Last year, FX and creator Christopher Storer revealed The bear, an eight-part character study that stunned critics and set social media ablaze with photos of their new messy white boy crush, star Jeremy Allen White. In the hectic kitchen of a Chicago deli, The bearThe first season of ‘s was an adrenaline rush and dread punctuated by moments of deep despair and the occasional heartbreaking laugh. Now The bear returns with a completely different flavor profile. The restaurant is closed for renovations, slowing down the pace of the characters’ lives and giving them much more room to grow, change, and nurture their feelings. Staggeringly long takes and barely intelligible crosstalk are still on the menu, but are no longer the main dish. The bear: part two expands the show’s palette, exploring cuisine as both a craft and a vocation from multiple perspectives. Like a great meal upon the awakening of a loved one, it is simultaneously comforting, heartbreaking and life-affirming.
Season two of The bear follows young Chicago chefs Carmen Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) and Syd Adamu (Ayo Edebiri) and their team as they risk everything to open their first restaurant and turn a humble sandwich shop into a gourmet destination. What was meant to be a facelift becomes a gut renovation not only for the restaurant but also for the people who work there as they all try to rise to the challenge and are worth the investment that has been made in them. Time and again these chefs (and at The Bear call everyone who works at the restaurant “Chef”) make sacrifices for each other in the hopes of creating something they will all be proud of. And if they veIf you’re lucky, it might even pay the bills.
In this sense, The bear is the anti-Succession, a tender dramedy about great people uniting and sweating blood for the chance to serve others and probably go bankrupt in the process. Like last season, it is a study of the very special, often very unhealthy individuals who devote themselves to their craft above all else. Moreso, however Part two is a show about service and the desire to serve. Cooking is not just an expressive art or a complex science, it is also a means of feeding another. Good food done right is about much more than a great meal, as middle-aged spendthrift Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) learns in his spotlight episode. It’s about giving guests a magical experience, where their needs are met without ever having to ask, where incredible memories are made. It’s a Disney vacation, one that people save for, anticipate, and rarely repeat. The price tag is high, but the margin is slim and the hours are grueling. There’s only one reason to get into this business, and that’s because your sense of fairness totally outweighs your must do it.
But, as Carmen Berzatto discovers, satisfying that need is not the same as finding happiness. This season delves deeper into the anxious perfectionist’s wounded psyche as he struggles with his own fear of joy. Carmen tells himself he doesn’t have to be happy, just satisfied with his job. This claim is challenged when he reunites with Claire (Molly Gordon), his childhood sweetheart. For the first time, Carmen has something comforting in his life besides his culinary career, but all signs point to one becoming an obstacle to the other. Instead of just repeating tired tropes about anxious independent artists, The bear deconstructs the idea that a person must choose between greatness and happiness, by asking why we believe that in the first place. What experiences have taught Carmen to be so suspicious of love or comfort? Can these fears be overcome? If so, will his peace of mind come at the expense of his company or his partner, Syd? Star Jeremy Allen White tops his own stellar performance from last season, while his romance with Molly Gordon’s Claire reveals a new fragility in his already very fragile nature.
Although Carmen’s target crisis is the backbone of the season, The bear is a true ensemble show, where each regular cast member is given ample time to develop their character and show off their skills. (This is to say nothing of the parade of top-shelf guest stars whose appearances are better of a surprise.) Carmen’s new social life leaves Syd to run more of the company and take on the terrifying restaurant world alone. Companion pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce) and former line chef Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) study hard to meet the restaurant’s new Michelin star standard. Carmen’s sister Natalie (Abby Elliott) takes a more active role in the business and finds herself in the process. Perhaps most compelling of all is the story of Richie Jeromovich, Carmine’s best friend and quasi-cousin. Richie hides behind a facade of working-class machismo, but as the rest of his deli comrades move up the ranks, he finds he has no plan or purpose. Richie’s reinvention is the most far-fetched development of the season, but also the most uplifting. His spotlight episode, “Forks,” had this critic pumping his fist and wiping the tears from his eyes.
There is a sign in several visited kitchens The bear‘s protagonists throughout the season, which reads, “Every Second Counts.” When Marcus first sees it during his apprenticeship in Copenhagen, it’s no more than the stylish version of a motivational poster, which speaks to the immense professional pressures of fine dining. But each time the sign returns, it takes on a new, deeper meaning. For Richie, it begins as a painful reminder of the years he has wasted without a dream or direction. At the end of his journey, those same three words become a sign of hope, a reminder that the seconds ahead are just as important as the seconds behind. The last replay in the final episode of the season underscores the scarcity of that time, and how every moment offered to us can be spent only once. This one device is practically a meal in itself, the perfect summary of the season, a multifaceted take on art, craft, mortality, sorrow and purpose. Fortunately, that’s just one of the dishes The bear‘s tasting menu.