The Bear, created by Christopher Storer, was one of the pandemic era’s most treasured gifts. This show, about a chef who is battered by his experience in the world of haute cuisine, won over critics and audiences alike with its taut storytelling and incandescent acting performances. When the first season ended, it left fans on tenterhooks: Could Season 2 recreate this magic? We now know the answer: Yes. In fact, its second season, with the added glamour of cameos by the likes of Olivia Colman and Jamie Lee Curtis, might even be better than the first.
The Bear follows Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), a professional chef who returns to Chicago to run his family’s sandwich restaurant after his older brother dies by suicide. In Season 1, despite Carmy and his team’s efforts, they are unable to keep the restaurant afloat but the season ends on a hopeful note, with Carmy chancing upon money his brother had stashed away and dreaming of opening his own restaurant. Among The Bear’s many qualities is its attention to detail. Every element in a frame seems to be included with intention, offering the alert viewer a deeper insight into this world and the people in it. This is true of the recently-released second season as well, in which we see Carmy, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) and the rest of the gang prepare to open the doors of their restaurant, The Bear.
One of the standout episodes in the season is episode five, which takes place when the team is six weeks from the opening. Titled ‘Pop’, it opens with Sydney concocting a dish for their tasting menu while Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) assists her. Sydney wants to prepare something that represents the five natural elements and incorporates everything from fennel salad and daikon to XO sauce, Panzanella and duck — a wild range of ingredients to reflect what has been named the Chaos Menu. (Unwittingly, Chaos Menu is a fitting description for the state of the restaurant at this point since they’re yet to figure out basics like electricity.)
As Sydney works on the dish, the camera rapidly cuts from one shot to the next, as if reflecting her state of mind as her attention ricochets all over the place. The chaos manifests in the final dish. Looking at it, Tina says it seems a “little busy” to which Sydney replies, “Not too much.” A moment of contemplation follows. Sydney’s eyes dart, her nose scrunches, her eyebrows furrow and then, finally, acceptance dawns. “It’s a lot. It’s a lot,” she admits, “I’m seeing now that it’s a lot.” And it is indeed a lot — for both Sydney and Carmy — to get this restaurant going. The full plate feels symbolic of Sydney’s circumstances. Its too-many flavours hint at Sydney and Carmy’s ambitions for the new project as well as the anxieties brought about by their too-many responsibilities; all of it piling up to leave a bad taste.
Later in that same episode, Sydney is considering options for tableware when she asks Carmy to choose the plates for service. He picks a black, round dish that Sydney informs him costs $55 a piece. “Then we can use the shitty ones,” he says offhandedly and then leaves to do other errands (with Claire). Sydney is left fiddling with the tableware in exasperation, aware that her own figurative plate is not going to look quite as she had imagined either. It is fuller than she had expected and sadly, being a chef doesn’t make that any easier to digest.