Folks, Jeremy Allen White is a good actor. He’s been lighting up every episode of The Bear as Carmy, the tortured genius chef with all manner of problems, but in “Braciole,” the season-one finale, he comes in so hot with an Al-Anon monologue that I’d be shocked (shocked, I say!) if I didn’t see it on every awards reel submitted to every TV voter next year.
When “Braciole” opens, Carmen has yet another of his bizarre food and family-driven dreams. He’s hosting a bizarre cooking show but doing it his way, with curses, too much family information, and a mop of greasy hair. Everything is going wrong around him, too, and he bounces in and out of past dream sequences, like the premiere opening with the caged bear. It’s all set to a laughing soundtrack, and it’s clear that, while Carmen’s face and demeanor might seem calm, inside, he’s a roiling pot of emotions.
I love that The Bear doesn’t throw him off the deep end and into addiction himself. Instead, Carmen wakes up and heads to Al-Anon, where he gets up the courage to speak in front of the group, finally. Throughout White’s long and amazingly impressive monologue, we learn that he had always considered his brother his best friend and felt closest to him when they were cooking. Mikey, he says, could make you feel confident in yourself, and he’d always tell Carmen to “let it rip.” The catch is that everyone thought Mikey was their best friend and that Carmen didn’t even know he was using. Now, he’s second-guessing their entire relationship, it seems, and wondering if he ever really knew him at all. And if he didn’t know his brother, does he know anything?
As the quasi-eulogy continues, we learn that Mikey shut Carmen out of the restaurant at some point a couple of years ago. Carmen says he got vindictive, using his work to say “Fuck you, watch this” to his brother. He worked at all the best restaurants in the world, doing so much work that his “skin was oily and dry at the same time” (great descriptor!) and ultimately finding an independent way for himself. Unfortunately, he never managed to communicate with Mikey because the two were still estranged. In the end, Carmen lost track of their time apart, and, suddenly, his brother was dead. He’d shot himself in the head in the middle of the State Street Bridge, right by where we saw that bear in episode one. Now, Carmen says, he’s trying to fix the restaurant to try and fix his relationship with his brother and his whole family, but he’s no longer sure if the Original Beef even meant anything to Mikey.
Back at the restaurant, Richie is complaining about how Sydney almost stabbed his asshole, while Carmen is letting the staff know that the restaurant will be closed for dinner owing to a private event. That event, as it turns out, is a bachelor party for one of Cicero’s friends, and it is an absolute shitshow. There’s a keg. There are lights. There are strippers. There is coke. And ultimately, there is a massive, massive fight that Richie and Carmen try to break up, and suddenly, one guy is down, head hit against the counter, prognosis unknown. Richie ends up in jail, remorseful and emotional, and uses his one phone call to apologize to his ex, Tiffany, for things he said about her dad. When Richie gets out — hooray, he’s just being charged with aggravated assault! — he tells Carmen that he’s all Richie has. It’s a big statement for someone as closed up as Richie, and it could mean the start of a new connection between the two going forward.
Speaking of connecting, Marcus is over hanging out at Sydney’s apartment, which she shares with her dad. She’s cooking him a sea-bass dish she’s been dabbling with, and he’s asking her questions about her time in the CIA. When she was in culinary school, she says, she only knew half of the famous chefs her instructors and fellow students talked about, and so when she got out, she bought a one-way ticket to New York and used every last dime she had to eat at all the famous spots. One meal stood above all the rest, and that, of course, was the one created by Carmen.
While Marcus acknowledges that perhaps a little of what led to him leaving the restaurant was his fault, we don’t entirely get that from Syd. She’s still adamant that Carmen is “a little bitch,” and while he arguably is, that still doesn’t mean that she’s not at least a little responsible for what went down. She shouldn’t be proud of what she said to Richie, for instance, and I hope they get to hash that out someday. On the other hand, Marcus seems to realize his “head just got real fucked up” over his doughnuts and has a nice laissez-faire attitude. I don’t know if The Bear is trying to make us root for something romantic between Sydney and Marcus or just a “game recognizes game”–style supportive friendship, but I’m down for whatever.
At the restaurant, Carmen is trying to figure out how Mikey spent over $300k on something he wrote down as “KBL Electric.” It’s not a real business, as far as he can tell, and Mikey was throwing big amounts their way almost every month. Tina tells him a story about how one month, the restaurant didn’t even have napkins because Mikey said they couldn’t afford them. “Sounds like him,” Carmen says, and Tina replies that it didn’t, and that’s why she should have known something was wrong. She loved Mikey a lot, and it’s really lovely to see.
Some other stuff happens in a rather quick succession, like a premiere-echoing delivery of the wrong meat order and Carmen discovering Syd’s notebook, including her short-ribs recipe. He begins to spiral a little and tries to light a cigarette on the gas burner. (Why he would smoke inside when he never has, who knows?) A fire starts, and like Carmen has talked about in the past about his New York job, he becomes a little transfixed. It looks like he’s wondering what would happen if he just let it burn and walked away from the Beef forever. That’s not in the cards, of course; everyone else puts it out, but it’s a good reminder that Carmen is carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders.
After Richie sees Carmen space out, he goes to retrieve the envelope he’d found behind the lockers. He gives it to Carmy, who reacts with surprise and almost anger. He eventually heads outside to read it, but not before texting Syd to let her know, in his own brusque, roundabout way, that (a) her dish needed acid and (b) what he said to her and did in her presence was not okay. He might be a little bitch, but at least he’s willing to own it with time.
When Carmen opens the envelope, he finds a notecard just reading, “I love you, dude. Let it rip.” On the back, there’s a recipe for family-dinner spaghetti, which Mikey says should be made using the smaller cans of tomatoes because they “taste better.” After a good cry, Carmen heads inside and decides to take on family dinner, grabbing a couple of cans to mix up some sauce. When he cracks one open and pours it into the pan, he’s surprised to find a big-ass wad of money wrapped in cling film. The cans, we see, have KBL on the lid, and we watch as the staff gleefully opens every single one, flinging tomatoes all over the kitchen. It’s cuisine Christmas, and they’re unwrapping tens of thousands of dollars in one morning. Syd walks in on the revelry and gets invited to join the fun by Richie, which is nice. She and Carmen have a shorthand discussion about what they want the restaurant to be — family style, two tops and booths, Danish design with a window for sandwiches — and we learn that the Beef is closing. Soon enough, it will become the Bear, which I assume is inspired by the name and design Carmy had once dreamt up with Mikey, who has now set him up with a nice nest egg to kick things off with. We end on that family meal of spaghetti, and everyone (including Sugar and Pete) celebrating not just what’s to come but also what Mikey did to get them to this point.
About that, though: While what Mikey did for Carmen is incredibly nice, it also came at a great price. First, you have to assume that he did it because he saw no other way. He didn’t think he could call Carmen and say, “Hey, I’m sorry, let’s make this restaurant,” and he didn’t seem to think he could be any part of it, which is terribly sad. He also took out loans with Cicero so the restaurant could still break even, which could still really come back to bite Mikey in the ass. Sure, it seems like they can use that money to open the Bear, but won’t Cicero go, “Hey, where’d all this capital come from?” Let’s just hope they can all lie to him with flair and claim some angel investor provided it so that Cicero doesn’t come back asking too many questions.
Those are questions for a second season, though, which I hope we get. While I could walk away from this season satisfied with where everything ends, I would like to see where things go in success and when they’re not behind the eight ball all the time. Watching The Bear has been one of the more rewarding TV experiences I’ve had lately, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to chase that feeling just a bit more. Now everyone go forth and tell your family and friends to get on board, and maybe we can Ted Lasso this shit.
• I am ashamed to say that I have never eaten at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, so I would love to know if, in fact, it really does have the best bacon on earth. If anyone can confirm, please let me know in the comments.
• It has been an honor and a privilege to write these The Bear recaps for Vulture this season, and I hope you all have liked them. I also hope the show returns for season two because it’s excellent and the world feels like a better place because it exists.