Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 7 of ABC's "Nashville," titled "She's Got You."
It's always uplifting to see marginalized individuals stand up for what they believe in and reclaim the power of their identity in a repressive setting. Although, the advocacy emotes less inspiration when it's juxtaposed with a phoned in ménage à trois that would even feel low brow for "Gossip Girl."
Maybe I'm being unfair -- 'Nashville' is, after all, a soap opera. And maybe I'm referencing "Gossip Girl" because Olivia Wentworth reminds me of a psychotic Blair Waldorf. The point is that Juliette's struggles with sexism and Will's struggles with homophobia were both necessary things for the show to encounter, but incorporating either social plague solely as a dramatic plot line is unfair to what they represent.
First, let's discuss Will. Sitting at the bar, he overhears two prototypical bullies calling Brent and his boyfriend "princesses" and demanding they leave. Despite defending themselves calmly, the audacity of their homophobic attackers remains an upsetting event that seems to effect the couple and Will in equal measure (and understandably so).
When Will responds simply by leaving, it would appear he is opting to passively stomach another affront to his well-concealed sexuality. Yet, just a few scenes later that we see him deliberately start a fight with the aforementioned bullies, under they guise they "knocked into" him.
It is heartbreaking to see the generally calm and charismatic Will whaling into these two men with the force of all the prejudice he has had to quietly encounter over the course of his life. Suddenly the "secret" he revealed to Gunnar in season one returns to our viewfinder, rather than sitting on the back burner, treated as lightly as his desire to wear big hats.
Will is gay. And the fact that being very straight is a part of his daily schtick is the source of understandable anger and pain. This is what 'Nashville' needed to present to us, in order to further communicate the complexities of his character. The revelation of his torment did not, however, require him showing up at Layla's hotel room for a make-out scene that included the line "It's about time, cowboy."
Now, on to Miss Juliette Barnes. Encountering the slimy radio show host Bobby Delmont (called Santa, because he "makes the young girls sit on his lap"), Juliette is disgusted and unwilling to assuage the pervert in exchange for air time. Yet, her spot is quickly filled, as she soon notices the newly lascivious Layla,happily playing the part of one of Santa's elves.
It is very compelling that Juliette is angered by this not because Layla is her latest version of competition, but because the thought of another female being taken advantage of is infuriating (something made clear by her eventual words of advice to the younger singer). Juliette vents to Charlie Wentworth, who responds by firing Delmont, who is later rehired and threatened by Juliette. Emboldened by her sudden power of him, Juliette defends not only herself, but every young woman in the music industry, promising Delmont will lose his job for good, "If I even see you glance sideways at another girl."
It's awesome to see Juliette using her powers for good (especially since her speech to Wentworth definitively implies that she was used sexually in the early stages of her career). Yet, the fact that it is a married man who comes to her rescue solely because he wants to continue the affair decidedly lessens the poignancy of Juliette's sudden penchant for third wave feminism. And her subsequent make-out scene with that same married man's wife dilutes it altogether.
What Juliette and Will have in common is the way that their sexuality functions as a weakness. Will is forced to conceal his sexuality in order to achieve his goals and be accepted in the apparently bigoted city of Nashville. Juliette is pressured to use her sexuality as an instrument of personal gain, under threat of losing her success in a male-dominated industry. The frustration that both of these milieus impart is upsetting and important, but almost completely undermined when they are followed almost immediately by corny sex scenes.
- I am going to be so bored if there is Rayna and Deacon drama. These two have finally found a bit of peace in their respective inner conflict and another tumultuous love affair will just be exhausting.
"Nashville" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.