I have realized I don't know how to review this show. Forgive me for delving into my own preferences instead of the episode, but I normally write about high-concept stuff. That's the stuff I can normally find different angles to and make interesting to read about. At its heart Nashville is a very low-concept show. It used to just flirt with the storytelling concept of Friday Night Lights while continuously veering off into soap macabre, which made for many a hilarious forum post about it. Now it's actually going for it, and I'm not really sure what to say.
The show is left with four couples - Deacon and Rayna, Scarlett and Gunnar, Avery and Juliette, Will and Kevin - and thus it divides the episode between them, not always to everyone's liking. The first seven of these people are the core players and so that's likely to stay that way, more or less, for the remainder of the show's existence. One could add Rayna's kids, or really just Rayna and Deacon's kid - Maddie - since she's been getting more attention over the seasons, and even if her storyline was one of the most universally hated over Nashville's entire run, they are committed to keep the character.
What one can say about the narrative choices of the new showrunners, more than anything, is that they aren't trying to erase the existing characters, and they aren't trying to erase the show's history. As crazy as the ride has been over the last four years, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz are resolved to buying it, and to dealing with the fallout of previous events in as reasonable a manner as possible. They are taking what they have identified as the constant traits of the characters over the years and asking themselves, "how would this person react to that?" That's a distinct departure from the former way of thinking, where people resembled balls in a pinball machine.
Thus, we're left with the very simple synopsis of the second episode of the season: "In hour two of the premiere, Rayna approaches Deacon about making a concept album together. Scarlett can’t bring herself to trust in Gunnar. Juliette seeks out her guardian angel. A men’s fashion icon eyes Will."
These developments and plotlines all make sense from the characters' perspective. It's an episode heavy on the Rayna and Deacon romance, which will please some and irk some others. However:
The story between Deacon and Rayna in this episode makes sense both because Rayna has been wanting to get back to the "music" aspect of the business for a long time and because Deacon is tired of being taken for granted. This is something which has been a constant in the relationship between these two for the entire show, while never spoken of - Deacon is Rayna's satellite, and Rayna's the one calling all the shots. No matter how much Deacon loves her, that's something that has to brew resentment, and it's welcome that it's aired, even if Deacon himself eventually decides he is fine with her idea. There is also the emerging "stalker plotline", with flowers sent to Rayna which she incorrectly assumes to be from Deacon, but nothing really happens on that front.
The story between Scarlett and Gunnar makes sense because their personal and professional relationship has been an absolute bloody mess for three years. When they reunited as a couple in the season four finale it was immediately following Gunnar betraying her feelings in the worst possible way - which in itself made it all unbelievable, but there's nothing the current people in charge can do about that - so of course she has trouble trusting him, no matter how reasonable he might be behaving in the moment.
The most important thing about the resolution of the latter couple's issues in this episode was that when Scarlett had a problem, she actually went to talk to her uncle about the problem. That's what seasons 2-4 Scarlett never did, because in doing so she might've come up with a way forward, and it seems the former staff never knew a way forward. This is what breaks the ice - reminding the show that the characters don't live in a bubble, and Deacon reminding her that normal people do fight, but normal people try to work through it and grant forgiveness. Still, amendments set aside their romance is a pending catastrophe. I never saw an intrinsic obstacle to them being together, but their relationship has suffered so much at the hands of sadistic screenwriters for so many years that it's hard to say if they will truly make it. There's baggage and then there's... well, S/G baggage.
In the third story, about Will being tempted to cheat on his boyfriend, Gunnar gives Will decidedly worse advice in suggesting he shut up about it to Kevin because "nothing happened", and unfortunately Will takes it. Gunnar has always been a better friend than he's been a boyfriend, and he's often hilariously dimwitted when it comes to dealing with romance. At least he actually told Will straight out, "hey, don't listen to me", but Will was just looking for a way to flee from the situation anyway. This subplot, too, makes sense, since Will is really quite immature, insecure in his sexuality and has never been in a committed relationship, and it's not boding well for his and Kevin's future.
Juliette and Avery's story is the least interesting of the four, if only because it's essentially more of the same - with the possible addition of Juliette "finding God" - and it doesn't really drive the plot forward. It's also disconnected from the rest of the proceedings. Juliette hating to have to rely on others for support has been another constant through the series. Still, it's nothing if not believable.
In the music department - well. Deacon's song was sweet, and it was especially nice that Chip actually had a hand in writing it himself. Scarlett and Gunnar are always good, but... that was no 'Fade into you'. It was no 'Casino'. It wasn't even a 'Longer'. Especially, the lyrics were incredibly sappy - so much so, I can't even bring myself to quote them. I'd say choosing that song as your new single is... questionable.
Summarily, this episode was a win. It didn't do all for all people, but it did a little for most, and it's hard to think most fans didn't enjoy it.
"There ain't no one who can fight like us, go all twelve rounds and scream and cuss, 'til we don't remember why we were even angry."