‘Nashville’ Review: Christina Aguilera Livens Things Up in ‘Nobody Knows But Me’

Recap and review of Nashville – Season 3 Episode 18 – Nobody Knows But Me:

Say what you will about the acting resume of Christina Aguilera, but I think it means a lot to Nashville to have a star of her caliber on a multi-episode arc. This isn’t to say that we haven’t had huge stars on in the past, but “Nobody Knows But Me” probably would have been far more dry without her.

I guess part of it is because Christina is playing someone not too far removed from herself, pop star Jade St. John. In a lot of ways, her performance feels more natural than any I’ve seen her give, since it doesn’t really feel like she’s acting at all. Maybe the details are different, but it’s not like I haven’t seen plenty of episode of The Voice where Christina mentions an affinity for country music, or a desire to give it a shot. And so it’s no surprise here that we learn Jade originally wanted to be a country singer, but was steered towards pop music by her then-fiance Jeff (Oliver Hudson). But by turning her onto pop music, he apparently opened up a world to her that she didn’t need him in, and so they broke off their engagement. By now, it’s mostly water under the bridge, but Layla (Aubrey Peeples) recognizes how hurt he still is by how things ended. So that makes his efforts to get Jade to bring Layla on as an opening act doubly awkward. And yet, it mostly works out, since Jeff has something to offer in return: a chance to meet her idol, Luke Wheeler (Will Chase). I admit I wasn’t exactly riveted by all the Jade St. John stuff, but I found myself enjoying it for the reasons I enjoy the majority of this show: it’s a window into the machinery of the music industry. Here, Jade allows Layla to be one of the opening acts at her concert, but Layla runs afoul of Rayna (Connie Britton) by revealing that Jeff is her manager now. This leads to a confrontation between Jeff and Rayna over just how much of Layla’s success is her own. I always love what Jeff brings out in Rayna, and this situation is no different, as she resorts to calling him “a washed-up bottom-feeder” who will lose everything once Layla wakes up and sees what he is. It’s a biting retort, and yet, relative to where Jeff was before, I feel like current-Jeff is a far better man than he’s been at any point in the show’s run.

Christina Aguilera on Nashville - Season 3 Episode 18 - Nobody Knows But Me

Credit: ABC

But just as Jeff is somewhat better now, I feel like Maddie (Lennon Stella) has actually gotten worse. The character, not the actress, that is. Tonight, it seemed like the goal was to make her as whiny and as over-the-top as possible, when that doesn’t feel like a natural state for the character right now. Turns out, she’s been dating Colt Wheeler for weeks now, and Rayna is offended that Maddie never thought to tell her. Maddie’s response to this perfectly reasonable objection? To tell her mother, “I don’t respect you.” It’s a moment that isn’t played for as much shock value as it actually has, considering this goes beyond teenage rebellion, and speaks to a much deeper issue between mother and daughter. I say that because, once again, it’s not Rayna who makes Maddie see the light, it’s Deacon (Charles Esten). Maddie has always preferred the father figures in her life to her mother, and it’s never quite sat right with me, since the show never seems to offer an adequate explanation for why that is. Maybe there doesn’t need to be one, but I just don’t get why Maddie and Rayna are so frequently at odds. Perhaps it’s simply that they’re so much alike? It’s a compelling underlying character conflict between the two that has been running throughout the duration of the series, but it got its most attention this year. I’m hoping we get more time to explore it in the final four episodes of the season, especially now that it appears Deacon is going to be moving in.

Nashville - Maddie mouths off to Rayna

Credit: ABC

On the subject of Deacon, one of tonight’s most unexpectedly poignant moments was when he took Luke aside to divulge his illness. Earlier in the episode, Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) called Deacon to help her write the end credits song for the Pasty Cline movie, but her abhorrent attitude (seriously, I don’t think we can blame the pregnancy anymore) drives him away. But the more I think of it, the less I’m certain that it’s just Juliette’s attitude that forces him to leave. Juliette is berating him, demanding to know what else a full-time musician could possibly have going on that’s more important than his career. Naturally, Deacon wants to keep his illness as tight-lipped as possible, so it makes sense that he would leave rather than get into an argument with Juliette in which it could slip out. This is because it’d only result in yet another person pitying him, and Deacon doesn’t really need that right now. And so when he decides to come clean about his illness to Luke, under the guise that he needs to know, since their kids are dating, it shows real growth in Deacon. He’s overcoming his fears but also his past pettiness against Luke. Similarly, Luke sees through the awkward past with Deacon and views him as just a normal man, prone to the same mistakes and failings as anyone. He tells Deacon how sorry he is, and lets him know he’s here if there’s anything he can do, adding that Maddie will always be welcome in his home. “You beat this, brother,” Luke says, and I’m getting goosebumps just recapping it. I wasn’t expecting that depth of feeling between these two, but it’s all there, and it doesn’t feel like artifice either. Luke doesn’t pity Deacon, he respects him, and offers his help through that respect. This was basically my favorite moment of the episode.

Nashville Juliette rages

Credit: ABC

And yet, there were a few developments that drove me up a wall this week. On the one hand, I actually like that The Triple Xs are now a duo, as Avery (Jonathan Jackson) has to quit the band to stay at home with baby Cadence (oh yeah, her name is Cadence. Not sure how I feel about that yet). On the other hand, Gunnar (Sam Palladio) comes across as a bit of a manipulative jerk with how he tries to use the positive feedback from the performance going viral as evidence that they should be together. Because, apparently, some random internet user saying they have “the chemistry of a young Johnny and June” somehow means Scarlett (Clare Bowen) should drop her relationship with a hot doctor? It’s all so strange, and he keeps it up throughout the episode in an off-putting fashion. Just as troubling is Juliette hiring a random nanny without so much as doing any research or discussing it with Avery. I don’t blame him one bit for freaking out once he comes home to find a stranger holding his baby girl. And it speaks volumes for the kind of man’s man Avery is that he forgoes his career to stay at home with his daughter, to make sure her father is with her and not some stranger. But it makes Juliette just look awful, at a time where the show should be rehabbing her character. She basically just flies off to LA to meet with the Patsy Cline movie producers, leaving the baby with the nanny, and assuring Glenn (Ed Amatrudo) that everything is worked out. It most certainly isn’t, Juliette! Unless we’re meant to infer that she’s abandoning the family, in which case, not only does that take Juliette too far away from likability, it would also make this the second plotline this season in which a mother abandons her child (after Kiley bailed on Micah). Whether this is a temporary escape for Juliette or not, it’s not a great look for her.

Christina Aguilera as Jade St. John on Nashville

Credit: ABC/Mark Levine

I’m also still not crazy about all this business with Teddy (Eric Close), as he finally procures the money for Natasha (Moniqua Plante) and bids farewell, only for it to be revealed that she’d been wearing a wire the entire time. So Teddy is basically boned now, and not in the way he was during his sessions with Natasha. I suppose this could make for some interesting drama, but I like an episode less the farther away we get from the music industry, and I imagine this will take us quite a long way from the far more compelling business dealings of the industry itself. That said, we still have a lot to look forward to emotional, but still music-driven, storylines. Namely, we have Will (Chris Carmack) finally coming out to Kevin Bicks (Kyle Dean Massey), who responds by planting a huge kiss on him. I can’t say any of this is surprising, but it really is a ray of sunshine in what’s an otherwise dour series of developments for characters I’ve otherwise liked (such as Gunnar and Juliette). Sometimes, seeing something as simple as a romance develop without a bunch of unnecessary complications is enough to brighten things up. Then again, Will is going to have to come out eventually, no? I mean, Kevin is out, and it doesn’t seem like he’s the kind of guy who’d want to be anyone’s secret. I’m intrigued to see where this goes.

Ultimately, “Nobody Knows But Me” isn’t a bad episode of Nashville at all, but I did enjoy having Christina Aguilera around for it, since it gave the episode a “big event” feel. Sort of like the live episode had. I’m still loving this season to pieces, and with only three episodes left before the finale, I’m getting anxious to see how everything is going to tie together. There’s a lot of ground to cover, which could lead to an excessive amount of soap opera drama when what often works best are the lower-key, more genuine moments between characters. Then again, it’s not like Nashville doesn’t know how to thrive with excess. Bring on the drama.

Follow me on Twitter: @NickRomanTV

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