‘Nashville’ Has More Pros Than Cons In ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’
Recap and review of Nashville – Season 3 Episode 15 – That’s the Way Love Goes:
I’ve often gone back and forth with Nashville in the past, since I always felt a certain imbalance between the personal storylines and the industry issues that make this show unique (although considerably less so with Empire out there, conquering Earth).
But I found myself so wrapped up in “That’s the Way Love Goes” that I couldn’t help but be compelled, mostly because, like many of the past several episodes, it represents the show hitting its peak in finding that balance between personal storylines and exploration into the music industry. That said, there were things I liked and disliked about the episode. So I’ll just break it down, list style:
PRO: Rayna and Deacon remain the most compelling force on this show: I’m sure that’s not really a surprise to anyone, since Rayna (Connie Britton) is often the focal point of the show, and Deacon (Charles Esten) is frequently given the most emotionally rich material. But I still feel like it’s something that needs to be reiterated, since so much of “That’s the Way Love Goes” centers on their relationship. Granted, I find it supremely obnoxious that Maddie (Lennon Stella) is trying to force Rayna and Deacon to be together by constantly badgering them about it, and makes her kind of unlikable. But it’s really the least of the worries I have about Rayna and Deacon, since Britton and Esten’s chemistry can carry this couple over just about any storyline hurdle. The story of Rayna’s tribute concert at the Grand Ole Opry, celebrating the ten years since her induction, offers up some wonderful musical moments, from Maddie and Daphne (Maisy Stella) getting to perform onstage with Rayna and Deacon, to Rayna and Deacon having an amazingly poignant duet moment onstage together. In fact, the entire episode was packed to the gills with music (but more on that later).
But those music moments weren’t even the best part, as Deacon finally comes clean to Rayna about his cancer, resulting in Rayna absolutely falling to pieces like we’ve never seen before. Esten has been nailing it all season, but Britton is the real highlight here. She does outstanding work depicting Rayna’s entire world slowly crashing down around her. She slaps Deacon for keeping the secret and pushing her away when it’s uncertain how much time they even have left. But she also embraces him and rests her teary-eyed head on his shoulder, because she’s terrified of losing him. It’s a wonderful depiction of the dichotomy of anger and grief. And yet, Deacon’s reasons for keeping Rayna at arm’s length make perfect sense, even if you could argue that his motivation was selfish. He doesn’t want Rayna to choose him out of pity or fear, not after how hard he’s worked to win her heart. If she chose him after learning his secret, he would always wonder whether she was with him out of love or out of duty. And that’s not how he wants things to go with Rayna, particularly if these are their final months together. So I get where he’s coming from, and I get why Rayna is so furious with him. But there’s an undercurrent of heartbreak there, and it’s among the most riveting things the show has done.
CON: The tone of the episode is fairly uneven: For every heart-warming/heartbreaking scene between Rayna and Deacon, there’s another scene of something ridiculous happening. For instance, one of the subplots of the episode sees Gunnar (Sam Palladio), Scarlett (Clare Bowen), and Avery (Jonathan Jackson) getting hired to open for Rascal Flatts’s opening act. That’s a perfectly salient plot point to pursue for Gunnar, since I don’t really know where the show can take the Micah story from here. But this plot somewhat messes with the emotional tone of the rest of the episode, since it’s such a silly story. The gist is that Gunnar is hellbent on coming up with a better name for the band, and he burns through a host of suggestions, to no avail. Worse, neither Avery nor Scarlett want to help him think of any. I found myself continually wondering why we were coming back to this storyline in particular, since there was a great deal of tonal whiplash involved in going from the severity of Deacon’s illness to Sadie Stone (Laura Benanti) dealing with becoming a poster child for domestic abuse, and then coming right back to Gunnar crossing off the name The Foam because it sounds too much like a British band from the 80s.
But here’s the thing: there’s actually a fairly decent dramatic subtext to this. Gunnar flips out on Avery for his lack of participation in the naming, saying that while Avery is no stranger to playing big gigs in front of bigger audiences, he hasn’t really gotten that chance. This is all he’s ever wanted. Hell, it’s the reason he came to Nashville in the first place, and he doesn’t appreciate Avery taking it all so lightly. It’s a great monologue for Palladio to deliver, and it’s kind of cathartic for the viewer as well, considering what a bundle of unreleased emotions Gunnar has become since the whole Micah fiasco. So while I didn’t love this storyline, I could definitely see why it was here. And hey, it’s not like you can have an entire episode with no levity. But I wish 1) we hadn’t spent so much time on this particular subplot, and 2) it had been played a bit straighter. You can have comedic moments without descending into farce, as this nearly did, in places (such as when Avery kicks Gunnar out of his house for trying to barge in with name suggestions).
PRO: There were plenty of great musical moments: For a show centered on the music industry, it was encouraging to see the show get back to focusing on the music so pointedly. In addition to getting to see Gunnar and Scarlett work on a song in the beginning of the episode, we get the aforementioned Grand Ole Opry performances, which feature Vince Gill as emcee, which lends a credibility to the show that not all music dramas get to have. We also get to watch Gunnar, Scarlett, and Avery’s performance under their new band name, The Triple XXXs, a name given to them by Deacon’s doctor, Dr. Caleb Rand (Nick Jandl), after learning that the band consists of Scarlett and her two ex-boyfriends. Scarlett is now dating Caleb after a somewhat silly series of misunderstandings over whether or not they’re on a date, but it all ties back into the big onstage performance for The Triple XXXs, as Scarlett seems more comfortable and confident than ever as a performer, and it appears to be largely because Caleb is in the audience. Sure, seeing Caleb kiss Scarlett makes Gunnar a bit jealous, suggesting that there are still feelings there. But the music is still the big story coming out of this, as Rascal Flatts sees the show and wants them to join their tour. And that’s what I loved about this episode, not simply that there was great music in it, but also that the music mattered to the narrative. It drove storylines forward in ways both big and small, whether it was Luke Wheeler (Will Chase) leaving the Opry in a heartbroken huff after seeing Rayna and Deacon dueting onstage, or whether it was Daphne and Maddie having their Opry debut, which seems to soften Rayna’s hesitation to having the girls in the music industry at such a young age.
CON: The show is juggling too many storylines at once: While a lot of the stories are actually pretty compelling, I feel Nashville has far too many of them going on at any one time. “That’s the Way Love Goes” feels cluttered because, in addition to all the developments with Rayna/Deacon and The Triple XXXs, we have to check in with Sadie Stone, who reveals on Good Morning America that she was the victim of domestic abuse. We have to check in with Teddy (Eric Close), who learns from Natasha (Moniqua Plante) that the feds were monitoring her house. And we have to check in with Layla (Aubrey Peeples) and Jeff (Oliver Hudson), who do their best to reinvent Layla’s musical identity. None of these stories are bad, and I actually quite enjoyed seeing Layla take charge of her career, with Jeff’s coaching. But I felt like the episode was so overstuffed that all these stories were fighting for screentime. Hell, I didn’t even get to the story in which Will (Chris Carmack) is paired up with a gay songwriter who helps him tap into his inner artist. And that’s because the story hasn’t really gone anywhere yet, because there was no real time for anything significant to happen beyond the two men establishing a surface-level friendship rooted in their both having had lousy fathers. I feel like the story with Will could have been kept off for a week so more screentime could be devoted to, say, Jeff/Layla or Teddy/Natasha. Then we could come back to it in a later episode while giving one of those other storylines the night off. That way, every storyline gets the chance to breathe, instead of feeling rushed and incomplete. The only reason I can think that so much material was packed into this episode is that they simply don’t have room for it in any of the upcoming episodes. And that worries me a bit, since it implies the show is only going to get more cluttered as we reach the end of the season. But I’m remaining cautiously optimistic, because some of these storylines are inevitably going to intersect. And that will be a good thing, if you love pure, hectic drama.
PRO: “That’s the Way Love Goes” ends on a strong note: Closing on the cliffhanger of what Rayna will do now that she knows about Deacon’s cancer is a smart way to end the episode, but also somewhat agonizing, since the show is going on another brief hiatus. Still, I think “That’s the Way Love Goes” is an episode that helped illustrate just how strong Nashville‘s storytelling has been this season. I have my issues with some of the paths they’ve taken, sure, but this is pretty much the show’s best season, to me. Nashville is becoming its best version, and that’s encouraging to watch each week, even when I’m not always loving some of the individual working parts. Honestly, I can’t wait for Nashville to return. This season has simply been on fire since the midseason premiere, and I’m confident the show can stick the landing as the back half of Season 3 continues.