How the bear seamlessly blends dreams and reality
Christopher Storerit is buzzing series the bear throws viewers right in the middle of a tense, drama-laden kitchen in Chicago. The reality of the cooking industry shown throughout the series is on full display, but the bear not afraid of introspection. The first-season pilot and finale begins inside the head of the protagonist, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), through his dreams, running alongside Carmy’s reality as he adjusts to returning from the kitchens of New York to rebuild his dead brother’s sandwich shop in Chicago. And yet, each dream sequence falls perfectly into the series like the icing on one of Marcus’ cakes.
As mentioned, the series opens with a dream as Carmy slowly releases a bear from a cage on a bridge at night. The sound of a stove being turned on comes before anything is shown, and then the shot dissolves into Carmy, wearing her apron and walking towards the bear under seemingly giant lights. All Carmy says is “I’m fine” and “I know” as he slowly steps back into a squat position. After close-up shots of Carmy and the bear, cut to a medium shot of Carmy pissed off as the bear charges, and zoom in on him falling. Carmy wakes up in the kitchen breathing heavily as the clock ticks, and he moves his day forward at The Beef.
Editing and sound play a major role in creating the tension here. Viewers start out in a trance-like state with the sounds of the stove opening, then dissolve into this random bridge. Starting from Carmy’s back immediately puts you in his point of view. He also gives off strong anxious vibes, and the sound of the stove shows how Carmy has linked the kitchen to his nervousness. That, and the intense close-up of Carmy’s eyes, created the intimacy the show thrives on. Immediate cut to Carmy in the kitchen, with fast, intense cuts and the fast strumming of the guitar underneath brings everything into focus. He feels tension in the kitchen from past trauma – both from his previous job and the loss of his brother Michael (Jon Berntal) — and he still doesn’t know how to harness his energy to create a productive and healthy work environment.
Two moments peek into Carmy’s head in the very next episode. A year-long flashback shows Carmy in her New York kitchen. The overly white background and lighting combined with unsettling lower octave piano music and intense strings towards the end of the scene contrast sharply with The Beef’s vibes. Add to that the fact that the first image of Carmy in the scene shows him with his chest up, makes him feel smaller, almost like he’s drowning in the blown white lights. This also sets in when a superior leader (Joel McHale) walks up and looks down at him, seen from a higher angle as he berates Carmy. He calls her ‘talentless’, says he has a ‘short man complex’ and finally mutters ‘you should be dead’ as we hold on to a close-up of Carmy’s lifeless eyes. He returns to the action and the show quickly shifts to the dishes being removed before falling back into the frenetic and boisterous energy of The Beef.
This scene isn’t a dream sequence, but it’s so far removed from the current timeline that it looks like it. This perfectly shows why Carmy is always uncomfortable in a kitchen. While that wasn’t exactly what her days in New York were like, Carmy’s unease with those memories and her feelings shines through. Seeing brief flashbacks to these moments throughout the episode only reinforces this.
Some of these flashbacks are inserted into Carmy’s next nightmare. He dozes off on the sofa watching a soothing cooking video and the show suddenly cuts to a medium-wide shot of Carmy screaming in The Beef. The show cuts out the machine’s print orders as Carmy screams all over the kitchen with the camera closing in. Two close-ups in a row show Carmy screaming intensely and then in a dreamlike state in another environment. A montage of extremely fast-paced short film estates sort through Carmy’s face, his former chef, overdue bills, random photos of his new kitchen, and order prints saying negative thoughts like “He never loved you ‘, ‘He didn’t like you,’ and ‘You killed Michael. It only slows down to show Carmy throwing frozen food on the stove in her sleep, with the cooking video still playing.
Now, Carmy’s multiple repressed memories and feelings are blended into one terrifying dish. He subconsciously links his negative energy in the kitchen with his sadness over Michael’s suicide and his guilt over leaving Chicago for so long. Again, the music and editing add to the tension of the scene, creating unease and increasing intensity. Unlike the previous two scenes depicted, Carmy has a moment to breathe outside of the kitchen, and yet the tension is almost thicker. Because here, Carmy has nowhere to continue working, and he has actively harmed himself. This comes into play later when Carmy finally admits he left for New York because Michael never let him work at Beef. Carmy went to New York to work in the gastronomy out of spite, to prove to Michael that he could cook. This scene and the messages displayed on the printouts are the first suggestion that Carmy is still bitter towards her brother despite her deep love. This connects her resentment and care for Michael, which ties directly to her complicated feelings about life in the kitchen.
And then there’s The Last Dream, which begins the season finale. These are the first images we see after the whole kitchen spiral and Carmy abuses the staff members. It makes the music sound cheesy and Carmy hosting a cooking show called “The Bear” (shown in a smaller aspect ratio to fit a 1980s TV) appropriately weird. Carmy starts talking about Michael being shot in the head on the State Street Bridge, reminiscent of his first dream when he’s on a bridge. He blurts out the story of Michael’s life and how he left Carmy in the kitchen with eerie laughter, as if they heard Julia Child saying something witty instead of this dark story. He then tries to make beef braciola, the dish Michael made every Sunday, when his cooking utensils literally fade, and he stumbles, to increased laughter from the audience. Throughout the dream, different images run through – the bridge from the first episode, the menu recipes from the second, the bear, his former chef, shouting at him in the kitchen, and the most recurring image, Mikey’s face. It ends by showing a bear running its blower as the music and edits quickly ramp up, and the audience laughs hysterically. Carmy yells, “I can’t do this!” and asks to stop, Mikey whispering.
Carmy wakes up in his apartment and the images keep rolling – of him shouting at Marcus (Lionel Boyce), his sister Sugar (Abby Elliot) – and he only calms down when he sees pictures of beautiful dishes and hears Mikey whisper “let him rip”. This shocking opening pins Carmy at her lowest point and brings out even more emotion and fear than before. It’s the most blunt comment Carmy himself has made about his life — he even called his family dynamic a “nightmare.” Pushing himself to a new low has forced Carmy to finally take the time to slow down and reconsider what kind of person and leader he wants to be, and it’s all on display here. As for the profession, Storer, with the writer Joanna Calo, I’ve never delved this far into surrealism before, but it’s still a show that begins with a man opening a bear cage in the middle of a bridge. It fits in nicely and adds to the subconsciously uncomfortable and entertaining energy provided by the show.
This dream causes Carmy to come clean to Al-Anon and begin to apologize to her team. the bear expertly uses multiple dream and nightmare sequences to visually depict Carmy’s mental state in an intense and frightening way. Yes, dreams are often a method that shows use to depict characters’ psyches in trippy and visually distinct ways. the bearelevates because they mend effortlessly through so many avenues and somehow fit into the show’s more grounded tone. Fantasy meets reality, all culminating in a five-star dish.