It’s understandable, nay expected, that after pausing the season’s main action with “You Go To My Head,” Mozart In The Jungle might downshift a little bit getting back to the driving plot. There are three episodes left to wrap up the season’s various strands and it’s only natural that the series might do some table-setting to ground the characters and conflicts. But after two great episodes, “Mozart With The Bacon” is a disappointment. It’s unfocused and overstuffed with three stories that range from contrived to frustrating. While there are some nice moments here and there, “Mozart With The Bacon” stands out as the series’ low point. Even Wallace Shawn couldn’t save it from its own choices.
I will tackle each of the episode’s stories separately because there’s little to connect them anyway.
Story 1: Rodrigo’s journey into his subconscious
Winslow Elliot (Wallace Shawn), the greatest pianist in the world says Gloria, is set to play Rachmaninoff on the opening night of the season. He’s an intense, brooding artist who’s in hypnotherapy to help deal with the mental trauma of his difficult childhood. He just gave his therapist two tickets to his performance. But at the last minute, Rodrigo tells Gloria he doesn’t want Winslow to perform opening night. Gloria rips into him, saying that no one wants to work with him because he keeps changing the program. Rodrigo maintains that he’s following his heart.
But Winslow cuts right through that. He confronts Rodrigo in a devastating scene not to change his mind, but to confront him about the nature of his dismissal. He tells Rodrigo in no uncertain terms that his rationalizations about his indecisiveness are bullshit: “Your heart? You don’t have the courage to know your heart. You change your mind at every turn. And each day, you drag more and more people into the vortex of your own confusion.” Rodrigo is stunned by this observation, but Winslow knows just the cure: He will hypnotize Rodrigo so he can dive into his own subconscious and find out what he truly wants.
While the scene when Winslow confronts Rodrigo is the episode’s highlight mainly because the ominous lighting and the circling camera movements effectively portend Rodrigo’s journey, the story ultimately comes up short. It mostly reiterates Rodrigo’s problems with his own ego and the dreamy scene when Rodrigo discovers its Anna Maria he’s wanted all along is clumsy. The abrasively quick editing, the clashing sounds of a moaning woman and Anna Maria’s violin, and the brief shots of images like a piano and a laughing audience are all meant to convey some kind of intense Lynchian dream sequence, but it’s pretty lame and contrived, like someone is trying to make a Lynchian dream sequence. The conclusion between Rodrigo and Winslow is sweet, with the two of them sharing sandwiches over an organ, but it can’t save the story from being just a little too obvious and unnecessary this late in the game.
Story 2: Cynthia searches for Thomas in Cuba
Gloria gets a suitcase and a message from Claire, Thomas’ wife, saying that Thomas is in Cuba without his medicine and probably suffering a nervous breakdown. Gloria dispatches Cynthia to go down to Cuba to retrieve Thomas and bring him back home. So, Cynthia travels to Cuba and finds a drunk Thomas playing the bongos on the beach claiming that he’s having the time of his life. Cynthia confronts Thomas about his selfishness and stupidity, but once he sees that Thomas has finished a piece he’s been working on for years, she realizes that he did need to recharge, but she also knows he’s just hiding out to avoid the ugly realities waiting for him back in New York.
There’s not much to say about this story other than it feels largely unnecessary. Sure, Mozart In The Jungle had to bring Thomas back into the fold eventually, and he left the series uncertain and confused, but to follow it up with him grappling with aging by sitting on a Cuban beach is tired and lazy. Saffron Burrows doesn’t get much to do other than chide Thomas, tell him it’ll be okay, and then ask him to come home soon. Malcolm McDowell is reliably great playing a guy at the tail end of his life going through a crisis, but he doesn’t serve a good enough story to warrant it. “Mozart With The Bacon” closes with Thomas drinking and worrying as he looks out onto a rainy Cuban afternoon, and it obviously suggests that all of his blustering about the wonderful properties of coconut water are just lies he tells himself. It’s a solid note to end the story, but it doesn’t make up for Mozart pushing around its characters like pawns to tell a largely irrelevant story.
Story 3: Hailey tutors Warren
One of the best parts of “You Go To My Head” was Hailey’s night with the gentle and mysterious Warren. He listened to her origin story and tenderly encouraged her without patronizing her. Their meeting wasn’t sexual or romantic; it was just a nice conversation with a kind stranger. Warren added to oneiric nature of “You Go To My Head,” assuming the role of specter that appears in the middle of your dreams to help you through troubling times. John Hodgman’s performance was wonderful as always, and the story was refreshing and sweet.
Then Mozart In The Jungle had to ruin it by making Warren a creepy fraud.
This is far and away the worst story the series has done so far. Mozart clearly wants the audience to find Warren’s reveal to be funny, but I just find it frustrating and deeply disappointing. We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop the entire time Hailey tutors Warren; the camera closes in on his knowing face and his suggestive comments because there’s something so obviously wrong about him. Then, at the very end, Warren goes to the bathroom to take a shower and Lizzie busts in to the apartment claiming that Warren is an imposter. She produces two phones from Warren’s coat and fake passports from his bag. Hailey goes in to her bedroom to confront Warren and finds him naked hiding his penis underneath the expensive oboe that he bought for his tutorship. It’s necessarily and obviously embarrassing. He apologies, tells Hailey he legitimately wanted to learn the oboe, and gives her his oboe as an apology.
There was no reason for this to story other than for Mozart to take a stab at some cheap comedy with the sight of a naked John Hodgman. The reveal wouldn’t bother me so much if the series didn’t introduce Warren as a kind spirit. There were no hints that he wasn’t who he said he, there was no suggestion that he was initially taking advantage of Hailey’s kind nature. He was just an inquisitive man. But then out of the blue, he’s a cheat who uses people. It doesn’t retroactively ruin “You Go To My Head,” but it’s just an unfortunate conclusion to a well-established character. At least Hailey gets a nice instrument out of it.
While Mozart In The Jungle’s messy storytelling will inevitably lead to some highs and lows, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to watch such a phoned-in episode. I don’t doubt that the series can recover in its final two episodes as they bring every conflict to a head. Let’s just hope that this is a brief misstep in an otherwise solid debut season.
- Mozart In The Jungle reviews are off New Years Day. Reviews will continue starting January 2nd.
- Rodrigo wants Anna Maria to open the season with the Sibelius violin concerto. Good stuff.
- Wallace Shawn is great in this episode. I just wish he got a better story to support his talent.
- Warren’s expensive oboe is a Loree Royal 125 with gold keys. It looks nice.
- Lizzie working out was a funny sight.
- “I wanted to learn the oboe, but I learned this thing’s insane, and no one can play it. Well, you can.”
- “I don’t care how many anti-bacterial micro-fungal pro-sanitizers you use, you couldn’t pay me to play that thing with my mouth.”