Nashville – Recap: On Borrowed Time
Recap and review of Nashville – Season 3 Episode 11 – I’m Not That Good at Goodbye:
Nashville is back, and “I’m Not That Good at Goodbye” was a great way to bring the show back for midseason. There wasn’t a whole lot of resetting going on. The story just continued from where we left off, with the dramatic momentum from the winter finale carrying into this premiere.
There were a ton of different things the episode did that made me confident about the direction of the rest of the season. For one, the narrative is united under the fallout between Rayna (Connie Britton) and Luke (Will Chase). Even the stories that don’t directly relate to their breakup still, in some way, comment upon the theme of just what constitutes family/a happy union. It provides an organization to the story that not many episodes are fortunate enough to have. For example, Luke storms into Deacon’s house, believing that Rayna is with him. When he learns that Rayna isn’t there, he coldly states that he should have known not to get involved with “that bitch.” This prompts Deacon (Charles Esten) to go postal on Luke, slugging him across the face until Scarlett (Clare Bowen) breaks it up. This has the effect of further compounding the scandal surrounding the breakup, as onlookers record the fight, and it ends up going viral. Thus, Rayna now has to approach the paparazzi parked outside her house, in order to “take control” of the situation. Luke catches wind of Rayna’s impromptu press conference, and decides the best way to show the breakup isn’t affecting him is to throw a private concert for the first 500 fans to show up at his ranch, with lots of booze to go around.
Thus, the story creates a sort of flow chart, in which each character’s actions has a subsequent consequence that spurs a different plot point into motion. Here, Luke is attempting to minimize Rayna’s influence on his life, while Rayna is attempting to do damage control to protect her kids from the fallout. She even seeks out Luke on his ranch, only to be coldly rebuffed by the country singer, who outright accuses Rayna of using him to revitalize her career. And while it’s a ruthless accusation, it’s possible to see how Luke would think it a valid one to make, since Rayna’s career was practically finished before the Ruke/Layna romance rejuvenated her mainstream relevance. WE might know that Rayna isn’t the type of person to use someone to advance her career, and even Luke might know it, deep down, but in the painful aftermath of a bad breakup, he’s committed to playing the victim. And I suppose you could argue that, in some ways, he is. He certainly didn’t ask to get dumped on his wedding day. And he probably deserved a better explanation for the breakup than the cataclysmic amounts of nothing that he got. But even then, Rayna is right to be upset that he couldn’t handle the matter privately. This public spectacle doesn’t really help either one of them. Okay, maybe it helps Luke a bit, as he ends up writing a killer kiss-off song that he plays at the free concert, essentially telling Rayna that she’ll never find another guy like him. But it doesn’t go all that great for Rayna, who is as conflicted as ever about her love life. She seeks out Deacon to let him know that she does, in fact, love him. Always has, and always will. But she just isn’t sure what her next move will be. Deacon tells her to take all the time she needs, but little does Rayna know that Deacon might not actually have all that much time left.
Tragically, it turns out Deacon does have cancerous tumor. It’s 4cm in diameter, so in order to survive, he’ll need to find a liver donor before it reaches 5cm, or it’ll be too late. Scarlett offers to be the donor, but her blood type doesn’t match. And they’re essentially on borrowed time: in one of the most heartwrenching moments of the episode, Scarlett asks Deacon why he didn’t tell Rayna about his diagnosis, and he explains that he doesn’t want to win her that way. He doesn’t want her to be with him out of pity, nor does he want her to have to spend the rest of her life taking care of him, since that’s what she’s always done. “I should be taking care of her!” he roars, with all the pain of a man whose own sense of inadequacy towards the woman he loves is catching up with him. It’s one of Charles Esten’s best moments in the series, and while I’m generally not a fan of these sorts of stories (come on, they’re not REALLY going to kill off Deacon, are they?), I’m fairly confident that the story will continue to produce engrossing moments for the actors to really sink their teeth into, like this one. Maybe it’s a bit too convenient for Deacon to up and decide that his condition needs to remain a secret, but his justification is perfect. After all the work he’s put into getting Rayna to choose him, it would be bittersweet if she ultimately did choose him, but only because he was dying. He needs Rayna to choose him on his own merits, to recognize that she loves him, not that she pities him.
It’s compelling in a way that the other stories occasionally struggle to match. While sweet, I struggled to get invested in the argument between Juliette (Hayden Panetierre) and Avery (Jonathan Jackson), as Avery moves in and quickly offends Juliette by refusing to throw out his favorite chair. Even Avery seems to recognize how ridiculous the argument is, as it becomes apparent that being a family means sharing all aspects of your respective lives. I wasn’t crazy about the story, but I love Panetierre and Jackson, and I love the payoff, as Juliette has the chair moved into the nursery so he can relax in his favorite spot while looking over their baby. Maybe it’s not as substantive as the rest of the episode, but I feel those moments of levity are needed in an episode that has Sadie Stone (Laura Benanti) getting a gun and an order of protection against her psychotic ex, and Gunnar (Sam Palladio) losing custody of Micah (Gunnar Sizemore) after the truth comes out about the little boy’s paternity.
But, with this latter story, there’s a silver lining, as Gunnar at least proves to Micah’s grandmother that he’s changed, and that he deserves to remain in the boy’s life, in some capacity. As a bonus, Sam Palladio does some of his best work of the series here, illustrating Gunnar’s heartbreak at losing Micah, even though the boy’s grandmother offers him hope that Micah will one day come around. And it’s not the only hopeful storyline. Although Layla (Aubrey Peeples) attempted to kill herself, she pulled through. She claims that part of her urge to commit suicide was driven by having seen Will (Chris Carmack) with another woman, as she began to believe that it wasn’t so much that Will didn’t like women, but simply that he didn’t like her. In an attempt to prove he does genuinely care about Layla, he approaches Jeff (Oliver Hudson) about getting their reality show canceled, so he can finally give Layla the divorce she wants, and the freedom she needs. And, true to form, Jeff is able to not only get the show canceled, he’s able to make the video of Will’s confession back. Will lets Layla know that everything is going to be okay, and Jeff enters to sit with Layla while she sleeps. It’s actually kind of sweet, showing that these two men both care for Layla. Although the nature of their feelings for Layla are entirely different, those feelings are equally potent.
“I’m Not That Good at Goodbye” is a wonderful midseason premiere for Nashville, as the show finds a way to unite all of its storylines under the theme of family, and the different ways such a union is formed, whether through blood, marriage, or the bonds of a shared past. It’s not a perfect episode, but it has me really optimistic for the second half of Season 3.