“Opening Night” works in spite of itself. As an episode of television, its too tidy and constructed, almost every story and character beat was telegraphed from a mile away, and it tries too hard to force a neat conclusion for everyone in the ensemble. However, even though I had a rough idea about what was going to happen and how it would play out, I got caught up in it about halfway through the finale. It doesn’t reach the heights of “The Rehearsal” or “You Go To My Head,” and it doesn’t aim to surprise or to forge a new path forward, but that’s because it sets its sights low. “Opening Night” pares down its focus to Hailey and Rodrigo, the pair the series began with, and brings their own journeys back into the fold. Since most everything springs from those two characters’ struggles, “Opening Night” has a good sense of rhythm and nicely closes a messy debut season.
Hailey is having a bad day. She wakes up with Alex who tells her that he’s thinking about giving up dancing for modeling or acting, and then tries to convince Hailey that maybe giving up on her dream wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. After all, she’s spending her days making mate’s and driving Rodrigo around. How is she actually furthering her musical career? Hailey then asks Betty point-blank if she’ll ever be good enough to play in the orchestra, and Betty says no. At the end of her rope, Hailey confesses to Rodrigo that she doesn’t know what she’s doing here, and after Lizzie suggests packing up and leaving the country for a while, Hailey’s seriously considering putting her childhood dream back in the closet where it belongs.
Now, obviously Hailey isn’t going to give up on her dreams. Despite premiering on the Internet, this is still TV, and obviously a twist of fate will occur that will inspire Hailey to soldier on. But the emotion of the situation still rings true. Hailey’s 26, she’s running out of time to get into the big leagues, and after having your boyfriend and your teacher tell you maybe it’s time to grow up and get out, her feelings of hopelessness are honest and natural. After indulging in some unnecessary broadness the last couple episode, it’s refreshing to see Mozart In The Jungle play it very straight.
Meanwhile, Rodrigo gets a taste of his own medicine as he deals with Anna Maria whose abrasive personality clashes with everyone in the orchestra. The Anna Maria storyline is by far the weakest thread this season because Mozart refuses to deepen her character, preferring to keep her as a comic caricature of an avant-garde artist. It’s frustrating because the clash of artistic pursuits between Rodrigo and Anna Maria could have produced some interesting conflict and driven both characters further, but instead Mozart has Rodrigo try to collaborate with Anna Maria and she broadly rejects him at every turn. The series does its best to ground her desires in both politics and emotion as she claims that it’s difficult watching a changed Rodrigo conduct music, but like so many other last-ditch efforts from this series, it’s not enough to save the storyline.
But still, the opening night performance and its aftermath play with a relaxed confidence. Rodrigo has Betty’s car driven to a different location forcing Hailey to step up to the plate to fill in for an empty chair. Anna Maria abruptly stops her performance claiming she can’t play to a room filled with “bourgeois pigs,” pushing Rodrigo to publicly swallow his ego and have a drunken Thomas conduct the Sibelius with Warren Boyd as the soloist. But the performance goes off without a hitch much to the delight of the orchestra’s establishment. There’s much rejoicing.
On one hand, much of this conclusion is almost too predictable. Of course Rodrigo was going to do the right thing and help out his trusted assistant during her time of need. Of course Anna Maria was going to selfishly blow up the performance. Of course Thomas was going to come back into the fold somehow. It’s not like Mozart was going to suddenly throw everything up into the air in the finale, but it sometimes felt too familiar, like I was watching a series hit the beats that every other serialized series has hit time and time again.
But on the other hand, Mozart’s unrelenting sincerity somehow won me over. This is a series that believes in what it preaches, even though it can be pompous at times and naïve at others. It’s a series that finds Hailey’s big break inspiring and Thomas’ return to the stage exciting, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean that I nor anyone else feel those emotions as well, I still found myself swept away by it. Part of this is because I’m a sucker for people coming together to put on a show, but it’s also something else: For all of its faults over the last nine episodes, Mozart decides to conclude with its protagonists enjoying a mixed bag of success and failure. Hailey got to play in the orchestra, but only as a sub and only because Rodrigo engineered it. She’s still his assistant and still has to wake up at 6:30 every Saturday to be berated by Betty. Yes, Rodrigo swallows his ego for the sake of the orchestra, giving an old man his last chance at glory, but he never quite found a way to actualize his vision. Maybe he never had a vision to begin with. There’s an undercurrent of sadness the triumph that resonates beyond the mere particulars of the plot.
At its core, Mozart is a very sweet show. Its heart is in the right place even when it has the wrong instincts, and you can see this bubble up in the margins of the finale: Lizzie and Hailey sitting on their suitcases holding hands looking out into an uncertain future; Cynthia and Union Bob’s mature, tender conversation about their hookup; Warren Boyd graciously accepting the soloist post at the last minute; Thomas claiming that Rodrigo is his “hermano” to Edward Biben. It’s a show interested more in those moments than larger movements, and if there’s anything that “Opening Night” excels at, it’s getting back to that focus on an orchestra as a group of players coming together to keep art alive.
I keep coming back to Rodrigo’s speech to the audience after Anna Maria takes her bow. There’s a moment when he says that the orchestra is capable of amazing things, even though they’re not there yet, but they will be, so in the mean time, bear with them. It’s a passionate plea that makes sense on both a micro and a macro level. Rodrigo has just arrived and change is scary, but it’s also inevitable and it can be a catalyst for great things. He’s made mistakes in the short-term, but in the long-term, this orchestra can reach for the stars. I feel the same way about Mozart In The Jungle: This is a series that’s truly capable of wonderful moments, and though it’s been a bumpy ride, this season has proven that when it wants to, it can really shine. It may not be there yet, but they can get there. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
- The one major thing I left out is Hailey and Rodrigo’s post-performance kiss. Mozart In The Jungle hasn’t really done the best job building to that moment, but there was enough bonding and mutual flirting on both sides to justify it. I guess their attraction will become a major plot point if Amazon orders a second season.
- Despite my reservations about the beginning of the storyline, I really did like how the series concluded Cynthia and Union Bob’s one-night stand. Union Bob understands that it’s a one-time thing and that it would be disastrous if it got out, but still feels the need to tell Cynthia that it was one of the three best nights of his life. Cynthia calls him a gentleman and compliments his “piccolo,” gives him a kiss on the cheek, and that’s that.
- Thomas’ return wasn’t as deftly handled, choosing to go down a broader route than necessary, but McDowell still has some great moments here, especially his drunken cheers for Rodrigo and his apologetic conversation with Cynthia, and her plea to get off the pills.
- It’s a pity Bernadette Peters didn’t get to do more in the episode. She’s been stellar all season.
- Jason Schwartzman returns as Bradford Sharpe, the world’s douchiest podcast host in the business, and he’s got the hots for Lizzie (or Elizabeth).
- Another sweet moment: Lizzie squealing in delight when she sees Hailey in the orchestra.
- That reminds me: Hannah Dunne and John Miller (Dee Dee) are Series MVP’s.
- “Matching suitcases! Check it out, we can sit on them. When we’re trekking around, and our feet get tired, we can sit on them.”
- “This is Bradford Sharpe. He’s smitten with me.”
- “Can you ever forgive me for being such a daft cunt?”
- Season Grade: B+
- And that concludes The A.V. Club’s Mozart In The Jungle coverage for this season. I’ll be back if there’s a second season, but if there isn’t, I want to say thanks for reading and commenting, especially the commenters who take the series for task for its casual inaccuracies. I learned quite a bit from you guys. Thanks again!