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‘The Bear’ Season 3 Is Everything You’ve Been Waiting For and (Maybe Too Much) More

Carmy, Sydney, Richie, and the gang bring as much heart, anxiety, and intensity as ever. Yet a slew of real-chef cameos, multiple Faks, and is-this-real-or-imaginary moments make these episodes feel slightly overstuffed.

The Bear


This post contains spoilers for the third season of The Bear, which is now streaming in its entirety on Hulu. But the significant spoilers won’t come for a while, and you’ll get another warning first.

The Season Three premiere of FX’s The Bear flashes back to all the kitchens where Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) worked before the start of the series, including the New York restaurant run by the brilliant, abusive David Fields (Joel McHale). In one scene, Fields samples a new dish Carmy has designed, and derisively compares it to nachos because it contains too many ingredients. He grabs a piece of green tape and scrawls out a simple piece of advice for his emotionally battered protege: “SUBTRACT.” It’s a lesson that we see Carmy struggle with in the show’s present-day action. At times, he’s acutely conscious of when a dish, or his restaurant as a whole, is trying to do too much at once, and often cautions his own wounded disciple Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) that less can be more. Yet among the first big decisions he makes in the third season is that he and Sydney will change their entire menu every night, rather than tinkering with what they know already works, and occasionally swapping new dishes in for old ones. Sydney rightly questions why he would want to do this, since the titular Bear is so new and fragile, and since the friends and family opening with the menu they devised together was such a triumph. (Well, the menu was, at least.) Carmy replies, “So they can see what we’re capable of.”

Leaving aside Sydney’s understandable follow-up query about who “they” are in that sentence, Carmy’s vague explanation, and his risky decision to keep reinventing The Bear night after night after night, raises questions about the artistic philosophy of The Bear creator Christopher Storer, and whether he’s trying to add to or subtract from what worked so spectacularly well for the series in its previous seasons. In some ways, Season Three is a very smart, even necessary, example of trimming away some of the changes Storer brought to the previous batch of episodes. But in others, it’s Storer adding even more ingredients and ideas, not all of them entirely compatible with the ones that were already there. It’s even more ambitious than The Bear was a year ago — so ambitious that its ideas can’t even be contained within these 10 episodes, which stop with a “To Be Continued” title card. It’s still capable of sending its audience to the same magical places that Carmy and Sydney’s food can send their customers. But its big swings don’t connect quite as hard as previous years’ did. And Storer’s decision to treat this season and the next one (which filmed back-to-back in the spring) as one big story makes the current batch feel like a very long appetizer course.

Season Two ended with that dizzying soft opening of The Bear, where the guests were knocked out by the food, while the staff was beset by calamity after calamity, most notably Carmy getting stuck in the walk-in for most of the evening. Unable to enjoy a moment of pleasure from this thing he and his team built from scratch, and convinced once again that he is destined to always be miserable, Carmy lashed out from behind the locked door at anyone naive enough to try to make him feel better, particularly his girlfriend Claire (Molly Gordon) and “cousin” Richie (Ebon Moss-Bacharach). And the mishap once again gave Sydney too much responsibility, in too high-stakes a moment for her fundamental anxiety to handle. That finale wasn’t quite a cliffhanger, but it left open many questions about how everyone would respond to a moment that was so simultaneously high and low.

(The more significant details of the season start here. This is your final spoiler warning if you want to watch the whole thing before reading.)

Season Three makes the audience wait just a bit for that answer. The premiere, “Tomorrow” is the sort of thing that only a show this beloved — and that releases its episodes all at once, rather than one per week — can get away with. Though it offers us glimpses of Carmy and the others in the immediate aftermath of the soft opening, it’s less interested in its eponymous day than in all of Carmy Berzatto’s yesterdays. As he returns to The Bear the morning after being released from the walk-in, and begins sketching out his grand new improvisational design for the restaurant, we get a kaleidoscopic look back at all the previous stops on his culinary journey, featuring cameos from both real culinary figures like Daniel Boulud and René Redzepi, as well as fictional ones like David Fields and Luca, the pastry chef who taught Marcus (Lionel Boyce) his trade in a memorable Season Two installment. There’s dialogue here and there, but the whole thing is essentially a tone poem, working to put us inside our hero’s head even more than usual. We know how traumatized he was by David’s sadistic teaching style, but it stings even more when presented in close comparison to how Andrea Terry (Olivia Colman) — the genius chef whose restaurant, Ever, was presented in Season Two as the best in the world — expresses disapproval in ways that are firm but never cruel. It’s a lovely table-setter for the season. (Look for more detail on the premiere in a separate upcoming post.)

What follows feels at first like The Bear resetting itself to factory conditions. Season One was set in the most stressful workplace in the history of filmed entertainment. Everyone argued all the time, and even good ideas went terribly awry, like Sydney’s massive screw-up with the online ordering system in the instant-classic episode “Review.” Season Two didn’t exactly lack for stress, both in the finale and in the Christmas flashback episode “Fishes,” but it was warmer and more uplifting overall. Carmy and Sydney had by this point convinced Richie, Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), and the rest of the staff that they could all contribute to a restaurant that aspired to something grander than making the best Italian beef sandwich in Chicago. The second season was about everyone becoming the idealized versions of themselves. Even Carmy got to smile now and then, thanks to this new relationship with his old friend Claire. If “Review” was the signature episode of Season One, then Season Two’s was “Forks,” about how the five days Richie spent apprenticing at Ever changed his entire personality for the better, and not just because he wears suits now. When the action picks back up in this season’s second episode, “Next,” Richie is still furious about the things Carmy said to him from the other side of the walk-in door, Sydney feels betrayed by Carmy’s decision to change the menu — their menu — without consulting her first, and Marcus is dazed from his ill mother dying while he was sweating through the restaurant’s soft opening. It’s a bad emotional place in which everyone finds themselves. But given where we left things, it’s a natural one, rather than the writers awkwardly going back to the status quo because it was so effective in 2022.

The majority of “Next” is a single scene, where one character after another arrives in the kitchen, learns about Carmy’s overwrought list of “non-negotiables,” and tries to figure out how the hell they got there from the triumph of a few days earlier. That’s sandwiched in between “Tomorrow,” which covers years of Carmy’s life, and the third episode, “Doors,” which chronicles a month in the life of The Bear, where Carmy’s evolving menu, and the conflict between him and Richie, turn the restaurant increasingly messy in both a literal and emotional sense. It’s a potent 1-2-3 punch to start off the season, as a reminder of just how many ways Storer and company have found to tell what would seem at first to be a pretty simple story of an interesting workplace. And even “Next” isn’t entirely straightforward and compact. The episode’s opening credits play out over a documentary montage of real-life service workers — from chefs and waiters to hotel housekeepers and Zamboni drivers — hard at work at the start of a beautiful day in Chicago. What could at first just feel like a collection of glorified establishing shots turns into something else when many of the people begin waving at the camera. For a few minutes, the verisimilitude of the rest of The Bear goes away, and we are watching people excited to be on TV, and proud to have their hard work recognized by this show. The Bear is always a love letter to the people who make and serve our food, and who clean up after us; it’s just more openly doing that in this montage.

There’s no other breaking of the fourth wall, but the season is more of a blend of fact and fiction than the show was before. In addition to Boulud and Redzepi, we get appearances from other celebrated chefs like Thomas Keller. The season finale, “Forever,” is set at a metaphorical funeral — after earlier episodes this year offer two literal ones, for Carmy’s older brother Mikey (Jon Bernthal) in a “Tomorrow” flashback, and for Marcus’ mother at the beginning of “Next” — when Chef Terry invites all her culinary friends to enjoy one last meal at Ever before she shuts down the place for, well, ever. Her guest list includes Wylie Dufresne, Genie Kwon, and Grant Achatz, among many others, sharing stories of their real careers while Sydney, Luca, and others do the same about their scripted ones. While all of the chefs are obviously comfortable being and talking on camera, there’s still a palpable difference in the energy between them and the actors, especially since many of those character-to-chef conversations are interspersed with character-to-character ones. It’s funny for a moment when Luca won’t stop pestering Achatz with obsessive questions about his avant-garde dishes, but only for a moment. When the action cuts from Luca and Achatz to Richie hanging out with his pals from Ever’s front of house staff, played by actors Andrew Lopez, Sarah Ramos, and Rene Gube, we’re suddenly back to watching The Bear itself, and it’s vastly more compelling, even when Richie’s just swapping jokes with them. “Forever” opens with an expanded version of a scene briefly glimpsed in “Tomorrow,” showing rookie chef Carmy’s first day staging at Keller’s revered French Laundry. Keller takes a few minutes to offer some welcome attention, affection, and wisdom to this newcomer. It’s meant to offer a stark contrast to the torment Carmy suffered under David Fields — who is smugly unapologetic when Carmy confronts him at Ever, insisting that his malevolence made Carmy into a great chef(*). But the lengthy Keller scene feels redundant, if not self-indulgent. The Chef Terry scenes in the premiere got the idea across far more efficiently, thanks to Olivia Colman being an incredible actor, while Thomas Keller is a brilliant chef and a confident storyteller, but very much not a thespian(**).

(*) Their conversation also echoes one of the most famous Mad Men exchanges of all, when junior copywriter Michael Ginsberg tells Don Draper, “I feel bad for you,” and Don coldly replies, “I don’t think about you at all.” Here, Carmy confesses that he thinks about David too much, as his way to begin his futile quest for closure. When David replies, “I don’t think about you,” it’s not a taunt like Don’s, but genuine incredulity.

(**) Look at the chef scenes even in contrast to the brief appearances by Billions co-creator Brian Koppelman as “the Computer,” the detail-obsessed lawyer and fixer for Carmy’s Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt). Koppelman’s a writer by trade, but he’s played small roles onscreen before, and The Bear doesn’t ask too much of him beyond the kind of dry, unflappable presence to which many showrunners should aspire.  

Why does Season Three, and the finale in particular, lean so heavily on Keller, Malcolm Livingston II, and the others? For the foodies in the audience, it’s an easy shorthand to establish that these superstars consider Carmy a peer — and that Richie and Sydney have become superstars-by-association, for good and for ill. (Much of Sydney’s unfinished arc for the season involves her growing discomfort with living in Carmy’s shadow, and at the realization that he’s not treating her as a creative partner like he once promised.) But it’s clear that Storer and company view the finale, and Season Three as a whole, as even more of an ode to the beauty of food service in all its forms. Bringing in the real chefs to talk about why their work is important is the most literal representation of that, and less interesting than the other ways The Bear tends to get that point across. It becomes a lot of telling rather than showing, from a series that — as we experience in “Tomorrow” — can be so powerful with barely any words at all. We don’t need to hear Carmy tell Chef Terry that “it’s a miracle these places exist,” because we’ve seen both the power of Ever and how hard it is for The Bear to even hope to achieve that level.

And even more than before, the idea that The Bear is a few months away from winning a second consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series seems silly. It’s still funny to hear Richie hurl psychological buzzwords at Carmy — “Don’t talk to me until you’re fully integrated, jagoff!” — but Season Three is almost entirely dramatic, punctuated by occasional comic sketches about the Fak brothers, Neil (Matty Matheson) and Ted (Ricky Staffieri). The show goes all-in on the Faks this year, turning Fak family lore like “haunting” — not the literal kind, but one Fak making another’s life miserable in response to a perceived offense — into key plot points, and introducing various ancillary Faks, one of them played by John Cena. Matheson is superhumanly charming, and Neil and Ted’s buffoonery often provides lighthearted manna in the angst-ridden desert of the rest of the show. There’s just so much of it, and of the Faks in general. When past episodes brought in notable guest stars like Bob Odenkirk or John Mulaney (who reappears fleetingly in “Tomorrow,” since Carmy is sleeping on Stevie’s couch in New York), they instantly felt like people in this world; Cena’s the first one to play as stunt casting. (Conversely, Josh Hartnett — in a continuation of the recent Hartnett-aissance — fits in just fine as Frank, fiancé to Richie’s ex-wife Tiffany, played with great warmth once again by Gillian Jacobs.)

Yet even with that, even with some other ideas not working — like Claire, a non-character in whom both Carmy and The Bear have invested too much time and significance — The Bear remains capable of transcendent moments, big and small.

The middle of the season offers a pair of departure episodes that are spiritual sequels in different ways to ones from last year. “Napkins” is a stylistic cousin to “Forks,” as we learn how Tina wound up working for Mikey at what was then The Original Beef of Chicagoland, while “Ice Chips” brings back Jamie Lee Curtis as Carmy’s mentally ill mother Didi from “Fishes” (and from a memorable scene in the Season Two finale), who turns out to be the only loved one available when Carmy’s sister Natalie (Abby Elliott) goes into labor. Neither is overall on the level of their predecessors, and the delivery room conversation between Natalie and Didi drags at times. But there are individual pieces that are remarkable, like the terrified tremor in Didi’s voice when she whispers that Natalie shouldn’t want to remember Didi’s mother, or how “Ice Chips” abandons the show’s familiar (and impeccable) use of needle drops(*) and treats the fetal heart monitor as its soundtrack. And Tina and Mikey’s first conversation at the end of “Napkins” is an understated gem, radiating with humanity and deepening our understanding of why Tina was so fiercely protective of Mikey’s “system” when Carmy and Sydney arrived at The Beef.

(*) This includes the use of various songs as season-long motifs. The music of the Beastie Boys becomes our cue that we’re back in Original Beef territory, in either past or present, while various versions of the English Beat’s “Save It For Later” appear whenever Sydney or someone else is at a creative crossroads.

And even though the finale often gets high on its own supply, it eventually circles back to Carmy and Sydney, whose story this is above all else, and reminds us that miracles do not tend to come cheap. Perhaps if Carmy had gone back to Ever rather than going to New York, he might have become a worthy successor to Andrea Terry. There’s ample evidence that correlation does not equal causation when it comes to toxic behavior and genius. But he worked for David Fields, who burrowed into every single crack that had formed in Carmy’s emotional armor from a childhood with a sick mom, an absent father, and an erratic brother he idolized too much. As a result, Carmy is a great chef and a terrible boss. We know how damaged and vulnerable and sweet he is at his core, so we try to shrug off the bad stuff. But when Sydney has to step out of her own apartment, where she has just cooked frozen pizzas with the head chef of the world’s greatest restaurant, so she can cry and melt down without witnesses, we understand that Carmy has done just as big a disservice to her as David once did to him. Carmy already chased her away once by yelling at her for the big mistake she made in “Review,” and she spends much of this season declining to sign the agreement that would give her an ownership stake in The Bear, while strongly considering a job offer to be the head chef for a new restaurant being opened by Chef Terry’s protégé Adam (played by the actor Adam Shapiro). She doesn’t trust Carmy, doesn’t feel that Carmy trusts or values her, and understands that no matter how much she contributes to The Bear, it will always be seen as his place and not hers.

Carmy and Sydney spend much of the season sweating a Chicago Tribune review, and it seems to become even more crucial when Uncle Jimmy suggests he’ll have to pull the plug on the restaurant if it’s a pan. (Later, a conversation with the Computer about the dire state of his finances suggests Jimmy’s out no matter what the review says, but — like so much of what starts here but doesn’t finish — that’s a Season Four problem.) We see Carmy imagining various reviews in his head, both positive and negative, and those scenes are edited in a similar fashion to a sequence where Sydney scrolls through a selection of glowing profiles that present Carmy as The Bear’s one and only creative visionary. So when Carmy finally gets a Google Alert about the published review in the season’s closing seconds, it’s hard to tell how much, if any, of what he sees is meant to be real and how much is in his head. And if this is the real review, it’s hard to make out its overall thesis, since we only see a bunch of out-of-context adjectives, some wildly positive (innovative, excellent, delicious), some seemingly negative (confusing, overdone, inconsistent). Whether he’s reading something or imagining it, Carmy curses at the heavens, suggesting he might not have the glowing review he thinks he needs to save the restaurant.

This actual review of The Bear you’re about to finish reading is mixed, even if my overall opinion is trending much more towards positive. If I’ve dwelled a lot on the parts of Season Three that frustrated me, it’s because I’ve sung the show’s praises so much in the past. The parts I loved then are still present, even if they’re surrounded by choices that don’t work as well, most of all the decision to leave the season feeling so incomplete. At its best, The Bear remains innovative, excellent, and so vividly rendered that it can feel delicious to watch. But the season also feels confusing, overdone, and inconsistent at some points. Which I suppose makes this a review Carmy Berzatto would also shout obscenities at. For as much as he and I loathe David Fields, some of the man’s advice was worth taking, and The Bear Season Three would have done well to keep subtraction in mind.

From Rolling Stone US