The Bear S3E6: “Napkins” Cleans Up as The Bear’s Best New Episode

Tina and Mikey talk at The Beef in The Bear S3E6, "Napkins"
Photo Courtesy FX.

The following recap contains spoilers for The Bear S3E6, “Napkins” (written by Catherine Schetina and directed by Ayo Edebiri). Light spoilers are also included for the rest of Season 3.

We may never truly know the reasons why The Bear, fresh off an award-winning and culture-penetrating second season, decided to film Season 3 of The Bear back-to-back with the fourth season; something that has been reported widely. Some speculation exists that creator Christopher Storer had three seasons in mind to tell the full story, but after the popularity of the show exploded, FX persuaded him to expand the last season into two seasons, which is why we see “To Be Continued” at the end of the Season 3 finale.

If that’s true, it means a slower pace and more episodes that don’t feel as propulsive as others. It also means there might be a chance to explore characters in a deeper way outside of The Bear restaurant, similar to what “Forks” and “Fishes” did in Season 2. We will likely never know if Episode 6, “Napkins,” would have happened without all the behind-the-scenes decision-making, but thank the culinary gods we got it because it is far and away the standout episode of the new season that was released on June 26.

Tina smiles over her new job at The Beef
Photo Courtesy FX.

After seeing the journey Chef Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) went through in the first two seasons, Tina was not on the top of my list of characters who might get a stand-alone episode in Season 3. In Seasons 1 and 2, we witnessed Tina evolve from a line cook at The Beef who struggled to make mashed potatoes to Chef Carmy’s standards to a culinary school honor student who elevated her talent to the level of fine dining in a matter of months. I wrote at the time that the smile on Chef Tina’s face when she was asked to be Sydney’s sous chef in the first episode of Season 2, “Beef,” was (and remains) one the best moments of the entire series.

Apart from learning to work in a high-pressure environment, I thought most of Tina’s arc was complete and her story was told. Little did I know that it would never have been complete if we had not gone back to the beginning of her journey to understand what drives her to succeed, and why this family is so important to her.

Some years ago, Tina worked as a payroll clerk at a small, local candy manufacturer. After 15 years, Tina was caught in a round of layoffs with not much more than a fare-thee-well for all of her service. While that scenario in and of itself is devastating, first-time episode director Ayo Edebiri (who plays Chef Sydney) painstakingly laid out what Tina’s home life is like, and why this job loss compounds so many other problems.

Tina and David console each other over bad news about jobs.
Photo Courtesy FX.

Tina’s husband, David (her real-life husband David Zayas), is a doorman at an elite Chicago hotel but keeps getting passed over for promotions and better opportunities. Her son Louie (who showed up to help at The Beef in Season 1, but is not seen on-camera here) is apparently quite a handful at home and at school. Despite David’s reassurances, Tina knows her job loss will cause tremendous financial stress on the family, and she gets to work looking for a new job with the ferocity of a young scriptwriter desperate to get his latest work in the hands of an accomplished director.

Only in Tina’s situation, her script is her paper resume and the directors are 25-year-old kids with nose rings who want to know why she doesn’t just apply on LinkedIn. In 15 years, the world has grown into a digital place and Tina (with no college degree and a limited skill set) has been left behind. She is the modern equivalent of Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption who “saw an automobile once” before he went to prison, but now can’t take a step down the street without almost getting run over. “The world went and got themselves in a big damn hurry.” I can almost hear Tina echoing those lines.

Tina rides the bus while she looks for a job in Chicago.
Photo Courtesy FX.

After an infuriating experience where an interview is canceled without notice (“But I applied on LinkedIn!”), Tina decides to stop for a cup of coffee while she waits on her late bus back to her house. She stumbles into The Beef where Cousin Richie and Paulie James (the actual owner of Chicago’s Mr. Beef) are talking smack with the customers, the Faks have their heads glued to the Ballbreaker arcade game, and Mikey Berzatto (Jon Bernthal) is making the rounds filling up the napkin dispensers. Richie hands Tina a free sandwich after a customer bails on an order, and Tina finds her way to the quiet back room, a place where she can finally let the tears flow.

Mikey sees her and, without anything better to say, opens with, “The sandwich really that bad?” No one ever said Mikey was a therapist, so give him a break. What Mikey can do, however, is emotionally connect through conversation, even on Tina’s “worst” day. They share their respective lists of the six awful things happening around them on that day, establishing that whether you’re working or not, life can kick the crap out of you.

When Mikey gets a text from Carmy of some fancy tweezer-dish neither of them can identify, it opens up the conversation to purpose, what joy can be derived from work, and the value of having a dream or being inspired. Both Mikey and Tina gave up on the idea of having a dream (much less one coming true) long ago. Carmy, who both has a dream and is the best at what it is, seems like an alien to them. Mikey just wants to make enough money to pay for yesterday and Tina just wants to be able to feed her kid.

Mikey, Richie, and Neil try to figure out how to talk to Tina in The Bear S3E6, "Napkins"
Photo Courtesy FX.

What their conversation indirectly points to is the fact that what Tina and Mikey represent is inspiring. Tina states plainly, “I don’t need to be inspired,” but the noble goal of making sure your children are taken care of and raised well or serving sandwiches and being consistent with a group of people who need that place is just as inspiring as what the suits in the tall buildings do every day. Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it looks like an Italian beef sandwich, and other times it takes the shape of a kind word someone says when you are at your lowest.

Mikey and Tina begin to dance around the idea that they can solve each other’s problems (The Beef apparently needs line cooks), despite Mikey trying to sell the place as somewhere that “sucks. It’s insane, and there is so much fucking yelling here.” Tina doesn’t care, because her requirements are only steady hours and a paycheck. She has a resume, but it’s useless. She has been training for this job since the moment she began a family.

Throughout the episode, Edebiri shows quick shots and sharp cuts between moments of Tina preparing dinners in the Crockpot, plating food, packing David’s lunches, and getting snacks ready for Louie. Serving people through food has been her life for the better part of 15 years, and it comes so naturally to Tina now that it’s part of her routine. It’s a system. What Mikey is offering is for Tina to have a chance to take that routine (it’s all Tina wants, after all) and make it a job. From that job will eventually come a career. From that career will come a spark of inspiration. And from that inspiration will come passion and devotion. Devotion to Mikey, to Carmy, to Sydney, to Richie, and to all those she calls family at the restaurant.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *