By Saiba Haque, Third Year, Politics and Philosophy
The Bear perfectly encapsulates the traumatising, agonising and conflicting reality of the constant emotional and verbal abuse rampant in the hospitality and food industry. It tackles the difficult nature of processing grief in a system which has very little room or consideration for mental well-being and mental health. It also shows how one person’s inability to process grief can significantly and negatively impact others.
The rampant ruckus and yelling in the kitchen is accompanied by fast-paced shots with energetic and sometimes chaotic music, which sets the tone for how the whole season will progress. The cinematography is striking, and fast with some slowed-down shots of the preparation of mouth-watering dishes. Some of the best food scenes I have seen on TV in a while!
The Bear follows Carmen “Carme” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) who used to work in a fine-dining establishment, Noma, which he left to come back to Chicago and take over his late brother, Mikey’s (Jon Bernthal), run-of-the-mill, worn down sandwich shop. From the first episode it is prevalent that Carme has been left to juggle with a marginally failing business, while dealing with family issues and an uncooperative staff, along with processing Mikey’s heart-breaking suicide.
From the opening frame to the very end of a short 8-episode season, The Bear persistently maintains the attention and anticipation of the audience through not only its meticulously fast pacing throughout the season and episodes, but also by keeping us invested in the plot through characters that are immensely well written. Carme and Ricky (Ebon-Moss Bachrach) are processing the death of Mikey in their own detrimental ways, where they are often lashing out at each other, rarely seeing eye-to-eye.
Carme’s inability to process his grief often negatively impacts those around him, especially his sister Sugar (Abby Elliot). Ricky’s hubris makes it alarmingly difficult for anyone to implement positive changes around the restaurant. Newcomer, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) is constantly dealing with imposter syndrome due to her failing catering business from her recent past and accumulating debt, even though she is immensely skilled and talented from all that she learned from the Culinary Institute of America.
Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is the epitome of true culinary potential where we see how his character falls deep into his passion for baking through positive reinforcement from Carme and Sydney; which Carme and Sydney hardly got in their previous fields.
In the second episode - "Hands" - we get a glimpse of Carme’s old life in New York at Noma. The beautifully prepared plates of fine-dining dishes with a pristine white background and the accompaniment of the “brigade” system between the chefs juxtaposes heavily with the rampantly cruel and abusive remarks that the Head Chef of Noma (played by Joel McHale) would vocalise to Carme. This part of Carme’s past also juxtaposes how differently he treats his new staff at The Original Beef Chicago.
He treats them with respect by making sure everyone refers to each other as “chef”, doesn’t tell them that they are worthless and futile, but instead encourages them to follow their potential whilst working for the restaurant, like he does with Marcus, and tries to maintain a hopeful retrospection of improving the place and implementing all he has learnt for the good.
However, this doesn’t last very long. One of my favourite episodes of the show is Episode 7 “Review”. This episode is very fast-paced, anxiety-inducing and filled to the brim with anticipation as it is filmed in one single shot, with no cuts. In this particular episode, we see the tensions truly build to an overflowing degree between all the characters.
The restaurant is finally given a positive review, but everyone in the kitchen finds it difficult to live up to that pressure. The whole kitchen turns into a frenzy of chaos and insults and collapses their “brigade” system, with Carme lashing out at every single staff member from all the pressure and unresolved internal issues.
Carme lashing out at Mikey for perfecting his “off-menu” doughnuts is gut-wrenching to watch as he breaks down a culinary potential that he aided in building. This cycle of abuse is transferred from one staff to another due to sheer frustration and tension. The tension and consequences of these chains of actions are also difficult to watch especially when you realise that scenes like this occur in this industry often.
I truly admire the way this show portrays all these realistic struggles through its characters and I can’t wait to see them return on screen for the second season. I personally relate a lot to Sydney’s character and her internal struggles of having to deal with starting over her life.
The last episode “Braciole”, provides us with a plot twist, which when you come to realise, had already been foreshadowed immensely well and with profound subtlety in the very first episode. Jeremy Allen White provides a show-stopping, potentially Emmy-winning performance throughout the show. Nevertheless, this show is fast-paced and enjoyable to watch.
Featured Image: By Matt Dinerstein, courtesy of IMDB and FX Networks
The second season of The Bear has been confirmed - will you be watching?