I don’t know what to make of “Now, Fortissimo!” It’s not especially bad nor is it especially good. Nothing much really happens plot-wise, which is fine, but none of it is compelling, either. It’s occasionally funny and mostly boring possibly because the episode centers around one of the least-developed, least-interesting plotlines in the season—Rodrigo’s passionate on-and-off relationship with his wife Anna Maria—but it also might be because the series may have run out of things to say. It’s clear now that Mozart In The Jungle isn’t particularly invested in most of the major conflicts it has established over the season—Gloria and the orchestra’s financial troubles, Hailey and her journey to get into the symphony, Cynthia’s conflicted alliances—which, again, is fine if wants to privilege smaller mood or character pieces while the plot hums in the background, but I’m not sure it’s interested in doing that either. Mozart simply has all these characters and plots at their disposal to do something with each episode but without any cohesive vision to make any of it stick.
In “Now, Fortissimo!” we have Hailey and Rodrigo on a road trip to find Anna Maria to convince her to perform opening night, Cynthia sleeping with Union Bob as the result of a nascent prescription pill addiction, and Lizzie trying to figure out plans for her future after receiving a large windfall from a family estate settlement. If you squint really hard, you can make out a connection between the three stories. Maybe they’re all about people who have lost their way and are now forced to get back onto the beaten path. Maybe they’re about people hopelessly confused amidst the circumstances they have erected. Or maybe, most likely, it’s just three separate stories in one episode, like “Mozart With The Bacon.” It’s strange that a series that so fervently emphasized ensemble in the beginning of the season has quickly abandoned the idea by the end.
Part of the problem is the persistent tonal confusion within characters and stories. Take Anna Maria (Nora Arnezeder), Rodrigo’s wife, for example. Are we supposed to find that brief clip of her political performance art that opens the episode funny or serious? Are we supposed to treat a character that performs in toxic waste facilities, sleeps in tents outside abandoned warehouses, and wears a chastity belt to “control her passion” a broad caricature of a political artist or a passionate force to be reckoned with? Mozart doesn’t fall on either side of the divide, choosing instead for her to be both at the same time, which means that she’s really neither. Mozart doesn’t take Anna Maria seriously; it just takes Rodrigo’s desire for her and her art seriously. Hailey and Rodrigo spend most of the episode traveling to find Anna Maria, and the series can’t be bothered to dramatically communicate why she’s important or interesting other than through Rodrigo, which frankly, isn’t enough to save the storyline from irrelevance.
The same thing happens with Cynthia and her brief fling with Union Bob. Cynthia scores some Oxycontin and Fentanyl from Dee Dee to treat her tendonitis, but after mixing it with alcohol, she makes a pass at Union Bob after inviting him over to her apartment for an orchestra committee meeting. They sleep together. He’s elated. She regrets it. Now, this story doesn’t come completely out of nowhere. The series has established their storied professional relationship, and Union Bob was innocently flirting with her at the fundraiser in “You Go To My Head.” However, it’s a strangely tone-deaf development that’s creepy at best and troubling at worst. Cynthia initiates their sexual encounter, but she’s not in sound mind to do so. Union Bob protests, asking if she’s drunk and saying that she usually wouldn’t go for someone like him, but when Mozart cuts back to the two of them, Union Bob is singing and making a post-coital omelet. Cynthia graciously accepts the omelet and kisses Bob goodbye as he goes to pick up his daughter from the airport, but it’s clear she has made a mistake. Why does this happen? Why choose to focus on Cynthia in the penultimate episode of your debut season and then give her a pill addiction that drives her to sleep with a co-worker? Is it supposed to be funny? I guess. Is it supposed to be tragic? I guess. Mozart has no obligation to be either a comedy or a drama, and it should have stories that combine humor and pathos, but if this is their attempt, it comes off mostly confused.
Lizzie’s story is the only one that makes sense to her character. She receives a large sum of money in the mail from her uncle’s estate and wonders what to do with the money. She consults her friends who are mostly no help, but Evan Byers (Mckean Rand), her old prep school admirer, tells her that she should figure out what she wants to do and then use the money appropriately, unlike so many kids they know who got trust fund checks and pissed it away on nothing. In just two scenes, Mozart cleanly outlines and details Lizzie’s existential confusion with little fanfare or underlining. Hannah Dunne’s performance in the episode really sells it, but the writing is pretty on-point here as well, and it illustrates how good Mozart can be when it commits to established rhythms and character-building.
So yes, “Now, Fortissimo!” isn’t terrible, but it didn’t really have a point, and it unfortunately highlights all of the Mozart In The Jungle’s problems so far. As it heads into the season finale, the series has casually forgotten to add stakes to any of its proceedings. The season has ostensibly been building to the New York Symphony’s opening night, but it hasn’t really conveyed the importance of that event, or what it means to any of the characters. It has established conflicts between many characters, but doesn’t seem interested in delving deeper into them. It has reduced Rodrigo’s storied journey to discover the limits of his genius into a quest to reconnect with his lover. It has rendered Hailey, the series’ audience surrogate, into an errand girl. While I’m sure that many, if not all, of the threads Mozart has woven will be touched upon in the finale, it won’t change the fact that they’ve been hanging limply for quite a while.
It’s frustrating because Mozart In The Jungle has proven that it can be really, really good. When it incorporates its ensemble, emphasizes the resonant themes running through its premise, and captures the beauty of music all at the same time, it’s a series to be reckoned with. But these last two episodes have illustrated the series’ confusion about its true self. It just isn’t good enough to manage many different tones and ideas all at once. Mozart In The Jungle is like an indecisive artist who has dabbled in a bunch of different fields, finding great success in a few of them and little in most of them, but just can’t seem make up their mind as to what they want to commit to, even though it’s staring them right in the face.
- I think another problem is that Mozart is really straining for comedy. It was much better when it allowed humor to sort of bubble up on the sides on an otherwise straight-laced series rather than forcing a comedic premise. With that being said, the episode was funny at times, especially the scene when Hailey and Rodrigo speak with the toxic waste facility employee.
- There’s another scene of Hailey practicing the oboe with Betty, just so the series can make sure the audience remembers she’s an oboist.
- Oh, Hailey finally sleeps with Alex because Rodrigo’s passion for his wife inspires her to finally take the leap with him? I guess? It’s not really made clear.
- Dee Dee shows up again, which is always welcome.
- “Part of me feels like I should invest it and be responsible for the first time in my life. The other part feels like I should go fucking crazy, and hire David Bowie to play on our fuckin’ roof.” “Oh, my God, let’s do that.”
- “I went to college with this Finnish kid and he was into Wicca and sexual humiliation, and stuff, and, well, his dad died, and he invested the inheritance, and then he died, and so his mom got it all, but she was, like, super-rich anyway, so it didn’t make a difference.”
- “Are you gonna repeat the directions the entire way?”
- “An old factory can become an opera house. No, no. The acoustics are really shitty.”
- “Destiny awaits me in that fucked-up tent room.”