When you watch a lot of television, it can be easy for new shows to slip through the cracks. If something doesn’t keep your attention, and if it starts piling up on your DVR, it’s easy to just give up on it and focus your attention elsewhere.
I can imagine why some people would have given up on Hart Of Dixie during its first season. The show never came together, its struggles to integrate its various characters into one narrative ecosystem mirroring Zoe Hart’s inability to integrate into Bluebell. There was never that moment where everything clicked, where suddenly the disparate elements came together to become a cohesive and compelling whole. I waited an entire season for that moment to come, and it never truly materialized in the way I hoped it would.
And yet I still waited. Where some shows struggling through creative difficulties sat on the DVR for weeks if not months, I often watched Hart Of Dixie before watching shows I consider better. There was never a point I considered giving up, despite the fact that I could rationalize the decision-making of those who did. What drew me in wasn’t a cohesive whole, but rather individual parts that never stopped working amid the clutter. Much of this may be centered on Rachel Bilson, who has an easy chemistry with all three of her male co-stars (Wilson Bethel, Scott Porter, and Cress Williams), but the chemistry between those male characters is also strong. The town of Bluebell remains a hodgepodge of “Quaint Southern Town” stereotypes, but the more time the show spent fleshing out the recurring residents, the less that mattered to my enjoyment of the series. Hart Of Dixie is a damn charming show, and its renewal was one of those feel-good stories where a solid show with room to grow is given a chance to find itself.
Not coincidentally, “I Fall To Pieces” is about finding one’s self. For Zoe Hart, this means choosing between the two men with whom she found herself entangled at the end of last season. Should she go for the hopeless romantic who abandoned his own wedding to declare his love for her? Or should she continue to explore her sexual chemistry with the sarcastic neighbor with whom she’s been bantering for months? The CW is certainly invested in the love triangle as a form of television narrative, and so the season première spends a fair deal of its time weighing these two choices.
And yet I’m not sure that choice particularly mattered here. It was pretty clear that Zoe was going to choose no one if you paid attention during an earlier scene: While it was suggested that this situation shouldn’t be dragged out over an extended period, that’s exactly what television does with love triangles. It also makes sense when you consider that, although George and Wade were both presented as potential suitors for Zoe last season, neither really came close to reaching that potential until the finale. As much as the show has always been heading toward this point, it remains fresh enough that the idea of seeing it dragged out for an entire season isn’t really that problematic. As noted, Bilson’s chemistry with Bethel and Porter is strong enough to carry the day, and the idea of getting a bit more of Zoe and Wade’s sexual escapades seems like a fair trade-off for the non-resolution presented here.
What makes “I Fall To Pieces” weird is that it wants to appear to be about Zoe’s love triangle, but it’s actually far more invested in the show’s other prominent female character. Lemon was easily the most uneven part of the first season, with the writers never finding a way to make her seem like something more than an obstacle to Zoe’s relationship with George. She was anything the writers could want her to be, which is exactly the problem: She was a villain one episode and then a hero in the next, her moods and goals shifting to meet the writing staff's needs as opposed to being derived from her character.
It is a testament to Jaime King that the character retained a shred of authenticity by season’s end, and so it’s nice to see how this première is organized around giving the character a new role in this story. While it’s a bit of a rushed self-awareness, the perspective offered by George calling off the wedding sets off a series of valuable realizations. Having been in the same relationship for half her life, and living in the same house for almost all of it, Lemon needs to find her own path in life as an independent woman. The absence of a “Plan B” means that Lemon is in search of a purpose, which gives the show countless options to replace the one-minded destruction of Zoe Hart that often seemed to be her dominant role last season. It’s as if the writers finally asked themselves who Lemon is, and who Lemon wants to be, instead of how Lemon could be used as a tool to fiddle with the show’s narrative.
Of course, with the evolution of one blatant narrative tool comes the introduction of another. Golden Brooks’ Ruby is one of those characters that walks into a series and immediately has an impact on everyone. She’s Lavon’s high school sweetheart, a potential girl-friend candidate for Zoe, and, most importantly, a grade school bully to Lemon. It’s the latter point that feels the most purposeful, trying to shift Lemon’s role in the show’s hierarchy by introducing a new villain whose sole goal is to complicate the lives of the characters involved. Brooks is fine in a role that adds another person of color to the series, but her ultimate role here is to set up some narrative roadblocks for the future and to assist Lemon’s transition from villain to victim in the grand scheme of the series.
Which raises the question of just how grand this scheme is. As noted, the show never came together last year, the parts never adding up to a whole that I could recommend without reservation. “I Fall To Pieces” doesn’t precisely change this, too caught up in direct cliffhangers to give us a clear sense of what the show will look like in future weeks, but it also demonstrated why it hasn’t particularly mattered thus far. There’s a point where you realize the degree of difficulty in having a shirtless Wade banter with Zoe about her sexual performance while completing car maintenance is almost obnoxiously low, but it’s the same point at which you realize how fun that is to watch. Hart Of Dixie isn’t below taking the easy road, but it’s also incredibly easy to watch, the kind of confection that deserves a place in the televisual landscape.
Are there moments where it feels like it could be something more? Absolutely. And to the credit of “I Fall To Pieces,” it seems invested in keeping those avenues open. While major themes are mostly passed over in favor of romantic affairs, there’s a central thread of knowing at what point your “real life” is going to begin. If we return to the pilot, we see Zoe being told that her career as a surgeon can’t begin until she gains experience with people. For George and Lemon, stuck in a relationship for half of their lives, who are they outside of that relationship? For Wade, meanwhile, at what point does he stop sleeping around and bartending and make the move he tried to make at the end of last season?
At the end of the day, Hart Of Dixie isn’t a show about these questions so much as it’s about Team Wade and Team George. But despite the fact that the episode ends with Zoe jumping back into bed with Wade, and next week’s preview suggests a typically frothy standoff over this new dimension of their relationship, I don’t feel those larger questions have disappeared into thin air. They remain present, informing how characters move forward and how they make decisions in the midst of the small town soap opera they find themselves in. “I Fall To Pieces” might not send the show on a completely different path, but it resituates its characters just enough to suggest that a few months off has given the writers time to map out a more cohesive Bluebell for the season ahead.
- The future of the site’s coverage of this show rests in your hands. If you’re interested in more: Discuss the première below, tell your friends to visit, and show up on Todd VanDerWerff’s doorstep with a blue handbell choir. If not, we’ll check back in on the finale.
- One thing that bugs me about Bluebell’s artificial quaintness is the notion that a woman living on her own would hold such a social stigma. Even if there are some small pockets of southern society that believe this, it still seems regressive to have Lemon’s independence feel like such a departure from the norms in a 21st century society.
- How in the world can a show that employs Reginald VelJohnson not immediately cut to him after referencing John McClane? Unconscionable!
- Given how good Rachel Bilson can be with physical comedy, it was disappointing to see the episode cut around her ninja pratfall as if to suggest she didn’t perform the stunt herself.
- Easy prediction: Ruby ends up running against Lavon for mayor.
- Easier prediction: Wade will continue to suffer from an extreme allergic reaction to shirts.
- Zoe on having George at her door with Wade in her bed: “I finally understand what R. Kelly’s been singing about all these years.”
- Ruby on why she bullied Lemon: “I only teased you in high school because you were three grades younger, too big for your britches, and named for a fruit.”
- Wade on his status in the love triangle: “My hat wasn’t even in the ring… I suppose my pants could be.”