'The Bear' Season One: Taming the Beast


Content Warnings: suicide, racism, anxiety, misogyny. 

The following article contains spoilers for The Bear Season One. 


The opening scene of the first season of The Bear welcomes our protagonist, Carmen (Jeremy Allen White), approaching a locked cage on a deserted bridge in the heart of Chicago. Tentatively opening the cage’s door, Carmen—or Carmy—releases a fully-grown brown bear. Carmy retreats, and as the bear growls and charges him, the dream quickly dissolves into his reality: waking up and running a local sandwich shop, which is almost as bad as the nightmare. I was equal parts confused and intrigued by the dream, and compelled to see if Carmy would find his way back to the bear. 


‘The Original Beef of Chicagoland’ was left to Carmy to run by his late brother, Michael, outlined in his will. Despite Carmy’s success as a fancy chef in New York City, and his brother’s previous prohibition of his employment at the sandwich shop, he honours Michael’s wish by taking up the helm at the suburban restaurant and consequently shoulders the burden of the motley crew of employees that come with it. 


The show’s success hinges entirely on the fraught dynamic between Carmy and those around him in the restaurant—particularly Michael’s best friend, their “cousin” Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). His breath tinged with cigarette smoke and words constantly vicious, Richie is disinclined to adopt Carmy’s new ways from the Big Apple. Pugnacious line-chef Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) refuses to learn anything new. Resident baker Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is the most likely to ascertain anything from Carmy but is lost in his own desire for something bigger than ‘The Beef’. The only one truly inspired and impressed by Carmy is his sole new-hire, green-eyed Sydney (Ayo Edebiri): a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America, past employee of Michelin star restaurants, and keen prodigy. More often than not, though, there are far too many cooks in this kitchen. 


The show does an almost too-good job at pulling the viewer right into the shop. I struggled to avert my eyes from the screen and still my racing heart whenever the camera panned into the back of the restaurant. Every dropped plate shatters your eardrums, every burnt hand makes you wince, and every cruel accusation feels personal. The intensity of a commercial kitchen is high enough on its own and that level of stress is compounded by the opposing forces that each character represents. 


When Carmy appoints Sydney as sous-chef and instructs her to implement a French-brigade hierarchy they’re both familiar with, the existing squad of employees struggle to adjust to the new environment. Tensions run high as the original staff must start taking orders from a young girl they’ve known for a week. Every time an order is delayed, a Xanax bottle gets spilled into a jug of kids’ juice or some junkies start fighting outside the shop window, you’re pulled even further into this stressful narrative. Each episode builds upon the last to make you simultaneously crave the restaurant’s success, and fear even more for its downfall.



The season’s absolute highlight is the seventh and penultimate episode. After convincing Carmy to introduce online takeaway orders, Sydney realizes too late that she has left the pre-order option available, and as the shop opens, over 300 orders come through. The episode felt to me like one elongated panic attack. Playing out in real-time, the episode is twenty minutes long—though it feels like an eternity—and is filmed as if only in one take. Ayo Edebiri’s performance shines through best in this episode, as she juggles the weight of her own ambition and mistakes, and the disrespect and sexism she faces in the kitchen. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is his character’s usual belligerent self, making you cringe with each misogynistic line he spits out, and then making you melt with his love of the late Michael, the restaurant, and his five-year-old daughter with whom he cannot connect. Moreover, Jeremy Allen White proves his abundant capacity to lead a stellar ensemble cast, with each kitchen command ringing like a war cry. His anxiety feels so real it’s almost painful to watch as a viewer, his grief almost palpable. 


Despite the challenge that running a business poses, the complex dynamic of the friends and colleagues orbiting him and the realization that perhaps his passion may not be able to drive him forever, it’s none of these hurdles Carmy must leap to find peace within himself. It’s coming to terms with his late brother’s suicide. 


All this time, the viewer is left wondering: why on earth is this show called The Bear? And what was the significance of that bear in the first episode?


The entire season eludes the mystery and what it might represent up until the finale. It opens with another dream sequence, in which Carmy is running a cooking panel on what seems to be a morning show, when his surname is revealed to the viewer in a very offhand manner for the first time—Berzatto, or in short, Bear. The reason for the title of the show, and the season’s running mystery, is explained with one simple word. The beast Carmy has been consumed by for so long is not the restaurant, it’s his family; this is the beast he must tame for a sense of peace. It’s a little on the nose, but it makes for a well-deserved payoff. 


Family lies at the core of The Bear. Though one could argue it’s purely anxiety that sits as the undercurrent of each episode, it’s hard to ignore the importance of this sandwich shop and how it pulls its employees together. The way the relationships evolve between each of the characters is beautiful in its authenticity. Slowly but gradually, as I began to respect each character and their goals, I saw them begin to respect each other too. Alongside their own motivations and personal quarrels, it’s hard to not appreciate how much they still care for the restaurant. That care binds them all together. After enduring the hardships of the entire season, it was rewarding as a viewer to see the characters finally come around to one another, if only a little. Despite the immense amount of stress that drenches each shift at ‘The Beef’, and the tension that pulses through each episode of the show, by the end of the season the newly renamed restaurant ‘The Bear’ seems less like a workplace and more like a home.


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