Oh, last night's episode of "Nashville" started out with such promise, didn't it? First, Juliette meets with the new president of Edgehill Records, Jeff, and discovers she's no longer the bright shiny penny of the company. As we learn, he's a bean counter, and Juliette hasn't been moving enough beans lately. When she protests that she's simply growing into a "mature" new sound, Jeff snaps back that that sound isn't even besting Rayna James' sales numbers, so clearly, the mature audience isn't all that interested. Juliette fumes and storms out, which allows Rayna to storm right in. 

But instead of dismissing Rayna out of hand, Jeff lavishes her with praise. She -- and her new label -- are the future of the company! He has her back! He wants to be in the Rayna business! Oliver Hudson is perfectly cast as the aw-shucks, preppy business guy who expects to float by on charm and the boyish good looks that probably were more effective ten years ago.

It all seems so wonderful, of course, it couldn't possibly be true -- and it isn't. Jeff wants to get his grubby mitts on Will, who has yet to sign his contract with Rayna. She's barely left his office before he's chasing Will around town, promising instant success, touring, big money and all the perks that come with signing with the big boys. 

I will say, though, that while it's never a bad idea to underestimate the sleaziness of a record exec (in this instance, the show is cynical and, unfortunately, realistic), I'm not entirely sure why the show is pitting Jeff against Rayna. A smart bean counter would recognize that kicking the established artist in the teeth in order to pluck a newbie from her grasp doesn't make good business sense -- after all, Rayna's label is still distributed by Edgehill, which means Jeff would get a chunk of Will's earnings no matter what. And anyone who's even looked at a top ten from ten years ago and compared it to one from today would quickly see that talented artists come and go and no one has a crystal ball to sort out who will be Taylor Swift and who will be, well, not Taylor Swift. But then, "Nashville" doesn't seem to be particularly beholden to logic, swept along in a big, sudsy blender of tears and snide comments as it often is. I'm just waiting for the evil twin storyline. I mean, we already have Peggy and her fake pregnancy, right?

Anyway, Will is so excited to have Rayna and Jeff fighting over him... until he discovers that Brent, with whom he had a hot non-heterosexual fling, is actually working as Jeff's assistant. Now, this could be an interesting storyline -- Brent could wheedle, or blackmail, or simply mistakenly reveal this information to Jeff, who would most definitely use it as a bargaining chip. But no, Brent runs to Jeff and assures him his secret's safe with him. So... okay. I guess the writers have some other plan to wrestle with Will's homosexuality. Or not. This is just one of the moments on the show where opportunities to lay down plotlines for later payoff just get... tied up with a bow. I guess that's so we have more time to see Rayna and Deacon talking about their relationship for the billionth time.

Of course, this time, they're break-up seems -- gasp! --  final -- as much as you can believe that. In fact, Rayna seemed to be running around breaking hearts a lot in this episode, as she also told Teddy to stop dreaming and get out of her house. Sure, sure, he was awfully nice to help out when she first got out of the hospital, but she doesn't want to give the kids the wrong idea. Yeah, that ship sailed, but I think it's clear with this whole Deacon-is-Maddie's-baby-daddy problem that Rayna isn't going to win mother of the year no matter where Teddy lives. 

Has anyone else felt that this season the music has been pretty forgettable? That's definitely not something I would have said in season 1, when T Bone Burnett was overseeing the tunes. In tonight's episode, almost every song was thoroughly so-so -- even Gunnar's. While his song started out strong, it soon started beating us over the head with exposition (I was waiting for the verse when Gunnar just held the guitar and trilled something like, "He was my brother, he did some bad stuff, he went to jail, he got in trouble again, then the Spanish rose thing came up, la la la la la). And if we didn't get it, the show made sure Scarlett's best friend was in the audience to tell us, "That song's about his BROTHER. Not Scarlett. Lest there be confusion." Country music tells stories, yes, but it doesn't have to clobber us to make a point.

Perhaps the most satisfying story (though redundant, and certainly something we've seen before) was watching Scarlett butt heads with Deacon, who is damned and determined to feel sorry for himself. She insists he go to the doctor, he sells his guitar collection. She tells him to eat something, he stomps around the kitchen like a grumpy bear woken too soon from his winter nap. Of course, we know it can't last for long (God forbid this funk hit bottom for more than an episode) and soon he's trying to saw off his cast and play guitar. Granted, happy Deacon is a lot more fun than self-pitying Deacon, but I'd be okay with the show actually letting him wallow for a while. \

As has held true so far this season, cynical Juliette, with her brittle outer coating hiding a marshmallow center, has had the most material to play with. In a quest to sell records, she lets a camera crew drag her around the trailer park where she grew up. When a kindly neighbor she used to know pulls her into a hug, the expression on her face is priceless -- and her contemptuous tossing away of the garish photo quilt she gives her just as revealing. When Avery tells Juliette he considers her a friend, however, it's one of those moments that make you think there's hope for this character yet. As for "Nashville," I'll reserve judgement for now. 

How do you think this season compares to last season? Do you think Rayna is finally over Deacon?