Have you ever been somewhere that was definitely real but also felt like a dream? Maybe it was somewhere foreign, a place that you were invited to that exceeded all of your expectations. Maybe it was somewhere familiar, a quiet night with close friends that felt stuck out of time. Maybe you met someone new that night and you talked for hours. Maybe you proved to someone that you were worth more than they thought. Maybe you discovered something about yourself watching other people in their natural habitats. Maybe you had a good time. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you just spent the night doing nothing in particular but wishing that it wouldn’t end.
“You Go To My Head” functions like a pause in the middle of Mozart In The Jungle. While “The Rehearsal” felt like the culmination of every conflict and character the series had established, “You Go To My Head” is something else entirely: A meandering, beautiful episode that takes place outside of the main action and instead plunges deep into dreamy rhythms and hazy beauty. At times, it almost feels like an episode from another show entirely, one that’s much more elliptical or oblique, but Mozart makes the choice this late in the season to spend a whole episode just hanging out with its characters at a wealthy mansion outside the city on a beautiful night, and the series is much better for it.
Much of the credit goes to Roman Coppola, whose direction elevates this episode beyond its modest premise. The bulk of the episode is comprised of ten long tracking shots; different characters wander in and out of the frame as they drink, talk, and contemplate their place in the worlds they have chosen. Tracking shots are deliberately showy and call attention to the camera, but Coppola doesn’t strive for naturalism here. His oneiric filmmaking captures the characters’ ambling mindsets as they walk through a place that exists on the border between reality and fantasy. It’s supposed to place you in a dream-like headspace. It’s a place where the kitchen staff wears Playboy bunny ears because the host is nicknamed “Bunny.” It has secret compartments behind bookcases where children are devising firework attacks. It has a room with a big white horse quietly eating cake. Its borders aren’t defined by Earthly logic but instead by dream logic. It’s a place that looks beautiful day and night because it exists somewhere between our imaginations and the ground we walk on.
We begin with Hailey in a car with Cynthia, Union Bob, Warren Boyd, and Svetlana as they drive into Bunny Sheiffelbein’s gorgeous house to attend a fundraiser. Hailey jumps out when she sees Rodrigo who tells her that her main assignment is to explore the grounds and have new experiences. It’s almost like a challenge to the audience to leave their preconceptions at the door, not only of what this episode should look like, but how it should feel like. Just follow Rodrigo as he searches for a young flautist named Alice (Ekaterina Samsonov), Lizzie and her old prep school admirer Evan Byers (Mckean Rand) as they slowly reconnect, Cynthia and Union Bob as they sneak food and booze, and Hailey and Warren Oscar Guggenheim IV (John Hodgman) as they enjoy each other’s company. Rodrigo’s advice casts the spell that hangs over the rest of the episode and that continues all the way until the very end.
I’ve been dancing around the actual meat of the episode mostly because it feels tremendously unimportant to its rhythms and movements, but “You Go To My Head” does have a centerpiece like “The Rehearsal,” albeit much smaller and more passive-aggressive. Edward Biben (Brennan Brown) returns as the orchestra’s business manager and provokes Rodrigo to performing a piece on the violin for $200,000, knowing that Rodrigo doesn’t play the violin in public anymore. But Rodrigo, sensing he’s in the presence of a manipulative hack, takes him up on his challenge and ups his price to $300,000. He first plays a straightforward rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” that Edward balks at, claiming it’s not an adequate “return on investment,” so Rodrigo plays Mozart’s variation on that little ditty, effortlessly winning the crowd over all while twisting the imaginary knife in Edward’s stomach. It’s a fun scene, but it also illustrates something about Rodrigo and his relationship with the commerce side of art: He knows how to play these rich donors like instruments, and he knows some of that is required to be in this business, but it’s clear he also feels a little dirty while doing it.
It’s why Rodrigo wants so desperately to find Alice, who mesmerizes him with her talent as a flautist. When he finally meets her, he mostly projects his own fears onto Alice, talking about how it’s difficult to sacrifice everything he has to the music. He wishes he were like Alice, young enough when it’s all about the music and when the biggest struggle in your life is that your teacher won’t let you play Katy Perry songs. Rodrigo looks at Alice and sees someone so calm and self-possessed, someone who he probably once was but can’t ever be again, and it breaks his heart just a little bit to hear her talk honestly about music. Could Rodrigo simply be envisioning Alice? It’s possible. Coppola’s direction throws everything into question, and Alice calmly feeding a beautiful white horse indoors definitely makes the scene feel otherworldly, but it’s ultimately irrelevant. Alice is real to Rodrigo, and therefore, she’s real to us.
While Rodrigo is humiliating businessmen and talking with flaxen-haired little angels, Hailey spends the night talking with Warren, a rich man who’s genuinely interested in her. He asks her what it’s like to work for Rodrigo and why she chose the oboe. She eagerly responds, clearly glad to be in the company of someone who cares. At one point, Hailey apologizes to Warren for boring him, and Warren tells her that she’s telling him the story of how she invented herself, which is the most important thing in the world. It’s a little cheesy, but as Coppola’s camera circles the two of them, it feels appropriate. Everyone wants to take things from Hailey, like her money, her time, and her talent, but they never ask about her, except for Warren. While other shows would have played up a sexual or romantic angle to their meeting, Mozart In The Jungle communicates that it’s only interested in their conversation, and how a night talking with a stranger can be a wonderfully enriching experience.
But then the spell breaks as it was bound to do. In the early hours of the morning, Rodrigo is playing soccer and attempts to perform some kind of flip kick and breaks his nose. We then cut to Hailey and Rodrigo riding in the back of an ambulance. Rodrigo asks Hailey if she finished her assignment. She tells him she did, and she may have found a little experience along the way. He decides then the trip was worth it, and the episode drifts away from us. I share Rodrigo’s sentiment when it comes to Mozart In The Jungle. I said this in my last review, but if these are the highs that the series can reach, it’s worth going through some messy storytelling and muddled characterizations. “You Go To My Head” is worthy of your attention. It’s worthy of your time. It’s worthy of your dreams.
- There were so many things that I couldn’t fit into this review. Maybe most importantly was Lizzie’s story. We learn that she hid most of her upper-class upbringing from Hailey as she’s family friends with the Sheiffelbein family and has been going to their house since she was little. Lizzie spends time with Evan Byers, who sweetly tells her that he never forgot her Billie Holiday costume for eighth grade Halloween and how she sang “You Go To My Head” so beautifully.
- The other major story is the one with the musicians who are carted off into the kitchen and kept mostly behind the scenes. They deal with a gruff woman who tells them they’re not allowed to talk to guests nor consume any of the food. Rodrigo sneaks them some caviar and Union Bob steals some champagne for them, so all is well.
- Roman Coppola is a frequent collaborator with Wes Anderson and has co-written The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom. He’s also directed a couple films (CQ and A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III) and many, many music videos, including Daft Punk’s “Revolution 909” and The Strokes’ “Someday”.
- Rodrigo has just discovered an Arnold Palmer. He thinks they’re fantastic.
- Claire indirectly confronts Cynthia about her affair with Thomas. Also, no one knows where Thomas is, which I find funny.
- Rodrigo’s advice to young musicians: “Read widely, travel extensively, and under no circumstances, tattoo the name of a lover on their ass.”
- “It’s named after a famous tennis player.” “Golfer.” “He was good at many things.”
- “Don’t call me ma’am, you little douchebags.”
- “Well, I just got some downers from a little old lady, do you want to explore and experience that?”
- “In between sets, you’re not allowed to speak to the guests or interact with them in anyway.” “That’s classist. It’s also prohibited by union rules.”
- “I was like a little alien who lived on an alternate planet from normal children. I had my oboe and I had the music, which was always running through my head. And, um, then I eventually found the other aliens. That made things really worthwhile.”