‘The Bear’ Season 3 Review: Jeremy Allen White’s Funny, Haunted, Infuriating Return to the Kitchen (2024)

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To pea or not to pea.

That is the question plaguing Jeremy Allen White‘s Carmy through much of the third season of FX and Hulu’s The Bear. Peas — shelled in volume and pristinely positioned for aesthetic and culinary purpose — are a metonym for Carmy’s ongoing quest for perfection, but they represent much more than that this season. Peas represent trauma. Peas, in a fine bit of running wordplay, represent peace. As much as anything, they represent deflection, a target for ongoing indecision, with Carmy addressing his personal doubts to a verdant orb in lieu of Yorick’s skull.

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The Bear

The Bottom LineAn episode-by-episode marvel.

Airdate: Wednesday, June 26 (Hulu)
Cast: Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ayo Edebiri, Lionel Boyce, Liza Colón-Zayas, Abby Elliott, Matty Matheson
Creator: Christopher Storer

It’s possible that Carmy has always been Hamlet, the prodigal son returned from studies abroad to a death-rocked kingdom he doesn’t recognize anymore, a fatherless figure in search of mentorship and yet failing as a mentor himself.

After two seasons that pushed the narrative forward at an astonishing rate — sandwich shops very rarely become fine-dining establishments in such short order — the third season of The Bear finds Carmy in a true morass. He escapes the prison of his restaurant’s freezer to turn the entire establishment into a prison of nebulous rules and unmeetable aspirations. He’s stuck, but doesn’t realize he’s stuck because he’s turned a professed desire not to repeat himself into its own sort of repetition.

The Bear has, in this season, become a series filled with characters out of Hamlet. Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who might seem like Ophelia if you’re fueled by the truly bizarre desire to forge a romance between Carmy and Sydney, is unable to make herself sign a partnership agreement that would give her what she once dreamt of. Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who might have found purpose last season thanks to a week staging at high-end restaurant Ever, seems like he could be Laertes, on the verge of leading a front-of-the-house revolt. But he can’t even make himself RSVP to his ex-wife’s wedding.

While the ghost who still haunts The Bear is Jon Bernthal’s Mikey, the comic relief Fak siblings (Matty Matheson’s Neil and Rick Staffieri’s Ted), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern figures to be sure, spend the entire season wandering around talking about “hauntings,” a family tradition for prolonging disagreements or resentments. Plus, the season has multiple funerals, one literal and one for a beloved restaurant. Death fuels The Bear and death is never easy to move past, yet it’s a season of anxious birth, with the restaurant’s opening and the ongoing pregnancy of Natalie (Abby Elliott).

On an episode-by-episode basis, the third season of The Bear is as good as anything the show has ever done. Possibly better?

The season stars with the deceptively titled “Tomorrow,” directed by series creator Christopher Storer. Think of it as a deconstructed “Previously On” montage, stretched from three minutes to 36, or almost as an elevated clip show, looking backward as much as forward. It’s an expressive tone poem that chronicles Carmy’s journey, both the moments that filled him with wonder and the moments (courtesy of guest star Joel McHale) that irreparably damaged his psyche.

Speaking of this as a season of birth, the premiere is almost natal in its treatment of the culinary canal through which Carmy has emerged. With very little dialogue and no storyline to speak of, disconnected and beautifully shot memories — practically every guest star the show has ever had makes a return engagement — are fused by Joanna Naugle’s editing and a miraculous ambient and amniotic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (the 2025 Emmy races in several categories feel like they’re already over).

It’s one of those episodes where, by the time you fully realize and internalize what it’s doing, it’s finished and you’re thrust into the true season of the show with the equally impressive “Next,” an abrupt transition from the elegiac to more trademark chaos.

But wait. I suspect some viewers will be infuriated by “Tomorrow.” The second season left audiences on several major cliffhangers and the premiere has no interest in jumping back into linearity, much less satisfying linearity with answers. The truth is that anybody infuriated by the premiere will probably take exception to the entire season.

Indecision can be exciting and I found the risks The Bear takes in these 10 episodes to be thrilling. But if you’re hoping to see things progress at an adrenalized rate, this is a season in limbo that reflects its main characters and their respective holding patterns.

It all builds to a finale that’s impossibly joyful and impossibly miserable, perhaps as pure an evocation of the rollercoaster of depression as I’ve ever seen on television. The restaurant is part of Carmy’s family legacy — “legacy” is one of many running themes this season — but depression is as well and if the big question of this season isn’t “So… Now what?” it’s “What do you do when you get the thing you want and the thing you want doesn’t make you happy?”

What does it mean for viewers, when the show appears to have reached a point its characters wanted to reach and decides not to make audiences happy?

If Carmy and Sydney and Richie aren’t finding gratification, why should you? If Carmy is paralyzed by his inability to reconcile the things Claire (Molly Gordon) overheard him say in the finale, why should the show rush? If the delay in a review from the Chicago Tribune is tormenting Carmy, why should the show rush that review to the screen? If Nat is tied in knots by an ongoing pregnancy she worries will never end and will end too soon, why should the show rush that childbirth?

Depending on your perspective, it will either be audacious or unforgivable how many things from season two are still unresolved at the end of the third season. That’s in addition to several running storylines that feel like season-long arcs, but apparently will stretch into a fourth season that thankfully has already been ordered and was even shot back-to-back with the third.

Hamlet at least had the decency to end with nearly everybody dead, as closed as closure gets. This, then, is less Hamlet than an Empire Strikes Back situation, where the point we reach in the finale won’t satisfy anybody, in musical theory terms a calculated denial of what is called “the tonic.”

But, again, it’s very easy to be satisfied on an episode-by-episode basis. “Next” is as funny and manic an episode as the show has ever done, another celebration of the series’ peerless use of editing to capture that razor’s edge between hilarity and tension.

Longtime series first assistant director Duccio Fabbri makes a confident directing debut on “Doors,” which somehow ratchets the chaos to new highs, while Edebiri makes her own effortlessly exceptional debut behind the camera on “Napkins,” which single-handedly makes up for how underused I felt the tremendous Liza Colón-Zayas was in the second season. “Ice Chips” is an intimate counterpoint to last season’s “Fishes,” booking Elliott’s seat at the 2025 Emmys.

It’s a season of amusing surprise cameos that this review won’t spoil and of returning guest stars that I don’t mind spoiling because once you’ve convinced Jamie Lee Curtis to show up as the main characters’ mother, you know she’s coming back. And yes, Curtis could be lined up for consecutive guest acting Emmy wins, except that I’d hate to sell Olivia Colman short for what is just the most beautifully understated of performances. Unless Lionel Boyce is actually giving the most beautifully understated of performances, because I could watch whole episodes that were nothing but Marcus staring at ordinary things and trying to uncover their magic.

Oh, and let’s start the “Thomas Keller for guest actor in a comedy” Emmy campaign now, because the French Laundry proprietor and chef has one monologue that convinced me he’s got a career as a wisdom-spouting character actor if that whole cooking thing doesn’t work out for him.

White is as impeccably frenzied and weary as ever, never softening the character’s escalating flaws. Moss-Bachrach continues his push toward making Richie the show’s hero, never fully erasing the character’s diminishing flaws. Except that Sydney is obviously the show’s real hero and Edebiri continues to deliver hilarious and heartbreaking earnestness like nobody else.

So maybe season three of The Bear really is just wheel-spinning and dragging things out. Maybe it gives the impression of being an indecisive show rather than, as it actually is, a show about characters trapped in a moment of indecision. I can’t say if this season will make viewers who watch for the plot happy, but these 10 episodes made me very pleased indeed.

Exit, pursued by thoughts of The Bear.

‘The Bear’ Season 3 Review: Jeremy Allen White’s Funny, Haunted, Infuriating Return to the Kitchen (2024)
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