The Bear really knows how to land a guest star. When reviews first started coming out for the show, FX was adamant that no one reveal any of the show’s cameos, and with good reason. It’s never quite as fun when things are spoiled before you can even watch the show for yourself. Now that the eps are out, though, everything is fair game, which is why I feel confident sharing that I think Molly Ringwald fucking rules.
As episode three’s Al-Anon meeting moderator, Ringwald has a very small part in The Bear, but she gets a fairly (Italian) beefy monologue to deliver about what it means to love someone who’s an addict. She’s learned that the only way she can get through it all, she says, is by keeping her side of the street clean and doing her part to stay out of bad situations.
Not that Carmy, sitting in the back of the room, seems to be able to do anything about his bad situation yet. Ringwald’s speech is spliced with a cut back to the Original Beef, where we find Sydney just trying to get orders out to hungry and bored-looking customers while Richie yells loudly for what seems to be the fun of it. It’s clear he either believes or wants to believe that he’s the boss of beeftown, and for now Carmy seems to be letting him. He’s working behind the scenes with Sydney, though, whether that’s for the purpose of turning the tide of the actual food or winning over the non-Richie staff. (It could also just be because he actually likes her as a human being and thinks she’s talented and worth listening to.) It does feel like things with Richie and the restaurant will eventually have to come to a head, especially as we come to learn that he’s somehow covering for Mikey’s shady dealings with some guy named Nico who didn’t even know he died, but, again, we’re still kind of waiting for that to play out.
“Brigade” is an exceptional episode not because of Carmy or Richie, though. It’s great because of Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney, who gets the burden of running an Escoffier-style French brigade dumped on her by Carmy. It’s not the worst idea — some of the Original Beef staff clearly have things they prefer to make, whether it’s meat or bread and pastries — but Camy unfairly stuck Sydney with delivering the news and she walked headlong into the blades of a surly staff. It’s bad enough that she cuts herself on a rogue boxcutter, but to have her sauce destroyed by Tina, her pounds upon pounds of hard-sliced onions hidden by Marcus, and her authority undermined by Richie? That would be enough to drive anyone to their breaking point. The massive vat of gelatinous veal stock spilling in the walk-in, though? I’d be in tears in my car, driving away at 60 miles per hour. Not only does that shit take a ton of time and money to make, but cleaning up something that’s neither solid nor liquid off an already fairly gross floor? Forget about it. Poor Sydney.
That’s why I love that she comes at Carmy with all of her gripes. She believes that, if she’s really picking up what he’s putting down, that he does want to run the Original Beef differently than any place they’ve worked in the past. She doesn’t want to be stuck wasting her time running brunch somewhere or making food she doesn’t care about. If she can get the Original Beef somewhere exciting and good alongside Carmy, she can make a name for herself. It’s sound reasoning, presuming you believe that they’ll be able to turn a dirty Italian beef stand with surly customers and staff into something noteworthy and exciting, but their enthusiasm is, in some sense, contagious. I want to believe they can do it, and I hope that they do.
That Carmy is open to hearing Sydney is notable, too, since the show seems to suggest that he doesn’t ever really let anyone in. He’s dodging his sister’s calls on his brother’s birthday, and he clearly can’t make heads or tails of what his brother was doing with the restaurant’s money before he died. He doesn’t seem to actually like Richie, and if there’s more to their family besides Uncle Cicero, we have yet to see it. I get the feeling that even if we did, it would just be scenes of people sort of talking at Carmy rather than to him, right up until the point when he could claim work and duck out the side door.
“Brigade” is a sadder, slower, and more defeated episode than the two that came before it, but it’s also more optimistic. Things haven’t changed overnight at the Original Beef, but there is a tiny pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. Like the REM song, “Oh My Heart,” that closes the episode, “Brigade” is sad, but also comforting and full of love, in a way. There can be poignancy to a deep hurt. It’s a reminder that whoever or whatever you cared about actually mattered to you, and that you let a little piece of yourself out into the world.
• I hadn’t entirely been able to place the Original Beef until this episode, when they showed what was across the street. The show is using the exterior of the very good Mr. Beef at Orleans and Huron in Chicago, and it seems like they either shot scenes in the interior or built out a very good facsimile somewhere. I definitely think they built out the back kitchen and whatever that Ballbreaker room is, Groundhog Day poster and all, because while Mr. Beef does have a separate eating space, it’s not entirely the same. What I do not know, however, is if Mr. Beef actually has a stark, minimalist billboard for Chicago’s beloved Malort on its roof, or if The Bear really just went hard on its regional references.
• One thing I will say about the Original Beef, though, is that for a Chicago-based Italian Beef stand, they sure do seem to sell a lot of mortadella, which isn’t absolutely unheard of, but it’s unusual. I’d expect them to move a few more dogs than the expediting would suggest. I am also a dork who cares about things like this in TV shows when they really should not.
• I hope Marcus gets really great at desserts. Bless him. He’s lovely. I’d fuck with his chocolate cake for sure, and not just because I love all chocolate cake, period.