The Bear Season 3 Recap: Into the Pressure Cooker Again

Richie and Carmy stare at each other from opposite ends of the restaurant.
Photo Courtesy FX.

The following contains spoilers for The Bear Season 3 (created and co-written by Christopher Storer)

“What grows together goes together.”

When Chef Tina is put in charge of sourcing local produce and ingredients at the Farmer’s Market for the ever-changing menu at The Bear, she’s shocked to see how little is available and realizes there will need to be some creativity and hard work involved to make everything in their vision possible. The local seller gives her this advice about the produce to take back to the new restaurant that is struggling with almost every aspect of a new fine-dining establishment.

But just because this crew has been going together on this journey from local icon The Beef to the ambitious swing of The Bear doesn’t necessarily mean growth has followed.

Season 3 of the smash hit The Bear, with all 10 episodes released on June 26, transitions from the friends and family service in the finale of Season 2 into the first few days and weeks of the restaurant’s official opening. Episode 1, “Tomorrow,” focuses on the hours after service at friends and family ended and Carmy Berzatto was eventually freed from the walk-in refrigerator that caused his mental and verbal explosion at the end of last season. As the season begins, it seems a new version of Carmy may appear as the apologizes to Chef Sydney, praises her for her leadership of the kitchen, and promises to never make the same mistakes again.

Actions speak louder than words, as we will soon see.

Carmy and Syd talk after a hard dinner service.
Photo Courtesy FX.

The melodic and purposeful flashbacks in the opening episode provide glimpses of Carmy’s time working with previous chefs at various elite restaurants. A mix of peaceful mentoring moments (from Chef Terry at Ever and real-life chefs like Daniel Boulud and René Redzepi), chaotic verbal abuse (from Joel McHale’s Chef David), and a flashback that Carmy couldn’t make himself attend his brother’s funeral after his suicide are meant to help us understand the forces pulling at Carmy as he is molding into someone responsible for his own restaurant.

After what almost feels like an Episode 1 musical interlude (with a beautiful score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), we are off and running again with Episode 2 “Next” and Episode 3 “Doors.” Carmy has—without consultation from Syd—created a long list of non-negotiables for The Bear, and has unilaterally decided that the menu at their restaurant will change every day. These changes immediately spark criticism and ire from the entire staff, especially from Richie as he and Carmy are still hostile and bitter towards each other because of what was said between them when a refrigerator door kept them apart last season.

The lack of consideration and respect also makes Syd question whether she should sign a partnership agreement that Carmy and Uncle Jimmy Cicero sent her ($70,000 salary! Maybe a bonus! Benefits after three months! Prompting Sydney’s hilarious “just stay alive for three months, then”). A partnership, after all, should mean these things are debated and negotiated, not handed down like Moses with the Ten Commandments already etched in stone. Carmy even says when Richie questions the non-negotiables, “These are not goals! These are non-negotiables, not to be negotiated!”

The only thing that can keep the group from making this grease fire even worse is when Marcus arrives, his first day back at the restaurant after his mother passed away and the entire staff attended her funeral. Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is exquisite in this scene as we wait to see if the restaurant will be a place of comfort for him or a place of trauma after he missed his mother’s passing because of the friends and family service. In a quiet moment with Carmy, he admits The Bear is where he wants to be because being at the restaurant “was where she wanted me to be.” He does not regret being at the place he loves because it’s what his mom would have wanted.

His only request for Carmy is simply, “take us there, Bear.” Ugh, heartbreaking. I’m getting emotional thinking about it. The last eight episodes of the season are spent dissecting whether or not Carmy can live up to that promise.

Marcus tells Carmy he is committed to the restaurant and this is where his mom wanted him to be.
Photo Courtesy FX.

That brief respite from the tension of “Next” flows into Marcus’ mother’s funeral in “Doors” before the doors get blown in a fast-cutting, tension-filled, high-pressure look at the first few weeks of The Bear’s opening services. The score and cut edits in this scene crescendo into a scene where Richie and Carmy have a physical altercation that disrupts the diners in the restaurant and sends the order sheets flying off the expo station, infuriating Sydney who is clearly not seeing the Carmy who was under the table with her in Episode 9 (“Omelette”) from Season 2 nor the Carmy who told her he would not make those mistakes again as recently as Episode 1.

This level of pressure and what pressure does to people, to environments, to systems, and to relationships will remain at the top of the menu for the remainder of the season. I found it interesting how much this season focused on the idea of pressure and how much it focused on the passing of time. It made me immediately think of The Shawshank Redemption and Red’s voiceover about Andy’s escape and how the things that will eventually define someone are pressure and time. “That’s all it takes, really.” We see so much of the time Carmy has spent being shaped and molded into a world-class chef, but when combined with pressure, does he have what it takes to do what Marcus asked?

After that chaos menu of Episodes 2 and 3, Episode 4, “Violet,” is a warm respite from the yelling, the insanity, and the violence that has defined so many episodes of The Bear. It’s interesting, because after an episode like “Doors,” even an awkward interaction between Richie and Tiff’s new fiancée Frank (it’s officially Josh Harnett season again, people!) almost comes off as a palate cleanser compared to Carmy versus Richie. That pressure release valve won’t last long as the team learns at the end of the episode that the Chicago Tribune is coming to photograph the restaurant the next day, meaning a critic has come in to eat, and no one knew he was there.

Suddenly, the pressure ratchets up again in “Children” as the code-red emergency mode activates in advance of the photographs. Neil and Ted Fak call in a third brother, Sammy (is that John Cena’s walk-up music I hear?) to buff the floor and get the place ready. The team has to also simultaneously deal with one of Uncle Cicero’s colleagues, coldly nicknamed “The Computer,” who has been brought in to help cut costs. Kudos to an eight-months pregnant Sugar for telling him she would literally murder him in the restaurant if he tried to take Marcus away from them.

Tina gets a free sandwich from The Beef.
Photo Courtesy FX.

In perhaps the season’s stand-out episode “Napkins,” we are treated to Tina’s backstory and the type of pressure she felt before coming to work at The Beef. Laid off from her clerical job after 15 years, Tina finds it impossible to find work in a new digital world that has all of a sudden gotten a whole lot younger, and a lot less friendly. Devastated when she is turned down for an interview she was promised to get (“But I applied on LinkedIn!”), Tina visits The Beef while she waits on a delayed bus. There she meets Richie, who gifts her a free sandwich, and she has a conversation with Mikey (with Jon Bernthal returning) where they bond over how badly the world has kicked the crap out of them for years. Mikey offers her a job while also having a conversation that I think defines much of this season and who people like Carmy, Syd, and Richie are trying to be. Mikey says:

“If you really consider the special moments of your life, like celebrations, good times, cheer, I feel like they always happen around food.”

When Tina asks “Do you believe that?” she is talking to Mikey, but really asking herself and, by extension, asking the future version of Carmy and Syd if the special, cheerful moments of their life can revolve around food. Throughout “Napkins,” we see quick cuts of Tina making dinner in the crock pot, packing a lunch for her husband, getting food ready for her son, and settling into the routine at home. Tina’s about to start a journey with food that will eventually help her find a passion in her life. Food will become less about work and routine, and more about love and passion. Have Carmy and Syd lost that? Can they get it back again?

As the season races forward to the end, Syd has a dilemma on her hands. Chef Terry is closing Ever (where Carmy worked and Richie had a stage appointment in last season’s “Forks”) and the chef there, Adam Shapiro, wants Syd to come work for him as his Chef De Cuisine. It’s an opportunity for more money, more control, and to run a kitchen the way she wants. As Carmy, Uncle Cicero, and Sugar all pressure Syd to sign their partnership agreement, Sydney struggles over the last half of the season about what to do.

Richie and Syd try to reconcile the dining room and the kitchen.
Photo Courtesy FX.

Speaking of Sugar, she finds herself alone and out of touch at a restaurant supply store when she goes into labor, which births the beautiful eighth episode “Ice Chips,” where Sugar has to reach someone, so she calls her mom Donna (in a triumphant return from Jamie Lee Curtis). We learn Sugar had not told her about the baby because Sugar wanted to try and spare her child from the behavior and dysfunction of her mother, but the two heal and bond over stories about Carmy, Mikey, and Sugar’s births. Hey, if Donna can change, there is certainly hope for Carmy, right?

That’s the question at the forefront of the last two episodes, “Apologies” and “Forever,” as the season winds down. The staff are anxiously awaiting the review to drop and it’s caused Uncle Cicero to issue an ultimatum. He confesses to Carmy that he is $850,000 all in with The Bear and if the review comes back as something negative, he is going to “cut the string” and that will be the end of their journey to open the restaurant. With the restaurant hanging in the balance, his unwillingness or inability to apologize to Claire, and relationships strained between Richie and Syd, the funeral service dinner at Ever in the last episode reads more like foreshadowing of The Bear and less of a celebration of the wonderful things that happened there.

Carmy and Cicero talk about the future of the restaurant.
Photo Courtesy FX.

At the funeral service, many of Carmy’s former mentor chefs are in attendance. Luca (Will Poulter) has come in town. Chef Terry eulogizes the restaurant, and David Fields is also present. With the words about legacy by Thomas Keller in our ears thanks to a flashback at the beginning of the episode, the season ends with Carmy having two polar opposite conversations. The first is his confrontation with David Fields about how he ruined Carmy’s life and Fields responding that no, instead, he made Carmy great.

The second conversation is with Chef Terry, who confides in Carmy that she closed Ever because she wants more of “the life” and wants to truly live while she has time left. These two conversations both serve as dictionaries that define the two sides of Carmy as the season ends but also look like crossroads in front of him. Who does he want to be if The Bear remains open? Which road will he take? Will that even be a choice he gets to make now that the review has dropped on the very same night? Carmy has several missed calls and texts from Uncle Cicero, and we see a tease that the review was a mixture of very positive but also negative comments about his restaurant.

Overall, I was quite floored and mesmerized by this third season of The Bear. It went back and played some of the hits with stand-alone episodes for Tina and Sugar/Donna. It sent us reeling back with the relationships between Carmy and Syd and Carmy and Richie just when we thought those might be mended. The emotional beats were all there, whether it was Marcus recovering from grief or the Faks laying down humorous tracks we can ride on all season.

I think of this season compared to the first two seasons of The Bear much like the conversation Sugar and Richie have in “Violet” about earning Michelin stars, something Carmy has indicated he wants to do (once again, without consulting Syd). Sugar tells Richie to get one star, you have to be absolutely excellent. Everything has to go right and you have to display perfection. To get your second star, the restaurant has to be even better.

The Bear earned its well-deserved Michelin star through the first two seasons. In Season 3, it earned its second.

Unfinished Plates

(Questions left unanswered this season)

  1. What is going to happen to Claire and Carmy?! I get what they mean (and by “they,” I mean the Faks) when they called Claire “the peace.” Carmy could seemingly have none of that this season, so that’s why he and Claire couldn’t reconcile, but eventually there does need to be some resolution.
  2. What will Uncle Cicero do with a mixed review? Can “The Computer” handle a mixed review or can he only compute in binary decisions? We heard clearly what would happen with a bad review, so what’s next for Cicero’s financial venture?
  3. We demand to see the “Violet” magic dessert that Marcus was researching and working on all season! Slight of hand. A white or purple violet? This is a dessert we have to revisit next season.
  4. Which job will Sydney take in Season 4? Her panic attack after revisiting the positive review of The Beef at the end of this season shows not only how much that group has changed but also how much she is struggling with that decision. Where does she land: with the better chef or the better environment?
  5. Does Richie attend the wedding of Tiff and Frank, or perhaps better, can he accept their relationship and still be the father his daughter clearly still wants him to be? Also, what’s new on his Taylor Swift playlist these days?

Amuse Bouche

(Some brief reactions and thoughts on other parts of the season)

  1. If there is not some kind “Matter of Faks” spin-off after The Bear finishes, we all riot.
  2. I am inviting Oliva Colman/Chef Terry to every party I have from now until the end of time.
  3. Pete, don’t ever, EVER go out of town for a week when your wife is more than seven months pregnant.
  4. It seems like this is the list of chefs we saw this season: Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, René Redzepi, Dave Beran, Paulie James (real-life owner of Mr. Beef), Grant Achatz, and Kevin Boehm.
  5. Carmy, the vest you are wearing in Copenhagen is not really working with your vibe, man.
  6. I don’t exactly know why there was a Fak-inspired theme of “haunting” someone the entire season. Maybe it’s all the forces that are haunting Carmy and Syd as they open The Bear, but I absolutely loved every second of it.
  7. Tough beat for the Carmy/Syd or Syd/Marcus shippers. Carmy and Syd are not working functionally right now. Syd shut things down with Marcus, so romantic relationships are all on hold.
  8. Was that the easiest day of work John Mulaney ever had in his life? Cover up Jeremy Allen White with a blanket a few times and tell him he smells?

Written by Ryan Kirksey

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