Excellent shows don’t often get better, so it is with great pleasure that I report that The Bear did. The space still feels cramped — all those close-ups! — but there are no deus ex machina-s and only one somewhat annoying character, the several previously annoying ones now completing their arc towards likeableness. The last two links have spoilers for seasons 1 and 2, respectively, and I have spoiler-ish observations below, so be warned!
Note that the two main characters, Sydney and Carmen, both have a pronounced drive. For Carmen, the drive seems wholly internal — his family is in shambles and the 21st century America is characterized by a distinct lack of a societal drive. From that standpoint, how interesting that Carmen’s love interest is an ER physician: talk about a profession that runs on its own fumes. But a single-digit percentage of the population has that much self-contained energy — I guess you could call it grit — to overcome the kinds of obstacles Carmy did; Sydney’s own internal drive is not nearly at those levels. So it’s a good thing that her family, as small as it is, was there to give her an additional kick when she needed it.
And then we have cousin Richie, who spends a season and a half wandering about aimlessly, lacking any initiative of his own, family giving up on him, and society, well, still being the 21st century America: home base of modernity’s many mapless men. So, I misspoke and mislead in the first paragraph. There is a deus ex machina in Season 2: Richie’s transformation from grifter to greeter in the span of one week. And how does it come about? By Richie having an epiphany after speaking to the Deus, played in the dreamlike Season 2 Episode 7 by the great Olivia Colman.
Which is to say that — fittingly for a show centered on Italian-Americans — The Bear presents as good an argument as any for the increasing relevance of religion in everyday life. Another observation is about that mildly annoying character, Carmen’s new girlfriend, being just a plot point on a hero’s journey; but a) this has already been made in that article from The Independent to which I linked, and b) I hated Joseph Campbell’s book.