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Note: The first six episodes of Mozart in the Jungle‘s second season are covered below. Check back soon for more on the remaining episodes and leave your thoughts on the season as a whole in the comments below.

The Maestro returns to the New York Symphony, as season 2 of Mozart in the Jungle finds Gael Garcia Bernal’s Rodrigo de Souza back in New York with Mozart still in his head. Meanwhile, contract negotiations threaten the balance of his orchestra, and the memory of his kiss with Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke) at the end of season 1 still lingers in both their minds.

Season 2 starts spinning plates early — Hailey must consider whether she’s in love with her boyfriend or wants to pursue things with Rodrigo, Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell) is coping with his retirement, and Gloria Windsor (Bernadette Peters) needs the negotiations over with and to find new, less elderly donors — but the show continues to be at its best when the plot isn’t bogging any given episode down.

The first three episodes are very much a by-the-numbers setup as the orchestra begins preparations for a performance in Mexico City. It’s one of great importance to Rodrigo, with his old maestro expected to be there, but the symphony is at war with itself because of those darned contracts and their own personal issues. (Really, a story about the power and beauty of music, as well as the people behind it, should not be as bogged down in legal documents. Just ask the second half of Straight Outta Compton.)

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Hailey is attempting to separate herself from her identity as Rodrigo’s assistant by finding a replacement (a search that ultimately proves fruitless by the time Mexico City rolls around). Cynthia Taylor (Saffron Burrows) is working with a few of the orchestra members and their lawyer, with whom she strikes up a bit of a fling in the midst of all the legal red tape.

The clear distractions among his musical family force Rodrigo to double down and become a bit more stern in his leadership. As Thomas tells him in the first episode, he’s there to “rule with an iron fist,” not to be loved. But of course it’s the love Rodrigo feels for music and his fellow musicians — and the love he hopes they feel in return — that keeps him going.

Problems continue to arise, as Rodrigo is evicted from his apartment after holding a bacchanal (he promises it’s not an orgy), after which Gloria offers to house him for a short while. Hailey’s boyfriend gets a spot on the TV reality competition Dance Haus, and he’s quite upset that she doesn’t care more about his leaving. Yet as the personal problems fall away, Mozart comes back to life.

Season 1 came alive in the Roman Coppola-directed “You Go to My Head,” and again Coppola returns to direct midway through season 2. But the season takes an even earlier cue from that season 1 highlight, crafting an episode that works more like a piece of music than a traditional half-hour of TV in “Touché Maestro, Touché,” with a guest appearance from one half of Derbel McDillet, Dermot Mulroney. Mulroney plays guest musician Andrew Walsh who oozes charm with every syllable, leaving every man desperately wanting to be his best friend and every woman — well, Hailey at least — wanting to be more.

Walsh takes Hailey out for a strange night, bringing her to a bar full of real-life musicians, like Joshua Bell, Lang Lang, and Emmanuel Ax. All the while Rodrigo, at this point feeling lost and overwhelmed, happens to be getting high with Thomas.

It’s a loopy episode that is perhaps better in thought than execution (the upcoming jaunt to Mexico City proves more successfully melodic), but a fascinating diversion from the more traditionally structured episodes that begin the season. Is it true to the real nightlife of New York city musicians? Who knows other than the musicians themselves, but it’s a joy to watch the fun of it all intercut with Rodrigo and Thomas’ drug-induced exploration of life.

NEXT: A trip to Mexico City reveals the past, and sets up the future. [pagebreak]

The show really finds its musical footing in the next two episodes, both directed by Roman Coppola, as the orchestra heads abroad. The first half is initially a sillier affair plot-wise, as the symphony situates itself to its new temporary surroundings. While Rodrigo deals with street meat-induced stomach issues, Warren Boyd (Joel Bernstein) claims his instrument was stolen, inciting Rodrigo to enlist some local help in finding the instrument on the black market. Hailey is also forced to split her time practicing with filling in as Rodrigo’s assistant when the new one she has found for him is sidelined to do an out-of-date passport.

As Hailey preps to have Rodrigo’s old teacher, Maestro Rivera, at their upcoming show (much to Gloria’s chagrin, as she’d rather the space be used for a rich possible donor), Rodrigo goes on a hunt through Mexico City with his old friends and Warren in tow. What follows is a fun, beautiful romp, as they travel from strip club to a friend’s home to the back alleys of Mexico City. (In one particular moment, Coppola lingers on Rodrigo’s humanity as he holds a young child in a quiet, touching scene.) They’re forced to rent another black market violin to have in time for the show — only to later find out Warren had known of his violin’s whereabouts all along — and the performance is a go.

But when Rodrigo is up on stage, he notices his old teacher is not in the reserved box, which Juan Louise Delgado would have sat in (he is unhappy by the empty seat for other reasons). The maestro’s maestro did appear, however — he just didn’t want to sit in such a location, and instead took a seat among the crowd. It was by no means a perfect performance in his eyes, though he knows Rodrigo transformed the orchestra into true musicians, and Hailey herself played with passion — with the blood, as Rodrigo so often says. That is more than enough for now.

With the performance behind them, the show takes advantage of its extended stay outside of New York with an episode devoted entirely to a fun diversion from the realities of life. It comes at a much-needed point for Rodrigo in the season, as he whisks Hailey away from a packed day of responsibilities to show her his home.

(Gloria, engaged in her own romantic endeavors, is more concerned with enlisting Juan Louise as a name benefactor for the symphony’s proposed new home. And though she thinks extolling the virtues of cross-brand promotion will entice him to agree, it’s Thomas’ play to Juan’s ego that seals the deal. And their mutual love of the Rolling Stones, of course.)

Rodrigo takes Hailey to his grandmother’s home, where he was often sent during his delinquent young days. He’s welcomed back with open arms by his grandmother, in an episode captured beautifully by Roman Coppola. From Rodrigo and Hailey’s road trip to Rodrigo’s later interactions with his maestro, Coppola takes advantage of the change in venue to bring some visual pop to the series.

And the stay at Rodrigo’s grandmother’s also has some narrative repercussions for the season. Rodrigo’s abuela predicts that the maestro and Hailey have a future together, even kids, which Rodrigo lies about as he translates to Hailey. That doesn’t stop the two from making out in Rodrigo’s childhood bedroom — only for his grandmother to break them up. She meant they had a future together in the future — not now.

Rodrigo is faced with another personal hurdle as his old maestro, showing him what donations have been given to his children’s orchestra, asks Rodrigo to replace him in the maestro’s old age. Rodrigo can’t leave the symphony to which he already belongs, however, and his maestro publicly scolds him for denying his destiny, for killing him, and for placing a curse on Rodrigo himself.

And so the trip ends on a personally confusing note for Rodrigo. Hailey reveals to him on the plane that she heard everything his grandmother said about their children and their love, but she acknowledges what happened in Mexico was separate from their real lives. It was a diversion from the norm, and now it is time to return to their real lives.

Yet, the two can’t take back the kiss they shared in season 1 or in Rodrigo’s bedroom, and his grandmother’s words have implanted the idea of a future together whether they’d like to admit to it or not. But New York, the orchestra, and the balance of their professional futures also await them back home in the season’s final episodes.

Check back later for more on the second half of Mozart in the Jungle’s second season, but sound off in the comments about what you’ve liked and disliked about the entire season. Does Rodrigo and Hailey’s romance interest you, or is Cynthia’s fling with the musicians lawyer more intriguing? Do you care at all about the symphony’s financial woes, or would you prefer more episodes like “Touché Maestro, Touché” and “How to Make God Laugh?”

Mozart in the Jungle

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