By Lou Wharton
Blog Content Contributor
*This article contains spoilers for Season One of ‘The Bear’, as well as discussions of suicide.
Season One, Episode One of The Bear begins with a dream sequence. Our main character, Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto, finds himself on a dark bridge in Chicago, slowly approaching a cage containing (you guessed it) a bear. Carmy moves slowly and calmly as the bear snarls from within its cage, until suddenly – just when he gets close enough – it attacks, and Carmy awakes in a cold sweat. Just over a minute into this episode, we can make quite a few assumptions about our main character. He’s struggling with… something. There’s something within him, barely contained, that keeps trying to escape, and if he can’t stop it, it’s going to hurt him and those around him.
At its core, Hulu’s The Bear is about far more than cooking. Through its fast-paced episodes and eccentric cast of characters, the show explores toxic masculinity and how it affects men and their mental health. Throughout its first season, it makes the case that we are a product of our environment, and that men who are not allowed proper outlets for their emotions due to societal ideas of what ‘being a man’ entails may struggle with healthy interpersonal connections.
One of the catalysts for this conversation is Carmy’s older brother, Mike. Throughout the first season, Mike is nothing more than a dark, ever-present cloud hanging over The Beef, a restaurant he owned and later was inherited by Carmy. The state of The Beef betrays a lot about Mike – his office is cluttered, every scrap of paper or unimportant receipt haphazardly filed away. Everything was done in a specific way that perhaps only made sense to Mike himself. Richie, Mike and Carmy’s cousin, speaks highly of Mike, while others claim they just couldn’t understand him.
In a devastating reveal, we later learn that Mike committed suicide. Maybe it was the debts he had to take out to keep The Beef running. Maybe it was growing up with such a dysfunctional family. Maybe it was something else entirely – we’ll never know. Mike’s story is an unfortunate reminder of what can happen when men don’t feel that they can ask for help. Because of societal ideals and toxic masculinity of what a ‘real man’ is, Mike may have felt that he had to suffer in silence. When it finally reached a breaking point, he may have felt he had no other option.
Mike isn’t the only Berzatto child suffering. During the second episode of the first season (‘Hands’), we watch as Carmy studies at culinary school, being berated while preparing a dish:
“Why are you serving broken sauces? I get it. You have a short man’s complex. You can barely reach over this (…) table, right? Is this why you have the tattoos and your cool little scars and you go out, you take your smoke breaks? It’s fun, isn’t it? But here’s the thing. You’re terrible at this. You’re no good at it.”
This conversation heavily informs us of how Carmy operates. It seems like he’s internalized all of this never-ending criticism, and it turned him into something of a perfectionist. And while he isn’t as cruel as his teachers had been, this ‘tough love’ approach is something Carmy never let go of. It’s a technique that he uses on his own chefs, to varying degrees of success. He clearly doesn’t want to be the kind of chef that yells and insults his employees, as he often apologizes or makes attempts to calm himself down and yet this pent-up anger keeps slipping out. To put it simply, it’s a bear in a cage.
Later on in Episode Two, Carmy calls his older sister Natalie (nicknamed ‘Sugar’) and reveals that he was cooking in his sleep and almost set his apartment on fire:
SUGAR: Does that happen a lot?
SUGAR: Did you look at the thing?
CARMY: No, I didn’t look at the thing.
SUGAR: Pete and I have been going lately, and it’s actually been really nice.
CARMY: Yeah, of course Pete would go.
SUGAR: Oh, shut the (…) up.”
The ‘thing’ Sugar is talking about is an Alcoholics Anonymous support group. She suggests Carmy should go to sort through both Mike’s problems and his own, and she explicitly tells him, “It’s okay to ask for help,” which is something many men struggle with, including Mike. We can infer Carmy’s own struggle with it here in this very conversation, as he scoffs at Pete, Sugar’s husband, being willing to attend counseling. Pete is viewed by both Carmy and Richie as being weak and soft, when, aside from being a bit airheaded, Pete seems to be very emotionally intelligent and willing to communicate. One can assume, then, that these factors that Carmy and Richie have been raised to see as unmanly are exactly what have helped him sustain a healthy, long-term relationship with Sugar. These factors are also, in some way, what may be preventing Carmy and Richie from having healthy relationships of their own.
Carmy does eventually end up attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and in the final episode of the first season of The Bear, he delivers a hard-hitting speech that analyzes his relationship with Mike, both before and after his death. “I always thought my brother was my best friend. Except everybody thought he was their best friend, you know? He was that – he was that magnetic. And, um, I didn’t know my brother was using drugs. What does that say? As we got older, I realized I didn’t know anything about him, really.”
He continues by discussing how his culinary aspirations linked with his then-strained relationship with Mike: “I felt like I could speak through the food, like I could communicate through creativity. And that kind of confidence, you know, like I was finally – I was good at something. That was so new, and that was so exciting. And I just wanted him to know that. And (…) I just wanted him to be like, good job. And the more he wouldn’t respond, and the more our relationship kind of strained, the deeper into this I went and the better I got. And the more people I cut out, the quieter my life got. And the routine of the kitchen was so consistent and exacting and busy and hard and alive, and I lost track of time, and he died.”
Carmy’s monologue is almost hard to watch. It reveals a lot to the audience, both in what it explicitly says as well as what it doesn’t. Carmy and Mike are more alike than they seem to realize. Carmy talks about how Mike cutting him off from The Beef hurt him, then goes on to talk about how he cut people out of his own life. They’re both stubborn, with Carmy proving himself to Mike as the reason he decided to go to culinary school. A difference between them, however, is how they’re dealing with their emotions. Carmy is certainly not the most emotionally healthy, but he has made the decision to ask for and accept help by going to the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. For once, Carmy is moving past the environments he grew up in, environments steeped in toxic masculinity, and allowing himself to feel his emotions in a healthy way. It’s a small step, but it’s a start.
For men who feel like they’re in a similar situation, who feel that they need help but aren’t sure how to start, there are resources available. TXST students and staff can use the TXST Counseling Center website ( https://www.counseling.txst.edu/ ) to schedule counseling appointments or access multitudes of self-help resources. More resources for mental health support and suicide prevention can be found at the Texas Health and Human Services website. https://www.hhs.texas.gov/services/mental-health-substance-use/mental-health-crisis-services/suicide-prevention
Written by: Cayla Soriano