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Marcus Holds The Bear Down

But the serene pastry chef deserves to find love and success in a more hopeful — or at least, less hectic — place.
  • Lionel Boyce as Marcus in The Bear Season 3 (Photo: FX)
    Lionel Boyce as Marcus in The Bear Season 3 (Photo: FX)

    Every restaurant needs a Marcus. And considering the popularity of the subreddit r/antiwork (which has 2.8 million members), perhaps every job needs a Marcus. 

    Marcus Brooks (Lionel Boyce) is the pastry chef of the titular fine dining establishment in FX’s The Bear, and has proven to be a huge part of why both the restaurant and the show have so much heart and subdued sweetness, and frankly, why the back of house staff haven’t all murdered each other by now. 

    In the first two seasons of The Bear, we see in Marcus what we see in many people in their 20s: recent dreams deferred and plans upended by circumstances beyond their control. We meet a young man suddenly faced with the realities of having a parent who has been your rock suddenly become just the opposite; a college athlete who has become a “never was,” a man with his heart reluctantly brandished on his sleeve. We see his talent, drive, and passion unaccompanied by focus, and experience his rejection alongside him. He is a great ship without a rudder. 

    All of those things are what make Marcus the most relatable character in The Bear. Most of us do not have their family settings stuck on “Maximum Strength Toxicity” as the owners of the restaurant do. The extended Berzatto/Jerimovich/Fak/Kalinowski relationships are not the norm for most, not even in the most Bill Swerski SNL Superfan-esque of Chicago households. They do exist, and they do make themselves known in restaurants, either as employees or patrons (God, I miss Sabatino’s). But the quiet closeness and secret suffering of both Marcus and Sydney’s (Ayo Edibiri) two-person family units feels like home to lots more.  

    Marcus is a mama’s boy, in the best sense of the term. When we hear him in Copenhagen relaying to his newest mentor, Carmy’s (Jeremy Allen White) former colleague Luca (Will Poulter) that his greatest fear is of missing the calls from his mother’s caretakers, there is no choice but to empathize. And when we see that fear come true in the finale of Season 2, we are devastated for a man who was already having a really crappy day. 

    The Season 2 finale depicts Marcus in a nutshell. His decision to ask out an extremely emotional, overwhelmed, and stressed out Syd on the day The Bear holds its friends and family soft opening? Not great, but it was Classic Marcus. The man who was too busy trying to make the perfect donut instead of filling kitchen orders on a slammed lunch service like he was supposed to, is of course the same man who would make his feelings towards a co-worker and friend known when it was the least appropriate. Marcus’ greatest weakness is being worried about the wrong things at the wrong time. He is repeatedly shooting his shot while the other team is in an adjoining gym, playing an entirely different game. 

    The thing about Marcus that makes him endearing and not infuriating is how he recovers from his mistakes. He knows he shouldn’t have been in donutland when he was; he apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. He shifted his focus and became a better baker and proved himself to be coachable. You don’t send someone who doesn’t take instruction all the way to Denmark. You can be stubborn at home. 

    When Marcus is turned down by Sydney, no incel switch is flipped. His reaction in that moment is not informed by the internet, like an unfortunate number of men his age would be. He takes it on the chin, realizes this was not the time to attempt to initiate romance, heads to his station, and gets to cooking. 

    We don’t get to see how he would’ve handled whatever would’ve happened on a normal next day at work, though. I like to think that there would’ve been a charming awkwardness to him. A poorly worded, but good-intentioned apology would’ve been given. A cute exchange between people who care about each other, but who have to see each other in high-stress situations would’ve happened in a way that would maybe have left a door open for us to speculate about "Mardney" or "Sycus."  

    But there was no normal next day — when we first see Marcus in Season 3, he is leaning forward in a chair in a hospital hallway with a stoic thousand-yard stare that confirms that the phone calls he’d missed the night before were delivering the worst news possible. 

    Season 3’s premiere episode is largely free of dialogue. It is a hodgepodge of the present day mixed with flashbacks to moments only alluded to in previous seasons. It is not an episode you can watch halfway if you have any interest in learning more about these characters and their motivations and relationships to each other, or in having little blanks filled in and Easter eggs explained. But despite siblings Carmy and Nat (Abby Elliott) having most of the dialogue, Marcus’ wordless grief is what makes the episode so compelling. 

    The third season’s second episode is a return to the chaos we’ve come to expect from this show. A snowball of stress rolls downhill as character after character enters the kitchen of The Bear to be met by Carmy and the news that he’s implementing a plan to change the menu in full EVERY DAY (as a restaurant worker, this would be my 13th reason), in addition to a long list of what he calls “non-negotiables.” 

    Everyone adds to the tension, the loudness, the leftover rage from the night before. It is a pot about to boil over when Marcus enters. And without much more than a greeting and a sheepish glance, he shuts the whole lot of them all the way up. His mere presence on a day when even the hardest of chefs (looking at you, Joel McHale as unnamed NYC Chef) would’ve understood that his loss overshadowed the need to have him at work reminded everyone that there’s more to life than… this. 

    Marcus reminds The Bear (the restaurant and the man) that there’s something other than getting a Michelin star, something else to do with your family other than fight, a life outside of the corner of Huron and Orleans, and a less destructive way to grieve. 

    Marcus is one of the only characters shown to have a friend outside of The Bear that is not a long-suffering spouse. He is driven and hard-working, but has formed firm boundaries around what he is willing to put up with from his work. He has the capacity to be intrigued by and curious of fine dining, art, and the world outside of Chicago, but in his eulogy for his beloved mother we see that he has the most appreciation for the simplest pleasure of all: to love and to be loved. He is perhaps the most emotionally mature restaurant cook I have ever seen on TV or in real life. 

    In the rush to “ship” couples on this show, the discourse has swung around to why we only do that for romantic relationships. The most inaccurate thing about The Bear, people say, is that none of these people are having sexual relations with each other. And while I agree that the front of house is probably canonically getting it all the way on with each other, that’s not what I want for our mains. For one thing, half of them are related to each other. 

    But, mostly, I want happiness for these broken people. I want Marcus to love and be loved, but let’s be real. I want him to find love in a hopeful place, not the walk-in cooler at the expensive butter and scallop/dipped beef sandwich place. 

    Every restaurant needs a Marcus. Every job needs a Marcus. If yours is missing a sensitive, if clumsy soul, or a quiet but strong heart, get a Marcus. Or even better, be the Marcus you want to see in the world. 

    The Bear Season 3 is streaming on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Jill Hopkins is a Chicago-based writer, radio and podcast host, producer, award-winning DJ, and storyteller who also works in talent acquisition.

    TOPICS: The Bear