[Editor's Note: This post contains spoilers for The Bear Season 2.]
Whether you're talking about the show or the restaurant at its center, The Bear doesn't do anything halfway, and that extends to the murderers' row of guest stars that appear throughout Season 2.
Beyond Molly Gordon as Claire, Carmy's (Jeremy Allen White) new love interest, and Will Poulter as a Copenhagen-based pastry chef, the dramedy's sophomore outing includes an hourlong flashback episode, "Fishes," featuring a who's who of talent, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Bob Odenkirk, John Mulaney, and Sarah Paulson. Set during one very stressful Christmas dinner — there's no holiday cheer to be found in The Bear — "Fishes" offers new insight into Carmy and Natalie's (Abby Elliott) fraught relationship with their mother (Curtis) and the family's complicated dynamic in the years before Michael's (Jon Bernthal) death. Every actor makes the most of their limited screen time, but Curtis is particularly effective as Donna Berzatto, who's every bit as chaotic and emotionally unstable as her eldest son.
The sheer number of celebrity cameos in "Fishes" is bound to get viewers talking (and if FX has its way, Emmy voters will follow suit next year). But in terms of the present-day narrative playing out on screen, it's Episode 7, "Forks," that boasts Season 2's most important guest spot — one that pushes The Bear's most immature character, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), to finally treat the new restaurant, the hospitality industry, and himself with the respect they deserve.
As the restaurant opening looms, everyone on staff seems to have found their niche: Carmy and Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) are prepping the "chaos menu," Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) and Marcus (Lionel Boyce) are learning under the best to refine their skills, and Natalie is embracing her (part-time) role as the new project manager. The only person without a "purpose" is Richie, who wanders the kitchen trying to help with various construction projects, but only ends up making every situation worse. In hopes of helping out his cousin — and getting him out of Natalie's hair — Carmy hooks Richie up with a stagiaire role at Ever, a Michelin-starred restaurant that puts five-star service above all else.
The brash, frenetic Richie couldn't be more out of place in the ultra-efficient, almost sterile environment at Ever, where he's tasked with drying forks for hours on end. Richie initially balks at the responsibility, believing himself to be above such menial work, but he comes to realize its worth after spending the day shadowing his supervisor Garrett (Andrew Lopez) in the front of house. Richie leaves work on a high, belting out "Love Story" by Taylor Swift as he drives through Chicago, but the following day, a phone call with Carmy leads him back to a place of insecurity. "I know you sent me there to get rid of me," Richie tells his cousin. "You sent me there to f*cking humiliate me, you f*cking jagoff. Make me look like a f*cking jagoff."
Richie's dour mood carries over to his final day of staging, but when he sees the acclaimed Chef Terry (The Crown alum Olivia Colman) peeling mushrooms in the kitchen, it changes his perspective yet again. They get to know each other as they peel mushrooms — a task Terry admits is "just a nice little fun detail" that shows diners how much the staff cares — and the kind chef explains that doing something you love is always "time well spent." As she's leaving the kitchen, Terry tells Richie the very thing he's been so desperate to hear: "[Carmy] believes in you, you know," she says. "He said you're good with people. He's not wrong."
While Colman appears in only one scene, her cameo unlocks something in Richie, and it has a monumental effect on the rest of the season. In the next episode, "Bolognese," Richie, who has adopted the business armor of a suit and tie, offers a sincere apology to Natalie and begins taking his role at the restaurant seriously. He sets a service trap for a potential front of house hire, obsessively straightens the pens at Sydney's expo station, and even chastises Fak (Matty Matheson) for using the phrase "Jewish lightning" to refer to Mikey's insurance fraud scheme. Richie is still Richie, of course, but this version of him seems very different from the one who nearly killed a guest in the Season 1 finale.
It's easy enough for Richie to claim he's a changed man when things are going well, but in the finale, "The Bear," it becomes clear just how much Chef Terry's words and his experience at Ever continue to resonate. On opening night, all hell breaks loose: As tickets begin to pile up, Carmy gets stuck in the walk-in fridge, and Sydney begins spiraling. Amid the chaos, Richie steps up and lets it rip, directing traffic from the expo station as the chefs rush to get food out the door. He keeps his cool through it all, offering encouraging words to the chefs and making note of every allergy or dietary restriction.
That same progress can be seen in Richie's relationship with Carmy. In the final minutes of the episode, Richie calls Carmy out on his B.S., asking why he "can't just let something good happen for once" in his life. For a moment, they revert back to old patterns, with Richie reminding Carmy that he skipped his brother's funeral and Carmy accusing Richie of being "a f*cking leech" on his family, but Richie ultimately stands up for himself, insisting repeatedly that he loves his cousin and they both need each other to succeed. While Richie may have said this in the past, he wouldn't have necessarily believed it; now, after realizing his own potential and putting it to good use on the team's behalf, he recognizes it as the truth.
There's a particular satisfaction to be found in Richie's growth, as one of the most frustrating parts of watching The Bear has been his habit of impeding all forward momentum — Carmy's, the restaurant's, and his own. But as he tells Natalie during his big apology, he finally understands where he "fits" into the operation, and he finally knows better than to shove himself into places where he doesn't. Both Richie and viewers have Olivia Colman to thank for that sense of purpose, which he'll need more than ever as The Bear (the show and the restaurant) stares down an uncertain future.
The Bear Season 2 is streaming in its entirety on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.