The faithful “Nashville” fan base is finding reward for its loyalty after the winter hiatus, first with the long-wished-for wedding of Rayna and Deacon (Connie Britton and Charles Esten), and added twists sure to keep the storyline spinning through the rest of the season. With this week’s March 23 12th episode for Season 4, “How Does It Feel to Be Free,” new folks make Music City home, others keep longing for love, and in a big way, the music speaks for itself. There’s even a touch of Broadway. Whenever a bold stand is taken, it means summoning some courage, and this drama does that in this episode, deserving kudos.
Avery (Jonathan Jackson) at last makes an effort to see Juliette in treatment, but his hurt is still raging, and his complete absence means that the staff don’t even realize who he is, and the doctor in charge, Dr. Kitley (Simalee Montano) comes out after an extended wait to tell him that his wife is in “a delicate place,” and not ready to face him in one-on-one discussion yet. He feels dismissed, poised for a meltdown. Layla Grant (Aubrey Peeples) is negotiating terms regarding our label signing with Rayna and Bucky (David Alford). Despite having an entire completed album, she pushes for her new, and much more reflective songs written for a second project, and insists on Avery Barkley as her producer, for her own very personal motives. Rayna concedes that if she agrees to release the first album and tour, the second album can go straight into production. A new singer in town, Vita Martin (Jeananne Goosen), walks into Beverly’s hoping to sing for open mic night. Deacon gives her a listen, and immediately calls Rayna to come down that evening. Frankie (Mark Collie) doesn’t buy in so quickly. Will (Chris Carmack) returns invigorated after a stint on his own sort of road trip, playing “without a band, and without a hat” but loving the feeling of being himself. Gunnar (Sam Palladio) invites him to be part of a show with him and Scarlett. Luke Wheeler (Will Chase) is getting laid out by his public for being $40 million in debt, and desperately needs to redeem himself on the road, going back to his roots, but no “big” artist is available to join in. Colt (Keann Johnson) declares that he still cares for Maddie (Lennon Stella) but feels very distant since their intimacy. Scarlett (Clare Bowen) is not ready for any intimacy after her breakup, but she sees Gunner’s girl, Erin (Scout Taylor-Compton), making out in a truck with some “new” guy.
Rayna is totally sold after hearing Vita sing, and wants to talk to her about signing to the Highway 65 label. Maddie is prompted to write from her pain by new best friend, Cash (Jessy Schram), and develop deeper lyrics. Luke decides to see if Juliette is ready to tour, but Avery tells him flatly that “she is not dependable.” Will is heartlessly and relentlessly heckled by a hater as he tries to sing at the show, and things get violent when a thrown beer bottle breaks his nose. As paramedics set Will’s nose, police press him to press charges for hate crimes. He goes to the police station, but can’t shake the sense that threatening words, and more hate will always follow him, so he never gives his statement. Gunnar confronts Erin, who sheepishly says she will abide by monogamy if it means keeping him. Avery confides to Layla that “living a lie” is becoming too much for him, and she relates her understanding, and plays her encouragement that “you deserve to be free” to full advantage, as their artistic connection grows.
Luke runs into his old friend, and platinum selling artist, Riff Bell, portrayed by Tony and Grammy winner, and singer, actor, and musician on Broadway, Steve Kazee. They share an evening of rekindling their throwback days, and despite knowing his friend’s passionate family ties, Luke asks Riff to join him on tour. Deacon and Rayna are determined to give Vita a job, but Frankie feels differently, and she leaves after taking a look at the job application. Gunnar and Will get into a dispute over Will’s refusal to give his statement and prosecute for hate crimes. Maddie ends up writing a real song that lets Cash know how she feels after their session, and cash reminds her that part of growing into a woman is expecting to be respected, and letting a man now what she needs. Avery visits the treatment facility again, letting it be known that he wants Juliette to know that they have been “over,” and he wants her to publicly announce their divorce within 24 hours. What he really wants is for her to be the wife and mother of whom he dreamed. Rayna tries to track Vita down with that job application, and discovers that she is living out of a car, and the hotel manager divulges that she pays to park there. Just as Rayna leaves, Vita walks up, confessing that she’s been arrested, and that “I’ve got some problems.” Welcome to “Nashville”! Rayna refuses to judge her, explaining how she has her own version of “a messy life” and knows the power of music to pull someone through the dark.
Maddie gives Colt a call, wanting some answers, and demanding respect. Erin tries to explain to Gunnar that her fling with the other guy was part of her putting up walls, a method she uses for self protection. Gunnar tells her that he was never bothered by her wandering, which lets him know “you’re not the one.” Avery is in tears as Juliette’s announcement is read on TV, just as he required. Layla sees it, too, another sign that the way is clear for her to get her heart’s revenge. Will determines to take his own stand against his hater, stalking him out at another club. Gunnar gets a call that his friend might be planning something terrible, so he and Scarlett head out to try to head off trouble. “Nashville” writers, Ben St. John and Mollie Bickley St. John, should be very proud of their work in this episode, particularly with this scene. Will takes the stage, asserting that his assailant “never finished your beer, and I never finished my song” asserting that now, he will. To only a smattering of applause at first, but a wave at the close of “Ain’t It Beautiful,” Will thanks his audience for “letting my music do the talking.” The handling of this matter of slaying on the basis of sexuality could not have been handled more powerfully or beautifully. Luke bucks against, seeking younger, more current acts, wanting to “be real” and sticking with his choice of Riff for the road.
After a song, Gunner and Scarlett have another of their “heart to hearts” on the subject of the heart, and he tells her that he and Erin broke up, but it’s all right because, “if I’m in a relationship with someone, I want to love ‘em.” The seeds are again planted. Riff calls Luke, agreeing to go on the road together, so long as he can make it “a family affair,” bringing his whole brood. Luke is delighted, saying he’ll manage everything. How will this really sit when it settles in with “If I Drink This Beer” Luke? Vita works her tail off on her first night as a waitress, and all seems well, until Frankie calls Deacon with news that “I told you so,” and $500 missing.
Next week, an accident throws in more curves for the characters, but it seems that a Season 5 is a sure thing now, but the storylines will move in different directions. With episodes like this one, fans are ready for the ride.