The theme that runs through the three stories in “I’m With The Maestro” is passion. Passion can excite and corrupt people. It can compel them to do powerful things and it can also drive them to madness. For the characters in Mozart In The Jungle, it’s a passion for music that pushes them to do whatever is necessary to be a part of that world, even if that means playing beneath a crappy Broadway musical or scoring a small horror film. Rodrigo talks about his “dreadful passion” for his wife to the priest in the park and how it completely consumes him, but that might as well be the reason he commits to conducting, or why Hailey spends the night with Rodrigo at a performance art show. All of these characters are passionate, but it’s how they channel that passion that defines them.
Betty Cragdale (Debra Monk) has spent over 40 years honing her craft and channeling her passion into being the best damn oboe player around. She resents people like Hailey who threaten her status and experience, but it’s clearly because she’s a little bit threatened by the younger generation who have markedly different struggles than she did when she was coming up through the ranks. She was one of six women in the orchestra when she started out and only stuck around because of talent and hard work. She looks at someone like Hailey and, like Thomas with Rodrigo, only sees a naïve teenager unaware of the difficulties of living in this world.
Cynthia spends the day with Betty and sees just what a long and storied career in music eventually leads to: a comfortable, yet decidedly solitary life. Cynthia sees Betty’s nice apartment and her large collection of records, but she also sees pictures of children she won’t have and an old flame that she let get away. But Betty wouldn’t trade it for the world. She chose this life, knowing full well the pathways she closed off along the way. It’s great because Mozart respects Betty’s decisions and doesn’t make her life seem particularly lonely. It’s just a different life than most people expect, including Cynthia, who may want the simple comforts that Betty consciously avoided. “Growing old is horseshit, but growing old alone is the best,” Betty says while smoking a joint with Cynthia. Cynthia laughs, but there’s a glimmer of doubt in her eyes as she may not quite be up to the task.
Rodrigo is an accomplished composer and musician, but his one weakness is his passion for his tempestuous, fervent wife Ana Maria (Nora Arnezeder), who’s in town from Greenland for an art show. He drags Hailey away from Alex’s dance show to monitor him as he goes to see Ana Maria’s performance, but he can’t stay away from seeing her backstage even though he expressly told Hailey not to let him go there. We get some details of their estrangement. She’s in Greenland raising awareness for climate change and getting arrested thrice in the process while Rodrigo travels the world conducting music written by centuries-old composers. They dance around their relationship before falling into each other’s arms only to be interrupted by Hailey, which spurs Ana Maria to angrily confront Rodrigo about his disloyalty, his perceived lack of integrity, and his own shameless pursuit of glory. “Does it bring your ego pleasure making dead music in your sterilized world, remarkable only for its lifeless artifice,” she spits in his face, capturing the fractures in their relationship. They quarrel, they come back together, and they quarrel again before Rodrigo leaves knowing he’s made a mistake coming to her show.
The scenes between Rodrigo and Ana Maria are interesting and occasionally funny, but the story itself is a bit too calculated. We know little of Rodrigo’s backstory, and while this certainly explains much of his inner torment, it’s a little too neat to tie it to a complicated relationship with a woman from his past. The broadness of the Ana Maria character doesn’t help things either as she gets little to do other than yell hysterically, not making much of an impression except as a symbol of the past Rodrigo left behind. While it’s inevitable that this “dreadful passion” will come up in the back half of the season, all we see now is a portent of future calamity.
Finally, we have Alex’s dance show with his roommate/ex-lover Addison (Makenzie Leigh). Hailey abruptly leaves to take care of Rodrigo while Lizzie stays and watches their intimate piece inspired by Moby Dick. Lizzie tries to suss out the particulars of Alex and Addison’s relationship, but mostly sees nothing but an intimate professional relationship. However, judging by their body language and their engagement on stage, it’s clear their relationship isn’t strictly platonic. When Hailey goes over to Alex’s apartment with a bottle of wine, she sees him asleep on Addison’s bed. Though Addison swears that they stopped sleeping together five months ago because it interfered with their dancing, Hailey gets the impression that she’ll never be as close to Alex as Addison will because they’re in different fields. Alex and Addison are people who use their bodies as tools for their art, and Hailey uses an actual tool for hers. Clearly uncomfortable with the environment, Hailey leaves Alex’s apartment confused and uncertain about their relationship, knowing that her passion for music and his passion for dance will necessarily cause future conflict.
“I’m With The Maestro” is a time-marking episode, one that establishes some of the future conflicts down the line, but it still continues Mozart In The Jungle’s commitment to telling empathetic stories of artists’ lives. Though still a bit muddled and messy in places, the series stands by its focus on the trials and tribulations of living as an artist. A veteran like Betty Cragdale knows what she wants and is out to get it, a novice like Hailey is still uncertain about her life and is simply trying to survive, while Rodrigo still finds bumps in the road despite his professional success. Three people who are driven by similar passion end up in three markedly different places. Such is life.
- There’s a part of me that just wants this series to be scenes of the musicians doing odd jobs, like scoring the horror film. It also features the wonderful Dee Dee who tells a story about a job scoring a film in which he played a Moog synthesizer with one hand and rolled joints with another. Gotta love Dee Dee.
- So, Cynthia apparently has tendonitis, and the medicine featured in the last episode was a steroid injection. Her fears about her condition hang over the episode, as she’s afraid she won’t be able to stick around to be someone like Betty Cragdale.
- We also learn that Lizzie is a tattoo artist. Her early work was in primitive symbology. She’s also a bearded guy magnet.
- Betty’s records include early Zeppelin, the first Black Sabbath album, and an extensive prog rock collection. Pretty cool, Betty. Pretty cool.
- Alex is both earnest and insufferable when he explains his dance piece. You see, Alex just loved Moby Dick, and wanted to see if he could bring its epic scale to a more intimate dimension…with their bodies.
- Ana Maria’s performance art piece is hilarious even though it’s mostly her smashing violins.
- Rodrigo has his tickets for Ana Maria’s show under the name Phil Harmonic. He also hates Philip Glass.
- Hailey was apparently into Ayn Rand in college. I hope she’s left that behind.
- “Maestro, I can’t let you do this. You made me do the Mexican thumb kiss.” “Don’t worry, you’re not Mexican. You’re not going to Hell.”
- “This is going to be TBD! That’s how they say it in this country! TBD! TBD!”
- “They could have just hugged it out, you know?”