Tuesday, May 28, 2013

NASHVILLE Alive and Well

Article first published as NASHVILLE Alive and Well on TheTVKing.

If anyone in the television industry still thinks that Hayden Panettiere, the cheerleader from Heroes, can't hold her own against Tami Taylor herself, Connie Britton, that person need only watch "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," the first season finale of ABC's Nashville, to have their mind forever changed.

Panettiere's Juliette, a young country music superstar, prepares for the CMAs, in which she hopes to beat Britton's Rayna James, a legend in her own time, for a prestigious award. But Juliette's night is sidelined when her drug addict mother, Jolene (Sylvia Jeffries, Eastbound & Down), is found dead of an overdose, her sober companion Dante (Jay Hernandez) murdered by a gun beside her. Juliette tries to go on, but soon finds herself bogged down with grief.

Panettiere's performance is extremely impressive. The way she captures Juliette, who is not herself naturally a nice person, with all of the layers of her emotions, is extraordinary. Juliette has wished for Jolene to be dead, but also loves the mother who has made her life so complicated. This isn't a story just anyone can relate to, with most people having better dynamics with their parents, but it's easy to see just how talented Panettiere is when capturing all of Juliette's conflicting feelings.

This continues past the CMAs, to Jolene's funeral, and then a tribute performance at the Bluebird. We see Juliette honor her mother, and be angry at her. We also see Juliette get support from the people she clashes with, Rayna, Deacon (Charles Esten), and her former manager Bucky (David Alford). It's a time for Juliette to reconsider her life and her values, and she comes out stronger than ever.

Which means, unlike in Nashville's freshman year, she may be ready for a serious, mature relationship. The most likely candidate to begin this journey with her is Avery (Jonathan Jackson), who has undergone his own trials this season, only to emerge from the other side a better developed person. They both deserve love, are good people, and have worked to improve themselves. I hope this happens for them.

Oh, and Juliette wins the award, which should matter next season, even if it doesn't right now.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, things completely fall apart between Rayna and Deacon. The pair may have destiny on their side, but a host of tribulations have kept them separated from some time, and it's past mistakes that haunt them now. Deacon learns that Rayna has lied to him about the parentage of their daughter, Maddie (Lennon Stella), and falls off the wagon in a severe way.

If there is ever a sympathetic reason to give up thirteen years of sobriety to return to one's bad habits it is learning that the woman who you consider the love of your life has a daughter by you that she has claimed to be another man's for a very long time. Still, it's very depressing to see Deacon, a beloved character who has been doing so well, sink to such depths.

Rayna is going to have to distance herself from Deacon. She has two daughters to worry about, and they can't be around someone so unstable. In fact, the ending of "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" finds Rayna flipping Deacon's truck as they fight, crashing. This is clearly not a healthy relationship and has to end until Deacon pulls himself back together.

Despite the recent death of Dante and Jolene, it's unlikely either Rayna or Deacon did not survive the wreck. They are too central to Nashville, and the series would not be the same without them. But it should serve as a wake-up call for their behavior.

In the meantime, with Deacon so messed up, Teddy (Eric Close) won't have any trouble keeping Maddie. There is a reason Rayna chose him to be Maddie's father, and Teddy loves Maddie. He won't do anything to jeopardize the girl, and will be there for her at this time when she needs him. It's not fair for Maddie to only blame Rayna for the lie, but Teddy is a good influence in Maddie's life and should remain so.

That is, as long as he beats Rayna's father, Lamar (Powers Boothe) at his political game. Lamar crosses a major line by taking legal action against Teddy, something that could disrupt his granddaughters' lives and ruin the just-repaired relationship between Lamar and Rayna. It's a stupid move for someone who wants to keep his family, and even if Lamar wins his baseball stadium, he still loses.

The proceedings seem to hang on Lamar's other daughter, Tandy (Judith Hoag), who has every reason to turn against Lamar after he promotes someone else over her. Tandy has had her share of problems with Rayna, but her immediate anger is at Lamar. So Teddy should have the upper hand, at least for now.

In other relationship news, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" finds Gunnar (Sam Palladio) proposing to Scarlett (Clare Bowen). We don't see Scarlett's answer, but it's unlikely she'll say yes, or if she does, she won't go through with the nuptials. Scarlett and Gunnar's problems are too complicated to fix with a ring, and their careers are in drastically different places, Gunnar willing to give his up for her, which is the makings of resentment and more issues. They may very well end up together, but Nashville is a drama, and there's plenty of drama to milk out of both characters before allowing them to settle down.

Lastly, there's Will Lexington (Chris Carmack, The O.C.), the late addition to the cast. Will is trying to cover up his homosexuality because that could hurt him in his desire to be a country music star. Despite his only recently joining, we've learned enough about him to care, and although he isn't always on his best behavior, he doesn't deserve to be ruined. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, a plot that seems quite timely to the current social climate.

Nashville has proven itself to be a fine, compelling series, and this finale may be one of the best hours the show has delivered yet. I'm glad that it will be getting a second season beginning next fall on ABC.

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