The Bear Sydney and Carmy
Photo by FX

The Bear Season 3 Review: A Simmering, Lukewarm Season

If the first two seasons of FX series The Bear were hot, season 3 is more like lukewarm. It comes across as a filler season, a breadbasket for the table, if you will, to satiate your hunger while you wait for the upcoming fourth season, which filmed back-to-back with season three. This is disappointing for fans who were hoping for the show to keep up its momentum. The Bear is still great, but this is arguably its weakest season yet.

The Bear Season 3 Review

Carmy with a pro chef on The Bear
Image via FX

The Bear season 3 starts with a low-key flashback montage episode called “Tomorrow” that takes you through a journey of Carmy’s (Jeremy Allen White) professional career. Delivered in short snippets of moments out of chronological order, you see Carmy leaving Chicago to head to New York to start his culinary training. You see him working with people like the abusive David Fields (Joel McHale), Chef Terry (Olivia Colman), and alongside people like Luca (Will Poulter). It’s a combination of all the moments Carmy and others reference through the first two seasons, including ones that weren’t shown but only discussed.

Chef Terry on The Bear
Image via FX

For example, seeing him work under the tutelage of Chef Terry, it’s evident that Luca wasn’t kidding when he told Marcus (Lionel Boyce) that he always knew Carmy was better than him. Driven and focused, Carmy tackled monotonous, grueling tasks like shucking buckets full of peas, exactly as he made Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) endure in season 3 when sending him to stage at Ever. Carmy has worked extremely hard and paid his dues to get where he is. It might seem like a strange episode, but the inaugural one is important for context.

The story then picks up shortly after the events of the season 2 finale. The Bear is ready for an official opening after the soft opening that Carmy missed by being locked in the walk-in freezer. Carmy is back in the game now that he and Claire (Molly Gordon) have broken up, though he hasn’t yet made up with Richie, friction that persists through the season. Marcus is grieving the death of his mother and wracked with guilt for not being available to contact when it happened.

The Bear Sydney and Carmy
Photo by FX

There isn’t much of anything that happens through the season beyond Carmy trying his best to get that Michelin Star. He devises a list of non-negotiables for the restaurant, based on things he has learned along the way (many of which are shown in the aforementioned first episode, and some of which we later realize emulate the worst of his mentors). Key to that is having a new menu every day. As in new dishes and new printed menus daily. While his desire to impress critics and customers by using the freshest local ingredients and quality imported products (think the fanciest butter) is admirable, it’s also incredibly expensive. All the money that comes in goes right back out, and then some.

There are a few key emotional journeys explored through the season. Carmy is trying to be brave enough to apologize to Claire and finally return his mother’s calls. He’s also finally being forced to face past trauma he has long tried to push down, and as it boils to the top, he’s coming apart. Marcus wants to make sure that missing his mother’s death wasn’t in vain and he’s throwing himself into his work, trying to reinvent dessert in new and exciting ways. Sadly, the teases of his fixation on the concept of magic and incorporating that into a dish never materializes, presumably doing so in season 4. There’s a sweet reconciliation between Sugar (Abby Elliott) and Donna (Jamie Lee Curtis), while we learn a little more about Tina’s (Liza Colon-Zayas) backstory in a dedicated episode.

Tina looking up at a building on The Bear
Image via FX

That episode titled “Napkins” and directed by Ayo Edebiri (who plays Sydney), has been a stand-out for viewers. It demonstrates in heart-wrenching fashion the unfair challenges those from the lower-middle-class who are eager to work face in trying to find employment. While Tina is willing to do just about anything, she can’t seem to break through walls. Even a job that’s exactly like the one from which she was laid off, and spent 15 years working in, is out of reach because she doesn’t have the proper educational documentation. In another instance, she relents to using LinkedIn when the Millennial workers she encounters suggest it. She travels by bus to get to the towering office for an open interview hour only to be told by a rude and dismissive young man that the position was filled and the interview hour has been cancelled.

Mikey sitting down looking at his phone on The Bear.
Image via FX

“Napkins” also gives Mikey (Jon Bernthal) a moment to shine, showing his first meeting with Tina as she visits The Beef to kill time before boarding a delayed bus home, and cries about her situation. He’s honest, open, and thoughtful towards her, offering her a job on the spot. It’s no wonder she has been so loyal to the restaurant and so forgiving of Carmy.

Beyond that, however, much of the season seems to serve as a set-up for a presumably more explosive season to come. There are a lot of close-up shots on faces held for far too long. Long, drawn-out silly conversations between Neil Fak (Matty Matheson) and his brother Thedore (Ricky Staffieri), along with a non-sensical cameo from John Cena as their brother Sammy, served no purpose for the plot.

Donna hugging Sugar on The Bear
Image via FX

The one cameo that had value and made for some emotionally wrenching scenes was that of Curtis reprising her role as Donna. A consummate pro, she is convincing and gripping in every moment on screen. That episode was drawn out, moments designed to amplify the friction between she and Sugar (Abby Elliott) but that have you eager to get to the next scene, already. It could have been 10 minutes, interspersed with the real drama fans actually care about – what’s going on at the restaurant. It was a heavy, intense episode that doesn’t feel like television but a window into a mother and daughter finally dealing with their fractured relationship. The fact that it was drawn out aside, the episode was fabulously acted. It’s uncomfortable to watch, which is likely what the writers and directors wanted it to be.

The restaurant itself was secondary through the entire season as the focus shifts to the personal journeys of each character. Carmy is dealing with so much anxiety that he has become obsessive, dismissive, and more brooding than ever. Sydney is at a crossroads, torn between loyalty and accelerating her career. Richie continues to grow both personally and professionally, but the rift between he and Carmy weighs heavily on both of them, as does the pending re-marriage of his ex Tiffany (Gillian Jacobs) to a seemingly nice guy Frank, played wonderfully by Josh Hartnett. Every character has their moment to shine with deep conversations about everything from career paths to loneliness, finances, and past trauma. But there was a certain flavour missing: this episode needed a dose of extra seasoning.

A star-studded finale topped off the season with familiar faces from the culinary world gathering to say goodbye to Ever: Chef Terry has decided to hang up her apron and enjoy retirement. Watching it, you feel like you’re sitting at the table with them, engaged in casual dinner conversation and getting deep insight into what it’s like to be a professional chef. The scene comes across as if it isn’t even scripted, like a conversation that really happened among these culinary pros.

David Fields on The Bear
Image via FX

The most memorable scene is when Carmy finally gets to face Fields, the mentor who broke his spirit so many years ago. It’s an anti-climactic conversation, intentionally so, that presents as being relatable and authentic. How many of us have pored over feelings of trauma someone has caused, and that has haunted us, only to finally get the opportunity to confront them and realize they feel no remorse and a completely different perspective of the situation? The moment doesn’t go as Carmy had expected, and reconciling this reality becomes a challenge. But it may also be the closure from one of the darkest times in his life that he needs to finally move forward. We’ll have to wait and see.

How Does The Bear Season 3 End?

Carmy on The Bear
Image via FX

The season ends on a cliffhanger whereby Carmy finally gets a Google Alert that the Chicago Tribune review of his restaurant he has been on pins and needles to read has finally been published. The outcome, shown through zoomed in snippets and key words from the text, says it all. It’s a do or die moment because if the review isn’t good, Uncle Jimmy (Oliver Platt) has informed Carmy that he’s pulling his funding.

What Carmy doesn’t know, however, is that Uncle Jimmy has secretly hit a financial snag and might have to do so anyway. Meanwhile, Sydney is weighing her options and considering another position with Chef Adam Shapiro (played by himself) that would give her full autonomy of the menu and operations, not to mention the recognition she so deserves. Leaving wouldn’t just hurt Carmy: she has become so close to all the others as well, and she doesn’t want to let down Sugar or Tina, especially. Carmy is in for a wild ride next season either way the wind blows.

Sydney and Adam talking in the wine fridge on The Bear
Image via FX

Season 3 might be lacklustre, but it sets things up for the fourth season, which has reportedly already been filmed. Season 3 is an appetizer course to a fourth season that fans hope will bring The Bear back to its original appeal.  

The jury is in, and audiences agree. The Rotten Tomatoes critics score has been consistently in the 90s, even a perfect 100% for season 1. But this dropped to a 64% audience score for season 3. Critics, who have thus far rated the season much more favourably, may feel that season 3 was a needed respite, a reset to get the juices flowing again in season 4. With all episodes dropping at once, there was a lot of emotional baggage to unpack. The story thankfully at least wasn’t drawn out week to week: the season would arguably have been more disappointing if it was. But it still feels like we were cheated with an extra basket of bread because the kitchen is backed up and our orders are coming in late.

Hopefully fans won’t have to wait long for the season 4 premiere, though it’s not expected to be released until summer 2025. The main course better be worth the wait.

Watch all three seasons of The Bear in Canada on Disney+.