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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mozart in the Jungle: “You Have Insulted Tchaikovsky”

Illustration for article titled Mozart in the Jungle: “You Have Insulted Tchaikovsky”

“You Have Insulted Tchaikovsky” is the best episode of Mozart in the Jungle so far for many reasons: It combines its low-stakes, observational approach with a simple episodic plot, it focuses on the thematic thrust of the series, and it’s a great showcase for most everyone in the ensemble. But most importantly, it illustrates that there are no villains in the series. There are just people who have different competing interests and ideologies, with different fears and struggles, all dwelling in the same boat. Many critics, myself included, have compared Mozart in the Jungle to the excellent Canadian drama Slings And Arrows, but in the first three episodes, the overlap between the two series has been fairly superficial. However, “You Have Insulted Tchaikovsky” stands as the best example for those eager to compare the two because it illustrates the series’ empathy for everyone, like Slings And Arrows did every single episode.

The plot is simple: Gloria is hosting a fundraiser for the Symphony to introduce Rodrigo to its devoted patrons. Unfortunately, Rodrigo declined to attend and a furious Gloria orders Hailey to retrieve him, put him in a suit, and get him to the fundraiser at once. But within this story, a host of events occur: A young student finally learns something from her eccentric teacher; a family gets the opportunity to meet their idol; an aging maestro comes to terms with his own limitations; and for a brief and pleasant moment, art and commerce have a meeting where they both understand and respect each other’s positions. It’s telling that while the plot drives these various developments, Mozart In The Jungle privileges the stories on the margins over the plot entirely.

We open on Rodrigo carefully handling Mozart’s sheet music in the rare archives section of the music library. He sees a vision of Mozart himself, and it’s clear that Rodrigo is need of guidance. He’s in need of someone to understand his inability to see the music, but Mozart, like Hailey in the last episode, confronts Rodrigo about his ego, and tells him that his poetic struggle has more to do with glory and respect than it does with art. It’s a bit of hoary idea for an idol to come from within to ground a lost soul, and the vision of Mozart slapping around Rodrigo is a bit cheesy, but it does the job of pushing Rodrigo off the pedestal that the series has established for him. Mozart In The Jungle finally focuses on Rodrigo and opens him up not only to internal criticism but also to the humanity of others.

Hailey and Lizzie snag Rodrigo from the library and rush him into a car to bring him to the fundraiser, but on the way over, two things occur. First, Rodrigo strikes up a conversation in Spanish with the car driver who wishes to take a picture with him to show his sister on her birthday. Rodrigo does one better and goes to her café and spends time with the entire family. He takes pictures, salsa dances with the elderly, sings, and gives backrubs. It’s a brief scene but it shows the extent of Rodrigo’s own personal generosity and it captures the joy that people feel when they finally meet someone they’ve known their entire lives.

But secondly, Rodrigo hears the music of the streets and tunes Hailey into it as well. When the car drives over the bridge, Rodrigo tells Hailey to listen to the sounds of the city and suddenly the sound of tires against the bridge become the sound of snare drums, car engines become a string orchestra, car horns become brass instruments, etc. For a couple of minutes, only Hailey and Rodrigo can hear the city sound like the music they’ve been playing their whole lives, and realize that classical music isn’t just some elite, hermetically sealed institution, but rather a vibrant force that can be found in all walks of life. Later on, Hailey’s walking down the street with headphones on, but briefly takes them off and can quietly hear what Rodrigo hears all the time. It’s in that moment that Mozart In The Jungle finally illustrates Rodrigo’s positive effect on his players, and how his unique talent manifests itself.

Meanwhile at the fundraiser, Gloria and Thomas are desperately trying to drum up support from a crew of elderly female donors who are awaiting the arrival of Rodrigo. Thomas attempts to take control by cracking tired jokes and playing a piece on the piano, but it’s clear that the donors are eager to see a pretty young face who’s going to keep the orchestra alive, not someone who, like them, is on their way out the door. When Rodrigo arrives and wows the donors by teaching them how to play “Für Elise” with their wine glasses, Thomas loses it and throws a long-awaited tantrum. He breaks glasses and rudely criticizes Rodrigo’s taste and opinions. He then turns the lasers on himself and says that he wishes he never judged the youth conducting competition that opened Rodrigo to the world.


It’s here where “You Have Insulted Tchaikovsky” really steps up to the plate. It would be easy for the series to make Thomas the arrogant, comic villain here—like it pretty much has for the last few episodes. It would be easy for Thomas to be the glorious fool that the audience can have a good laugh at his expense. But instead, Mozart In The Jungle makes the better choice and not only takes Thomas’ fears and objections seriously, but it also respects Rodrigo’s actions as well. Rodrigo earnestly tries to sway the group of donors in order to keep the orchestra afloat and to make a good impression, but at the same time, all Thomas sees is some pretentious young buck with a clean face blowing up everything that he established. Mozart effectively places the audience in both Rodrigo and Thomas’ shoes and sympathizes with the young and the old.

The next day, Rodrigo meets with Thomas and apologizes if he disrespected him in any way, but Thomas softens and tells Rodrigo that he’s doing the right thing: he’s overthrowing the establishment the way Thomas did way back when. “The heir to the throne must always kill the king,” Thomas says wistfully as he packs up all of the awards and acclaim he’s garnered over the years into garbage bags to be burned. He tells Rodrigo that he’s taking a sabbatical to recharge and get away. Rodrigo says he completely understands, but Thomas rightfully retorts back that he doesn’t understand, but he will someday, and it’s then that Rodrigo looks at Thomas and sees what he and everyone after him will eventually become. Rodrigo finally listens to Thomas’ advice and then Thomas leaves the place he made his bones to enter into an uncertain world.


But even after all that, Mozart In The Jungle does one better and humanizes Gloria as well. When Gloria takes Rodrigo up to a fancy apartment with a beautiful view of the skyline that one donor family allows them to use, she thanks him for his help in the fundraising. Rodrigo looks at her and tells her honestly that he only has “so many of those” in him. Gloria responds that fundraising is not a mundane matter, and Rodrigo calmly tells her that neither is his art. It’s a wonderful moment that captures both sides of the art/commerce divide. Mozart understands Gloria’s need to fund the orchestra and Rodrigo’s desire not to advertise himself in such an ostentatious way. So what happens? Rodrigo agrees to a photo shoot and a social media campaign and Gloria promises to limit his appearances at future fundraisers. art and commerce hug with their city in the background ending the episode on a stellar note.

Mozart In The Jungle finally hits its stride with “You Have Insulted Tchaikovsky.” After spending three episodes establishing the characters and conflicts, it finally starts adding dimensions to everyone and everything, and for the first time, illustrates what the series can do at the height of its powers. It can have quiet and loud moments. It can have scenes of profound understanding. It can have simple stories that drive larger thematic interests. In short: The series can play all the notes on the scale.


Stray observations:

  • The other minor story in the episode is Cynthia’s meeting with the orchestra committee. She desperately tries to have the committee focus on the orchestra’s health plan, but instead Union Bob is fretting and arguing about the room temperature and the status of the refrigerator. It’s funny as hell, but it also serves as a microcosm for the episode as a whole. It’s literally a group of people sitting around the table trying to find a middle ground between all of their various positions.
  • There was no place for this in the review, but the scene when Hailey makes Rodrigo’s mate may be my favorite one in the series so far. It’s slow and methodical, willing to watch Hailey carefully follow Rodrigo’s hilarious instructions on the tape, including hearing all of his asides, like when he sees an eagle outside his window.
  • Two other developments occur in the episode: First, Rodrigo gets a coded message from some mysterious woman named Ana Maria. Apparently she’s coming to New York from Greenland and she tells Rodrigo to stay away from her. Second, Cynthia injects some kind of medicine into her hand in the bathroom. Is she a diabetic? Maybe that’s why she’s so interested in the orchestra’s health plan?
  • Even awful Sharon gets some needed empathy from the series when she sincerely complains, “Why does no one listen to me?”
  • Thomas’ wife knows about his affair with Cynthia. It seems like she’s put up with Thomas’ poor behavior for years.
  • Is this the last we’ll see of Malcolm McDowell? I hope not, but if it is, he went out on a high note.
  • Hannah Dunne as Lizzie continues to be a really fun character. That’s all.
  • I should also say that I love the way Rodrigo pronounces Hailey’s name. High-ligh.
  • “Eagle! There’s an eagle outside! Where’s your snake? Aah! Aah!”
  • “Just knock?” “I did. I was knocking on a book, so it was really soft and old. It didn’t really make a sound.”
  • “Oh, hey, mom. No, I’m just in a cab with a couple of stoners. My mom says hi, Hailey.”