Recap and review for Nashville – Season 1 Episode 8 – Winter Finale – Where He Leads Me
Nashville has taken a while to really get back to the series that showed so much promise in its first episode, often detouring with ridiculous, go-nowhere subplots such as Juliette’s shoplifting fiasco or the construction project that got Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe) invested in getting Teddy (Eric Close) elected mayor in the first place. These kinds of stories have a tendency to weigh down an episode, even if the storyline is actually going to veer off into a meaningful direction, in much the same way as the mayoral election has detoured into an exploration of Rayna (Connie Britton) and Teddy’s deteriorating marriage. It’s better if the totality of a story can be compelling, and not just its endpoint, and so it’s heartening to be able to say that “Where He Leads Me”, the winter finale of Nashville, has given a clear indication that it’s headed in a more engaging direction, owing to the greater focus on music, and the way in which the show has seemingly embraced its soap opera sensibilities. It’s a rare occasion when I commend a show for eschewing its ambitions to be something more than the sum of its parts, but Nashville is much better served by being a straight soap than trying to mimic the expansive scope of a cable serial, as a network show is rarely given the opportunity to be that epic if it isn’t already delivering strong ratings straight out the gate, and Nashville is merely doing okay.
But that’s burying the lede, as “Where He Leads Me” is quite a good episode. I’d dare say it’s salacious in its depiction of how Teddy tries to shake the specter of his association with Peggy Kenter (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), whose name I’ve been writing as “Kemper” all this time because I’ve apparently forgotten how to hear words. As it happens, Teddy shows gumption by coming straight to Rayna with the news of the pictures, and how Coleman (Robert Wisdom) intends to use them to blackmail him out of the election. He comes just short of telling her the whole story, and though Rayna is upset, she stands with Teddy, even going as far as to confront Coleman, telling her former friend that she and her husband’s personal life is none of his business. Of course, though Rayna shows a Tammy Wynette-esque determination to stand by her man, she isn’t done investigating the secret he shares with Peggy, going so far as to speak with her sister, Tandy (Judith Hoag), who works on the mayoral campaign, to ascertain whether or not Teddy is having an affair. Tandy, who introduced the pair to one another all those years ago, insists that Teddy would never cheat. And so Rayna confronts Teddy, and he comes clean about the embezzlement. The revelation that Teddy basically stole money from a bank leads Rayna to contemplate giving up on the marriage altogether. But then Peggy goes and overdoses on pills when Teddy tells her off in the parking lot of the election headquarters. Peggy’s near-death, along with a last-minute talk with Deacon (Charles Esten), seems to catalyze Rayna into gutting out the bad publicity for the sake of their children, since their daughters worship their father, and would be heartbroken to see the marriage dissolve. But Rayna isn’t interested in mending fences behind the scenes. She’s merely wearing her (absolutely gorgeous) public face for this union.
Her career prospects are looking up, however, as her duet with Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) is shooting up the charts, and has convinced the record company to finance her next album. Except the record company now wants her to do a co-headlining tour with Juliette, where they’ll alternate on who headlines each night. Seems like a fair enough compromise, though Rayna still seems somewhat resistant to the idea. Yet Rayna isn’t the only one with a decision to make regarding a tour, as Deacon has been asked to join his old friends, a popular rock band called The Rebel Kings, on the road with them. The group is comprised of men who are all recovering addicts just like Deacon, and there’s a certain charm to how the men so earnestly embrace their sobriety, proudly displaying their chips and enjoying soda pops or imported French water. Deacon wavers back and forth on whether he wants to join the tour, as he’s clearly tethered to Nashville by his love for Rayna. Strangely enough, it’s Juliette who gets the ball rolling on his letting Rayna go. When he tries to get Juliette to go visit her mother in rehab, she kicks him out of her house and tells him to quit worrying about her problems and start working on whatever problems he has in his life that would make him even have to think twice about agreeing to tour with The Rebel Kings. Deacon comes to recognize that if he doesn’t leave Nashville now, he’s never going to, and so he agrees to hit the road with his old buddies.
In other “buddies” developments, Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio) explore what it means to just be friends and writing partners, as Gunnar’s girlfriend, Hailey (Chloe Bennet), recommends Scarlett to a band that is looking for a lead singer. This sends Gunnar into an angsty rage, as he feels Hailey is trying to send Scarlett away. And with that, Hailey’s suspicions about Gunnar’s feelings for Scarlett are confirmed, and she ends the relationship. Coming to realize that there’s no use in fighting it anymore, Gunnar goes to the Bluebird to confront Scarlett. He doesn’t beat around the bush, telling Scarlett that he feels she’s the most talented person he’s ever met, and then laying one on her. Or maybe they laid one on each other. Either way, they were both into it. Really into it. At least for seven seconds, at which point Scarlett pulled away, rationalizing that this was something they couldn’t do, for whatever reason. The day after hearing Gunnar perform a stirring rendition of a song they wrote together, Scarlett tearfully dissolves her partnership with Gunnar, which he takes about as well as you might expect, angrily storming out of the room. As for Scarlett, while she’s not attached to anyone directly, at this point, she is, at least, talking to Avery again, as her ex stops by to give her the champagne that they’d been saving for when Avery “made it”. He apologizes for how he acted, in a rare show of humility, and says that they should have opened the bottle when Scarlett got her songwriting deal. Cute, I suppose. As for Avery, label exec Dominic King (Wyclef Jean) wants him to “dirty up” his sound. King flies him to Atlanta on a private jet and suggests, on the ride over, that he’s only interested in Avery, not in the other members of his band (one of whom is his best friend since middle school). It’s a classic showbiz tale, though I’m not entirely sure if Avery is the sort of character that can give it much meaning, never minding the fact that we hardly know anything about his band to feel any sense of investment in the idea that he just might be tempted to betray them to serve his own self-interests.
But Avery’s storyline is relatively small potatoes to Juliette’s spin toward normalcy. She seems more down-to-Earth than we’ve ever seen her when going to meet the parents of her beau, quarterback Sean Butler (Tilky Jones). She accompanies him to church and meets the loving parents, and his adoring little sister, Dana, who happens to be Juliette’s biggest fan. We even get to see her sing with the church choir as Dana beams with starstruck glee. This culminates in a relatively low-key family dinner, and it seems like Juliette, who’s been avoiding her mother’s phone calls and letters from rehab in an attempt to move on with her life, is about to gain a family of her own through the Butlers (“I know how important family is,” Juliette tells Deacon tearfully, “because I never had one.”). However, this being a drama, the other shoe must drop eventually, as it does when Juliette meets with Sean’s mother in the kitchen. Mrs. Butler tells Juliette that she shouldn’t hold her breath, as far as it concerns becoming a part of their family, what with her criminal problems and the sordid past with her mother, and all. Juliette is devastated, but she doesn’t reveal the conversation to Sean. Of course, she does allude to it some time later, when she invites Sean out onto her candlelit poolside. As if taking Mrs. Butler’s harsh words as a challenge, Juliette talks about what Sean means to her, as if preparing to end their relationship, before suddenly asking him to marry her. Sean is speechless, as the episode comes to a close, but there’s pretty much no doubt whatsoever what Sean’s answer is going to be, and that’s fine by me.
“Where He Leads Me” is a fittingly grandiose winter finale, tying many disparate plot threads together, and affording us the opportunity to check in with each character, giving us the sense of a well-rounded ensemble. As the show goes forward, I’d actually like to see the ensemble utilized at a greater capacity, having them interact together more often. We don’t really see Gunnar interact much with Deacon, or Rayna with, say, Scarlett. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind seeing Rayna and Avery in a room together, at some point. What I’m saying is that the show is strong enough to survive on the format it’s laid out for itself, but it would benefit from tying it all together in a more substantive fashion. As for right now, however, the series is finally cashing in on all the promise of the pilot by getting us that much closer to Rayna and Juliette on tour, Gunnar and Scarlett as a regular songwriting duo/romantic entanglement, and Teddy as more than just a blank slate of a character, but a man with goals and ambitions all his own. Nashville isn’t everything it can be, just yet, but it’s certainly more than enough to work.