‘The Bear’ Season 3 Review: A Calmer Appetizer for Chaos to Come

New episodes of the Jeremy Allen White-led series feel like one half of a complete story

Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri as Sydney Adamu. (FX)

Note: This review contains spoilers from “The Bear” Season 3.

Let’s get right to the point, chefs, since every second counts: “The Bear” Season 3 is just as well-performed and emotionally resonant as the first two. The show continues to excel in depicting the multi-faceted and anxiety-provoking experience of working in hospitality, with its charming ragtag cast of characters.

That said, this ten-episode season is slower in narrative pace than viewers might be used to, taking stock of its characters’ pasts and focusing on trauma reconciliation while setting up an uncertain future for the Michelin-aspiring restaurant — and an electric Season 4.

Episode 1 picks up shortly after the end of the second season: in the aftermath of Carmy’s (Jeremy Allen White) meltdown in the newly-launched restaurant’s walk-in freezer. The unconventional premiere skews toward the experimental side with a montage of flashbacks that trace Carmy’s bumpy road from high-end chef to taking over The Beef.

With very little dialogue, the Season 3 premiere serves as an appetizer of sorts, preparing us for the major threads to come: Specifically, Carmy processing the bullying he experienced by a chef in his training (played by Joel McHale). His trauma, apparent since Season 1, continues to impact his relationships, both romantic with Claire (Molly Gordon) and his business partnership with Syd (Ayo Edebiri). Though he gets a chance to confront his trauma head-on by season’s end, the damage may already be done.

The opening episode sets the tone for a season that is no longer running on the same adrenaline. With a reported two-season order filmed back-to-back, “The Bear” embraces a creative spaciousness that didn’t seem possible in previous seasons. There is still room for blood-pumping anxiety, most notably in a fantastic third episode that chronicles the growing pains of the restaurant’s first month of service. But most episodes feel simpler — to the extent that they could be considered filler (not necessarily pejoratively) if “The Bear” aired weekly.

Meanwhile, Syd begins to doubt the terms of the initially proposed equal partnership and struggles to connect with Carmy as an equal in their new venture (sparks of romance remain non-existent). Richie struggles to find the inspiration he garnered from his experience in “Forks,” as a gap in communication deepens between front and back of house in light of Carmy’s new list of non-negotiables for the restaurant, which include an entirely new menu every day.

Ayo Edebiri in “The Bear.” (FX)

As is now traditional for “The Bear,” the season boasts two excellent character-focused episodes. Episode 6 puts the spotlight on Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) during a never-ending job search after being laid off from an administrative position she held for 15 years, ending with her stumbling upon her job at The Beef. Edebiri makes her directorial debut in this moving, intimate character portrait that encapsulates the show’s distinct use of grounded realism.

The second, Episode 8, turns the gaze on Natalie (Abby Elliott) as she reconnects with her mother Donna (Jamie Lee Curtis) while enduring the pains of labor. Though both episodes are easily the standouts of the season, they are still heavily focused on the past as Natalie heals from her mother’s estrangement and Tina gets a more defined backstory. Neither installment moves the plot of the restaurant forward — a major focus of the previous seasons.

In fact, most threads introduced to push the plot further are left unresolved by the end of Season 3: an impending restaurant review, Carmy’s potential reconciliation with Claire, Syd mulling over a job offer while not communicating her needs within Carmy’s authoritarian rule, and Uncle Jimmy’s (Oliver Platt) reticence to confront Carmy about the true state of his financial support of the restaurant.

Instead of resolution, the season ends with more flashback montages and a “to be continued” title card for the first time in the series’ run.

Focusing on the past does allow for many of Season 2’s fantastic guest star roster to return in meaningful ways. The way the guest cast is weaved into the narrative challenged initial criticism that casting so many A-listers leaned more gimmicky for a show that started out as a scrappy sleeper hit — a defining sign that “The Bear” had been fully adopted into the zeitgeist. The return of Chef Terry (Olivia Colman) and Chef Luca (Will Poulter) gives “The Bear” a sense of expansiveness while still feeling like an ode to Chicago.

In regards to the plot, perhaps creator Christopher Storer envisions Seasons 3 and 4 as one continuous story. For fans of the show, the slower, emotional pace may be a welcome breather from the expected sweaty kitchen stress-watch. The lighter episodes may even start to justify the show’s Emmy placement as a comedy (but let’s not get too crazy — it still skews drama).

“The Bear” may not have the same sense of intense urgency in Season 3, but it feels no less exciting to return to this textured world of culinary wonder with a cast that’s always worth watching.

“The Bear” Season 3 is now streaming on Hulu.


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