Ladies: a helpful hint. If you’re finally going to have sex with that fella who’s been crushing on you for nearly an entire season of television, because you’ve just been so worn down by the system or whatever, maybe a good time to do it isn’t when that young man has recently had to identify the corpse of his brother, who was beaten to death, in part because your love interest just kicked him out of the house without his gun. (“He had no way to protect himself!” Gunnar wails.) “Dear Brother” is another thoroughly competent episode of a show that’s taken a swing toward competence in recent weeks, but I have to admit that the ending—with Scarlett crawling into Gunnar’s lap in the process of comforting him over the death of Jason—struck me as a little odd. I get that we all find our comfort in different ways, but I just didn’t really buy Scarlett would choose this moment.
No matter, though, because most of this episode was all about Deacon’s birthday, a party for which is being thrown by Juliette, whose insistence is supposed to be charming, I think, but also comes off as kind of narcissistic. That’s probably the point, actually. Anyway, Juliette’s rented out the Bluebird and invited most of Deacon’s best friends to come and celebrate the man’s life. He, not a fan of parties, is planning to spend the big day watching Ol’ Yeller, as he does every year. But this is Juliette Barnes, who is only slowly learning the truth reach of her power, and when she insists something happen, it usually does. So she hatches a scheme with Scarlett to get Deacon there, and Scarlett parlays this into an opening number for her and Gunnar. (I like resourceful, get-a-leg-up Scarlett more than mopey Scarlett.) Naturally enough, Deacon shows up, and even though he acts unhappy, he ends up liking the party, because this is television. (Has anybody on TV ever disliked a surprise party thrown in their honor?)
Deacon’s party unites all of the storylines in “Dear Brother” in a fairly pleasing way. Hell, even Avery drops by to be told he can’t come in and watch Scarlett and Gunnar through the window, pained expression on his face. The biggest problem with this show in the early going—and I feel like I say this every week, but we gotta get over 1,200 words somehow—was that everybody seemed to exist in separate shows from each other. And even after the writers started bringing people into contact with each other, it still seemed as if what the various characters did had no bearing on each other. Fortunately, in these last few episodes, the characters are bouncing off of each other in a more organic fashion, and this episode actually has some rather nice moments like that first meeting between Juliette and Scarlett, where both characters behave mostly realistically, based on how an aspiring singer and a superstar would treat each other.
Now, granted, a bunch of the stories I just don’t care about get roped in here, too. Juliette’s mother falls off the wagon at the party, and it’s not once all that interesting, because Juliette’s mother continues to feel like a prop designed to explain who Juliette is, rather than somebody with her own agency. When the addiction counselor—clearly intended as another love interest for Juliette—tells Ms. Barnes that she’s more interested in throwing the party than her mother’s recovery, it becomes apparent that Mama Barnes is going to fall off the wagon, and it’s just a matter of figuring out when it will happen. (The second I saw the champagne glasses at the party, I said, “Oh.”) Similarly, there were some nice moments in the Gunnar and Jason storyline—like the show undercutting the predictable by having Gunnar throw the gun into the creek after having promised Scarlett no one would get hurt by it—but Jason never registered as a character beyond part of a tragic past the show desperately wanted me to believe Gunnar had.
On the other hand, the fallout from Rayna and Teddy’s breakup has been surprisingly well-handled for a show that featured Rayna’s daughters finding a tabloid with their mom’s face on it as a major plot point. (I’d quibble about Rayna and Teddy making the cover of such a publication, but maybe Taylor Swift and the Kardashians don’t exist in this universe.) In particular, I like the way that Teddy has all of these ideas of what he’s going to do as mayor, but mostly, everybody just wants to ask him about his divorce. Similarly, this is a great way to pull Lamar back into the story, since he thinks he can now order Teddy around even more, now that the man’s not his son-in-law. Instead, Teddy pushes back and gives the deputy mayor job to Coleman, while also assigning Peggy a job that will allow them to spend lots of time alone together without raising eyebrows. (Or so Teddy thinks; I’m going to guess the Nashville press—which has nothing else to do, apparently—will be somewhat more skeptical.) I honestly thought the show had just cut Lamar and Coleman loose; now that they’re involved in this storyline, things have gotten at least slightly more interesting.
The center of this show has always been at its best when it focuses on the regret that flows between Rayna and Deacon, or the enmity between Rayna and Juliette. And while this episode is a little light on the latter—outside of a great scene where Rayna asks to sing at the party and Juliette is all, “We’ll see!”—it has heaping spoonfuls of the former. The whole end of the episode, pretty much, is just Rayna trying to tell Deacon that she wants them to have a chance together again, and she’s weirdly sad about that. (Does anybody sing anything on this show that’s not a slow, contemplative, moody ballad? Outside of “Labrador On The Floor,” of course.) And at the same time, that scene between Rayna and Deacon after she sings her heart-wrenching ballad for him is one of the best the show has ever done. I like nothing more than characters trying to be decent to each other, so I found Rayna’s admission that she wants to “do right” by Deacon weirdly heart-breaking. It’s a promising sign for a storyline that kind of faded into the background for a while there.
I honestly don’t know if this is on next week—the “next week on” preview said, “On the next new Nashville” instead of “Next week on Nashville,” and I didn’t stick around to see when that episode will air—but I’d say that February sweeps has mostly reignited my interest in the show in a way I didn’t think was even possible. There are still a few too many flaws in this show for me to wholeheartedly recommend it—for one thing, every time it tries to be soapy, like with that scene where Lamar threatens Teddy, it still comes off as kinda silly, and Avery still exists—but I’m actually interested to see where this is going to end up. That’s quite an accomplishment for this show, and I guess I’d say it’s turned the corner at long last.
- I realize that Juliette giving Deacon a dog is supposed to make us think better of her, but I mostly just kept thinking how irresponsible it is to give someone a dog out of the blue. Bad, Juliette!
- “Did she just call me madam?” Connie Britton’s delivery of this line was impeccable.
- Hell, everybody’s back in the show now! Even Watty, the greatest character in the history of television, drops by to play guitar and offer counsel to seemingly everybody.
- I hope Pam Tillis becomes a major recurring character.
- The life and times of Avery Barclay: It was nice to have money, he concluded, but what about the sound? And the old man in the music store just didn’t speak in clear advice, instead offering weird, Zen koans that Avery could make no sense of. To the Bluebird to lurk menacingly!