“Nashville” had moments to treasure, and others to trash, for some among the drama’s faithful following on this week’s April 20 16th episode for Season 4. “Didn’t Expect It to Go Down This Way” has heart ache and meddling galore between mainstay characters, and not much wedded bliss or domestic bliss for newlyweds Rayna and Deacon (Connie Britton and Charles Esten), with daughter, Maddie (Lennon Stella) determined to get her independence and her career, whether she’s ready or not. There’s something still there between Juliette and Avery (Hayden Panettiere and Jonathan Jackson) and Gunnar and Scarlett (Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen) but recapturing that passionate connection is proving near impossible. Still, there’s plenty of great music, great potential leading up to the finale, a great guest star, and even a fun date thrown into the mix.
Luke (Will Chase) is still stuck in the lurch with his tour debut looming the next day, with Riff not responding or returning anyone’s calls, and no one having the foggiest idea of his true whereabouts. On another tour front, Autumn Chase (Alicia Witt) is trying everything possible to get into Gunnar’s good graces, and his jeans. Talking James Taylor, she invites him on a rendezvous to New York, and when he adds “I’m sure Scarlett would love to go, too,” she makes it clear that her invitation was for one. Juliette hosts a breakfast with Glenn (Ed Amatrudo) and Emily (Kourtney Hansen), wanting to get “her team” on the same page, and start working on her album again, saying she can be just as near to Cadence in a studio as at home. She of course has “someone in mind” as producer, it’s only a matter of convincing. Avery insists with Will (Chris Carmack) that he’s not going to go on Layla’s (Aubrey Peeples) tour, but she’s making it a challenge to resist. Luke continues to have faith in Riff, but believe doesn’t make up for bought tickets, and he realizes that he has to scramble for a substitute. Avery comes over to leave Cadence with Juliette for rehearsal, and they share a meaningful, long, longing gaze with each other as she holds their daughter, but then Avery tells her that he is going to join Layla as band director. Juliette’s heart sinks.
Rayna and Deacon are rehashing Deacon’s well intended but rashly angered response to Maddie’s sneak away to sing per Cash’s (Jessy Schram) arrangement, and when Rayna goes to discuss the matter with her daughter, she discovers that she has disappeared. Both parents go berserk in a bereaved search. Juliette tells Avery to “break a leg tonight,” despite her heartbreak, trying to stay balanced. It’s a dream come true day for the Exes, as a radio spot gives a huge boost to their song, “The Rebel,” blowing it up across media. Scarlett declines a day out with Gunnar, to accept Autumn’s spa day, wanting to set their relationship on a better footing, and unaware of the headliner’s plotting. Will is in the studio, sounding amazing on his “Joyful Noise,” and gets unexpected compliments from a backup singer, Brian, that leave him feeling both honored and confused, trying to sort out if he has a gay suitor or not. Daphne (Maisy Stella) feels responsible for Maddie’s disappearance, having “tattled” about the escape to the stage, and Deacon tries to comfort her. In real life the Stella sisters said on their appearance on “Today” yesterday that they never have negativity with one another, because it all comes out through their characters on the drama, which has definitely been life changing. Rayna is railing against Cash, and Maddie is hiding out at her new best friend’s place. Juliette is not happy one bit about Avery, Cadence, and a nanny going out on tour, but realizes that she is helpless, since he has full custody. Cash offers to make a call to Sony to see if the contract formerly offered to Maddie is still on the table. News comes that Riff has been admitted to a hospital in New Orleans, and his distressed wife seeks Luke’s help. As Layla and Avery rehearse, Juliette arrives for an appointment with Luke, and can’t help the jealous rise that comes from seeing the two almost cheek to cheek, and other body parts, too, at the chorus. Will calls Avery for advice on how to tell if Brian is gay. In a sweet and somewhat hilarious reply, the friend relates that going by hobbies or signals really doesn’t work, and a “straight out” question, no pun intended, is best. Scarlett and Autumn share girl talk, and Scarlett admits that there is always “somethin’” between her and Gunnar, but that she has learned “it’s best to let it be.”
Riff has had a stroke provoked by ingestion of drugs and alcohol, and is in ICU, completely out of commission as an artist, much less a tour mate. Wife, Heidi, confesses that “it’s always been like this” Even the debut date is in question. Juliette describes to Emily how hard it was to witness “the grind” between Avery and Layla onstage, and she pleads with Emily to “keep an eye” on them on the road. Adding more feathers in her cap, Layla shows Avery the studio set up on the tour bus, and surrenders her bedroom so he can get sleep and have a crib for Cadence. Avery is overwhelmed to be thought of by Layla with her “thoughtful and generous” accommodation. The Exes are celebrating an extraordinary rise, and Scarlett shares her day of tiny fish nibbling on her feet with Autumn. Frankie (Mark Collie) is absolutely no help in finding Maddie, saying that Deacon’s failure as a father provoked it all, and defending his daughter. Rayna breaks down when she gets to Juliette’s, and Juliette offers a genuine caring ear. Thomas Rhett shows up for Luke, a great “hit fix” for the night with his own mammoth hit, “Die a Happy Man.”
Juliette turns up backstage at the venue, asking Luke “if three would be a crowd” at the perfect time. Deacon calls Rayna from outside Cash’s place, and there, Maddie turns up, and Rayna rushes over. Brian confesses to Will, “I’m not gay, but my cousin is…. I could ask” in a sensitive tone, and Will admits he’s brand-new at the dating game. Again, Gunnar turns down Autumn’s invitation, relating how he and Scarlett look out for each other , but as she moves in close to him, she whispers “one always outshines the other” and kisses his cheek, as seductively as possible. Scarlett sees him in the hallway, wiping away the smooch. Luke introduces Juliette as his new tour partner, and she promises the crowd that “Tomorrow, you won’t be able to shut me up.” So much for a ease back into her career. Rayna and Deacon plead with Maddie to come home, but far from that, she tells them that she is keeping with her contract to Sony, and has spoken to a lawyer about seeking “emancipation from you!” as her bewildered parents stay in shock on the porch.”
It’s bound to get even more crowded and chaotic on the “Nashville” tour bus on down the road to the season finale.