Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 2 of ABC's "Nashville," titled "Never No More."
Welcome to the brand new "Nashville," where Juliette's act is not the only thing that has been rid of its "bubble gum and glitter." A slightly mopey -- though necessary -- episode, "Never No More" is all about constructing the major arcs of the second season, and boy, are there problems that need solving. There's plenty signature soapiness, but it seems the core of the forthcoming plots will bring the focus to the music industry instead of break-ups and make-ups. As a pouty Scarlett was told by an even poutier Deacon: "This business ... it can eat you alive."
Potential wife-murderer Lamar was conspicuously absent this week, but we are soon introduced to a far more compelling villain (who seems less likely to smell of aged scotch). Meet Jeff Fordham: the new chief of Edgehill records, who replaced that sniveling prick Marshall. He's cunning and handsome in this delicious "perpetually plotting rich dude" way, and you just know he's going to cause all the trouble.
"He's a Harvard bean counter," Bucky stressfully tells Rayna of their new account manager. And Jeff lives up the name, counting up all his little beans, and determining to snub Juliette, while welcoming in Will as the "future of country" -- by stealing him from Rayna's label Highway 65. So illogically devilish!
Poaching Will is definitely underhanded, but it seems like a typical, Harvard bean counter-type thing to do. It's confusing, though, why Jeff is so obviously pitting himself against Juliette, but the "Love Like Mine" singer is no stranger to questionably vengeful plot lines, and rather than waste time being confused, she gets pissed (and then attempts to get even).
In one of many instances in which Juliette blatantly lies about things people said over the course of the episode, she claims Jeff asked her to "fake her own death to boost sales." Juliette is also still annoyed by her inability to keep Rayna in a coma via prayers, and angrily devises a plan to spite the both of them. In a classic Barnes huff, she decides to go to Alabama, wear her hair in American Girl style pigtails, and pretend to get choked up as she walks through the trailer park where she grew-up.
It's all set up to be one of Juliette's better weird revenge plots. The only problem is that there are people who still live in said trailer park. Since they are real humans and not just props, Juliette ends up getting truly choked up while trying to get fake choked up. The tour de Alabama is a whole new realm of unplanned expressiveness for our reactionary star, who really loses it upon seeing a terrifyingly ugly metal sun/skull with holes for eyes (which her dad "made for her when she was four," clearly while too drunk or high to understand that four-year-olds don't have any real for need battle masks).
Meanwhile, a brand new "Nashville" means a brand new Rayna. People in soap operas go into comas with the same frequency that people in real life get the sniffles, and sometimes they wake up as a different person entirely. This re-invented Rayna is tough and just plain tired of the crap. She is ready to make some real changes in her life and also say strange things like "Did you see how Maddie iced me?" She was always dripping in that "Queen of Country" wisdom, but Miss James is particularly sharp in this episode. "I know what happens when those guys get in there, we've got to get in there!" she tells Bucky repetitively. Alas, her intuitions are too late as Will is beguiled into an Edgehill contract over the course of a mere three scenes.
New Rayna has also had just about enough of Old Deacon, who is acting like an angry drunk man, despite being completely sober. Although Scarlett was not in the self-reinvention coma with Rayna, she also seems to have developed a backbone for the new season. She finally snaps at Deacon in the car ride over to the Doctor. "I thought about it," she tells him later, "And everything you said is crap."
It's true. Ever since the accident, Deacon is acting like a wayward redneck. He refuses to seek physical therapy for his injuries, tries selling all his guitars, and says his "hand will heal when it heals," before cutting off his cast with a saw and trying to vengefully treat himself (?) by playing guitar. We get it, Deacon, you're depressed, but right now you are just not making smart use of modern medicine.
Gunnar has also added "super annoying" to his list of personality traits. He sits struggling with writer's block like he is this tortured artist, before singing "When I want a beer/I grab one that's here." He then asks Scarlett's deus ex machina of
much needed diversity in an otherwise all white cast a best friend if she knows a good rhyme for "beer." Can someone tell him about rhyming dictionaries? Why is this his creative process?
Just when we are getting fully fed up with the parody of himself that Gunnar is becoming, the song he ends up finally writing reminds us the recent death of his long-lost brother. It's almost as if the writers are looking at us through the television and saying, "Oh, are you getting tired of this character's painfully repetitive idiosyncrasies? Maybe you should think about that while you feel some guilt over their painfully tragic backstory."
This device is prevalent on Juliette's trip to Alabama as with Rayna and Deacon's exhaustingly tragic love story. For the main players, the narrative seems to pulse between panging reminders of the heartbreak they have has endured and the presentation of the new obstacles they must overcome. Between the traumatic past and strategically frustrating present, there is not a single happy Nashvillian left in town.
I am so excited for all the problems New Edgehill artist Layla Grant will most certainly cause in the coming weeks! Also, how great were all the Juliette, Rayna, and Scarlett's reactions to her performance? It was like a little eyebrow-raising party.
Will's stalker/ex-lover Brett threatens to expose his -- gasp -- gayness! So, hopefully that inevitable plot line ends with a peaceful realization of acceptance (spoiler alert: it almost definitely won't).
This might be slightly far-fetched, but Jeff "Bean Counter" Fordham's ability to be so "persuasive" with both Will and Brett had definite sexual undertones -- could Jeff be gay, too? How would that affect his reaction to Will's (plausible) coming out? Will Brett be jealous and expose it all?!?
Maddie is SO sassy to Rayna. I get that she is transitioning from a tween to a teen and kind of confused about who to idolize as a father figure, but jeez! Girl is giving Dana from "Homeland" a run for her money.
"Nashville" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.