor. However, the show occasionally finds ways to couch these narratives in terms of character and the things we can learn about people like Rayna (Connie Britton) and Deacon (Charles Esten), and what they mean to one another. It makes for significantly compelling television when it happens, since we’re suddenly given a reason to care about Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), or Peggy Kenter (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), because these characters tell us something about the people we do care about, as opposed to simply taking time away from our spending time with them. “My Heart Would Know” is one of the most effective episodes of the season at finding an engaging story, centered on character, that has little to do with the inner-workings of the music industry, at least directly. The episode is about much more than all that.
“My Heart Would Know” follows up on (what else?) Lamar’s heart attack, and the ensuing explosion of family drama left in its wake. We learn several things we didn’t know before, each of which help flesh out Lamar’s character, making him feel more like an actual person, and less like an abstract concept of what a domineering villain is supposed to be. When Watty White (JD Souther) stops by the hospital to visit, Lamar sees the successful producer and flips his lid, demanding that Watty leave the hospital and never return, and threatening him harm if he does. This outburst is excessive, even for Lamar, and it begs the question of just what occurred between Watty and Lamar to cause this rift. As it turns out, Lamar is actually justified in his enmity, for once, as it’s revealed that Watty had an affair with Rayna’s late mother. Rayna’s sister, Tandy (Judith Hoag), had previously revealed to Rayna that their mother once had a lover, though Rayna never knew, since she was only 12 years old when her mother passed away. Yet with this revelation, the reasons for Rayna’s troubled relationship with her father fall into place. Lamar’s bitterness and disapproval over Rayna’s country music career had little to do with Rayna herself, and everything to do with Watty White. While it’s a revelation that doesn’t exactly exonerate Lamar for his sternness, it makes him feel more identifiable as a human being, beyond simply serving as the one consistent villain of the series.
However, the show might be getting another villain sooner rather than later. Dante (Jay Hernandez) had spent the last several weeks coming across as an entirely respectful, trustworthy, good-hearted man with strong principles. He had been working to help keep Juliette’s mother, Jolene (Sylvia Jefferies), clean and sober. Yet his hookup with Juliette has inspired his loftier ambitions — that is, assuming he didn’t already have these ambitions, and this wasn’t just a long con to get a better life for himself by becoming the sober companion to the mother of country music’s hottest young star. Either way, Dante is thoroughly insufferable this week, as the power afforded him by his relationship with Juliette goes straight to his head. He fires Avery (Jonathan Jackson), now a roadie on Juliette’s tour, for walking in on them having sex in her tour bus. He then continues to postpone treatment meetings with Jolene to serve as a confidante and de facto manager for the country starlet. Things get out of hand when Jolene basically declares her feelings for Dante and kisses him, which Juliette witnesses. Dante tries to back out of the situation by showing solidarity with Juliette, holding her hand, which convinces Jolene that the two are sleeping together. She storms off, and like that, Juliette’s relationship with her mother is in shambles again.
Dante then runs afoul of Deacon, who’s been taking crap from Juliette throughout the episode, as she refuses to cancel the biggest date of the tour simply due to Rayna’s family emergency. The lack of Rayna means that Juliette will have to extend her set, meaning the band now has to learn ten new songs at the drop of a hate. Juliette works the band to the bone, drawing the ire of Deacon, who calls her to the carpet for letting her mother’s sober companion do all her decision making. Juliette storms off but not before declaring that she doesn’t feel like anyone has her back anymore, and that she needs someone she can trust. Deacon confronts Dante once he learns that Dante fired Avery, since he doesn’t have that power.
It’s a tremendous scene for Deacon that somehow makes him even more endearing than he already is, though there are still aspects of the character that ring false (okay, just one: I don’t really believe he’d give his girlfriend a key to his house this soon in the relationship, even if he is lonely and emotionally damaged). Dante states that Deacon’s opinion doesn’t matter since Juliette trusts him now, prompting Deacon to confront Juliette, who gives Deacon a hard time for thinking she should have canceled the show just because Rayna had a family emergency. Juliette tells Deacon that he basically needs to get over it, that Rayna isn’t his family. Deacon, however, disagrees. He flies back to Nashville to be with Rayna in her hour of need, and it’s a sweet scene that gets me wishing they’d just get around to getting together already, even if Deacon has a perfectly nice girlfriend already. Charles Esten and Connie Britton just have a whole other level of chemistry altogether that’s as warm and endearing as it is sexually-charged. It’s the kind of match that would make perfect sense in real life, if either of these two characters actually existed. And the two actors are doing exceptional work in making them feel like they do.
“My Heart Would Know” works as a study of reconciliation, in this respect, as Deacon grows closer with Rayna while Rayna makes peace with her father, who suffers a second heart attack that results in severe hemorrhaging that would have killed him had the doctors not acted fast. Meanwhile, Juliette makes peace with her mother by sending her home from the tour, but not before getting her a new, female sober companion to help her continue treatment, promising to visit in-between stops in the tour. However, while Juliette has fired Dante as Jolene’s sober companion, she’s hired him as her new manager, which makes me wonder how, exactly, you switch careers that easily, but then maybe that’s the point, that he’s a lousy fit for this job. Who knows? All I know is I can’t stand Dante, and it’s not really Jay Hernandez’s fault. It’s just a vaguely-written character whose villainy is nakedly transparent to just about everyone except the people who should actually know better.
Speaking of people who should know better, Gunnar (Sam Palladio) nearly gets killed while out on a joyride with cowboy Will (Chris Carmack), as the Texan races his pickup across the railroad tracks mere moments ahead of an oncoming train. Gunnar is furious with Will, but he also seems to kind of like it (as evidenced by the brief smirk he gives right before the scene cuts away). It’s one of the stranger moments of the episode, by virtue of how it paints Will as a guy who’s maybe sinister/maybe just reckless. Either way, he’s a combustible element even while keeping things platonic, as he plays an impromptu song at a bar with Scarlett (Clare Bowen) while out celebrating her record deal. It’s not exactly a sexually-charged moment, but it did feel far more flirtatious than what might have been immediately apparent. But the Scarlett/Gunnar storyline is thankfully low on disastrous developments this week, as the story amounts to little more than Scarlett signing her deal with Rayna and getting a congratulatory welcome party from Edgehill Records while Gunnar plays a song to himself in the waiting room of the office, catching the eye of one of the Edgehill executives, who tells him to keep up with his music. It’s a lean storyline that is thankfully brief, given its relative lack of import to the overall stories this week.
However, the episode ends on a weird note, as Teddy learns from Tandy that Peggy was the leak to the tabloids. It’s a cliffhanger that I’m not sure the show has earned, as it’s not really compelling enough, in and of itself, to drive interest, I feel. But who knows? Maybe it’ll lead to bigger secrets coming to the surface, and more drama than simply a breakup between Teddy and Peggy. That alone should hold some interest, moving forward. As it stands now, “My Heart Would Know” works primarily as a vessel for the exploration of family drama. It’s an episode that succeeds even though it doesn’t concern itself as directly with the backstage workings of the music industry as the best episodes of the series have. And that’s a pretty remarkable feat, this late in the season. With any luck, the show will keep it up as we get closer to the season finale.