Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 10 of ABC's "Nashville," titled "Tomorrow Never Comes."
"Nashville" ambled along last night, stumbling through the lackluster loose ends of its midseason finale with with an insanely dull love triangle to water things down instead of spicing them up. And then, abruptly and unceremoniously, there was a suicide and a murder.
Peggy being suddenly shot by an old man in an FBI sweatshirt was just the kind of quick, non-emotional and mostly implausible death I was expecting when E! online reported that a major character would be written off. She'd spent the episode playing the role of unlikable step mom, ultimately driving home her uselessness outside of riling Maddie's angst-ridden teen feathers and wearing political-looking jackets in an effort to support of lie-filled marriage. I didn't even gasp when she died.
It was shocking, however, when moments before, Will stood with his face glowing in the light of an oncoming train. As compelling and sympathetic character, it hurts to lose him. But the most shocking part of his suicide is the fact that he was robbed of a clear internal struggle.
"Nashville" began to zero in on Will's concealed sexuality in "She's Got You." Things picked up again in "Tomorrow Never Comes," while he stared at a picture of Brent before being forced to go through the motions with Layla's lackluster impression of a femme fatale. And soon it revealed that his bar scuffle back in Houston manifested itself in legal charges.
By the time Layla and Brent are competing for attention alongside Will's set, it is clear Brent and Will's love scene is fast approaching. Yet, when it comes it is set far from the satisfaction that might have been derived from seeing the two of them give in and just kiss each other already. Instead we are faced with the tormented aftermath of their involvement. Lying in bed, Brent is uncomfortable, but Will is tortured by what just transpired -- as if he had fully convinced himself, prior to this, that he never had to deal with the fact that he is gay in a realm ruled by the morals of Country music. And that is all we see of Will's anguish. Beyond the bar fight of "She's Got You," we are left to wonder exactly what was going on under that cowboy hat during his rapid rise to fame.
Meanwhile, Juliette is set out to encounter sexism once again, but this time its for PR reasons. As she comes under fire for the (true) Wentworth affair rumor that Layla tipped off, she blames a patriarchal double standard asking if she is "never supposed to work with a married man." That's a true and fair assessment of the paradoxical manner in which infidelity is often deconstructed by male-dominated society, but the rumors aren't just the result of gender biases. Juliette really did have an affair with a married man. And yes people are treating her vindictively (calling her a "tramp" and making a (giant) "homewrecker" sign for the audience), but her selectively feminist outrage is quickly and obviously overshadowed by herself interest (and love for Avery, if we count the last minutes of the episode).
Earlier in the episode, Rayna visits Jeff Fordham only to find him is swimming naked in some absurdly giant pool. She demands answers for way he has handled her music and he simply responds by telling her he needs the finished product or a check for $20 million, adding, "What? No sassy comeback this time?"
Later at the festival, in an attempt to avoid seeming like "the bad guy," he presents Rayna with market research that supposedly justifies cutting the tracks he'd like to pull from the album. That seems very cool-headed and rational, but it doesn't justify the odd joy he seems to derive from chiding the performers from which he profits. As Juliette so clearly put it in response to his belligerent involvement in the Wentworth rumors: "Next time you come visit me before I take to the state to sell albums that benefit your company, you might wanna go with break a leg.'"
There's not much justification for his inconsistently villainous role in the season thus far. And when he confronts Layla about spreading the Juliette-Wentworth rumors, it almost feels like a paradigm shift. Rather than seeming like a character that gradually changed or developed over the course of the past few episodes, it feels like someone waved a magic "Character Sympathy" wand and decided to unconvincingly change to concept of Jeff Fordham altogether. That said, hearing him tell Layla that "there will be another runner up on American hit maker next year" still felt really great."
Aside from the overly drawn out drama of Rayna buying herself out of Edgehill, the festival by which "Tomorrow Never Comes" is contextualized provides very little music-industry-related drama. Gunnar finds that he is basically set up to play for Porta-Potties and Deacon finally discovers Teddy has removed him from the festival list. So, the two of them determine to partner up for a set of their own. "They can't tell us a damn thing," Deacon declares. So, Teddy arranges for a police force to Deacon's gig in an attempt to continue their insanely immature (and mostly unbelievable) daddy feuding. Ugh.
Back inside the gates with the registered performers. Scarlett and Zoe are reconciling the broken pieces of their very believable "20-year" best friendship. The former has quickly gone from "doe-eyed" to "dead-eyed." And it all seems to end with Scarlett breaking up with Zoe and Zoe breaking up with Gunnar and none of it feeling like it really registers among things that matter. But then Zoe gets back with Gunnar. So, in case anyone was rooting really hard for Zunnar or Goe, there you have it.
Rayna is ultimately able to come up with the $20 million and we know it's a risky, because Tandy and Teddy both say, "Rayna, that is risky." It would be vindicating, but she's been half-heartedly considering buying herself out since episode one, so appreciating the moment felt like giving someone applause for walking a marathon. Jeff Fordham is less rude about everything than we might expect and Luke Wheeler basically breaks up with Rayna because of the deal, which makes little sense but also doesn't feel like it matters very much since he kind of seemed like a jerk anyway.
At the end of last season, Callie Khouri told Vulture she wanted to "pick up all the cards and throw them up in the air." We can only hope for another round of 52 Pick-Up with the midseason premiere. Will the show focus on the rising Layla-Juliette rivalry? Will Rayna finally be given some agency? Will Gunnar and Deacon have something concrete to do beyond sticking it to Teddy? Will we still have to care about Zunnar? There are no major loose ends and with two characters dead, there is a lot of potential for what "Nashville" could become. We can only hope it lives up to the potential it so clearly had in season one.
"Nashville" will return Wednesday, February 26th at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.