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'The Bear' Season Two: Cooking as a Radical Act of Love

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Editor's Note

This is a recap for episodes of season two of “The Bear.” There will be spoilers beyond this point. Please proceed with caution (because we don’t want to be the ones who spoil you!)

If you’re a trauma survivor and obsessive foodie, “The Bear” season one last year probably shocked and delighted you, followed by the agonizing belief that you couldn’t possibly get another season, another show that touches on it all so viscerally and accurately. But somehow, we not only got a season two, it blew us away just as strongly.

For me, the episode “Fishes” was equally an outright masterpiece and a slice of personal history nightmare. Jamie Lee Curtis embodied such a realistic characterization of my own mother, minus the cooking ability aspect, that I was absolutely enraptured and terrified. The trembling, fake nail adorned hands, her blonde dye, the hard lines on her face as she forcefully makes everything about herself. Everyone must tip toe around the knife-sharp eggshells, everyone must cater to her extremely delicate sense of self. OR ELSE (cue some dramatically broken dishes and mascara dripping tears).

Besides this, there was a palpable familiarity to the hostility Carmy faced for trying to keep his distance and make something of himself. The constant jabs at this, despite him being present and willing to help however he could for this holiday gathering. And then his older cousin gently insisting he keep going, that she is essentially rooting for him from afar and wants to ensure he stays away. That his gentleness and quiet nature makes him that much more susceptible to the violence of his childhood neighborhood and home. Although the moment is brief, this snapshot of someone noticing the quiet and gentle bear in a house of absolute noise, violence, and chaos to say “I see you and you are doing the right thing” is immensely powerful. These random, albeit rare, safe adults truly save lives. I was reminded this is one of the many reasons I choose to be child-free, because I hope to be that adult, aunt, etc. to as many people as I am able in this life (if I am so lucky).

There is a lot about Carmy they let the viewer interpret, and let the way others treat him and react to his success in the cooking world paint a picture for us to puzzle out. This episode really did justice to an often unspoken aspect of surviving trauma and how hard it is to get free of the grasp of everyone’s hatred if you dare to escape or try to. Even attempting to be different than the harmful people you are surrounded by can cause damage. And if you dare to do something they feel threatened by, then, you are also suddenly putting everyone else down and “think you are so smart” and “better than everyone.” These are phrases I myself heard frequently, especially when I curled up for hours with books and when I decided to take honors courses. They were always followed by “you have no idea how the world works” and creative but inappropriate variations of calling me stupid. And if your focus keeps you from dating, well, expect this period of time will also include insults on your presumed sexuality (for me, d*ke came up a lot).

And if that thing that helps you actually leave happens to go well for you, then prepare for these remarks or threats to get even worse just by you existing and thriving. For some of us, succeeding in life is received by our family as a direct attack. It is a hard thing to explain if you haven’t had this kind of family life, this kind of narcissistic parent and/or sibling.

Although “Fishes” started it, we also get to see some powerful redemption moments, such as with Richie, that further drive this point home. Richie, too, saw Carmy as this hotshot who totally left and abandoned everyone, and he harbors clear resentment on this. Interning at the best kitchen in the world, he initially thought this was another punishment from the entitled Carmy. But little by little, as he speaks to his back-of-house peers, he realizes these are just other broken people who found something to keep them going. Something to fill the void of addiction even. For the viewer, too, I think it completed the picture of how some of us defy the odds and get out and maybe even find a way to live our lives that doesn’t hurt. Some of us had to get out and find a way to survive. It isn’t abandonment at all, really, but a way of finally deciding your life has value and choosing to preserve it however you can. To hope.

This is where cooking really ties it all in for me. I am an adult who survived multiple forms of childhood trauma and severe neglect, including intentional starvation as a punishment from my mother. I was so dissociated from my physical state that I had no concept of hunger, had been in pain so regularly I didn’t know how to explain the severity. I had no personal interest in cooking until I had someone that I wanted to cook for. This person had made a point to teach me that I was allowed to eat and should enjoy eating. Eventually, this transformed into my desire to cook them delicious food that, as someone fairly unfamiliar to affection physically or verbally, could act as my own way of genuinely saying “I love you.”

When Carmy opens up to his fellow chefs and shares the cannoli story and new idea, I felt this resounding “YES” deep inside. This is exactly what cooking is for some of us. Cooking is a means of taking some of the worst and reclaiming it for ourselves (some beloved historical examples include okonomiyaki, budae jjigae, or even banh mi). Cooking is a way to use up all the pent-up energy or frustration of a bad day and make something beautiful. Cooking for people who we want to be around is a way of saying thank you and letting them know they meant enough for you to spend this time in the kitchen. Cooking can be a radical act of love, especially when you were never taught this language.

It is worth noting that all of this teeters on the edge of perfectionism and a high need to control what you can, which is a common outcome of surviving trauma. So as with everything, there is a balance to making anything into a healthy outlet. But ultimately, if your passionate goal is to cook delicious food to share your love with others, I think everything might just work out OK.

Image via fxnetworks Instagram

Originally published: July 7, 2023
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