Many shows start strongly, then grow increasingly tired as they stretch the limits of their concept. Mozart in the Jungle doesn’t have that problem, perhaps because it relies less on concept than on its subject matter: music. By embracing music’s endless variety and the many facets of its world, it continues to find interesting new stories to tell, and does so in a manner as varied and unpredictable as music itself.
An intractable contract dispute leads management to lock out the New York Symphony, leaving the orchestra’s members to get by in other ways. For conductor Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal), that means a spontaneous new gig organizing a concert for opera diva Alessandra (Monica Belluci). For oboist Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), it means a new gig touring Europe with asshole ‘cello sensation Andrew Walsh (Dermot Mulroney). When Hailey’s job melts down mid-performance, she falls back into Rodrigo’s intoxicating orbit in Venice, where their erratic relationship undergoes further chaotic contortions before sending them back home.
Season three plays out, in fact, as two mini-seasons. The first five episodes take place in Venice and focus on the concert, a storyline which deploys Bellucci to terrific effect as a temperamental manipulator who gives Rodrigo a run for his money in the fiery artist sweepstakes. The second half returns the focus to New York and efforts to bring the lockout to an end, reuniting the symphony. Both sequences are confidently executed, displaying the series’ characteristic stream-of-conscious restlessness, randomly bouncing from comic absurdity to dramatic beauty and back again. But running through it all is the complex core relationship between Hailey and Rodrigo, which Bernal and Kirke pull off with effervescent charm. If this thread possesses the show’s one truly expected angle — a will-they, won’t-they rom-com familiarity — it also provides an anchoring through-line that becomes more interesting the more the show treats Rodrigo as something of a personified metaphor for music. After all, Hailey’s relationship with Rodrigo is just as fraught, flighty, and multifaceted as her relationship with music, the primary source of her frustration, her sense of purpose, her deepest disappointments, and her most transcendently beautiful moments. In this sense, Mozart in the Jungle continues to tap into and skillfully depict the struggles and joys of artistic ambition, in an energetic and addictively unpredictable way.