In “Ceres,” Bear viewers finally get to meet Carmy and Sugar’s dear, departed brother, as well as Richie’s best friend. As played by the very good Jon Bernthal, Mikey is more together than I expected as a viewer. It’s unclear where this scene is from — the only clue is that Richie is a bit more clean-shaven — but I suppose it’s possible that Mikey could have really gone off the rails there in the past couple of years.
What is clear is that Richie and Mikey got into some amazing, Chicago-style scrapes, complete with random run-ins with Bill Murray and Chris Chelios. (By the way, Ceres is a real place, though it doesn’t actually open until 11 a.m.) When Richie relays the story to his date and she retorts, “Why were you at a bar at 6:45 a.m.?” there is a part of me that’s like, “That’s true,” but then I remember that many Chicago bars don’t close until 5 a.m. on weekends and that I spent more than a couple of nights in my 20s then bouncing to ill-advised after-parties at people’s apartments, so, hey, Richie, been there. I only wish Bill Murray had been at one of my hangs.
All of this is to say that “Ceres” is, in large part, about history. (That date, after all, was labeled by Richie as rightly having “no sense of Chicago history.” It’s disgusting, really.) “Ceres” is about the changing landscape of Chicago neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Logan Square, as Sydney calls out. It’s about a Sweetgreen going in down the street from the Original Beef, a disturbing trend that suggests that Chicagoans might be interested in eating more than just processed-meat products. (If you visit Chicago and do things right meal-wise, you will come away wanting only to eat vegetables for about a week. It’s just a fact.) It’s about the clash of the wiseguys happening outside the Original Beef — guys who, by the way, have never been there before — and about the window of the Beef being shot out. (Which, who’s to say that’s not about Richie’s coke deals or the $300,000 they owe Uncle Cicero?)
It’s also about how, in two months, the Original Beef has gone from being a dirty, frantic mess to, as Tina tells Richie, being a clean, positive place where she feels like her work has become 300 percent better. Richie doesn’t take this (or Sydney appeasing the mob guys) particularly well, and we’re led to believe that he calls the cops on the outside hang. He’s still trying to hold onto a piece of the life he knew with Mikey — the life where he felt appreciated — and he’s willing to be an asshole to make that happen. It’s going to hurt every other person around him — there’s a reason he’s Richie Bad News in his ex’s phone — but he still thinks it’s the right thing to do.
I haven’t said this enough: Ebon Moss-Bachrach is excellent in The Bear. It’s hard to play a guy that seemingly has no chill or no levels with any sense of nuance, and he really does. Sure, he’s loud and yells all the time, but he does manage to imbue all of those yells with subtext, flare, and deep sadness. You know how Sugar’s upset that Carmy never asks how she’s feeling? You can be damn sure that no one has ever asked Richie that, and probably not just since Mikey’s death. When he threatens to quit, saying he feels like he’s “on a different planet” from everyone at the Beef, Tina returns, “Where you gonna go?” That kind of insult cuts deep, and it’s the kind of thing that only works on someone who has no sense of self-value, confidence, or track record of success. Richie wants to just say “fuck you” and walk away, but he also believes it’s true. He can’t leave the Beef, maybe out of obligation or comfort, but also because he really doesn’t think he could cut it anywhere else.
The irony of that is that Richie does have skills. His dealings with the mob guys worked until they didn’t, and his knowledge of the shop’s patrons is second to none. He’s a little odd, but he’s one of those guys everyone knows, and there is some comfort in that, especially in the restaurant business. You want to come in and see the guy at the hot-dog counter that’s always there. You want to know that it’s a small, family business and that if you have a problem, you can tell these guys and they will care. You also want to know that when you give them a 20 percent tip, these are the guys that will get it. It’s about relationships and authenticity, and Richie has both of those in spades.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a willingness to change, which could lead to his demise at the Beef. I’m holding out a little hope — stranger things have happened, after all — but it’s like everyone has just written him off as that annoying gnat they all know they’ll have to get rid of eventually when the time is right.
None of this is helped by the fact that Sydney is terribly impatient, with her almost-there risotto and almost too can-do attitude. Carmy is around, but he’s also drawing in Mikey’s mistakes and is just sort of treading water emotionally. (He tells Sugar that he “can’t describe how I’m feeling, so to ask someone else how they’re feeling seems insane.”) There’s no telling how much these assholes are going to owe the IRS when they get dinged with a bill for five years of nonpayment, but it does seem like at least the restaurant is doing okay now, with its fancier food, dinner hours only, and local hotshot diners, like weatherman extraordinaire Tom Skilling. I don’t know if a place called the Original Beef of Chicagoland should go all-in on risotto, but if there’s a way to make it work, I trust they can. Now, if only they can learn to trust themselves.
• In the Mikey-filled opening, the family is making braciole, a food that also happens to be the title of the season-one finale. There is tomato sauce involved. Will my theory pay off?
• I loved the little detail about the faceless statue on the Chicago Board of Trade, and I like the statue even more now that I’ve seen it.
• The bar next door to the Original Beef is the Green Door, and it’s been open for about 100 years. It has all the speakeasy bona fides you’d want from a place like that, and it’s a fine bar. Most people don’t realize how many of these types of bars Chicago has, but there are hundreds if not thousands of these neighborhood spots around town, and seeing one go would be pretty crushing. That being said, the Green Door is open and — because it’s in River North, which is way, way beyond gentrified now — it’s one of the few places you can go that feels good and authentic in the way a bar should, versus new and sterile like something that just popped up four years ago.
• Marcus is really going to get those doughnuts, isn’t he? And I will be mad that I can’t taste them. FX, send doughnuts, please.
• Here’s a cool restaurant thing I noticed: When Carmy is cooking the chicken, he does this cool cake-tester trick that experienced chefs can do to tell if their meat is cooked all the way through. The OXO blog explains it more thoroughly, but basically, chefs use a cake tester because it’s pretty much just wire and is thus thinner than a thermometer, which makes a hole that can let out too many of the meat’s juices. A good chef can poke the tester into the meat, then touch it to a heat-sensitive part of their body, like the area right below their lips, the back of the hand, or even their neck. If it’s cold, your meat’s not done. If it burns you, your meat is too hot, and if it’s hot, but not too hot, then you’re good to go. It’s absolutely not scientific or safe in any way, but that’s how a lot of chefs do it.