Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 9 of ABC's "Nashville," titled "Hanky Panky Woman."
"Hanky Panky Woman" should have been an exciting episode of "Nashville." Dressed (once again) as Taylor Swift at a Mexican rave, Scarlett transitions out of her idiosyncratic stumbling into a flawless performance. It's exciting in the moment, much in the way that any underdog overcoming obstacles is exciting. But season two's obstacles, holistically speaking, have never been fully defined enough to warrant celebration when they are overcome.
"Have yet to be fully defined" is not even a fair concession at this point. It is episode nine and we are still left without a clear oppositional force. Of course, the show is ensemble-based ... but even the individual plot lines are lacking in fully realized villains.
In the first episode of the season, it seemed the paramount force of evil would be Lamar, with his racketeering and the cold case murder of his wife. In last week's episode, homophobia and sexism appeared to form the biggest threats. Two weeks ago, it was the overarching power of Nashville's elite, as manifested in Charlie and Olivia Wentworth. For a short while, Rayna's struggles with Maddie's paternity issues were the crucial concern. And, of course, in various installments, it was Jeff "The Bean Counter" Fordham, posing as a symbol for the dark side of the music industry.
Not a single one of those potential antagonizing forces have seen enough development to be compelling. It's not so much that everything ought to play out along the paradigmatic binary of good verses evil, but at this point the central conflict is so unclear that Deacon's physical therapist may as well be the clearest adversary.
Frustratingly enough, Will's struggles with homophobia and Juliette's sudden feminism both appear to be, as the Nashvillians might say, simply a "flash in the pan." The Wentworths looked silly and desperate in their dealings with Miss Barnes this week, allowing The Bean Counter to take center stage as the episode's transient problem worth dealing with.
Though he is the most consistent oppositional plot device of the season, Jeff's interference with the protagonists' success continues to be irrational. I've mentioned before how asburd Jeff's vindictiveness is (he succeeds, if his artists succeed; it's as simple as that). There was some explanation of the undercutting provided in "Hanky Panky Woman," along the lines of Jeff being "under pressure" and needing to "bring in big numbers this quarter." None of that, however, is a satisfying explanation for his blatant maliciousness in rough handling Scarlett before her performance, despite the fact that she has already proven easily startled during her first red carpet experience.
Following her stadium flop, Rayna comes to Scarlett's rescue -- saving her on stage and bestowing country wisdom upon her, saying, "The thing about bullies is they secretly want to be stopped, so we certainly can't let him stop us." It's all very empowering; Rayna's affection for Scarlett couldn't be more endearing and Scarlett's eventual victory is a home run for doe-eyed solo acts everywhere, but it could have felt much more gratifying if the two of them had actually rallied against a concrete opponent.
With only two episodes left in the season, the biggest problem in "Nashville" is it's lack thereof. The show remains rather entertaining, but there is none of the soapy connectivity that should leave people waiting for the next episode ... or another season.
- Every time Juliette opens her door, a Wentworth pops in and professes their love for her. I feel like a lot of problems could be solved with a laminated "Do Not Disturb" sign.
- I'm so un-shocked by the Peggy pregnancy plot line at this point, but procuring a conveniently pint-sized container of pig's blood might be the most interesting thing anyone on this show has ever done.
- Scarlett's eventual victory was completely wonderful, but I'm not sure all the preemptive stuttering was worth it. Although, maybe I'm missing the point, and one of the season finale twists will include the revelation that she is actually an anthropomorphic deer.
- Connie Britton consistently saves the show ... both the literal show and the concerts that happen within it. Additionally: HER HAIR.
"Nashville" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.