Now in its second season, FX’s The Bear remains as finely crafted a television series as there ever was. To its credit, this dramedy still stubbornly refuses to fit neatly into any category, but even more exciting is how this sophomore season amplifies its focus on the characters and thereby forges a stronger bond with the audience. This time, The Bear is more nuanced in its depictions of these people and their reality.
Season 2 is not as plot driven as its predecessor, preferring to move with more of an emotional logic, but it does continue the narrative throughlines. When The Bear first premiered in June 2022, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) had inherited a popular Italian sandwich shop in Chicago following the tragic death of his brother, Michael. Carly, an award-winning chef, came in as an outsider with his own ideas on how to save this struggling business. He hired a young, talented, impatient sous chef, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), with a terrific background in fine dining but with very few people skills.
The remaining staff were uncooperative and suspicious, angry that he was “messing with their system.” However, during the course of the season, he won them over and, by the end, they were all functioning like more of a family. When Carmen found Michael’s secret stash of money and decided to set up a fine dining establishment, everyone was on board except Michael’s best friend, the mercurial Ritchie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who was – and still is – having trouble letting go of the past. Season 2 opens as everyone is working to make the new dream possible. True to form, however, nothing actually goes as planned.
While Season 1 had the manic intensity of a busy kitchen, it was also gritty, like the place they were working in. This second season, with its focus on shifting the direction of the restaurant and its menu, is less reliant on edginess. It pauses more to focus on the people orbiting around Carmy. It has evolved from its hyper pace with more moments of calm, even beauty, laced throughout the destructive behaviour. Whereas Season 1 created a toxic microcosm where no one was the hero nor the enemy but no one was safe, this season features extended scenes, even whole episodes, where characters get a sense of peace and achieve fulfillment. There’s a newfound lyricism evident here.
Standouts include Episode 4 (“Honeydew”), where we follow the restaurant’s baker, Marcus (Lionel Boyce), on assignment in Copenhagen. We become more acquainted with this shy, introverted, gentle soul as he thrives in a healthier teaching environment. On the flipside, Episode 7 (“Forks”) reveals, in breathtaking detail, the depths of Ritchie’s character. However, anyone lulled into thinking that the past is not going to rear its ugly head better buckle up for Episode 6 (“Fishes”). For all the nightmare scenarios that pop up in this season, this episode hits operatic levels, providing a more insightful context for what came before and what is happening now. It certainly changes our view of Michael.
Throughout the season, the writing is elevated, providing better opportunities for the actors to shine. Jeremy Allen White continues to excel as the heart of this show while Ayo Edebiri is a solid companion in his spotlight. However, it is Ebon Moss-Bachrach that might be the de facto star of this season, revealing the breadth within his character’s being and his vast range as an actor. The rest of the cast rises to the challenge when it’s their turn in the spotlight, and there are some really wonderful cameo appearances (which are best left unspoiled).
Like an intricate culinary concoction, Season 2 of The Bear expertly mingles its visual and aural elements. Stylistically, it’s all finessed to perfection. While the camerawork is less chaotic than previously, there are still sequences featuring rapid-fire editing and painfully extreme closeups. The difference now is that these shots are mainly employed for quiet moments which reflect on the psychological state of a character. Often, this is when someone, particularly Carmy, speaks candidly. These moments are piercingly evocative. The skilled application of sound and especially music is also worthy of note.
Season 2 ostensibly plays out like a tasting menu, with different elements incorporated to tantalize the palate and create a rich sensory experience. While one has to give credit for the groundwork laid in the first season, it’s clear that this season benefits from using it as a springboard to reach into more evocative, poetic realms. There are moments when this second season does veer a touch too far into fairytale – but rest assured reality always returns to bite everyone in the ass.
All episodes of The Bear Season 2 are now streaming on Disney+.