'Nashville' recap: Off the beaten path
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.
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.)