Last night’s episode of Nashville saw the return of Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the country diva who recently had a baby with her producer boyfriend Avery (Jonathan Jackson). The character had been gone since December — after giving birth, she seemed to have little interest in her daughter, Cadence, and ended up hospitalized for postpartum depression.
The plot was introduced to deal with Panettiere’s own diagnosis of postpartum depression, a fact she spoke about openly when she began getting treatment in the fall of 2015. The storyline also echoes a similar one on Jane the Virgin, which has Petra (Yael Grobglas) going through a period of postpartum depression. But Nashville bungled Juliette’s return last night in a move that highlights Jane the Virgin’s sensitivity to and empathy for women who choose to have babies.
When Nashville began, Juliette was a stereotypical diva, more worried about her career than any personal relationship. Her closest friend was her manager, and she didn’t seem interested in a romantic relationship that involved real intimacy. But she both mellowed out and blossomed over time, falling in love with Avery and taking the lead role in a buzzy Patsy Cline biopic. By the time she got pregnant, she was the happiest we had seen her.
But when she returned with her newborn baby, she was different. She didn’t seem interested in caring for Cadence, instead setting her sights on her next career move. She kept taking off without warning to do a concert or a press event, leaving Avery with the baby. She went on tour and started drinking heavily, partying hard every night. Eventually, even though Juliette agreed to go to rehab, Avery asked her for a divorce.
Avery always seemed far less concerned with his wife’s mental state than his baby. But as long as the show continued to stress his commitment as a father, it was hard to criticize him. Nashville appeared to be taking Avery’s side in this fight, showing how tirelessly he was working to care for Cadence while Juliette partied in expensive hotel rooms.
On last night’s episode, Juliette’s doctors decide she’s well enough to leave the hospital, and she immediately asks Avery if she can see Cadence more often — as it stands, she’s only allowed three hours a week with her daughter. “I’ve done so much to overcome my addictions and my postpartum,” she tells him, “and I’m so much better.”
But Avery says no; he still doesn’t quite trust her. Eager to get back to her normal life, Juliette considers taking a small role in a Steven Spielberg film — it’s only a two-week shoot, but she’d have to leave immediately. After much debate, she decides to take the part; after all, she’ll only be missing six hours of time with her daughter. She gives a press conference to announce the news, but when someone asks about her personal life, she changes her mind, deciding she can’t take the role and needs to be with her daughter. Later, Avery comes over and tells her he saw the press conference, and he’s going to give her more time with Cadence going forward.
This is a disappointing turn of events. Juliette has always been one of the most powerful stars on Nashville, but ever since she had her baby the show has conflated her failures as a mother with her desire to work. On Jane the Virgin, though, Petra’s struggles following childbirth aren’t explicitly linked to work.
It isn’t lost on her friends and co-workers that Petra returns to work at the Marbella Hotel very soon after giving birth. But what really worries the babies’ father, Rafael (Justin Baldoni), is that Petra doesn’t seem to want to spend time with her daughters. In fact, she seems almost scared of them, which leads Jane (Gina Rodriguez), a new mother herself, to believe that Petra might be suffering from postpartum depression.
Petra agrees to speak to a doctor, who instructs her to ask her mother if she had suffered from depression after giving birth. (Her mother, who is in prison, responds, “Depressed? I had a baby girl in Czechoslovakia in 1985. Of course I was depressed.”) Petra worries that she just might not be cut out for motherhood, but Jane drags her to a mommy-and-me playgroup, where she admits that she “can’t connect” with her babies. All the mothers nod in agreement; they say they’ve all have days when they wish they had never had a baby in the first place.
This is a pretty bold statement (it shouldn’t be, but it is), and it’s one that Nashville is sadly not prepared to make. Because Juliette was absent from the show for so long, we only had Avery to sympathize with; now that she’s back, the show still can’t reconcile her desire to get back to work with her desire to spend time with her baby. The two aren’t mutually exclusive; working mothers are not a new concept, and the fact that Juliette is eager to return to her normal working life while still wanting to spend as much time as she can with her daughter is an indication of her healthy mental state.
I was all ready to write about how great it is to see issues like postpartum depression explored on a popular network drama, but Nashville let me down last night. I hope it will start to show Juliette flourishing at home and at work, instead of insisting on one or the other.