In its fifth season, “Nashville” has reached the age where we feel like we’ve know the main characters forever.
Rayna (Connie Britton), Deacon (Charles Esten), Juliette (Hayden Panettiere), Avery (Jonathon Jackson), Gunnar (Sam Palladio), and Scarlett (Clare Bowen) — we love them like family, even the ones we never thought we could. There’s a deep understanding of what each of them has been through in the past — so as we move forward, sometimes without conscious explanation, certain events can instantly trigger emotional reactions.
Even if you just recently became a “Nashville” fan, watching Scarlett berated by music video director Damien George (Christian Coulson), elicited a complex mixture of feelings. What constitutes verbal abuse can sometimes feel like it falls into a grey area. It’s easier to break down physical abuse: No means no. And any kind of uninvited touch should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Emotional abuse is a different kind of beast. It’s no less serious, equally as damaging, but less black and white.
…Or is it? Damien yells at Scarlett, brings up her painful memories in order to bring out real emotion from her while shooting. It’s not personal. He’s not doing it out of hate, or because he harbors any ill will towards Scarlett. It’s actually the exact opposite: He see that she’s capable of digging deeper. Sure, she’s naturally a sweet girl, but she chooses to mask hurt and anger with a smile, and that makes for a boring music video.
At first, Scarlett naturally bites her lip and tries to go along with everything. Everyone around her, including Gunnar, chalks up his brutal attitude toward her as part of his artistic process: Damien may come off as harsh, but his intentions are pure. But Scarlett can only take so much of his vile tactics, and eventually calls him out. Is he treating her like crap because she’s a woman? Does he have the right to speak to her this way because he grew up rich and thinks he’s better than her? And why does she have to be so outwardly sexually suggestive in this video? Whatever “artistic direction” he’s seeing, she’s not down with it.
Instead of firing him, Scarlett takes the challenge: No longer playing coy, she goes all in, to bring this intimate representation of her lyrics to life. Damien does bring out a side of Scarlett we’ve never seen before, and she puts on an amazing performance. Not that we’re surprised: This seductress version of Scarlett has always been there, she just didn’t feel comfortable putting that side of herself — the thing Damien is so focused on showcasing in the video — on public display.
Perhaps this was Scarlett’s way of saying, “Screw you, Damien. Even though I don’t want to do what you’re asking, it doesn’t mean that I can’t.”
But it’s that I don’t want to part that’s hitting a nerve. Was she manipulated into performing this way? When Damien says she’ll never be famous, will never be considered a truly great artist if she can’t reveal all these personal layers, was that all part of his master plan?
It’s strange. If a man was yelling at woman like this in an office setting, there’d be no question as to whether or not it was acceptable behavior. But the rules give more leeway when the situation shifts from a conference room to a sound stage. There’s this notion that when it comes to the creative process, people feel like they must suffer in order to make great art.
Here’s the thing: If people feel the need to emotionally wreck themselves for their craft, go right ahead. As long as no one else is affected, an artist can do whatever he or she wants to get in the zone. But longtime viewers know this isn’t Scarlett’s first rodeo dealing with abusive relationships and personalities (her mother was the worst!) — so when she says no, that should’ve been it.
Instead, she forces herself to go against her gut. Scarlett is a talented songstress. She doesn’t have to prove anything to Damien. Sure, the music video looks amazing, but at what cost?
Like when someone is too scared to get on a rollercoaster, but gets dragged on only to have the most exhilarating time of their lives, sometimes we need someone to force us outside of our comfort zone. But Scarlett’s scenario is much more nuanced than that. This isn’t like thinking raw fish is disgusting then realizing you love sushi after someone forces you to try it — it’s saying you don’t like sushi, and then having to eat it anyway.
To think there was no other way Damien could’ve elicited this level of performance from Scarlett is ridiculous. As a director, that’s literally his job. And at the end of the day, what’s most important is how Scarlett feels. She’s in charge of her body, and how she expresses her art. Nobody else. Regardless of the finished product, Damien’s “process” didn’t vibe with Scarlett, what he did is bullying, and it’s wrong no matter which way you spin it.
The only way out is through, as they say: Now that Scarlett has access to this part of herself, hopefully it comes with the realization that she always did.
The amazing fifth season of “Nashville” airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.