“With everything ugly out there, you have to break up something so fucking beautiful?”

Mozart In The Jungle wants to be many different types of shows. It wants to be a backstage drama about an orchestra. It wants to be an exploration of the trials and tribulations of artists. It wants to be a tender tribute to the art that surrounds all of us. Mozart’s ambition is respectable, and it has produced some high points in the series so far, but it also leads to some misshapenness around the edges. The minimal plot that drives the series awkwardly stalls and starts up again at the will of the writers. Some characters act like ungainly plot pawns and rich three-dimensional figures often within the same episode (I’m thinking of Thomas and Cynthia especially). While I find some of the series’ developments muddled, I don’t know if Mozart In The Jungle would be better if it had a tighter focus at its center. I think if it did, it would lose some of the best parts about it, which almost certainly derive from its high ambition.

“The Rehearsal” is the first episode of the series where, like Rodrigo with his orchestra, I could finally see what Mozart In The Jungle is trying to do, and it’s because it succeeds in being all of those different shows. It’s still a bit messy: The premise of the episode is a bit twee (Rodrigo finds the concert hall too stuffy and takes the players on a field trip to get in touch with the city!) and the first 10 minutes baldly ramp up the backstage stakes as the series heads into the home stretch of the season. But once the episode gets to its centerpiece and settles into a comfortable groove, it becomes wonderful and makes me forgive some of the missteps along the way.

“The Rehearsal” opens on Rodrigo grumpily completing his mandated press duties at the behest of Gloria. He’s gruff with an irritating photographer and storms out of a profile interview after the journalist presumably mentioned Ana Maria. Rodrigo’s actions irritate Gloria to no end and eventually lead to two events: 1) Gloria persuading Cynthia to be her eyes and ears when it comes to Rodrigo’s eccentricity, and 2) the orchestra’s business manager Edward Biben (Brennan Brown) reading Gloria the riot act, telling her that if she can’t control Rodrigo, he will advocate for Thomas’ return next season. While both of these plot developments are slightly obvious and rushed, they characterize Gloria in an interesting way. She criticizes Rodrigo and his ego to the musicians and her confidants, but she also realizes that he’s the only person who will stop the symphony from an inevitable decline. “Classical music has been losing money for people for 500 years. It’s not a business,” she tells Edward coldly, but she knows that the orchestra must be kept afloat. So where does that leave Gloria? She’s stuck defending an uncontrollable maestro to commerce while bitching about him to art.

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After Rodrigo storms out of the interview, he instructs Hailey to put up a sign saying that rehearsal has been rescheduled for the next day, and to bring a sweater. We cut to the orchestra carrying their instruments from a bus into an abandoned back lot that Rodrigo broke into. The musicians mutter nervously about the neighborhood. Union Bob grumbles the humidity will warp the wood of his instrument. They’re skeptical about Rodrigo’s plan to drag them out of their natural habitat into the world around them. Rodrigo attempts to set their fears at ease, telling them that when they lose their way, they must get back to the basics, and that means they must get back in touch with the environment they live in. It’s a bit pretentious and a little naïve, but when Rodrigo instructs them to play Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” a piece he initially removed from the season’s lineup, everything falls into place.

Director Bart Freundlich splits the sequence into sections, the beginning and end of the piece, and both are beautifully filmed. The camera gracefully moves across the orchestra while the musicians play, stopping only on faces to capture their brief, joyous looks. Freundlich employs a few sweeping crane shots to illustrate the musicians’ relationship with the space around them, especially with the excited community that gathers to watch them: excited New Yorkers outside the gate, people filming the performance from their balconies, kids playacting as conductors. It’s a triumphant sequence that reiterates the power of Rodrigo’s passion and emphasizes the purity of music. It feels like the culmination of everything Mozart In The Jungle has established up to this point.

Then, the party starts. There’s music and dancing. There’s pizza and beer. For a brief moment, a glorious celebration takes place that bonds not only the musicians together, but binds them to their community, illustrating that their art isn’t lifeless or dull. It has the power to bring people together. But then the cops come and break it up saying that Rodrigo’s field trip is an unsanctioned block party. Nasty words are exchanged, a minor scuffle takes place, and Rodrigo is taken into custody. When Gloria eventually bails him out and deals with the trespassing tickets given to the orchestra members, she finally sees Rodrigo’s true value as the musicians wait for him to be released and are overjoyed with his return to their graces. Gloria finally sees what Cynthia tells her in the beginning of the episode: The orchestra isn’t an institution, but rather a group of musicians coming together to do what they do best. It’s what makes Gloria level with Rodrigo later, saying that while she respects his talent, the orchestra is in deep financial trouble, and she needs his help.

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In the midst of this, Mozart In The Jungle finds a way to have a compelling Hailey story to develop on the side. She finally wears down Betty and convinces her to give her lessons at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, and gathers the money to pay her exorbitant fee with a rare stamp from her tutee Duncan. But when she gets back to her apartment from the police station, she sees Alex, who’s been trying to reach her all day. They have an awkward conversation about their recent rupture—Hailey’s uncomfortable with his relationship with Addison, Alex wants to whisk her away to Florida while Hailey has to stay and take oboe lessons at an absurd hour—but it’s the first conversation between them that feels genuine, mostly because they both dance around the issues between them. Hailey doesn’t have the courage to express her feelings about him and Addison and Alex can’t express his feelings about Hailey all that well either. They’re both stumbling around in the dark as they try to figure out their relationship and their different life paths. Alex’s work can take him to Florida, but Hailey’s doesn’t, and she can’t just take off because her craft needs her. It’s a short button at the end of the episode that should feel out of place, but somehow doesn’t because “The Rehearsal” neatly establishes the gap between Hailey’s newfound confidence in her work and her continued lack of confidence in her personal relationships. Is this character development a bit clichéd, especially in women’s stories? Sure. But it nevertheless feels honest that makes me want to forgive its tired exterior.

There’s clearly a bad moon rising in the world of Mozart In The Jungle: The orchestra’s financial straits, Cynthia’s divided allegiances, Rodrigo’s unpredictable behavior, etc. But if “The Rehearsal” was the calm before the storm, the moment when things are good, it greatly succeeded. It found a way to bring together its impressive ensemble, its slow-build of a plot, and all the themes bubbling underneath the surface into an episode that hinged on one sequence, and it pulled it off. If this is the best the series gets, which I don’t think it will be, it was worth the trip.

Stray Observations:

  • Gloria’s conversation with Pavel, the orchestra’s maintenance worker, is another wonderfully touching moment in an episode filled with them. He calms her down when she’s having a small breakdown and tells her that the musicians smile when they come to work because of Rodrigo, and he thanks her for bringing him to the symphony.
  • The above quote comes from Dee Dee, who gives the most heartbreaking line reading in the episode. The actor John Miller could have easily played the scene where he confronts the cops as an angry diatribe, but instead, it’s just profound disappointment. You can see how hurt he is that the city would shut down something so innocent and peaceful.
  • Union Bob makes the point that the orchestra’s field trip wasn’t actually a rehearsal, but a performance, and the musicians deserve to be paid accordingly. In another act of grace, Rodrigo agrees to pay their fee out of his own pocket.
  • Hannah Dunne continues to excel at being a naturally funny side player as she exchanges sarcastic observations about Hailey’s ineptitude with Alex.
  • “You ignoring him now? Are you 12? No offense.”
  • “The course of conflict isn’t determined by the person who initiates but by the person who responds. My parents do marriage counseling, even though they’re not together anymore.”
  • “So you just decided to take everybody out on a little field trip to have a block party?” “No, it’s actually for everybody. It’s all races. Everyone’s welcome.”
  • “Are these your wire cutters?” “No! No! I borrowed them from Pavel.”
  • “Gloria, can I tell you something? You should have seen them out there. It was incredible. It was beautiful.”
  • “You know, guys, I used to live right around the corner in the ’70s. The decade it was happening.”

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