My husband and I spent Friday and Saturday evenings this weekend binge watching the new season of Mozart in the Jungle. God, I love this show. I don’t think there’s any other show currently on TV that makes me hit the pause button repeatedly as often during an episode so that I can sit there and just laugh for a few minutes. And it’s often just because of a reaction look from one character to another. Of course, that reaction has been set up over three well-written seasons now, and played beautifully by the stellar cast, but still. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the only other show that comes close. (Shameless plug. Go watch it if you don’t already.)
This season finds the symphony in the middle of an ongoing strike/lockout, with the characters scattered around the globe. Hailey is touring Europe with Andrew Walsh, the egotistical cellist she slept with last season. Rodrigo is in Venice to work with Alessandra, also known as La Fiamma, an opera diva who suffers from severe anxiety, depression and stage fright, but is trying to make a comeback. Gloria and Thomas are having an affair, while Thomas continues composing and Gloria tries to keep the symphony from bankruptcy. The rest of the characters have taken on various odd jobs, some musical, some not, while they wait out the lockout, or figure out what to do next.
The season is essentially split into two halves. We spend the first half mostly with Rodrigo and Hailey in Venice. Rodrigo is there to prepare Alessandra for her big comeback concert. Hailey becomes Alessandra’s dresser for the concert after Walsh fires her for bruising his ego, then vomiting on his shoes from food poisoning during a concert. Rodrigo introduces La Fiamma to a piece from a new musical about Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco. She becomes obsessed with understanding the story of adultery and violence. She gradually manipulates the situation so that herself, Hailey, and Rodrigo are in a love triangle that’s mostly in her head. That allows her to act out her anger in a spectacular finish to her big comeback concert when she performs the new piece. Undoubtedly the anger and betrayal also help distract Alessandra from her real mental health issues, so that she can get herself past them to go onstage. By the end of the concert, she tells Rodrigo that she will never forgive him. Now she has an ongoing feud to fuel her rage for the world tour she has planned.
Alessandra, played by Monica Bellucci, was a fantastic addition to the show, but I wasn’t sorry to see her go at the end of her arc. I was as exhausted by her as Rodrigo and Hailey were. She was fabulously written and acted though, from the very first moments where she tests Rodrigo’s strength by overcooking his pasta to see if he’ll stand up to her, to the very end when she makes Hailey think she’s about to shoot Rodrigo with a real gun in the middle of a performance broadcast around the world. She and her entourage were hilarious and quixotic and full of the atmosphere I love about this show. We got to spend this arc in Venice with La Fiamma, and this city is as much of a character in the show as she is. I’m so grateful to Amazon for continuing to pay for location shooting. It brings Mozart in the Jungle alive in a way few shows are. Between that and the cameos by classical music stars (Placido Domingo sings with Alessandra, and Hailey conducts Joshua Bell), it feels like we really have entered Rodrigo and Hailey’s world.
I was distracted a bit whenever Alessandra started to sing because it just didn’t look or sound like that voice was actually coming out of her. I also really wished someone would put Alessandra on some antidepressants, stat. There was no indication that she’d ever been treated for her mental illnesses, which were serious to the point of ruining her life. Suffering for art and drama is great, but she could still be dramatic and manipulative without being nearly suicidal. Even a throwaway line about time spent in a hospital or under a doctor’s care would have helped.
The second half of the season begins to get the orchestra back on track, as everyone returns to NYC and the symphony resolves its labor dispute. Gloria and Betty get a fantastic scene where they prove that bitches and old ladies get shit done.
After his old mentor dies, Rodrigo realizes that the symphony is his home and family, and renews his comittment to them. This involves his usual impulsive but heartfelt types of moves. This season, however, Gloria has been pushed to her limit, and is no longer willing to coddle him. We get many scenes between Bernadette Peters and Gael Garcia Bernal with them going head to head over money vs Rodrigo’s need to establish a youth orchestra in order to feel like he’s truly set down roots in the community. Those two actors sharing scenes is always a gift, and this season takes it to new heights, with Gloria pelting Rodrigo with vegetables, Rodrigo being forced into doing a salsa commercial, and Gloria and her staff consoling him while still holding his feet to the fire.
Hailey is still wandering through life, a solid, calm, port-in-a-storm type of person for others, but a bit of a walking disaster when it comes to herself. Like Rodrigo, she always has good intentions, and her insights are virtually always correct. She just hasn’t found the right place for her talents yet. Betty retires as part of her deal with Gloria, and Hailey isn’t chosen to replace her, so I’m thinking that we’re probably closing the door on professional oboist as her main career. Andrew Walsh was also a dick when he fired her, and has given her a bad reputaion in the business. But Hailey’s real talent lies in her leadership and organizational abilities, and she’s finally starting to see that. She develops an interest in conducting, and gets a couple of chances to try it out this season. Rodrigo is, of course, too flighty to be her mentor, but the moment before he leaves her to sub for him with Alessandra’s ensemble, when he throws himself to the ground and asks the heavens why he is surrounded by so many dramatic people, was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. This show’s sense of irony is a thing of beauty.
Thomas turns out to be the right mentor, and they develop a bit of a partnership when he agrees to let her conduct one of his original pieces for her public debut. The process is as rocky as you’d expect, because Thomas is just as big a diva as Rodrigo underneath it all, and now he’s an electronic music star, too. (Nice touch, show, bringing Malcom McDowell back to his Clockwork Orange roots!) But Hailey is finally coming into her own, figuring out how to stand up for herself and get the best out of others. She listens to some great advice from the right people, instead of the wrong people, as well. She’s still lost at the end of the season, but she’s started seeing female musicians from the past, Rodrigo-style, so she must be on the right path. She refuses Rodrigo’s offer to help him run the youth orchestra, so her future job situation is uncertain, but hopeful.
The scariest development of the season for me was in the last episode, when Rodrigo and Hailey finally slept together. We’ve known this was eventually coming, but it’s been a bad idea because of their work and current levels of maturity for so long that it took me as much by surprise as it did Rodrigo. They are more ready to be together than they have been before, but Rodrigo’s grandmother said it would be many years before they were together for good. I don’t think this is the beginning of a stable relationship. I love their relationship so much that I’d hate to see the show decide that they need to be on the outs with each other for a season or two for drama’s sake, the way so many other shows do.
Episode 7 takes time out from the normal flow of the story to follow the cast out to Rikers Island for their first concert back together again. The prison concert, and the episode, are shown in the form of an indie documentary film made by one of the recurring characters, Bradley Sharpe (show creator and executive producer Jason Schwartzman). The episode works in some ways, not so much in others. The music performed was all composed by Olivier Messiaen, who was a French prisoner of war held by Nazi Germany during World War 2. The pieces performed are explained, then played, giving them meaning and beauty for the prisoners, the story, and the viewers. I could have easily watched the entire concert. But much of the episode was spent listening to the prisoners’ instant, brief reactions, which became boring and repetitive over time. If we’d gone deeper into their personal histories to relate that to individual musical pieces, or followed some of them afterwards to see if the concert had any lasting effect on the prisoners, it would have been more interesting. Instead, we lost most of an episode of story and character development in a series that has very short seasons.
The supporting cast is as quirky and fun as ever, as they scramble to survive months without their main source of income. Cynthia has the added issue of the medical problems that threaten her career. It’s a realistic subplot that I expect would be affecting more of the older players than they’re showing. Comparing her issues to those of a professional athlete adds an element of respect for Cynthia’s problems.
Overall, this was another great season of Mozart in the Jungle. It was full of the heart, fun, quirkiness and music we’ve come to expect from the show, even if there were a few small missteps.