Type keyword(s) to search


The Bear Jangles Nerves and Calms the Soul in Season 2

A race to open the restaurant on time brings on the stress, but the sophomore season takes moments to find sweet inspiration too.
  • Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jeremy Allen White (Photo: Chuck Hodes/FX)
    Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jeremy Allen White (Photo: Chuck Hodes/FX)

    [Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for The Bear Season 2.]

    When The Bear ended its first season with Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) declaring his intention to revamp his family's long-running dive of a sandwich shop into a fine dining establishment, the one thing that certainly didn't seem to be on the table for Season 2 would be for Carm to achieve that elusive work-life balance. After a season spent fighting his way out of the emotional muck of inheriting the family business from his late brother Mike (Jon Bernthal), Carm's determination to re-open The Beef as The Bear pretty much guaranteed a high-stress jump from the frying pan into the fire. But in its second season, Christopher Storer's half-hour drama (Emmys and occasional running times be damned) returns with an eye toward what a balanced, healthy life in the belly of the restaurant beast might actually look like, and whether that's something that Carmy's life to this point has equipped him for.

    Putting up a sign in the window declaring that The Bear will be opening soon was one thing. The matter of actually transforming this charmingly dilapidated sandwich counter into a high-end restaurant is quite another. Carmy and his sister Natalie (Abby Elliott) are staring down the barrel of a "face-lift" that turns into a gut renovation and costs quickly climb to six figures. A partnership with Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt) means they'll have the money to get the renovations done, but they've got 18 months to pay him back or else he's bulldozing the building and selling the lot. This conveniently puts a ticking clock in place for The Bear to open its doors in three months. It's going to be a sprint to the finish line, and nobody's heart rates are going to be in a comfortable zone until they get there.

    If the pressure is on for the Berzatto family members with an ownership stake in the restaurant, it trickles down to everybody else involved with the business too. Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) came back at the end of Season 1 to partner with Carmy on a shared vision for the restaurant. But if the turbulence of the Berzatto family business takes this restaurant down, she crashes and burns too. The grim financial realities of the restaurant business — especially in the post-COVID era — weigh heavily on Sydney, and while her father (a welcome Robert Townsend) does his best to provide a soft place for her to land, such a fall would really crush her spirit.

    One of the things that spikes Sydney's anxiety over the course of the season are the moments when Carm is either physically or mentally not present for her, which are often caused by Carm getting a love interest in Season 2. Claire (Molly Gordon) is an old friend he runs into by chance, and from the second they look at each other, it's clear what they're in for. She's beguiling and grounded and even has a career as an ER doctor that gives her some shared sense of high-stress professional environments. Claire is good for Carm in that she balances him out, but can he afford that balance when the push to open the restaurant is so intense?

    Carm was so emotionally locked up in Season 1, but this season offers many more glimpses into the way he processes things like pressure and success. There's a moment early on when he tells Sydney about his restaurant back in New York City getting its third Michelin star: "Your brain bypasses joy and moves to dread.” Carm's brain is a rough place to be. Storer, who directs most of this season's episodes (in addition to Joanna Calo and Ramy Youssef) depicts Carm's creeping panic attacks as flurries of memories, anxieties, imagined attacks, and looming failures. But the chaos that tends to envelop Carm in the kitchen in the show's most stressful moments is inherited. We learn much more about the Berzatto family in Season 2, most spectacularly in an hour-long flashback episode that will almost certainly be this season's most talked about entry, and it's not just Carm's relationship with his dead brother that weighs on him. We find out pretty quickly that the cacophony of stress he experiences in the kitchen was the normal state of affairs at family holidays.

    Storer balances these moments of excruciating stress with some really lovely interludes, most of which center the supporting characters. Carm sends Marcus (Lionel Boyce) to Copenhagen to train with Luca (Will Poulter), an old friend of Carmy's whose demanding but empathetic teaching style is eye-opening. Luca tells Marcus that it's important to have something outside of the restaurant, a piece of advice that seems to have obviously bypassed Carmy thus far.

    Meanwhile, Sydney asks Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) to be her sous-chef, a testament to how far their relationship has advanced since its rocky beginning. Part of the renovation budget goes to sending Tina for a training course at culinary school, and she thrives. (Though things don't go as smoothly at culinary school for line cook Ebraheim, and Edwin Lee Gibson plays his frustration and alienation at not being quite so adept at navigating the changes happening around him.)

    Even Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) does some growing this season. He’s initially frustrated and scared that he no longer has a purpose in the evolution of The Beef to The Bear, and he's getting on everybody's nerves as a result. So Carm sends him for a week's worth of hospitality training at Ever, an ultra-high-end restaurant. It's one of the season's best episodes, putting Ritchie in the most incongruous environment possible, a wildly efficient, high-tech, fine dining experience that pushes him far out of his comfort zone.

    When The Bear Season 2 isn't on edge about acquiring permits, fixing the electrical system, formalizing the menu, hiring staff, and figuring out what to do when the walls are literally falling down, there are so many of these little pockets of loveliness where people get to do what they're good at and what they love. There's a scene in which Sydney makes an omelet for Natalie that will bring a tear to your eye with its simplicity.

    Natalie is more of a presence in Season 2, which is ultimately great for the show. Sydney desperately wants her on board as project manager, and Elliott plays her with the kind of approachable competence that you could see really benefiting this whole operation. She's good for Carmy, too, as someone who knows their family and what they've come from. We find out that Nat has just as much family trauma as her brother. But the restaurant is good for her too. At one point late in the season, her sweet husband, Pete (Chris Witaske) comments that Nat is "easier" now that she's been pouring herself into the business. She's balancing herself out too.

    Which brings us back to Carmy. In a season that takes pains to show so many characters blossoming under considerate mentorship, we’re reminded that Carm didn't get that from his family or back in New York City (Joel McHale as Carm's awful head chef still haunts him). It's no surprise that Carm still struggles to be a good mentor to Sydney. The scenes of the two of them planning the menu have a transcendent sparkle, two elite professionals freestyling in tandem. But other times, his attention is diverted, and her persistence can frustrate him as often as it motivates him.

    And then there's Claire. The vast battlefield of television is littered with the bodies of shows — bad ones and good ones alike — that have been knocked down by the romantic-obstacle problem. It's initially disappointing to watch a show like The Bear, which operates on such a high aesthetic level, serve up a dish as warmed-over as the "girlfriend who's going to be a problem." But Storer and his team find a way to tiptoe nimbly through this minefield. Claire isn't a nag, nor is she some kind of volatile firebrand who ignites Carmy's passions while dragging him down. She is incredibly good for Carm — she evens him out, pulls him out of the maelstrom that's constantly raging inside his head, and lets him be a regular person for an hour or an afternoon or a night. She's sweet and loving and beautiful, and Carm is sweet and loving and beautiful when he's with her. This is great for him.

    And yet at the same time, Carmy is besieged by these notions that if The Bear is going to succeed as a restaurant, he needs to bleed for it. It's not an uncommon notion; Jimmy says as much to him late in the season. Maybe there's some truth to it. Carmy isn't always present when he needs to be. Sydney feels abandoned by him at multiple points during the season. The renovations are on an impossibly tight deadline. Is this really the time for Carm to step away for hours on end to see his girlfriend?

    At the same time, as Season 2 unfolds, we're watching a team that is steadily coming together. Talents are being developed, problems are getting solved, Richie's wearing suits now. The show is a much richer ensemble in its second season than it was in its first, and both The Bear and The Bear are stronger for it. In light of all this, Carmy's self-imposed intensity and tunnel vision to make the restaurant a success seems, by the end of the season, to be a self-imposed prison (a metaphor becomes literal in the season finale).

    Is a relationship with Claire or — or anyone — an actual obstacle? She's an ER doctor, after all. She has her own high-stress job to attend to; he's not going to be hanging onto Carmy, demanding his time at all hours. Claire is only taking up valuable real estate in Carmy's head, an already crowded-to-capacity space as it is. Carmy wonders — self-destructively, though not entirely without reason either — whether making space for Claire mentally and emotionally will mark the razor-thin difference between his restaurant being a success or a failure.

    The Bear Season 2 leaves this question open ended, even as Carmy's actions arrive at one particular answer anyway. Balance isn't easy. High-end achievement and an emotionally healthy life aren't always an easy circle to square. These 10 episodes make up an often exhilarating, frequently lovely, occasionally frustrating survey of a vast emotional terrain. The Bear's doors are open now. It's up to Carmy how much he decides to let in.

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

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Bear, FX, FX on Hulu, Abby Elliott, Ayo Edebiri , Christopher Storer, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jeremy Allen White, Jon Bernthal, Lionel Boyce, Liza Colón-Zayas, Molly Gordon, Will Poulter