NBC, Oct. 17, 10:50 p.m. ET
In the closing minutes of the second episode of Nashville, fortysomething country star Rayna James and her bandleader/ex-boyfriend Deacon Claybourne perform a quiet duet. “No One Will Ever Love You” is a song they wrote together two decades back, young and in love. Romantic sparks still clearly crackle between them. But these days Rayna’s married to another dude and raising two daughters. Meanwhile, Deacon (whose demons drove Rayna off all those years ago) works hard to stay sober—and even harder to keep his feelings for Rayna under wraps.
The song itself is downright mean. “Don’t you try to tell me that you’re wanted,” sings Rayna, “that you’re needed. ‘Cause it’s not true.” She sits close to Deacon on the stage of the cozy Bluebird Cafe, staring into his eyes as he strums his guitar. When she reaches the chorus, it seems almost impossibly cruel—until a redeeming twist of a kicker. “I know why you’re lonely. It’s time you knew it, too. No one will ever love you. No one will ever love you. No one will ever love you … like I do.”
When it’s over, an overcome Rayna tells Deacon she wishes they’d never played it. She runs home to assure her husband that she loves him. But she seems not quite able to convince herself.
I confess I swooned a little, watching from my couch. For one thing, this tune is gorgeous. Written by Steve McEwan and John Paul White, it’s proof that TV musicals needn’t fall back on stale covers and cheesy staging. (I’m reluctantly peeking at you through my fingers, Glee and Smash.) Here we have a boutique-quality original track, performed in a wholly believable context, that manages to advance the emotional arc of the show.
Most of all, though, I love that these are grown-ups dealing with grown-up shizz. Nashville’s far from perfect—its politics plot is a dud and the travails of its younger characters are a mixed bag. But every time I get frustrated with it, Rayna and Deacon reappear with one of these soul-aching moments. Worn denim, weathered faces, paths not taken. Connie Britton with that faraway gaze and that wistful smile. Set it all to song and I’m done. I’m ready to book the next flight, buy a front-yoke shirt with snaps, and belly up to the bar at the Bluebird.