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Hear Me Out

Will Poulter Is Totally Playing Carmy's Former Rival in The Bear

The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 star's appearance provides more insight into the show’s lead.
  • Lionel Boyce and Will Poulter in The Bear (Photo: FX)
    Lionel Boyce and Will Poulter in The Bear (Photo: FX)

    In Hear Me Out, Primetimer staffers and contributors espouse their pet theories, hot takes, and even the occasional galaxy-brain idea.

    [Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for The Bear Season 2 episodes “Honeydew” and “Forks.”]

    In its lovingly expanded second season, Christopher Storer’s The Bear dishes out work-related anxieties and existential crises once more, but its “chaos menu” also includes plenty of moments of quiet reflection and even happiness. Of course, the pressure is still very much on for Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), and the rest of the Original Beef team, as they attempt to turn a sandwich shop into an upscale dining establishment in just three months.

    The transformations don’t stop with the restaurant — Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) enroll in a culinary arts program to brush up on their skills, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) gets a crash course in hospitality at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and Marcus (Lionel Boyce) travels to Copenhagen searching for inspiration in one of the season’s most restorative episodes.

    Directed by Ramy Youssef (who’s collaborated with Storer on his own Hulu series Ramy) and written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour, “Honeydew” opens in typical Bear fashion: a flurry of shots of permits and calendar notes (including one that just reads “F*ck my life to death”) convey a great sense of urgency as Nat (Abby Elliott) and Carmy try to reassure each other. “Take a deep breath and let the good in” becomes a kind of mantra for the episode, though that’s much easier said than done for someone like Carmy, who turned to this high-stress environment for refuge, of all things. This is chaos he can control, unlike the emotional maelstrom that was Christmas dinner at the Berzatto home, depicted through the breakneck pace and mounting tensions of Season 2’s sixth episode, “Fishes.”

    “Honeydew” leaves that pressure cooker behind for the bike-friendly streets of Copenhagen, where Carmy, who’s called in a few favors, has arranged for Marcus to work under a local pastry chef to develop The Bear’s dessert menu. That chef is Luca, played by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s Will Poulter, whose MCU physique is used to great effect here, and not just because he looks like he could bench-press most chefs. It’s a canny bit of casting in a season full of inspired choices. When Marcus first walks into the bakery, Luca’s throwing heavy bags of flour over his shoulder like they’re dish towels. If this is one of Carmy’s former associates, it stands to reason that he’s exacting, which means Marcus’ trip just became much more fraught.

    But Luca’s imposing physical stature is intentionally misleading. He proves to be a firm yet compassionate mentor to Marcus — instructing but never commanding, just as curious about his new student’s personal life as his professional background, all the while looking and acting like someone who would talk you through it. When Marcus pretends to know how to make shiso gelee, Luca doesn’t call him out, he just shares the recipe. When Marcus struggles with his quenelle technique, Luca briefly purses his lips, but he gives him a chance to try again. By the end of their time together, they’re joking and asking each other about what motivates them.

    For Luca, it’s not about being the best. He reveals in a poignant monologue that, despite mastering his culinary skills at a young age, he met a fellow commis chef with even more talent and drive, who basically shattered any belief he had that he could be the best. “I thought we were competition, but really we weren’t,” he tells Marcus. “He was better than me. Much, much better. He worked harder and faster than I ever could.” But that didn’t make Luca hang up his jacket, he just reset his ambitions: “At least I knew who the best was now. I could take the pressure off myself, and the only logical thing was to try and keep up with him. So I never left this guy’s sight.” Luca came to view that rival as a pace-setter, which is how he reached his own potential.

    The name of that other commis chef, the one who was better than anyone Luca had ever worked with, isn’t revealed in “Honeydew,” but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see Carmy in that role. We know he spent time in Copenhagen, as he tells his family in “Fishes” that he’s been feeding an “invisible cat” there, likely the same one whose existence Marcus comes to doubt. Luca still has deep respect for the person he once saw as his greatest competition, so he’d be inclined to do him — that is, Carmy — a favor. And Luca would probably see it as a sign of mutual respect from Carmy, that he’d want him to mentor a chef at his own restaurant.

    There’s one additional hint that Carmy is the vaunted chef in Luca’s story. In “Forks,” as Richie takes a final walk through Ever, the Michelin-starred restaurant where he briefly serves as a stagiaire, he sees a photo of Carmy and Luca, standing side by side (not shoulder to shoulder, because again, Luca is massive).

    That reveal adds greater texture to Luca’s story, and to Carmy’s. It deepens their connection, obviously, but it also places them on opposite sides of the same coin. Luca and Carmy were contemporaries, if not rivals — we only hear about Luca’s competitiveness, not any Carmy might have felt — who worked in some of the same fine dining spots. When Luca realized he couldn’t beat Carmy, he decided to treat him as inspiration and set out to be the best chef he could be.

    And with that decision, Luca found not only a certain degree of success, but also peace. He still has some moments of doubt, sighing “I dunno, ask me tomorrow” when Marcus asks him if everything he’s done to get here was worth it. But he grasps something Carmy doesn’t, or at least doesn’t want, to understand, that they can “spend all the time in the world” in the kitchen, but if they don’t have anything aside from their work, what’s it all for? That question arises in multiple storylines, including in the premiere, when Richie asks Carmy why he does what he does, and Carmy’s response suggests he derives no pleasure from his own remarkable talents. Unlike Richie, Carmy’s always had purpose; unlike Carmy, Richie knows there’s more to life than ambition.

    Season 2 expands the scope of the show and that of almost every character, but Carmy’s world only gets smaller in the finale “The Bear” (yet another element of this show with that title!). After a season of characters insisting that “every second counts” and “it’s not too late” to find meaning or opportunity, Carmy declares having any kind of life outside of the restaurant “a complete waste of f*cking time.” In this one instance, Luca has him beat.

    The Bear Season 2 is now streaming on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Danette Chavez is the Editor-in-Chief of Primetimer and its biggest fan of puns.

    TOPICS: The Bear, FX, Hulu, Christopher Storer, Jeremy Allen White, Lionel Boyce, Ramy Youssef, Will Poulter