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In The Bear’s Intense Third Season, a Restaurant Can’t Thrive on Food Alone




This article discusses plot points from the first eight episodes of The Bear Season 3.

When we last saw Chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, he was as alone as a human being could possibly be in a restaurant that had just served a dining room packed with his friends and family. Trapped in the cold, blue light of the walk-in refrigerator, Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) cursed, punched the wall, and blamed his relationship with Claire (Molly Gordon) for distracting him from achieving perfection. “I am the best because I didn’t have any of this f-cking bullsh-t,” he hissed out loud, unaware that a devastated Claire, who had left Carmy a voicemail declaring that she loved him, was listening on the other side of the door. Then he picked a fight with his “cousin,” Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), that climaxed with both men screaming “You f-ckin’ need me!”

That was how the superlative second season of FX’s The Bear ended, following the chaotic, if not entirely unsuccessful, soft opening of the restaurant that the show’s characters had spent months building. The finale capped a season of professional growth, as Carmy and his levelheaded deputy, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), invested in preparing the staff of his family’s Italian beef joint for fine-dining excellence. While the line cooks went to culinary school, Richie got an Education in front-of-house precision, Syd found inspiration in Chicago’s food scene, and pastry prodigy Marcus (Lionel Boyce) apprenticed in Copenhagen. Carmy took equally major strides in his stunted personal life, before convincing himself that he must choose between art and love. The show’s intense third season, now streaming on Hulu, explores just how wrong he is.

“THE BEAR” — “Tomorrow” — Season 3, Episode 1 (Airs Thursday, June 27th) — Pictured: Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto. CR: FX.
Jeremy Allen White in The Bear Season 3FX

It’s an arc anchored in Carmy’s lonely, neurotic mind, which, frankly, has never been The Bear’s sweet spot. Grief over his brother Mikey (John Bernthal) that felt somewhat generic for much of Season 1 has given way to an obsession, instilled by an impossible family whose intermittently violent dysfunction we witnessed in Season 2’s anarchic holiday-feast flashback episode “Fishes” and iNFLamed by an abusive former boss (Joel McHale), with external validation in the form of a Michelin star. Somber to the point of melodrama, the bloated premiere, “Tomorrow,” set the morning after last year’s finale, drifts through the most emotional moments of Carmy’s career—a bleak slog, despite the return of an ensemble that has expanded to include McHale, Olivia Colman, Will Poulter, John Mulaney, and real-life New York culinary titan Daniel Boulud.

Fortunately, “Tomorrow” is the season’s weakest episode (and in fairness to creator Christopher Storer, The Bear never loses sight of how self-absorbed its tortured-artist chef can be. “I think you managed, in a miraculous way, to make this about yourself,” Syd marvels to Carmy at one point). It’s followed by “Next,” which finds Carmy scribbling a ridiculous list of the restaurant’s “non-negotiables,” from a directive to “constantly evolve through passion and creativity” to an entirely new menu every day, already-overwhelmed employees be damned. Also blindsided by Carmy’s idealism is The Bear’s irritable backer, Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt), who can’t justify the expense of sourcing a completely different supply of high-end ingredients every morning.

“THE BEAR” — “Next” — Season 3, Episode 2 (Airs Thursday, June 27th) — Pictured: Lionel Boyce as Marcus. CR: FX.
Lionel Boyce in The Bear Season 3FX

In Episode 3, “Doors”—a classic half-hour of frenzy in the kitchen—the season hits its stride. It’s prefaced by a scene that brings the season’s central theme into focus. Delivering a eulogy at the funeral for his mother, who died while he was working at the friends-and-family opening, Marcus reminisces about how she made him feel loved. By the end of her long illness, she couldn’t speak. “It almost felt, sometimes, like that communication was better,” he muses. “Like, we really had to pay attention to each other.” That extreme level of devotion to other people is at the warm heart of The Bear Season 3. Carmy, who comes off as a villain more than a hero in these episodes, becomes living proof that neither a person nor a restaurant can thrive on art alone.

The idea that food service is about making people feel cared for—that the service is just as important as the food—permeates the season. While the deterioration of Carmy and Richie’s relationship sows havoc at The Bear, in a reflection of each character’s loneliness, Sydney takes the time to firmly but gently bring Tina’s (Liza Colón-Zayas) skills up to par. Colón-Zayas gets a well-deserved turn in the show’s spotlight with “Napkins,” a flashback episode beautifully directed by Edebiri that recounts how Tina came to work at The Beef. At a desperate moment in a post-layoff job search, she wanders into the shop. Sensing her distress, Richie gives Tina a free coffee and sandwich. That act of care leads to a tearful conversation with Mikey. “Do you like the work?” she asks him. His candid reply: “I like the people.” Tina gets it. He hires her.

“THE BEAR” — “Next” — Season 3, Episode 2 (Airs Thursday, June 27th) — Pictured: Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Richard “Richie” Jerimovich. CR: FX.
Ebon Moss-Bachrach in The Bear Season 3FX

As they must in a show that worships work but also understands that it isn’t the only thing in life, the themes of care and interdependence transcend the kitchen. We see “dead moms club” members Syd and Marcus come to the realization that, as she says, “it’s scary, relying on a person.” Parent-child bonds become a motif, from Tina telling Mikey, “I don’t need to save the world, I just wanna feed my kid” to Richie puzzling over his role in his daughter’s life now that she’s about to have a stepdad. It all culminates in another standout episode, “Ice Chips,” essentially a two-hander that puts Carmy’s sister Sugar (Abby Elliott) in the maternity ward with their often-terrible mom, Jamie Lee Curtis’ Donna, because no one else answers their phone when she calls to say she’s in labor. For the semi-estranged mother and daughter, the Ronettes’ “Baby, I Love You,” blaring from Donna’s cellphone speakers, expresses what words can’t.

Which is not to say that generations’ worth of psychic wounds are healed in the space of 10 episodes of television. What makes The Bear superior to so many other comedies where flawed characters strive to become better people—Ted Lasso, Schitt’s Creek, Shrinking—is its patient realism. Despite a few epiphanies, the season declines to resolve its biggest coNFLicts. Tina has yet to become a virtuosic cook. Richie has yet to fully show up for his ex. Syd has yet to make the toughest decision of her career. As for Carmy, he may be starting to grasp that the culinary maxim whatever grows together, goes together applies to more than just produce. But like a young tomato plant just poking its stem out of the soil, he’s still got plenty of growing left to do.