Promos for "Lovesick" touted the long-awaited Round 2 in the James-Barnes bout -- but the showdown between Rayna and Juliette, like much of the rest of the episode, felt a bit flat and predictable.
That's in spite of the acting; Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere have excellent enemy chemistry, but the plotting that pits them against each other here is contrived. For a 25th-anniversary show for the label, Rayna and Juliette must close the event with a duet, though each had assumed she'd have the finale to herself. Rayna argues that she made the label; Juliette, clad in a skin-tight no-BS red leather dress, glowers that she's given the company two multiplatinum albums.
But Marshall leverages Juliette's continuing image problems (dating Sean Butler isn't working as hoped; her PR flack sighs that "his fans are holding you responsible for his poor passing") and the release of Rayna's greatest hits against her wishes. As Liam shrugs to Rayna -- after the withering observation that Juliette has a "great rack, okay voice" -- it's about playing the game.
"Zinger"? I hardly even know 'er!
Game on, and the predictable catty snarking ensues. Rayna is late, and Juliette prims that she got there 20 minutes ago, then suggests they "skip over the part where we pretend like we like each other." Juliette snots that they should close the show with one of her songs, and Rayna yells that they're there "because you have fans whose parents don't want them looking up to a shoplifter!" Liam is laughing all "get this" while Deacon begs the women to get over it: "It's one song!"
Finally, Rayna goes too far: "You are gonna be on that stage because of me … you have not earned that place at all, and everybody here knows it!" Everybody includes Juliette, who walks out, and when Deacon jumps to her defense, Rayna goes too far again: "She's sure got you whipped, doesn't she?" Deacon whaps down a CD of the song he and Juliette co-wrote: "Tell me she doesn't have it in her."
And then it turns into a reluctant-buddy movie when Rayna goes over to Juliette's house to say they need to write a whole new song -- together. It's hilarious work from Britton, from Rayna's monotone arrival line ("Great, thanks, beautiful house") to her response to Juliette's suspicious but hopeful "You want to write with me?" ("…Nope!"). The dueling-diva songwriting slumber party that ensues is kind of fun, but also kind of obvious, right down to Rayna grumbling, "We're going to be pros about it and get it done. Do you have coffee?"
Just as predictable is the subplot with Sean. Tilky Jones is putting a super-likeable stamp on a poor man's Tim Tebow, but it's hardly surprising when Juliette marches over to his house to blow off steam with a little nookie and Sean puts a stop to it -- he won't Do It until he's married. Juliette, hurt, lashes out: is the whole relationship fake to him still? Is he gay? Sean comes to her dressing room before the show with pink make-up roses; he knows "it's weird," but he wants to get to know her better. "If you did you wouldn't like me too much," Juliette pouts. "It's too late," he tells her -- another clanky, seen-it-before exchange almost bailed out by the actors.
Politics get sickening
The mayoral-race subplot isn't exactly full of twists either -- Coleman shows Teddy the photos of him and Peggy hugging, and tells Teddy to withdraw or he'll release them. He believes Teddy didn't cheat on Rayna, but doesn't think anyone else will. Teddy makes the first of the two hundred nauseated faces he pulls during the episode, and Lamar's suggested strategy of coming clean, getting "rid of" Peggy (whatever sinister thing that might mean), and going negative against Coleman doesn't make Teddy any less green around the gills. Informed that she needs to tell her husband what's up, Peggy looks close to hurling herself. The scenes that follow, only-on-TV nonsense with Rayna asking what's wrong and Teddy lying through his rising gorge that they'll talk about it later, made us queasy. It's fine to put Teddy's plot on hold for a week, but just do that, instead of making the characters oblivious to each other's facial expressions.
The clumsiest storyline of all is Scarlett's. She's sad about Avery and blaming herself; he's got his name on the marquee at the Tequila Cowboy thanks to Cougar Marilyn (complete with broody greasy-haired picture of him on the poster -- nice touch, set designers), which makes her even sadder: "I've never missed one of his shows before." Gunnar is fed up with the boo-boo-kitty routine, ostensibly because she's now saddled with songwriter's block: "Do what your uncle does; write about it." She can't, and even Deacon is like, stop over cleaning my kitchen and get out of the house already, so Gunnar enlists Hailey to get Scarlett dressed up and drunk off her butt.
Hailey's got this, showing up to the Deaclett house with a low-cut dress and real talk: "The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else." But when the three go out to a honky-tonk, of course Gunnar gets jealous when Scarlett does shots and dances with another guy; of course he lies to Hailey that he just doesn't want Scarlett "to do something she'll regret later"; of course Scarlett gets up with the house band to sing "Ring of Fire" and Gunnar stares at her like she's a 16-piece chicken dinner with all the fixin's while Hailey is like, "Hi, standing right here"; and of course Scarlett has to act all Amish "wait, you like me That Way?" when Gunnar pulls Dancing Dude off her, get mad at Gunnar for liking her, and run to Avery's house.
And that goes as well as you'd expect, as Scarlett's in the middle of saying she misses Avery when Marilyn appears, shirtless, in the bedroom doorway. Scarlett runs off, again; Avery yells that he didn't start having sex with Marilyn until Scarlett dumped HIM. "I don't love her!" Yeah, that always helps. Except not really.
Later, at the anniversary show, Scarlett tells Gunnar she wants to write. Gunnar, with cartoon hearts streaming out of his eyes: "I'd love to." Yes, Gunnar. WE KNOW.
The episode wraps up with the duet, which doesn't sound that great to us, but Rayna and Juliette enjoy it in spite of themselves, and exchange warm(er) looks while Liam and Deacon bond on guitar. Marshall: "This is gonna be huge."
Odds and ends
We're loving Liam's unwittingly scathing comments; when he calls Deacon a huge talent, and wonders why he never pursued a solo career, Rayna twitches.
Juliette and Deacon, talking on the stage before a rehearsal, are standing in a heart-shaped spotlight. Later, during the overnight songwriting session, Juliette asks if the song is "about Deacon" for Rayna. "Not necessarily," Rayna says. "How about for you?" "All of them," Juliette says. If we heard it correctly, the song's title is "You Got the Wrong Song." Hmm…
Watch "Lovesick Blues" in its entirety right here:
"Nashville" airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on ABC.