'The Bear' Season 2 Is a Delicacy Worthy of a Michelin Star

Created by Christopher Storer

Starring Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bacrach, Eyo Edibri, Abby Elliott, Jon Bernthal, Liza Colón-Zayas, Oliver Platt, Lionel Bryce, Edwin Lee Gibson, Will Poulter, Matty Matheson

Photo courtesy of FX

BY Prabhjot BainsPublished Jul 19, 2023

There's a phrase The Bear's masterful sophomore season keeps cutting back to: "Every second counts." Ostensibly, it's a plot device used to emphasize a pressure-cooker deadline that bears down on the protagonists as they feverishly rush to open their new fine dining restaurant. Yet, over the course of the season, it manifests as a philosophy that creator Christopher Storer grounds every frame of the show with to develop and refine each ingredient of its disarmingly honest story. The result is a piece of television that makes every second of the runtime matter, as Storer balances the flavours of dark comedy and biting pathos with the deftest of hands. 

At once an exploration of the culinary world's beauty and pain and an acutely authentic character study, The Bear extends itself as an all-encompassing ode to the city of Chicago and its eclectic, resilient denizens. These components of the 10-episode course are married with the most graceful of touches, leaving each moment either palpably quiet or searingly intense. The Bear interrogates its cast of characters so intently that it becomes impossible to not see oneself in their shoes, mulling over their failings and doubts.

Season 1 of The Bear left chef Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) and his kitchen family with what would have been a very fitting ending: the closure of his deceased brother's restaurant and the imminent arrival of his own, the Bear — a beautifully emphatic ending that a follow-up threatens to spoil, like a pungent garnish on an already complete dish. However, Season 2 makes it wonderfully clear that its predecessor was a delicious appetizer for an even more full-bodied story. If the first season was about holding onto the vestiges of our loved ones (despite how destructive they can be), this season is about moving on and transforming our grief into something fulfilling.

Picking up soon after last season's finale, Carmy, Sydney (Eyo Edibri) and Natalie (Abby Elliot) are faced with a dizzying list of repairs and renovations to open the Bear. The godsend of Mikey's stolen money isn't enough, and they reach out to Uncle Cicero (Oliver Platt) with a desperate pitch for more funds. Once Cicero agrees to their terms — pay him back in 18 months or the property is his — the ticking clock begins.

Interestingly, Storer chooses not to focus the entire season on this countdown, instead walking a more character-driven path. Though the deadline serves as an overarching arc that powerfully concludes in the final episode, its true role is that of a catalyst pushing each member of the Bear's ragtag crew on their own personal journeys of growth and perseverance.

The evolution of each character is one that simmers in their personal insecurities, anxieties and quiet triumphs. Storer dedicates entire episodes to single characters, like Syd's Chicago eat-a-thon, Marcus (Lionel Bryce) going to Copenhagen to study under a generous and measured chef (Will Poulter), and Richie (Ebon Moss-Bacrach in the show's greatest performance) interning at a state-of-the-art restaurant that listens very closely to its customers. Each character (even Matty Matheson's bumbling Fak) returns for the Bear's grand opening — subtly yet profoundly transformed, flush with a new sense of mindfulness.

The show's opus is undeniably its sixth episode entitled, "Fishes," an hour-long flashback to an incendiary Christmas dinner that unfolds like a lit fuse sizzling towards an emotionally traumatic tinderbox. It's an episode destined to be one of the all-time greatest hours ever committed to the small screen. Energetic and frenetic but also intimate and heartbreaking, Season 2 maintains this equilibrium until its jaw-dropping conclusion with a boatload of A-list guest stars in tow.

Storer (who directs seven of the season's 10 episodes) and directors Joanna Caro and Ramy Youssef lace the series with a generous helping of technical prowess. The tight, almost suffocating close-ups give force to each conversation, lending them a naturalistic hue that eliminates any semblance of sentimentality. Storer immerses viewers into this world with a layered, substantive lens, capturing its nuances with a captivating flair. Moreover, the trove of gorgeously plated food is as gracefully rendered as the skyline of the Windy City, making it easy to see why Carmy and his friends are deeply passionate about giving people something tasty to eat.

So much of The Bear's bravura is tied to its insistence on authenticity, resulting in a second season that is both thematically rich and deeply meaningful, indicative of the daily struggles that make up the human experience. There's an unforgettable sense of joy in watching these characters sweep up the messes of their lives as they forge a new road towards personal development. As impressively definitive as the first season was, the second realizes itself as a vital continuation that not only betters what came before but masterfully sets the stage for whatever will come next. It's destined to be lauded as one TV's greatest stories. In the words of Richie: "Mangia, baby!"

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