The eccentric yet charming conductor of New York Symphony, Rodrigo de Souza (Gael García Bernal), is back in creating beautiful classical music in season 2 of Mozart in the Jungle. This time, he has his hands full with a budding romance with second oboist Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke) whom he kissed in the finale of the first season yet continues mispronounce her name (he calls her High-lie on a good day), the threatening strike of his orchestra, the pressure of the scheduled Latin American concerts, which includes his country, Mexico, and the coveted approval of Maestro Ignacio Rivera.
In the midst of this action, Rodrigo and the orchestra eke out a couple of stirring performances – one in Mexico and one in the penultimate episode where Rodrigo loses his hearing due to amusia, but that does not hinder the orchestra to pull off a touching display music and camaraderie.
Given the flurry of events in Mozart in the Jungle, what stand out are the two middle episodes where the orchestra stretches its musical muscles and moves out of New York to visit Mexico. They give the audience the chance to hear Rodrigo roll his R’s in a string of Spanish sentences and see the sights of rural Mexico – from the rickety buses to a small town market. Also, these episodes feature a taste of magic realism with reading of tea leaves and a “curse” that will make Gabriel García Marquez proud.
Humor is also in the mix. Rodrigo eats Mexican street food that looks like intestine on a flat bread. When Union Bob (Mark Blum) asks him what it is, Rodrigo answers, “it’s a mystery. That’s why it’s so good”. That mysterious good food causes Rodrigo to hurl his intestines into the toilet bowl for hours. Union Bob with his box of Lunchables must be laughing his ass off. The best part of this trip is Rodrigo’s visit to abuelita (grandmother) Graciela’s house, which gives an intimate glimpse into Rodrigo’s childhood. Oh, and who knows that Rodrigo can hot wire cars in less than four counts.
Like in season 1, snippets of the private lives of the members of the orchestra are featured: cellist Cynthia Taylor (Saffron Burrows), her cello and cheekbones prove too irresistible for their union lawyer, Nina (Gretchen Mol), this causes a minor heartbreak for Union Bob, drummer Dee Dee (John Miller) capitalizes on the pain of his colleagues by selling drugs, and first-chair oboist Betty Cragdale (Debra Monk) has a lovelife. However, fate continues to stop her from participating in the greatest moments of the orchestra, to give Hailey her time in the spotlight. Speaking of Hailey, she is finally replaced as Rodrigo’s assistant and maté maker and is now officially part of the orchestra. She spends more time kissing Rodrigo (and three other men) and playing her oboe “with blood”. As a group, they bargain for better wages and benefits and play softball. That last bit shouts of broken fingers in capital letters.
Their higher-ups receive the same treatment. Chairman of the board Gloria Windsor (Bernadette Peters) has Rodrigo as her housemate and shares her face cream with him to improve his “goat’s skin pouch”. She returns to her first love, singing as Gloria Antoinette and snags stage worker Pavel (Sandro Isaack) in the process. For his part, Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell) struggles to compose an original symphony but spends significant time bonding with Rodrigo, his hermano (brother). Their growing bromance is pointless story-wise, but it is fun to watch.
Member of the board Edward Biben (Brennan Brown) seems to have longer exposure this season or is just a bigger ass, hence the seemingly larger role. He is so delicious as the evil moneybags who spits on artistry. With Hailey out as Rodrigo’s assistant, another character, Michael, steps in and does a good job at it, including maté making. He just struggles to keep up with Rodrigo when they are biking. Of course, Rodrigo has to butcher his name; he calls him Michel.
Bernal is captivating as Rodrigo and with shorter hair, he is simply gorgeous. Bernal’s portrayal of Rodrigo goes beyond the hair, as he exhibits Rodrigo’s childlike curiosity and insecurities perfectly. He makes Rodrigo genuinely vulnerable and relatable when he has anxiety attacks. When he listens to Maestro Rivera or to his abuelita or when he touches Gloria, the world stops for a moment and focuses on that singular act. He is that riveting. Peters’ Gloria remains superb, just like her taste in curtains and cleavage-bearing dresses. She has a rollercoaster ride this season, but Peters’ campy characterization makes Gloria a favorite. Gloria Antoinette and her song numbers are the highlights of this season.
Unfortunately, Kirke’s Hailey does not measure up to Bernal’s Rodrigo. She is inarticulate and stammers a lot, which makes listening to her unbearable. Her break-up scene with Alex (Peter Vack) is painful to watch and not because it is heartbreaking. Nobody cares that two bland characters call it quits, even though one of them is the lead. The hope last season was for Hailey to spend more time with Rodrigo, and that is now a reality. But it is disappointing beyond words. Rodrigo outshines Hailey in every scene and their tandem does not evoke romantic feelings. Rodrigo has more chemistry with his baton than with Hailey. Even after the reading tea leaves, I do not see any spark between them. Maybe Rodrigo can hot wire Hailey to give her more life.
The season 2 Mozart in the Jungle is a decent show with likeable characters, simple plot and an ensemble of great actors. The show sometimes fumbles with senseless scenes and noncontributing characters, but like the orchestra under the capable baton of Rodrigo, it is transforming from a mediocre show into a great one. The unraveling of Rodrigo the person or the comeback of Gloria Antoinette are more than enough to binge watch ten 30-minute episodes of Mozart in the Jungle.
This is a review of Mozart in the Jungle – Season 2.
To read about Mozart in the Jungle – Season 1, please proceed here.