After only a few minutes of this week’s Nashville premiere, all those months of summer reruns vanished, and fans were right back in the throes of backstabbing and bedroom drama that wrap around the music stage every Tuesday. All the hype of those real music star inquiries into Rayna Jaymes’ (Connie Britton) recovery couldn’t have hurt to bring viewers back, but the opening few minutes that always works best for the drama did their job. Scenes opened of the wrecked SUV, and Deacon (Charles Esten) pleading with Rayna to wake up, as he forsakes the cardinal rule of never moving a victim except to save a life, dragging her from the vehicle. Will she survive, and who’s going to try the first dirty move of Season 2?
While Rayna lies in her induced coma, she flashes back to her memories of first love with Deacon, as they warm their first house in the glow of love. Stark reality soon hits, as Deacon declares full responsibility before the judge, declining an attorney until the judge orders one, and put under $1 million bail. Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) is in a tizzy, trying to turn the poor timing of her album release coinciding with the situation of “the saint in a coma,” as she so curtly refers to the resting reigning queen of country. Meanwhile, at the Bluebird, Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and good friend, and new regular for Season 2, Savannah (Ashley Pereira) prepare to work a busy shift and then send Scarlett off to her new recording career with a big after hours’ sendoff. Avery (Jonathan Jackson) goes piano man mellow, singing “First You Fall,” and Scarlett finds herself slipping into old feelings. Gunnar (Sam Palladio) and Will (Chris Carmack) make the best of their living arrangements, “just” roommates, painting the place, until Will insists that partying is the best way to put past girlfriends in the rearview mirror. Scarlett makes a plea to Juliette for Deacon at a debut event, but Juliette, still raw from her mother’s death, responds with a cold, “Addicts are addicts,” declining any intervention.
As Rayna relives the night of her engagement in her mind, husband, Teddy (Eric Close), tells his mistress and criminal partner, Peggy (Kimberly Williams Paisley) that she can have some of his pennies, but never his presence as parent to the child she’s carrying. Never mind that she learns during her OB visit that she has already miscarried. She tells Teddy that “I heard the baby’s heartbeat,” desperate to hold him by any means. Lamar (Powers Boothe) and Teddy trade barbs and old guilt over failing to keep their wives happy, recalling the accident that took Rayna’s mother when she was 12. Juliette turns her album preview show into a marvelously manipulated, however moving, tribute to Rayna, complete with photos all next to Juliette, as Avery notes. Hayden Panettiere is in as fine form as ever as the star on the rise, and the sickeningly insincere candlelight vigil at the hospital takes her character from falsehood to real feeling, as she befriends a confused and grieving Maddie Conrad (Lennon Stella), proving why her performances are irresistible. Juliette Barnes has enough pain and baggage of her own to load a moving van, but her vulnerability only shows in glimpses.
Will has some old lover woes as a past partner, Brent (Derek Krantz), turns up at the bachelor bash, getting thrown out before the ladies man cover gets blown. The ladies have no effect on Gunnar, either, try as they may, and even a bonfire with Scarlett’s old couch goes wrong, and Gunnar decides to tell Scarlett goodbye at the Bluebird. Despite Deacon rejecting Scarlett’s support, including her heartfelt words that her uncle is “like a father” to her, his new attorney (Christina Chang) is really rooting for him, and out to prove that he may have made some bad mistakes, but is not responsible for Rayna’s state. Rayna’s dream state takes her to the drunken mess that Deacon became just hours after his proposal, leading to why he never assumed paternity or his place as Rayna’s husband, as she dissolves their engagement, throwing his ring to the floor, leaving him with no recollection, and no future with her. Scarlett visits Deacon’s house, confused by the disaster she finds, and why he fell so far so fast. Juliette arrives soon after, deciding she will aid somehow. She knows Deacon’s secrets, thanks to Maddie’s trust. Will she remember her own troubled youth, and keep some remnant of decency, or use what she knows in the wickedest way possible?
Rayna is removed from sedation, and recognizes her family, to their delight, and her own. Deacon’s attorney arrives with the news that he is released from prison, and Rayna confirms that he was not the drunken driver. She was the completely sober soul at the wheel. Nonetheless, Deacon won’t allow leaving the cell to free him from the past. Gunnar and Avery both make it clear they cannot forget. Scarlett, as Avery remarks to his rival, “I guess you can’t take ‘No’ for an answer,” to which Gunnar responds, “that makes two of us.” Scarlett does make one choice– to sing with Gunnar onstage, and their duet of “Why Can’t I Say Goodbye?” will become a downloadable memory for Nashville already in Season 2. Will tells his feminine friend to “get on home,” as the episode closes, and Rayna pledges to let go of the past and “lift my life” to her father, but, goodness, she’s tried that before. Can she do it this time for good?