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In Defense of Claire Bear: On The Bear Season 2

Claire wearing a black dress leans her head against the walk-in
CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.

The following contains spoilers for The Bear Season 2 in its entirety

The Bear Season 2 has been met with nearly universal acclaim, which is correct because it is absolutely wonderful. But, looking at some of the reactions one might find online™ it would seem that the central relationship between Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and Claire (Molly Gordon) didn’t work for everyone, and I’ve seen people in some quarters saying some things about Claire that I just cannot abide. Because she’s absolutely wonderful, too.

Claire looks on
CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.

I don’t know how widespread the negative reaction to Claire has been. One is always at risk of responding to things that are only occurring in one’s personal echo chamber, but there are a couple of reasons I can understand that the introduction of a love interest for Carmy might have rankled people. So, I want to try and take those head on and think them through, while ultimately mustering a defense of Claire and arguing that she is utterly crucial to the story The Bear is trying to tell.

I also feel the need to acknowledge that some seem to have reacted negatively to Claire because they have been imagining or hoping for a romance between Carmy and Sydney (Ayo Edebiri). This doesn’t really make sense to me, in that while their relationship is clearly of central importance to The Bear, it has always struck me as a platonic one. If you want more of an argument on that front, I’ll refer you to Roxana Hadidi.

Carmy and Claire stand face to face, as if about to kiss
CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.

What I can understand is being annoyed when a show introduces a love interest for no good reason (because that’s “what you do”) and this distracts from what the story is actually supposed to be about. I’m sure I could rattle off some examples if I took the time to think about it, but you know what I’m talking about. And, indeed, when I saw Claire in the trailer for The Bear Season 2, it provoked this worry in me to some degree. This is a show about a restaurant; what’s love got to do with it?

Except, we already knew from The Bear Season 1 that love has everything to do with this story, because it’s not really about the restaurant but about the interpersonal relationships that surround and inhabit it. It’s about Carmy trying to fix the restaurant when what he really wants to fix is his relationship with his dead brother Michael (Jon Bernthal), which of course he can’t do.

With the creation of The Bear (the restaurant) in Season 2, Carmy et al. are after a fresh start, which brings with it worries about purpose, as exemplified in an early conversation between Carmy and Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). It’s clear this isn’t just a question about purpose in relation to the restaurant but plays in an existential dimension. And, indeed, some of the most beautiful moments of The Bear Season 2 come as Marcus (Lionel Boyce), Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), and Richie discover the joys of competency and the pursuit of perfection—the joy of being really good at something and caring about it.

Every second counts.

Richie and Carmy share a moment, touching each other's arms
CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.

I suppose we might almost lose sight of how Carmy has also, from the very beginning of the series, been grappling with the question of purpose in an existential register. He went off to become the best chef in the world, at least partly in hopes of impressing his brother, Michael, as if somehow this might fix things in their relationship. It didn’t.

He returns to Chicago to try to fix The Beef, but this stands in for a desire to fix his family. It’s not healthy, as Natalie (Abby Elliott) tells him over the course of Season 1, and as Carmy himself comes to recognize. He may experience the joys of competency, but at heart his obsessiveness when it comes to being a chef stems from a desire to control what he can control—to stave off the anxiety of being in the world. If anything, he’s defined himself too much in terms of being an expert chef, and what he needs to learn is how to properly care for himself and for others in his world.

Carmy and Claire talk in the kitchen of an apartment
CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.

Claire is a catalyst for this. I think it’s important to note that it’s not The Bear that presents some kind of choice between success as a chef and having time for love; it’s Carmy that does that. And further, while you could certainly make a good argument in the abstract that if you’re going to do something crazy like open a restaurant, that demands your full attention, Carmy fails to recognize his own success when it comes to The Bear.

Yes, he got locked in the fridge because he never called the fridge guy, and yes he arguably never called the fridge guy because he was too distracted by his relationship with Claire, but things do not fall apart without him. He’s helped everyone around him grow and become more competent, so much so that they pull it off in his absence.

Most centrally, he’s helped Richie to take responsibility for himself, and he’s given Sydney the opportunity to lead. He’s shown that he trusts her to lead. So when there’s a crisis, they manage to keep it together and make it through (in contrast to what happened in “Review” last season).

Carmy with his hands against the inside of the door to the walk-in
CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.

Carmy can’t see that, much less appreciate it. He berates himself for being distracted and goes down a path of expressing his worries in a disjunction that Claire unfortunately overhears—he thinks he can’t do this and also be happy, and that it’s not important if he’s happy. But fundamentally he’s the one who wrecks things.

Richie calls him Donna, which must cut, but he’s not wrong. The drama Carmy has been living is at root one in his own head, divorced from the actual social reality he’s living in. And that parallels what we saw of Donna (Jamie Lee Curtis) in “Fishes,” even if it’s not exactly the same. She refused help and yelled at people for not helping, couldn’t see signs of appreciation and got upset that no one appreciated her. Because that story structured her experience to where she couldn’t recognize evidence to the contrary.

Similarly, Carmy thinks he cannot balance a relationship with Claire with running a restaurant. That’s the story he’d told himself from the beginning. It’s exemplified in a montage of images running through his mind, where Syd stands in for his commitment to The Bear, because indeed that relationship is central to what’s going on with this restaurant. It’s their restaurant, not just Carmy’s. And perhaps he has been letting Sydney down.

Still, every indication is that Claire has been nothing but supportive when it comes to Carmy’s aspirations. She helps him move in the direction of reconciling himself with the past at a personal level but also helps him towards insight in relation to creating the menu. She’s a doctor, and as a busy professional herself, working a stressful job, would surely show nothing but understanding in relation to the kind of time commitments Carmy has to make to The Bear, if only he could accept that this doesn’t have to be a conflict.

Again, there is a real concern, if you take it from something like an objective point of view, about the idea of starting a restaurant and starting a romance at the same time. It’s all summed up in Uncle Jimmy’s (Oliver Platt) “uh oh” when Carmy tells him about Claire. But that’s not the story The Bear is telling. And to flesh out that claim, we need to talk more about Claire.

Claire looks Richie in the eyes, her hands on his arms
CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.

First of all, Claire is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She has her own life and her own goals. And, indeed, having spent her life in pursuit of those goals serves to explain why she’s single. She’s not younger than Carmy—they are presumably the same age since they went to school together—and it would be really demeaning to suggest that she exists solely for the sake of bringing out character development in Carmy. If it feels that way at all, it’s only because he’s the protagonist of this story.

I don’t know if Claire strikes some viewers as unrealistic, but it’s a shame if so. I take the implication to be that you don’t know any funny, confident, adult women who don’t define themselves in relation to men. Because that’s what Claire is. She has it bad for Carmy, don’t get me wrong, but I know this woman (archetypically) and I love her.

She hasn’t always been viewed as attractive (though she is). She’s always had a lot of male friends, with whom she’s had an easy rapport, but hasn’t had a lot of success in love. Too many men view “having a sense of humor” in terms of laughing at their jokes and are intimidated by a woman who is actually funny in her own right. Which Claire is.

She’s also forthright and genuine. She tells Carmy that he’s the Bear and she remembers him, and if that seems unrealistic, I’m prone to chalk it up to living in a world where by and large people are afraid to express their true sentiments for fear of rejection. That’s not Claire, and more power to her.

It may be a fantasy to imagine such a woman from your past re-entering your life one night while you’re shopping at a store. Certainly it would be a fantasy for me. But it’s not one for Carmy. He gives Claire a fake number because he’s already worried about her distracting him from his goals, if subconsciously. He loves her immediately because maybe he always has, but he doesn’t think he’s allowed to have anything good.

Claire calls him on this, though, more than once. She’s not stupid. She asks him why he gave her a fake number because she has an inkling as to why. So when she hears what Carmy is saying as he’s locked in the fridge, it’s giving voice to worries she’s already been harboring. He’s confirming a truth she’d hoped they could overcome.

It’s gut-wrenching, actually, to see Carmy fall prey to his own neuroses in The Bear Season 2 finale. He didn’t wreck things with regard to the restaurant because of Claire, and he didn’t wreck things with Claire because of the restaurant. He wrecked things because of his own damage, and he lashes out at Richie for good measure.

Carmy and Richie fight from opposite sides of the door to the walk-in
CR: Chuck Hodes/FX.

I’m empathetic towards Carmy, for the record. I love the guy. But if he’s central to the story that The Bear is telling, it’s because the story is about all of this. It’s about how to find the joy of being really good at something and also live in the world, care for others, and so on.

Part of what makes this show distinctive is that it isn’t taking the easy dramatic road of making that a disjunction, as though one has to choose between professional success on the one hand or personal fulfillment on the other. Things are in tension, sure. Life consists of elements in tension. But every second counts, not just in the professional sphere but in the interpersonal one.

And if this is the story The Bear wants to tell, Claire is central to it. I hope to see a lot more of her in Season 3.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos


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  1. I love it! i think you are spot on about everything. and wife and I have just watched all of season 2 and are rewatching it because we wanted to see ALL of it. we were overjoyed to see Richie find his competence only to see Carmy driving away the love of his life. we screamed at the rv hoping he would hear us and shut up to no avail. we want to see him happy for the first time in his life so I hope that is job #1 in the 3rd season.

  2. There’s a specific recipe to the MPD that you can feel through the screen and I’m not sure if it’s specific to growing up as a woman but Radhika Seth nails it in this article I think there’s something about Claire’s persistent ‘coolness’ that just doesn’t speak to how real people behave but instead to something pervasive that we’ve been shown through film and TV (usually through female characters written by men) for decades.

    • Yeah, that’s a really well put together version of the kind of thing I felt compelled to respond to by writing this piece. I do think they’re playing with the trope, but I think it’s reductive to simply view the character through that lens. I mean, I think there is already depth to Claire in what Season 2 gives us that Seth is being dismissive of. It’s true that Claire’s initial appearance feels like MPDG, but I want to contend that’s she’s ultimately not that. She feels like a real person to me, at least as the story progresses. That coolness is a particular kind of defense mechanism. But, also, if you want to claim that I am, as a man, prone to the male fantasy that Claire represents… maybe I am? I have no way to know for sure that I’m not.

      I will be curious to see what they do with Claire in Season 3. I’m looking forward to it. Thanks for reading!

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