'Nashville' recap: Off the beaten path

Sarah D. Bunting
Yahoo! TV
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"Nashville" -- "Where He Leads Me"

Hayden Panettiere in the "Nashville" episode, "Where He Leads Me."

The "Nashville" winter finale, "Where He Leads Me," led all the plots quite a ways forward -- in fact, it downright shoved the storylines along. It's great to see certain subplots stop dithering and get where they've been headed; it's high time Rayna smelled what Teddy's been cooking (namely, the books), and we like Hayley, but she's not the one Gunnar loves.

At the same time, though, the splits, revelations, and reversals in "Where He Leads Me" led away from what gave "Nashville" such a strong start: the nuances the actors played so well, the emotional honesty underneath the melodrama.

Family tries

Juliette's meet-the-parents odyssey does mix truth and commotion effectively. She's riding high after her duet with Rayna, trying to leverage its success into getting her tour back on the rails; when Sean comes by with flowers, she's pleased, but also wonders how long he's going to keep up "this whole 'no sex before marriage' thing." "Until. I'm. Married," he says patiently, but Juliette's encouraged by his inviting her to meet his parents -- at church on Sunday. She's trying heroically to make a good impression, singing with the choir (to Sean, really), filling a long pause with pointed mugging until Sean's mother invites her to Sunday dinner with the fam, and bringing Sean's super-fan sister Dana a pair of boots Dana admired from one of Juliette's videos. Sean's mom doesn't want Dana to accept them, but Juliette insists: "I never had a sister, so this is fun for me."

Juliette is thrilled to snuggle into the bosom of Sean's family, but when Juliette thanks Mom for having her, Mom takes the myth of Southern hospitality out back and shoots it: "You didn't leave us much choice, did you." Brrrr. Mom goes on that they "won't see" Sean's brand tarnished to repair Juliette's, and isn't trying to hear that Juliette really cares about Sean. "You, this family: don't hold your breath, sweetie." A nice moment for Hayden Panettiere as her eyes fill with tears and she gives a sad little nod…

…and then, next to the candle-lit pool that night, she proposes to Sean. Boom.

Gunnar proposes to Scarlett too -- in a way. Hayley knows exactly what time it is, and suggests to Scarlett that she try out for a band that needs a lead singer. (The band's name: the Epic Fails. Love it.) Gunnar gets angry that Hayley is interfering with their songwriting, which proves to Hayley that Gunnar's protective behavior is more than friendly, so she dumps him: "It's over. It's always been over." We agree; good for you, girl.

Gunnar goes to the Bluebird, finds Scarlett setting up, and gives her the kind of speech Donna Martin used to get all the time on "Beverly Hills 90210" about how very talented and gorgeous and kind and perfect she is, and kisses her. Scarlett responds at first, then pushes him away: "You can't just go kissing people because you feel like it!" A typically "unicorn in the headlights" reaction from a character who gets more folksy and unbearable with every episode. That night, invited to the stage at the Bluebird, she refuses to go up, because she's confused, or made of spun sugar, or something, so Gunnar sings one of their songs in progress while Scarlett looks wistful and distracted. (Which we're sure the bar's patrons are psyched about.)

Tweebound relationship

Later, Scarlett wants to talk about "the stuff that you can't take back even if you want to." Gunnar says mildly, "Who said I want to take it back?" But Scarlett, wearing yet another Anthropologie sale-rack reject, is still confused -- oy vey; you love the guy back or you don't -- and needs some time, and Gunnar finally snaps at her: "Cool, fine. Whatever. Good luck with your new band." Then record label calls with good news: they've sold a song. Hayley brings in champagne flutes. Everyone stares around awkwardly. Kudos for not postponing the inevitable in this plot, but the real issue is that Scarlett and her vintage banjo aren't relatable.

Rayna's narrative is relatable, and Connie Britton is fantastic as usual, but once Rayna's informed about the photos and what's really going on between Peggy and Teddy, she seems to spend most of the episode bursting into rooms and lobbing wounded accusations. She does it to Coleman (who correctly notes that he's just playing the game Lamar started), and her family (she accuses Tandy of hiding these things from her, and it turns out Tandy set them up on their first date), and Teddy himself (he's a thief, he's having strategy sessions about Coleman and the photos without her). She says things like, "Is winning this election so important?" She takes a page from "The Good Wife" and does a press conference to stand by her man, but her eyes are completely dead.

It's good acting work, but plot-wise, it feels predictable -- even the part when Peggy shows up at campaign HQ, is brushed off by Teddy, and downs a bunch of pills. But it does have a few interesting moments. Teddy comes into the bedroom and finds Rayna staring, hidden by a curtain of her hair. They discuss the nature of his crimes, and she tells him he didn't commit them to protect the family: "You did it for yourself." We didn't need the money, she says, still not understanding that that's exactly why he bumbled down this path -- to prove himself, to have his own thing. And he doesn't understand that not having an affair with Peggy doesn't mean Rayna can trust him anymore.

Rayna and Deacon have a détente moment after Coleman releases the pictures and Deacon calls to check on her. Deacon's been offered the chance to go on tour with his old friends the Revel Kings. The band members are flawlessly written and costumed as aging rockers trying to get over with their old look, though that's not why Deacon's wary of the opportunity -- but when the guys show him their sobriety chips, he's appeased somewhat, and decides to go. (Despite the lead singer's guitar-shaped pool. Nice touch.) Deacon's just had a strip ripped off him by Juliette for visiting her mom in rehab and urging Juliette to take her calls. Juliette delivers a tearful monologue about having to eat dry pancake mix and how her first kiss was from one of her mom's "creepy boyfriends," then tells Deacon to fix his own problems, and he decides to do just that. Rayna agrees that he should see "what's around the next bend" -- that maybe they both should. When Marshall proposes a far more equitable Rayna/Juliette tour set-up, she's "not sayin' no."

Avery's weighing that too; Dominic (Wyclef Jean), the hotshot producer, wants to work with him and only him. Avery avers his loyalty to his bandmates, Marilyn urges him not to strangle his career in the crib…it's pretty obvious stuff, but the writers have gone interesting ways with Avery before, so we'll see.

Odds and ends

Rayna explains to Deacon that the situation with Teddy is "complicated." "That's the last thing I ever thought he was," Deacon says. Zing!

When Deacon says he's in for the tour, they toast with bottled water, which 1) is bad luck, and 2) we think we heard the name of the water as "Vichy, the best water in France." Not the best branding in France, though, we're guessing.

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Watch the full episode:

"Nashville" airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on ABC.