(This review contains minor spoilers for season two of “The Bear”)
FX’s restaurant drama “The Bear” returned on June 22 with its second season. Following Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (played by Jeremy Allen White), an award-winning chef that takes control of his family’s sandwich shop after the death of his brother, season two chronicles the months spent preparing for the grand opening of a new restaurant after the sandwich shop shut down in the season one finale.
Season two of “The Bear” gets the best of both worlds. It’s dramatic, yet comedic. It’s intense, yet tender. Long takes and fast cuts, antithetical elements that all come together to create a moving depiction of grief and how having a passion can become a double-edged sword.
One of the best parts of the second season is how it widens its focus to delve deeper into its ensemble cast. While Carmy is still a central part of the story, season two invests more time in its other characters as they embark on their own journeys. Most notably, Sydney Adamu (played by Ayo Edebiri), Carmy’s second-in-command, and her desire to prove herself in an industry where she’s only experienced failure up until now. Episode three, “Sundae,” shows Sydney flying solo on a food tour of Chicago and introduces the audience into a more personal perspective of Sydney’s motivations, fears and aspirations.
Sydney isn’t the only character who the camera spends more time on this season. Marcus (played by Lionel Boyce) and Richie Jerimovich (played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach) are the stars of episodes four, “Honeydew,” and episode seven, “Forks,” respectively. These episodes parallel to each other, fraternal twin journeys of self-discovery with Marcus and Richie coming out knowing more about their potential and their purpose.
The show’s decision to lift its focus from Carmy and focus on the rest of the staff of “The Bear” helps add life into the show by making the viewer care more. However, it also raises the stakes of the show where there’s already so much to lose. Ironically, by focusing less on Carmy, the show inadvertently puts Carmy’s actions under a microscope. Time spent on other characters of the show helps the viewers understand that Carmy’s not the only one invested in the success of the restaurant and that he’s not the only one who has something to lose if he fails.
This season of “The Bear” switches tone slightly from the first season. Season two is about passion, purpose and the dark reality of having a calling, especially in such a demanding field as the culinary industry. Carmy’s plagued by the concept of fun and struggles with figuring out what provides him joy outside of his job and whether or not he can actually say that he finds it at work. He may be one the best at what he does, but the harsh reality of the season is that being the best comes at a cost.
What this season has in common with the first season, however, is grief. Carmy’s brother Michael Berzatto (played by Jon Bernthal) is omnipresent in the show, his presence felt even in scenes he isn’t in. More light is shed on the Berzatto family this season — particularly in a flashback episode six, “Fishes,” set five years into the past — and it becomes harder for Carmy and the audience to ignore the lingering ghosts of his family and how they affect him. While season one followed a strict diet of avoidance in all matters concerning Michael and Carmy’s family, season two is about exploring grief and taking control of it. It’s about how you can either internalize your worst moments and let them eat at you or externalize them, making something new.
Season two of “The Bear” is a sports story. It has a team, chefs learning who they are and where they fit in this restaurant, all of whom have something in the game, and it has stakes which have never been higher. It has passion, journeys of self-discovery and it even has Coach K. Like all sports stories, there are moments where the team takes losses. The levity and hopeful moments of this season are interlaced with Carmy’s feelings of hopelessness and the reminders of the sword that hangs over the restaurant’s head.
The first season of the show set the bar and season two raises it, serving up a deeper, richer second course. The performances by the ensemble cast give the show more emotional depth and the cinematography is the encapsulation of visual chaos. All in all, this season is a mesmerizing view that sucks you in, from its writing to its cinematography, editing and the performances by the cast.