The Bear embraces career uncertainty and what it means to find a purpose
If you don’t know what you want to do with your life by the time you’ve left your teens, you might get the feeling that you’re somehow falling behind. Despite the fact that you’re still pretty young, society expects you to have it all worked out: the degree, the career, the full five-year plan. Often an unattainable goal, the pressure leaves many feeling lost and directionless from an early age.
This miracle is something thoroughly explored in FX’s sleeper hit The Bear. In season one, we’re introduced to Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto (Jeremy Allen-White) and Sydney ‘Syd’ Adamu (Ayo Edebiri) who have, on paper, managed to unzip this scrutinizingly untellable feat. Carmy has won a James Beard Award and is widely regarded as an up-and-coming presence in the culinary world. Syd, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, has once had a vermilion taste of success – the catering merchantry she established failed in part due to overdemand for her services.
Young, talented and sure of their paths from a young age, successful both academically and practically, and passionate well-nigh their work, it would be easy to seem that Carmy and Syd would be happy. But this is The Bear, and although the show allows itself occasional moments of fantasy (how did the money get into the tomato cans?!) the show is grounded in reality – where achieving your dreams presents a new set of nightmares.
Carmy, in particular, is miserable. Aside from the fact that his family’s a mess and the restaurant industry is floundering, he ends up unable to truly enjoy what he does. He’s under unvarying pressure to exceed himself, talking to Syd well-nigh the “panic” he felt without receiving three Michelin stars in New York: ”Your smart-ass bypasses any sense of joy and just attaches itself to dread,” he recalls. Now that he’s achieved this goal, expectations rise and the fall from the top will only be increasingly devastating. Success at a young age has left him in a unvarying state of anxiety, fearful that everything he’s built for himself could crumble in seconds.
Flashbacks and references to his time as a doughboy in New York are a horror story of uneasiness and insecurity. Despite knowing just how rabble-rousing this level of dedication is, Carmy passes on the necessity of unshortened devotion to the restaurant to Syd. Without it, he assures her, the Michelin star that she dreams of is impossible. The younger doughboy once mirrors Carmy’s yellow-eyed tendencies, giving a concerning glimpse of what may lie superiority for her character.
Amidst the unconnectedness of the restaurant refit, cousin-to-all Richie (Ebon Moss-Bacharach) questions Carmy on his body-and-soul transferral to his career: “You love it,” he says, to which Carmy replies, “Yeah, but it’s not fun for me.” There’s so much pressure on him to exceed the standards he has set for himself that much of the very joy of cooking is gone, replaced by obligation and the need to live up to others’ expectations. “I don’t need to provide yuck or enjoyment. I don’t need to receive any yuck or enjoyment,” he says in his final, heartbreaking monologue of the season. “I’m completely fine with that. Considering no value of good is worth how terrible this feels.” Making it this far on the path to success has come at the forfeit of everything else – a personal life, well-being and happiness. Allowing himself those things now would undermine the myriad sacrifices he’s made.
While Carmy and Syd are undefeatable by the fear of failure and are constantly trying to outdo their past selves (whether through merchantry success or culinary prowess), other members of the team tideway their work from a variegated angle. Although they all have a vested interest in the restaurant’s success (neatly illustrated in episode eight’s montage), they’re moreover discovering their passion and talent for a unrepealable speciality of the merchantry for the first time. Starting from the ground up, a lot of the pressure is off. They aren’t trying to live up to lofty aspirations, they’re not competing versus anyone – they’re doing this work, learning and evolving considering they love it.
Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) is a prime example of this. Once a reluctant subscriber to Carmy and Syd’s strict brigade style in the kitchen, season two sees her promoted to sous chef, flourish in culinary school and be deemed worthy of one of Carmy’s special knives. Her love for culinary school is visible from the second she puts on her new chef’s whites, and her wholesale smile as she’s complimented on filleting a fish by a teacher and her sauce is given no notes by Syd demonstrates just how fulfilling this job is for her.
Stepping yonder from the stoves, Richie’s season two storyline is where the show’s message of finding purpose gets interesting. While Carmy suffers from having found his calling, Richie suffers from a lack of it. Richie finds it difficult to really understand his friend, whose unwavering passion for cooking dictates his life. This moreover drives some of his frequent tormentor at Carmy, the roots of which are seen in the flashback to a far-from-peaceful Berzatto Christmas (season two, episode six, ‘Fishes’). His weightier friend’s kid brother has his life theoretically sorted out, and has moved to New York to wilt a big shot. Meanwhile, Richie’s relationship is showing cracks and he’s having to beg Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt) for a job, once fearing that he’s wasting some untapped potential.
It’s not until season two’s seventh episode that Carmy and Richie’s viewpoints align. Initially, Richie hates his work wits in a Michelin-star restaurant, forced to wake up surpassing dawn to polish forks in an exercise that seems vastitude monotonous, but once he sees that the team’s minutely meticulous work and unwaveringly bespoke service brings people pure joy, his scepticism seems to fade away.
From yet then stuff an outsider in a world that feels far from the one he knows, by the end of the episode Richie has forged real immuration with the staff and has found something he excels at. From his fears in the first episode that Carmy and the team will “drop this ass” once they realise his self-perceived uselessness, his throw-away from the restaurant is met with assurances that he is valued and will be missed. It’s one of the few times we see Richie truly happy, and presents a increasingly positive outcome from finding one’s calling than Carmy and Syd’s anguish.
The Bear posits that not only is it never too late to start – something we’ve heard a thousand times surpassing – but adds that starting too early could be far increasingly damaging. Characters who have found their calling at a young age tend to end up wrecked, whereas those who find their callings later on, like Tina and Richie, thrive as a result of their newfound passions and genuinely enjoy what they do.
It’s a reassuring message for anyone who hasn’t got their life worked out surpassing they leave their teens, but as with anything in The Bear, it’s not unrepealable how long the positivity will last. This season’s finale sees dessert doughboy Marcus (Lionel Boyce) miss vital personal calls as his cooking triumphs, while Syd throws up outside without the restaurant’s friends and family opening. Whether Carmy’s fate is escapable for the rest of The Bear’s team is currently unknown, but one thing’s for sure – plane if they’re having a terrible time, they’re going lanugo doing what they love.
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