The Bear Season 3 Is a Restaurant-Life Horror Story

This story contains spoilers for Season 3 of The Bear, including discussion of the finale.

Kitchen content lends itself to endless, tortured cooking and food metaphors, so let’s try out a few to explain this season of The Bear, a show that’s already on my TV Mount Rushmore, as a food-obsessed former hospitality drone. Following the masterpiece that was season 2, a procedural about opening a restaurant and slowly putting yourself back together, The Bear season 3 takes us from a boursin-stuffed omelet garnished with sour cream and onion potato chips to cauliflower steaks, from ripping heaters to stress-chewing Nicorette, from cooking for joy and passion and love for each other to cooking for stars. To leave the kitchen for a moment, it’s like running out of R.E.M. and Bruce Hornsby needle drops and being left with….Adam Duritz and Rivers Cuomo.

This season is a trauma dish, which of course seasons 1 and season 2 were, too—but those seasons were able to offset their cauliflower steaks with donuts. This time around, there aren’t any real significant new characters or challenges to incorporate into the pot. So we’re back in the shit with Carmy, in the reheated-leftovers struggle of a hurt person hurting people, unable to forget the scars other chefs marked him with, actively getting in the way of his own happiness, potentially at the expense of his restaurant. And so these 10 episodes go to great lengths to remind us of the horrors the industry can inflict on a person—but what it leaves out is why these horrors are worth subjecting yourself to. We’re familiar with the long hours and grueling physical labor and psychological torture as you pursue the impossible, but as the finale briefly shows (and the show once did), it also can be great! The feeling I was missing is best expressed by Jon Bernthal, as Carmy’s dearly departed brother Mikey in “Napkins,” the Ayo Edibiri-directed episode that’s probably the season’s best. “This fucking place, it sucks,” he says. “You go home, and you fucking smell it. And it’s insane, and there’s so much fucking yelling here. But, I swear to you, there are days that it is so much fun.”

We are watching what is perhaps the most self-aware show on television, so Storer and company have to know the overall sour taste this will leave in the viewer’s mouth, which this season’s “To Be Continued” palate-cleansing cliffhanger after five-plus hours does little to alleviate. The real narrative issue the show is struggling with is one as old as serial storytelling, but we can call it the Kendall Roy Problem: You can only Charlie Brown a character by yo-yoing the football of happiness away from them so many times before you have to let them kick it—or jump into the East River. The only questions left to answer are whether Carmy will allow himself to work towards happiness, and whether that happiness can be found in a kitchen (with Sydney), and when the show will decide to answer that question. This is why I’d guess the show’s already-in-the-can fourth season will be the exhale, the Eggo waffle spread with crème fraiche and a gob of caviar The Bear richly deserves—and as they may soon announce, its final season.

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