Nashville Recap: Let’s Duet

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Manipulation, or negotiation? In Nashville, it seems as if you can’t have one without the other. And finally, our country singin’ minivan-lovin’ heroine is getting hip to both.

Edgehill Republic has their big, 25th anniversary show coming up at the Ryman, neither Rayna nor Juliette are getting what they want. Rayna, for one, wants to play a new song –one of those whisky-induced concoctions she worked up with rock n’roller bigshot Liam at his pad late at night. “I don’t think this is the right time or venue to introduce your new sound,” says labelmaster Marshall Evans, holding the idea of a greatest hits record over Rayna’s head again. Rayna does not want a greatest hits record. For some reason, she sees this as the equivalent of releasing an album of Wiggles cover songs. Actually, she might even like that better.

It’s not going much better for Juliette. Fans of Sean Butler, her football player boy-toy, are staring to call her “country kryptonite” because his passing has sucked so much since they got together (for the record, it seemed clear that he sucked before they met, too). But she has bigger problems. In a meeting with Marshall, he breaks the news that she’s only going to get to play one song at the Ryman anniversary show – and it’s going to have to be with her arch nemesis, Rayna James. “We’re all judged by the company we keep,” Marshall tells Juliette.

At rehearsal, Rayna gets some more Marshall-fed bad news. If she doesn’t agree to the duet, then that dreaded greatest hits record will be released. What to do? Rayna asks Liam what he thinks of Juliette. “Nice rack,” is his response. Well, that’s no help. But Rayna’s getting hip the fact that to survive in Nashville, one must scheme. She’s going to call Marshall and lay the stipulation that if she sings with Juliette, then her next album is going to be original material, produced by Liam.

“Manipulation?” asks Liam, impressed.

“Negotiation,” Rayna smirks back. Nicely done.

And speak of the devil: there’s a political race going on. Coleman calls Teddy to meet him at the Riverwalk at night. He wants Teddy to withdraw as a candidate – he’s got those incriminating photos showing him and Peggy together looking like lovahs, and he’ll release them in a week. Coleman knows that Teddy wasn’t cheating, but no matter. The rest of Nashville will think so. He runs to Lamar with sad puppy-dog eyes, as usual, and Lamar tells him there really is no choice but to get rid of Peggy, whatever that means. Later, we learn he’s going to get real dirty by keeping the drug charges alive against Coleman long enough to soil his whole campaign once and for all. Maybe Donald Trump will show up next week with a final game-changer!

Down on Lower Broadway, Avery is checking out some ridiculously large posters his new manager worked up for his big headlining gig in the window of Tequila Cowboy. He’s excited, but can’t get over the sadness that his dear Scarlett is not going to see his big debut at this big, fake, stinky tourist trap. But Scarlett is depressed, too, moping around the Bluebird, wondering if she made a huge mistake by letting Avery go. She’s been having writer’s block – too heartbroken. Someone needs to tell this girl that 99% percent of the good songs created in her fair town are about lost love and shattered relationships. Did she not get the memo?

Anyway, the publishing assistant shows up and tells Scarlett that “the best way to get over someone is to get on someone else,” so she puts her in a fancy black dress and heels, kind of like that first dinner scene in Pretty Woman, and takes her honkytonking. Gunnar’s there, of course, and he can’t stand the attention that his writing partner is getting from some drunk dude, or that Scarlett’s letting loose, downing tequila shots and going up on stage to perform a weird whiney version of “Ring of Fire” with the band whose lead singer looks like a cross between either singer in ZZ Top and Cousin It. When she hops afterwards into the arms of drunk dude, Gunnar’s had enough. He can’t even hide his crush from his publishing assistant girlfriend. “I’m supposed to let loose!” Scarlett cries. “I didn’t know you were that loose,” Gunnar fires back. Ouch.

Meanwhile, Rayna and Juliette have met up to hash out the details of their duet. Settling on a song to sing together certainly ain’t easy when both parties totally hate each other. After Rayna gets a little mean (“you have not earned your place here and everyone here knows it,” she immaturely cracks), Deacon approaches her, tossing a CD of his and Juliette’s song “Undermine” in her direction. “Listen to that and you tell me what girl doesn’t have what it takes to be a great songwriter,” he says before storming off.

I guess it convinces Rayna, because she shoes up at Juliette’s house later to write – they’ll come up with something original, together, and that will what they’ll perform at the Ryman. Juliette agrees, and they stay up till the sun rises debating about things like whether or not you need to have a bridge (Rayna says they must, because that’s what you do on Music Row). It had been a rough night already for Juliette – Sean had shown up, and they ended up in bed, ripping various items of clothing off. But turns out, he doesn’t want it to go any further than just making out. He’s not into casual sex. “You have about twenty tattoos and you don’t have sex?” Juliette exclaims (good point, though) before throwing him out. Anyway, she’s feeling inspired to write a song about how annoying dudes are, so it works out.

Scarlett decides to show up unannounced at someone’s house that night too – Avery’s. She wants to talk, but runs out in tears when she sees him there with his slutty manager, Marilyn, shirtless. She runs out crying to a waiting cab, which makes no sense in Nashville, but whatever. When she sees Gunnar the next night at the Ryman, she tells him she’s finally feeling inspired to write again. Phew – I thought the Civil Wars, er, I mean, Scarlett and Gunnar were going to break up. Oh wait.

Marilyn’s good for more than just sex though, because she makes good on her promise to bring Domino Wells (played by Wyclef Jean, which is weird), a label head looking for new acts, to Avery’s show. He’s at the Ryman, because so is everyone else in the world. He wants Avery to come to “A.T.L,” for something. More to come on that front, certainly.

But it’s the big Edgehill Republic concert night, and everyone is gathered at the Mother Church, a moniker about five different characters remind us of over the course of the show. Backstage, Juliette and prude Sean reunite. He brings her some flowers, explaining that he wants to wait until marriage to have sex, but can’t they date? She agrees and smiles, even after accusing him of being gay a couple times.

Now, for the big moment. Juliette and Rayna take the stage together, both in sparkly short dresses, to debut their Miranda Lambert-esque song. It starts contentious, but once they get to the bridge (one made it in after all – good job Rayna) they’re back to back, singing together, looking like they are actually enjoying this. Liam and Deacon even shred a little together. Leave it to the Mother Church to bring even the most dire enemies together. In the audience, Marshall mumbles that this is going to be a huge hit. Seems like all the manipulation and negotiation in the world isn’t going to let this sparkly, dynamic duo separate anytime soon.

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American Songwriter Live: Matthew Ryan