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thebear_season2_carmy_jeremy allen white.jpg

The Second Season of ‘The Bear’ Dishes Up Pain and Hope Alike

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | June 28, 2023 |

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | June 28, 2023 |

thebear_season2_carmy_jeremy allen white.jpg

“Every second counts” is the written maxim appearing throughout the sophomore season of The Bear, mostly applied to the frantic 12 week race to gut The Beef (full name, The Original Beef of Chicagoland) and transform it into The Bear. Any remodel is destined to be plagued with issues, but turning the raggedy sandwich shop into an award-winning fine dining establishment proves to be a marathon of misery even on its good days as the rising financial and personal costs constantly threaten to scupper the project. But “every second counts” can also apply to the feverish dash that we call life and the grand endeavors we take on. Wholeheartedly pursuing a dream can be life-affirming as hell when it isn’t threatening to kill you, of course.

For Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), it’s not just a matter of opening up a restaurant, but one that rivals the ultra-high end establishments he’s labored in for most of his career. His desire for Danish teak and $55 serving plates isn’t just a source of tension when butted up against a restrictive budget, it’s also a symptom of the obsession that haunts him. Food is merely the outlet in which he channels his desperate need to be the best, and he’s willing to pursue it at any cost. Carmy’s singlemindedness is challenged when he becomes reacquainted with Claire (Molly Gordon), a former classmate who’s finishing her medical residency. Their attraction to one another is obvious, though the timing is less than ideal. In the second episode, when Carmy is talking to Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) about how one obtains a Michelin star, he tells her plainly, “You’re gonna have to care about everything. More than anything.” As his attention begins to be divided between The Bear and Claire, the pressures mount, and soon it becomes a matter not of whether Carmy wants to balance a home/work life but if he’s even capable of doing so.

Sydney’s professional pursuit comes from a more pragmatic position; wild success is ideal but the main goal is simply to avoid abject failure. Haunted by her own professional misfires and the numerous restaurant closures throughout the city, Sydney maintains a shaky optimism as the clock ticks on their grand opening. Edebiri does a masterful job of maintaining Sydney’s skill and competence while also conveying the barely concealed desperation of someone who’s entirely convinced this is their last chance. Though she and Carmy have a similar acumen, they’ve been dealt two very different hands, which is why her (understandable) desire for a Michelin star is received with little more than a good-natured shrug by the man who was declared “best chef” by Food & Wine at only 21 years old and has already had a taste of the Michelin star life. Carmy’s sense of duty to his partner compels him to concede to her wish, though their business relationship is steeped in conflict, including friction over Claire’s influence on the restaurant, a testament to the challenge of not just starting a business but one frequently considered among the riskiest (regarding any conversations over the possibility of Carmy and Sydney ever becoming an item, I’ll gladly direct readers to Roxana Hadadi’s excellent article on the benefit of the pair staying as is).

Though this season does an excellent job of honing in on the individual members of the ensemble—Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) is sent to culinary school to help prepare her for the position of sous chef (a promotion offer that makes stars appear in her eyes, which in turn makes tears appear in mine), though Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson), who is also attending the school, has a much harder time with the change, while Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is sent to Copenhagen to take his pastry skills to the next level—the standout storyline once again belongs to Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Last season, it was Richie’s grief that aggressively propelled him from one conflict to another, but now it’s a matter of purpose, or rather, a lack thereof.

Accommodating Carmy’s presence was one thing, but with the restaurant taking on a whole new identity, Richie finds himself feeling obsolete, an especially painful state considering he’s now middle aged. There’s a lot of (deserved) praise surrounding “Fishes,” the 6th episode of the season, which features a flashback on a doomed Berzatto Christmas dinner and more stars than a red carpet event, but episode 7, “Forks,” is the one I found the most emotionally fulfilling on a wholly personal level. The pivot that Richie makes, one in which the grumpy jerk finds both professional and personal inspiration in service, is one of the most affecting subplots of the entire series. It’s the sort of character arc that would be flattering even on a merely competent actor, but in the hands of Moss-Bachrach, Richie is a sympathetic character even when he’s at his worst; watching him evolve into a man willing to make an effort is cheer-worthy.

Despite the personal wins that occasionally come along, The Bear can’t be described as anything close to a ‘feel-good’ show. Showrunner and writer Christopher Storer is intent on making viewers feel something far more investigative, but even though the show has quickly acquired a reputation of being anxiety-inducing (which isn’t wrong; Carmy’s unfortunate bout of luck in the finale is one of the best depictions of anxiety I’ve ever seen), the intention isn’t to see anyone suffer, the audience included. It’s about the cost of doing (a uniquely demanding) business and few things exact a greater toll than emotional investment. During the team’s last chance at an inspection, when the camera pans over each nervous crew member—including Carmy’s sister, Natalie (Abby Elliott, who makes the most of her greatly expanded role), and handy-man Fak (Matty Matheson)—we get a brief flash of just how much is on the line for each of them. The restaurant is more than just a job, it’s a social circle and a path towards the future.

Like any high-pressure career, there’s as many stumbles as there are wins, as the triumphant highs and the brutal lows of the season’s climax makes abundantly clear (though nothing devastated me quite as badly as, “I don’t deserve to see how good this is”). The Bear is about hope as much as it’s about pain, which is why even after an ass-kicker of a night, most likely everyone will show up bright and early the next day ready to do it all over again. A closed fist making a circle across the chest isn’t enough to fix everything, but even if everyone doesn’t show up for their next shift, audience members certainly should.

Both seasons of The Bear are available to stream on Hulu/FX.

Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t still laughing over the line, “Sometimes I look like February,” she can be found on Twitter here.