No drama has ever meshed the melodrama behind the stage curtain and perfectly crafted music in harmony so well as ABC’s “Nashville.” The September 24 season premiere, “That’s Me Without You” straddled favorite characters’ history with live stage moments, and its stars shared the spotlight with current country superstars.
Florida Georgia Line made their performance with Charles Esten, who plays Deacon Claybourne, on the song, “Dirt” like a cherry on top to close the season premiere, but it would be hard to top the other good news for the duo, that of Tyler Hubbard’s engagement to his love “angel,” Hayley Stommel, complete with a big diamond to top that announcement! Speaking of rings, hearts, and the loneliness of broken love and broken promises, all of those were part of the first episode of Season 3.
The episode opens with a live performance by Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) at the Bluebird Café. The star on the rise performs “If It’s Love,” a song written by the Striking Matches, with his newlywed wife, Layla (Aubrey Peeples) looking lost and perplexed from the audience, as real fans mixed with the cast of the show. As Deacon waits outside, Luke Wheeler (Will Chase) drives up to deck him, with a warning to “leave Rayna alone.” The feelings are mutual, and Rayna (Connie Britton) is wrestling with rings just presented to her from Luke and the one once given to her from Deacon, who has just pleaded his love once more. She wakes from a dream, Luke’s arms and the newspapers pronouncing their wedding as a done deal, but it’s not settled for her. Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) pleads forgiveness from Avery (Jonathan Jackson) for her massive misstep of sleeping with Jeff Fordham, whom she hates, but her intended flat-out says “I can’t stand the sight of you,” and leaves, hoping to hitch a purely platonic ride from his former love, Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen), who has certainly had a glamour makeover in preparation for this season, and is packing to return home to Mississippi.
As the pair load up to take off, none other than Gunnar (Sam Palladio) has been stowed away in the backseat, and the three who started off as friends, lovers, and artistic collaborators carry on, like it or not, down the road. Rayna plans to tell Luke about Deacon’s proposal, per full disclosure, while a completely dejected and rejected Juliette cuts her hair, and locks herself in her bedroom on the day she is supposed to show up for a coveted role in a movie story of Patsy Cline. Deacon is completely calm before his solo show at the Bluebird, saying, “things will work out like they’re supposed to,” expecting Rayna to show up for the show, and be there with their daughter, Maddie (Lennon Stella), allowing them to start their life anew after the last song. Rayna reconsiders when Luke takes her news of the proposal better than she thought he would, and allows her the time she needs to come to a decision. Juliette has plenty of pain from her past to put into a song Patsy performed after a brutal night, and the producers pick her for the role, which perks her penchant for stardom right back up. This storyline will work out well for the expecting actress in real life, who can likely be portrayed as away on shoots instead of her character’s usual habits of being too hot in bed. Lo and behold, the Juliette gets news from her doctor that she’s pregnant.
Over a mechanical breakdown on the way to Mississippi, both Avery and Gunnar ask Scarlett to reconsider leaving Nashville, and after a barroom brawl, they hightail it down the road, headed in the Music City direction. Deacon openheartedly begs “don’t do it“ referring to Rayna accepting Luke’s proposal. He chronicles himself through “their recovery,” and his transformation to a new man and a new artist, and all their history. She counters with the pain of that history, the path of addiction, and the potential for repetition. “The way things are is the way they need to stay,” she concludes. “Come to the Bluebird, and sing with me tonight,” he cajoles. Maddie duels with her adoptive dad, Teddy (Eric Close), confessing that she wanted her mom to marry Deacon. Teddy tells her to dress up, and that he’s taking his daughters out. They turn up together at the Bluebird for Deacon’s show.
Chip Esten’s offering of “I Know How to Love You Now” is the musical treat of the night, no superstar guests needed. As his character, Deacon, keeps looking at the door for Rayna, she shows up in sparkling glamour at a red carpet charity event with Luke, bubbling with perspective bridal joy. The glow never lasts on “Nashville,” but the songs and the sagas keep rolling along.