OK guys. I, your dilatory Nashville recapper, have been looking forward to recapping this TRAGICALLY MISOGYNISTIC episode for so long now, and since then, this show has descended into such a pit of bathos and absurdity that I almost… almost… feel bad about making fun of it. But I have assuaged my guilt by reminding myself that the real sufferers here are not the creators of this show but the people who are watching it.
Previously on Nashville: Rayna got an envelope from a stalker; Highway 65 acquired a dweeby, thieving social media manager; Maddie met a cute boy named Clay; Zach Welles, the Not!Mark Zuckerberg of the show, offered to infuse his oodles of money into Highway 65; Zach introduced the Exes to a pretentious, British-accented music video director who referred to the heroine of the song as “chaotic and alive.”
Rayna, Zach, and the director, Damien, are wandering the grounds of a grand old mansion that Rayna has suggested to fit with Damien’s concept. Damien half-pretends to be modest about whether he’ll succeed at this video, and compliments the Exes.
Inside, Gunnar’s been dressed in a tux and bowtie and even more hair gel than usual; Scarlett emerges from her dressing room with fetching forties-style finger curls. She’s wearing a white lacy silk garment with ruffly strap sleeves, so, basically, her daily uniform. “Feels a little bit more like a slip than a dress,” she complains. Seriously, SCARLETT SAYS THIS. Scarlett, who literally has not worn anything that wasn’t white and lacy in the last four and a half years. Then she declares to Damien that “You can see my everything through it.” Heh. Is she five? Damien takes this opportunity to touch an area on her chest that lies uncomfortably close to the “everything” Scarlett was presumably referring to :cough:nips:cough: and declare that she is playing a woman with no filter who works on Gunnar’s character like a drug. He tells the costume director to lower the neckline and lose the ruffles. Scarlett frowns. Don’t take away Scarlett’s ruffles Damien! Her arms might fall off without them, like Jenny and the green ribbon!
Rayna and Bucky work on the budget at Highway 65 when Rayna gets distracted by her missing jewelry box. She frowns, then immediately goes over to Randall’s desk and opens the exact drawer where he has hidden it. Think about this for a second. You have people coming in and out of this office all the time, most of them musicians and other not-traditionally-rule-following characters, and your first response to not finding something that’s usually on your desk is not to check in your own drawers, not to check the corners of your own room, not to check in ANY normal place that you might find a small object, but to march over to your geeky social media manager’s desk and open the top drawer? Does Rayna’s magical hair also give her magical clairvoyance?
That night, Maddie and Clay are hanging out and listening to music in his car. He explains that it’s Arthur Alexander, who was covered by the Beatles and the Stones but never got famous. He starts to explain that though it’s R&B, the guitar line is a country song—but Maddie gets there first. “OK, it’s almost like you know something about this,” he says. Maddie says, “As crazy as it sounds, I actually knew something before you came along.” I like that little exchange. It’s possible for him both to be right about the fact that she knows nothing about the black artists whose work has been undercredited and appropriated by white-dominated country music, and to be super fucking mansplainy, at one and the same time. He tells her she should go listen to music at Joe’s, and then laughs gently at her when she hasn’t heard of it. She laughs and admits to being sheltered and uncultured. They agree to go right that moment.
At Joe’s, a young woman is singing a kick-ass song when Maddie and Clay arrive and sit at a table. During the applause, the woman waves at Clay and introduces him as the “itinerant poet laureate.” He pretends to demur but quite happily gets up on stage and sings a song called “Before You” while Maddie beams adoringly from the table.
After the performance, they leave by taking a shortcut into a parking lot, where Clay explains that the old Dixie Tabernacle was there. Maddie interrupts to show off her own knowledge of the history of the Dixie Tabernacle, which apparently housed the Opry at some point. He quizzes her gently about the Opry’s first superstar, and Maddie says knowingly that she knows what he wants her to say and that he’s going to tell her she’s wrong anyway. She’s pretty likeable in this scene—holding her own against his condescension, but taking with good grace the actual information he’s giving her to enrich her privileged understanding. So he tells her a story about a famous black harmonica player who experienced racism, and explains that he loves history becuase he’s had such a wild, chaotic life. She kisses him, but he pulls away and points out that she’s still underage. “Really?” Maddie says indignantly, clearly not recognizing what could happen to a black man who has sex with an underaged white girl (or not caring, because she has an underdeveloped frontal lobe, because she’s too young for him).
Back at the mansion, Gunnar sits in his tux at the head of a large feast, while Scarlett… crawls on the table, drinks other people’s wine, and throws the glass over her shoulder. Wow, this is worse than it sounded, and it sounded bad. She gets impatient and asks to pause. “Maybe it would help if I knew why I was doing what I’m doing,” she tells Damien. He explains that each of us has two masters—the cool and rational one, and the darker destructive one—and that she’s transgressing because she gets off on it.
There are no words for how much I hate this dude. He is acting like he’s super brilliant for coming up with the most obvious stereotype of a woman. The femme fatale, who gets off on transgressing? That’s your big idea for this song? Well, great, but that doesn’t make you an artiste. You can just go direct a James Bond movie.
Anyway, he asks her what she’d do if there were no consequences, and Scarlett says probably the same thing that she does now. He thinks that there’s more to her than that. Moral of the story, just like every other similar story that has been told countless times in Western culture: women don’t really know themselves, and need a brilliant man to unlock their real thoughts (and then, eventually, their vaginas) with the power of manly insight.
Back at Highway 65, Rayna and Bucky confront poor Randall with the jewelry box. He immediately bursts into tears. But when they mention the letters, he gets confused and says he just stole the box for his mom. Then Bucky asks him to write down a sentence on a legal pad, using the words “their” and “there.” He declares that the handwriting’s different and Randall, unlike the stalker, can tell the two there’s apart. Is that… really a scientific way of proving this? Would Randall not have known to disguise his handwriting in one of the two letters he wrote? Sigh. Anyway, they decide not to press charges, just fire him. Rayna confesses she is still freaked out by the mysterious letter-writer.
At the Jaymes manse, Daphne interrupts Maddie strumming on her guitar and teases her about writing a song for her new boyfriend. Just then Clay calls. “Hey Clay, what’s up?” Daphne sasses, imitating Maddie’s high-pitched phone voice with Clay. Since I haven’t said it yet this week, Daphne is the best. Anyway, Clay melts Maddie’s initial coldness by asking to hear what she’s working on, so she plays her new song into the phone. He stops her and says it’s too good to hear over the phone.
Downstairs, Rayna and Deacon are cuddling on the couch facing forward as Maddie saunters out. You would think they were facing a TV or something, but apparently they’re just staring at the wall. Despite their chemistry and Connie Britton’s general amazingness, these might be two of the most vacuous creatures I’ve ever seen on TV. Anyway, they ask Maddie where she’s going and she says, “Out, to meet a boy.” Their faces are a little panicked, sort of torn between being happy to get the truth and being totally fucking alarmed. As they start questioning her, Maddie says patronizingly that she loves them. “Well, we love you too, that’s why we’re so curious about your life, and this boy, and all the things…” Rayna says. Heh! Maddie insists she’s leaving, and they tell her to have fun, but not too much. Then, when they’re alone, Deacon “jokes,” “Which car do you want to follow her in?”
Back at the site of the music video, Scarlett is unconvincingly pretending to throw wine glasses at Gunnar while she stands on the table. Damien stops the camera and asks Scarlett patronizingly, “Do you know what being angry means?” Scarlett bursts out, crying, “I don’t know how to do what you want me to do!” Then he has the gall to declare that that’s what he wanted from her, makes her keep filming, and she lashes out like a trapped animal and scratches Gunnar. When the scene’s over, he kisses her on the cheek as if they’re friends now, and invites them out to drinks. Scarlett says she has to go lie down, and Gunnar agrees to go out if it’s OK with Scarlett, which is both fairly out of character for the usually sensitive Gunnar, and also entirely understandable since she just hit him really hard. Anyway, she gives him a dirty look and asks, “Why would I care?”
Maybe the reason she can’t display anger on screen is she’s been wasting her emotional energy all season on cooking up totally absurd reasons to get mad at Gunnar? Just a thought.
Maddie has met up with Clay and follows him into a small apartment, which is actually a studio where he also lives. She plays her song for him, and he moves from a stool across the room to sit on the sofabed next to her. They kiss again, and again Clay dramatically pulls away. He tells her she doesn’t know what she’s doing with him, and she says, “Clay, I’m not a virgin, if…” which is adorable.
Then follows a surprisingly (for TV anyway) perceptive scene. Clay says they’re tiptoeing around the bigger issue, race. Maddie can’t see what race has to do with anything, and he rightly says that her saying that is part of the problem. She says people do it every day and it’s “not that hard.” Oof. Clay, understandably, gets angry that she’s trying to tell him how the world works after growing up so wealthy and sheltered. Maddie, also understandably, is hurt by his raising his voice at her and leaves. He lamely says again that her song is great, clearly feeling guilty. As soon as she’s gone, he sinks down to the floor with a heavy sigh.
At the bar, Gunnar is enjoying a very strong “warmup” drink with Damien. Damien says British boys all want to be American cowboys. Then he declares that it’s his job to make actors bare their souls. Speaking of which, what is his relationship with Scarlett like? He gets Gunnar to admit that he messed up the relationship (which… is kind of revisionist, or at least ignores Scarlett’s rather large share of the responsibility for how bad things eventually got last season, although Scarlett blames him often enough that I guess it’s sunk in).
Scarlett is lying awake in bed, clearly pissed that Gunnar’s still out, when he stumbles in drunk and tries to spoon her. She snippily says she hasn’t slept yet and has to be up soon, and when he kisses her she pleads that she’s too anxious about pretend sex on camera to have real sex now.
The next day on camera, Scarlett and Gunnar dance with other partners, and Damien bullies Scarlett about being sexier with the other dude to make Gunnar jealous. “It’s not me,” she finally says. “I don’t do the things you’re asking me to do, I don’t move the way you’re asking me to move.” She says it’s degrading. Damien pretends to understand this and then says that other women, from Madonna to Isadora Duncan, have empowered themselves by performing their sexuality “on their own terms.” He uses this exact phrase and then immediately tells Scarlett, literally, to “quiet the voice in her head” and do exactly what he wants her to do. Um… I don’t want to be a KILLJOY or anything, but it sounds like those are YOUR terms, Damien.
Anyway, he puts condescending hands on her shoulder, and advises her to “own it.” Scarlett says she doesn’t want to, and he’s treating this like it’s a therapy session. “You’re just some dude with screwed-up views about women all being secret sexpots and it’s your spiritual journey to awaken all of us,” she says, with a hilariously awkward throwing-up-the-hands gesture. He orders the scene shot again from the top, and Scarlett declares strongly that he has enough, and she’s not doing it again.
I could have cheered out loud at this moment, which on any half-decent show would have been a moment of triumph for Scarlett. Of course, as we know, it is actually just the last gasp of her self-respect before everything goes to absolute shit.
Damien screams that everything they’ve done so far is worthless, and makes his camera person delete the card. The cameraperson hesitates, then deletes it. Scarlett lifts her chin, looking furious, and walks away. Gunnar, having learned a little bit of a lesson from last night, follows.
After the commercial, Scarlett’s stalking out of the building, Gunnar following and making pathetic excuses for Damien (“He’s just passionate”? Like, I mean, sure, if by “passionate” you mean “passionate about trying to assert his dominance over women.”) Scarlett makes a passive-aggressive jab about his “man date,” and Gunnar uses the cheap cop-out of “If you didn’t want me to go you should’ve just said so.” Finally he says, “Maybe it’s OK to push the envelope.” He pretends it’s so that she can feel more free. She says she’s OK with who she is, the fact that she cares about people and is nice even to people she doesn’t like. Go Scarlett! Just then Damien interrupts to say something stupid about how not everything he will say will make sense, but… it’s because of art, or something.
Shut up, Damien. (That should probably be the title of this episode.)
Maddie’s hanging out at her internship acting utterly uninvested in her job when she gets a text from Clay, saying, “Feeling better?” She doesn’t answer. Meanwhile, in his apartment, he lies alone on the bed with the lights out, and then… turns over and reaches for a bottle of pills. Oh, good lord.
Juliette is in her wheelchair in her living room when Maddie stops by. She proudly shows off her several inches of leg movement, then asks to hear about Maddie’s problem. Maddie tells her about Clay, framing this problem as the fact that he was “mean” the night before. Juliette says if he doesn’t think Maddie knows what she’s getting into, she should take him at his word. She’s been in too many relationships where she thought there was someone sweeter, nicer version of the person underneath the jerk. Maddie says adorably, “If it’s so obvious then why have you done it so many times?” Juliette chuckles and says it’s because screwed-up men are sexy.
Clay is out on a different corner than usual, singing. Two redneck types come out and ask him to sing “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Clay says he doesn’t know it, but they know he’s lying and offer him $20 for it. “You saying my money’s no good here?” he says, like Clay’s some kind of gumball machine. Clay says it’s a crap song. The men advance on him menacingly, asking if he thinks he’s better than them. Clay stays silent, afraid.
Rayna and Zach are visiting the music video set, in time for Rayna to see Scarlett unconvincingly rip Gunnar’s tie off. Rayna watches, frowning, as Scarlett is wrapped in a bathrobe, looking dead-eyed. Rayna asks if she’s OK, looking worried. Scarlett says that she is, but Rayna sees through it. She asks Zach if Damien is pushing a little too hard. Zach basically says that he wouldn’t barge into a studio and tell the producer to record differently, and Rayna says, cloaking it in a smile, “Maybe I would if the producer was being abusive.” But Zach just says Damien is a genius and you have to trust him. Yeah, that worked out great with Roman Polanski.
Maddie comes to Clay’s apartment to find him in bad shape, his face beat to hell. He faints as soon as he tries to get up, and she calls 911, crying.
After waiting at the hospital lobby, Maddie tries to get an update on Clay, but can’t because she’s not family. Meanwhile she ignores calls from her family.
Will’s hanging out outside the set when Zach finds him and bonds over both of them being kicked out of the “sensitive” filming. He knows Will’s music, and asks him what Luke’s vision for him is. Will innocently says his vision is to “get the music out there.” Zach swoops in to offer to get Will an interview with the New York Times. Will sort of demurs, so Zach apologizes for getting carried away—and puts his number into Will’s phone. NOICE.
Back up at the mansion, Damien is forcing Scarlett to act out an even more absurd scene where she puts off having sex with Gunnar by “tortur[ing] him until he realizes he loves it.” Scarlett says she’s not comfortable with that, and Damien basically says her reasons aren’t good enough because they aren’t philosophical ideas.
For most decent human beings, “I’m not comfortable” is a philosophically legitimate reason not to make someone do something, but not if you’re a rapey creep like Damien. He tells Scarlett she’s not famous yet because she hasn’t exposed all her pain to the world for their own voyeurism. And he mentions something Gunnar told him about how he was the reason Scarlett started to sing, which does not improve Scarlett’s mood. Nor does Damien accusing her of being a doormat who takes her man back after he’s slept with half of Nashville. Gunnar, realizing he’s in the shit, finally starts to say that if Scarlett wants to leave, they can. But his pathetically late gesutre at support is way too late at this point, since Scarlett is in a rage and screams at both of them to shut up. Damien just uses this as proof that he’s won by, essentially, breaking her. They film the scene again, with Scarlett looking absolutely furious the entire time. It’s totally gross and upsetting.
Clay gets released from the hospital, and Maddie tries to give him a ride or take him back home, but he doesn’t want her to take care of him. He says to go and “do you.” She says she doesn’t want that, and he finally admits that the problem is that he’s bipolar. She says there are things he can do, but he says he can’t take the medicine because it interferes with his music. Maddie declares that she doesn’t care, and that he’s just scared. He scoffs that he’s not just going to show up at her parents’ house and say, “Hi, mom, hi dad. I’m your daughter’s broke-ass, older boyfriend, and oh, by the way, I’m off my meds, nice to meet you.” Hee! Maddie says she does want that because she cares about him, but he leaves.
So Scarlett and Gunnar wrap up their dumb-ass sex scene, and Scarlett leaves in silence as everyone else cheers. Damien finds her in her dressing room and tells her that she’s been incredible, and that he believes she has a bright future. She doesn’t answer at first, but then turns around and asks him, “What gives you the nerve to treat people like that?” And he says, “Wait till you see the video.”
Um, NO. Abusing a female artist into living up to ancient, stupid, misogynistic stereotypes is not going to produce its own magical justification by resulting in a great piece of art. Puh-lease. (And even if it does, that’s not a justification, obviously.)
Daphne comes to Maddie’s room to wake her up, but Maddie, looking tired and despondent, says she’s not coming to breakfast.
Scarlett gets up and finds Gunnar in the kitchen, making multiple varieties of pancakes and referring to Damien as “Mr. Self-Proclaimed Genius” in transparent attempts to suck up to her while pretending that he hasn’t been totally undermining her. Then Scarlett gets on his case for telling Damien about their history, and says, basically, that she doesn’t want people to know about their business. Which, for the record, is also a totally uncool thing to say – you can’t just forbid your partner from talking about their own personal life with their friends. Gunnar, however, just says that he’s grateful for her and her strength, and pulls her into a sweet hug.
Maddie comes to breakfast and Rayna and Deacon ask her where she was, and say that if she wants to be treated like an adult, she has to be an adult and answer her text messages. She explains that Clay was in the hospital, but doesn’t exactly sound apologetic. Rayna says they want to know if she’s OK, and if she has a new guy they want to meet him. Maddie dismissively says it’s over now anyway, but just then the doorbell rings and—of course—it’s Clay, wearing a nice jacket, his face still banged up. He introduces himself to them with a cute, hopeful smile on his face. They thank him and invite him in, as Maddie beams a beautiful smile from the stairwell. As he starts to talk to Rayna and Deacon, she bounds into the room and gives him a giant hug.
Bucky and Rayna are at Highway 65, and Bucky tells Rayna that the video went way over budget, and Scarlett is “livid.” Meanwhile, there’s an agitated man trying to get in to give something to Rayna, only to be fought off by, of all people, petite little Bucky. It’s Rayna’s stalker!
Now, I know that with TV shows you have to give them time to play out. Sometimes great plotlines play with your expectations—you think it’s just going to be another cliched love story about a woman falling in love with a man because he is aggressive and demeaning to her, and it turns out to be about deconstructing that cliche. And there’s still time for Nashville to get there, but since I’m recapping this late, I have several weeks’ worth of episodes indicating that the show lost all interest in exploring what a total shit Damien is, and how offensive literally everything that comes out of his mouth was. So to sum up:
Shut up, Damien.