Who would have thought when The Bear’s second season started that Richie and Fak would be the ones to end up on top? These bros are wearing suits, being open about their emotions, and just trying to let love flow. Richie has a purpose and a collector’s-item “Original Berf” shirt,” and he’s honestly pretty good at not just expediting but also working front-of-house, which, if you’ve either worked at a restaurant or watched Top Chef’s Restaurant Wars, you’ll know are very, very tough jobs. Richie is somehow a master at both after only a week at another restaurant. He was a secret savant the whole time, and I love it. And sure, Fak’s weird and sticks his whole face in flower arrangements in the middle of the restaurant, but you’ve got to love the guy, right?
You know who season finale “The Bear” doesn’t make super-easy to love? Carmy. At least Carmy as he stands right now. The once-golden boy and center of The Bear has fallen from grace, getting locked inside the walk-in cooler during friends-and-family night and turning into a full-on rage monster. It’s understandable why he spaced on getting that handle fixed — he’s had a lot going on, and it’s easy to get behind when every little thing has to go through you — but a lot of the little fuckups that threaten to tank the Bear’s first service are his fault. Things can be fixed, but they won’t be perfect for friends-and-family night.
The thing is, this is the one night it’s kind of okay if they’re a few minutes behind on delivering dishes or if the forks run out. It’s the most sympathetic dining room they’re going to face, and everyone — including what seems to be the entire senior staff of Avec — would understand a few hiccups. But for everyone at the Bear, including Carmy, everything is life-and-death. If they can’t kill it at friends-and-family night, they’re doomed for all eternity. If Carmy doesn’t get out of the fridge instantly, then he has destroyed everything forever. They still don’t entirely trust one another or believe the good will out, and while that’s understandable on a human level, it makes running a restaurant where you’re not supposed to be SCREAMING AT EACH OTHER AT MAXIMUM VOLUME very fucking hard.
Here’s where I’ll ask the big question: Does the Bear need Carmy? Sure, he’s a culinary savant, but so are Syd and Marcus. Richie and Nat seem to have a handle on the front-of-house stuff, and Tina is a great sous. All Carmy is really bringing at this point is weird energy, enough screaming to scare all the new hires, and, perhaps most valuable, a name to help bring diners and press in the front door. With all the stories in recent months about restaurants like L.A.’s Horses that have great food but absolutely awful, abusive vibes in the kitchen, it’s worth discussing whether the former outweighs the latter. If an experience isn’t great for everyone involved, is it even great at all?
That’s not to say that the food at the Bear doesn’t look great because does it ever. That T-bone? The seven fishes and the bucatini? I want a cookbook stat, or at least a monthlong pop-up serving exactly what they serve, exactly as they serve it. Even that pop service, which Fak delivers so generously to Emanuel, who doesn’t drink — a great idea! Having all of those beverages laid out in front of you is both playful and purposeful because personally I know I’d look at those and go, “Oh wow, a glass-bottle 7 Up. Maybe that is what I want!” And then they’d crack it for you and damn if it wouldn’t be great. And don’t even get me started on the chocolate banana “Mr. Jerimovich” insists Cicero get at the end of his meal because that’s the kind of callback that can make me (and the old man) well right up.
It’s actually pretty nice that the cousins have Cicero because while he’s certainly a sketchy asshole who I’m still not 100 percent sure won’t fuck them over in the long run, he comes with a lot less baggage than Donna Berzatto, who shows up outside the restaurant but can’t actually bring herself to go in. She’s spotted by perfect Pete, who tries to get her to come in and see how well her kids are doing, but she’s clearly a jittery mess. “I don’t want you to tell them I was out here,” she tells him before explaining that while she’s very proud of her kids, she just doesn’t think she can handle the whole experience. “I love them so much,” she says. “I don’t know how to show it. I don’t know how to say ‘I’m sorry,’ so please just go in and tell me it’s okay.” Pete seems rightfully confounded, but when Donna (whom he calls DeeDee) says, “I don’t deserve to see how good this is. I want them to have a good thing, and I don’t want to hurt it,” you get the sense that he starts to understand. Couple that with their mutual realization that Natalie actually hasn’t told her mom about being pregnant and it becomes clear that he has to let her walk away.
That’s the right thing to do, really. You can see why the kids would maybe want her there but also why she shouldn’t be there. First of all, she’d be going back into a building where her eldest son basically lived before he died, which is heavy enough, and beyond that, she’d have to access all sorts of emotional openness that just may not be reachable at this moment. She can always come down the road if she wants, or not. That doesn’t take away from how proud she can be of them. I’m not sure Natalie or Carmy will understand, but Pete does, and if he decides to share even just a little bit more than he already has with Natalie, then hopefully she will too.
I’m not sure Carmy will understand, though. For as much as he knows to expect disaster with his mom, it also seems he has a lot of work to do on himself to get anywhere close to being as cool and together as he may want people to think he is. He’s seeing his abusive NYC boss (a returning Joel McHale) in the corner, even though he knows he’s not there. He’s unable to accept love from pretty much anyone, including Claire and Richie, and he lashes out at the latter after only a mild round of questioning. I was a bit worried he was having a full mental break in the cooler, where we see him remembering last season’s disasters and embracing the absolute worst-case scenario. Tina seems to calm him down a bit, or at least lend an ear, but when he’s (unknowingly) overheard by Claire, he’s talking about how he’s “the best because I didn’t have any of this fuckin’ bullshit.” He says, “I don’t need to provide amusement or enjoyment. I don’t need to receive any amusement or enjoyment. I’m completely fine with that because no amount of good is worth how terrible this feels,” and he calls any pursuit of his own joy “just a complete waste of fucking time.”
Of course, after she hears all of that — coupled with the voicemail she left earlier that Carmy doesn’t actually play until a few minutes later — Claire realizes she has to walk away. I don’t know that their relationship is entirely broken; she’s had a massive crush on him forever, after all, and thinks he’s “so special and wonderful.” But it’s certainly a no-go until he can at least learn to accept that he deserves joy in his life. Their love isn’t sustainable if she always has to be the one to reassure him, to tell him she’s proud of him and his brother would be proud of him and then have him not really believe that. She loves him and he loves her, but to quote RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” Let’s please get Carmy a therapist for season three because he very much needs one.
• I was starting to think Alex Moffat had kind of a thankless background role as Josh, the chef with the cool haircut, then he disappeared mid-service to go smoke meth in the alley where he got to yell at Marcus through a fence. Worth it!
• Wilco sync count this episode: one, “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” which joins a bunch of other really excellent cuts, including Pearl Jam’s “Animal,” the Magnetic Fields’ “I Think I Need a New Heart,” a little Liz Phair, some Pixies, and even a version of the Beach Boys’ “Vegetables.” We also get “Half a World Away,” by R.E.M., which cements the band’s place at the top of the Bear musical pantheon.
• Luca’s note to Marcus is very sweet, including its cute little Pippen reference. Love that he sent an “Every Second Counts” sign, too, which I bet Richie will also appreciate.
• Claire’s friend Kelly + Theo Fak = true love forever. They can both wear French “barrettes” to their wedding. Mitra Jouhari would make a perfect addition to the Fak clan.
• I like how Theo and Neil tried to explain to Claire where Carmy was by saying, “Jabba got his ass,” like that’s a thing everyone would immediately clock as meaning “He’s locked in the freezer.” Another of their lines, “He’s in there solo … Han Solo,” is even worse. I do like “Little pimp is cooked,” though.
• Does Sydney like Marcus? I sort of doubt she can even wrap her brain around the idea, though I do think she should cease being a weird asshole to him ASAP if she doesn’t want to get into a hostile-workplace situation. Just be cool, you two, seriously!