The Bear: Did Season 3 Deepen Its Flavors, or Just Reheat Leftovers?

Warning: This post contains spoilers for all 10 episodes of Season 3 of The Bear.

Fresh off an Emmy win for best comedy series in January (and sure to earn more nominations next month), The Bear made a triumphant return to Hulu this week for its third season. And it remains one of TV’s best shows in Season 3, teeming with superb performances and sharply observed moments of humanity. But once I watched all 10 episodes, I was left wanting more, too. After the frantic, propulsive energy of the first two seasons, Season 3 felt like, if not a step backwards, then a step sideways: a meditative, at times indulgent victory lap that spent a lot of time getting nowhere in particular.

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The Bear Season 3 Sydney
The Bear Season 3 Sydney

In Season 1, Carmy took over his late brother’s Chicago sandwich shop and decided to turn into a fine-dining restaurant. In Season 2, Carmy and his friends worked hard to open that restaurant, culminating in a bumpy but successful opening night. But the overriding question of Season 3 seemed to be: “Now what?” The season lacked a strong narrative hook, and so the characters were stuck in limbo, seemingly waiting for something to happen. The season premiere was a harbinger of things to come: an atmospheric, nearly wordless journey through Carmy’s memories of becoming a chef. It was beautifully shot, and it did fill in a few blanks about Carmy’s culinary training — but it also didn’t answer any of the questions the Season 2 finale left us pondering.

The rest of Season 3 followed that pattern, treading familiar territory, with Carmy barking out orders and being a prickly genius as chaos swirls around him in the kitchen. He had opened his dream restaurant, but there was no time to celebrate, with a new set of hungry diners coming in every night. (Season 3 almost felt like a meta commentary from the show’s writers, under massive pressure to follow up their own success.) It was a vivid portrait of career burnout, but it was frustrating to watch Carmy battle the same demons we’ve seen him fight for two seasons now. It was also frustrating to watch Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney stuck in stasis all season long, paralyzed by the choice between committing to Carmy or accepting an offer to work at a new restaurant.

The Bear Season 3 Episode 6 Tina
The Bear Season 3 Episode 6 Tina

Like Season 2, Season 3 delivered a number of excellent standalone episodes that deepened our understanding of its supporting characters. Episode 6 flashed back to Tina’s grueling efforts to make a living before she started working at The Beef, with Liza Colón-Zayas doing her best work on the series yet, and Episode 8 brought back Jamie Lee Curtis as unhinged mom Donna as she helped her daughter Nat give birth. But aside from these detours, Season 3 was almost perversely determined to deny us any sense of catharsis, leaving storylines unresolved and characters treading water.

Let’s go through the list: Carmy never apologized to Claire, or even spoke to her. Sydney never signed her partnership agreement, and she never told Carmy about the offer she got from another chef. We know the Chicago Tribune reviewed the restaurant, but we never saw what the review said. Richie never RSVP-ed for Tiff’s wedding. Did Carmy even meet his new niece after Nat gave birth? It was a traffic jam of dangling plotlines that kept piling up and up. The finale even ended with the words “To be continued”! So we’re supposed to wait another year to get answers to the same questions we had a year ago?

The finale found Carmy and Sydney attending a “funeral dinner” for the acclaimed restaurant Ever, with chef Andrea Terry (Olivia Colman) closing its doors for good. The episode featured cameos from real-life celebrity chefs like Thomas Keller and Wylie Dufresne as they waxed rhapsodic about what food and cooking means to them, and it had some gorgeous moments, like Terry letting loose and cooking up frozen waffles at a wild after-party. But it also left us hanging on so many key issues that we felt a bit cheated. The Bear has always been about the journey, not the destination — but it’s hard to overlook the fact that Season 3’s journey basically brought us right back to where we began.

It’s not official yet, but Season 4 is most likely coming, so that’s a comfort. I know I’ll be seated for it, whenever it arrives. But on its own, Season 3 was like a long, languorous meal served over the course of several hours. Some of the dishes are undeniably delicious… but others have been left out so long, they’ve grown cold.

We’re collecting your comment cards now: Give Season 3 of The Bear a grade in our poll, and hit the comments to share your thoughts on the full season.

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