“You ever think about purpose . . . what’s my purpose homie?”
This vulnerable moment coming from the prickly Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is one of many reflective pauses from Season 2 of Hulu’s The Bear. The sophomore season of the series, about a high-end chef trying to transform his family’s Chicago beef joint into a top-rated restaurant, continued in its Friday Night Lights-esque directorial style—every flash of emotion is not missed with those close-ups. It also provides an equally intimate look at each character’s personal journey.
The season commences with more of the same chaos, except without the cooking. The Bear is under construction. An anxiety-inducing lull hangs in the air while the grand opening looms ahead. Downtime is filled with self-improvement projects. Marcus (Lionel Boyce) is shipped off to Copenhagen to refine his pastry skills. Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) are sent to culinary school to further develop in their elevated roles. While some embrace their personal challenges head-on, others stumble.
For part of Season 2, top chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) flirts with the edges of an elusive happiness through his budding romance with Claire (Molly Gordon). Being with her breaks him out of his familiar way of living, and he shows glimpses of growth. However, during the restaurant’s soft opening, Carmy throws a tantrum when faced with the results of his own careless mistakes. He blames his relationship with Claire for his failure. Accidentally locked in the walk-in refrigerator, Carmy streams his consciousness and denounces his “happiness” experiment, not knowing that Claire is listening on the other side:
“I don’t need amusement or enjoyment. What the f*** was I thinking? Like I was gonna be in a relationship? I'm a f***ing psycho. That's why I'm good at what I do. . . . No amount of good is worth how terrible this feels.”
Across Season 2, Carmy’s personal stagnation is contrasted with Richie’s transformation. On the other side of that locked door, Richie berates Carmy for breaking Claire’s heart. He’s come a long way to get to this point.
“Cousin” Richie’s season-opening philosophical musing about purpose came from rock bottom. Both literally, in the restaurant’s moldy basement, and figuratively, as he felt the weight of his messy personal life and lack of a defined role at the new restaurant. However, this narrative dramatically changes in the span of one episode. “Forks” was a heart-warming favorite for many viewers, including myself, for the way it traced Richie’s renewed sense of purpose after serving a stint learning the art of service at a prestigious Chicago restaurant.
When we finally see the formerly deflated Richie belting out Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” we know that he has answered his own question. He has found his purpose. Ultimately, experiencing the joy of providing others with joy flips a mental switch and fuels his transformation. Richie has a newfound respect for himself and his craft. His return to The Bear presents an altogether new man. Gone is the misprinted “The Berf” T-shirt, as the dapper Richie announces, “I do suits now.”
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Richie caught a vision of something beautiful. He’s allowed his mind to be renewed and transformed so that he could partake in that beauty himself. His story brings to mind a vision of transformation as put forth by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
For Christians, seeing Richie’s trajectory should invoke familiar feelings. Transformation out of an established pattern and into something new is not produced out of thin air. Rather we are changed by beholding what is beautiful—Christ himself being the perfection of beauty. Actively participating in this beholding will do two things. It will help us to unlearn habitual patterns of fractured belief and, at the same time, equip us to experience life according to God’s economic principles. Like Richie, we may have been conditioned to believe that our lack of production is indicative of little personal worth. But renewing our minds by beholding Christ will reveal that empty hands and a childlike faith are a delight to God, who created the cosmos. We deserve the moldy basement. However, according to the divine laws of supply and demand, we are continuously met with grace upon grace.
The renewing of our minds is a lifelong endeavor, because the pattern of this world is hard to shake. Every suffering will disturb our sense of equilibrium, shouting an echo of the serpent’s lie that God is not actually good. Against this, there must be active resistance. A line from the devotional The Valley of Vision reads, “And whatever cross I am required to bear, let me see him carrying a heavier.” This is not a call to simply muscle up. It is an exhortation to remember that whatever cross we bear has been laid across the shoulders of Jesus for redemption. Over and against anything the world may push forth as truth, the finished work of Christ is our story.
In his book, Rembrandt Is in the Wind, Russ Ramsey elegantly describes the impact of story. “Story is a Trojan horse for truth,” he writes. “It can sneak truth past the gates of our defenses and prepare our hearts to hear things we might have resisted if they had come as mere declaration.”
Ramsey’s metaphor captures why The Bear is so enjoyable—it elevates everyone’s story and the things from them that ring true. In addition to Richie, we see others change simply by catching a glimmer of something grand. Their development is a reminder that transformation comes about when we have an encounter with the sublime—when we touch the splendor of something much bigger than ourselves. Even for the seasoned Christian, a renewal of the mind is integral to fostering a genuine and ongoing love for God and others.
I hope the winds of this kind of change lift Carmy to a place of true joy should there be a Season 3. For now, The Bear has been a delight that brings us face to face with our obvious limitations and yet challenges us to dream a bigger dream.