"The Bear" brings Syd and Carmy to a boiling point, but here's why they can't be endgame

People want Jeremy Allen White's Carmy to get together with Ayo Edebiri's Syd. This ignores what a mess he is

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published June 29, 2024 1:30PM (EDT)

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto and Ayo Edebiri as Sydney Adamu in "The Bear" (Chuck Hodes/FX)
Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto and Ayo Edebiri as Sydney Adamu in "The Bear" (Chuck Hodes/FX)

The following contains spoilers from "The Bear" Season 3, including the finale

Season 3 of “The Bear” begins by tossing fresh meat to SydCarmy loyalists – an aiguillette of hamachi with a blood orange reduction, if you want to get technical. The dish stars in Carmen Berzatto’s (Jeremy Allen White) memory of a tortured day working for Joel McHale’s cruel NYC chef at his five-star establishment. 

As Carmy plates a creation the chef mocks his every move before telling him he’s claiming credit for the dish. Memories of McHale’s demonic overseer materialize in triumphant moments to rob them of their joy.

But this recollection commemorates a small act of rebellion. While plating several orders to his abusive boss’ specifications, Carmy pauses, then makes the last one the way he originally envisioned it. He sprinkles a ruby-colored powder over a thinly sliced root vegetable and places it atop the heart-shaped centerpiece, pooling the scarlet reduction beside it before handing it off to server. The camera follows the waiter to the table to reveal the recipient to be Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri).

At this point Syd and Carmy haven't met yet. But this passage joins a chain of moments to which the pair's 'shipping faithful point as evidence that the co-workers are endgame, a love affair hiding inside a platonic working relationship. Another pops late in Season 2, when the image of Syd walking into his life calms a panic attack illustrated by images his girlfriend Claire (Molly Gordon), his dead brother Mikey (Jon Bernthal) and his unstable extended family.  People Carmy's terrified of disappointing or, in his view, has let down already.

Or, later in that same episode, when he and Syd share a moment while sitting beneath a four-top, and he apologizes to Syd by saying she deserves his full focus.

How else are we supposed to interpret these moments besides as a sign Edebiri’s sous chef is . . . The One?

Depends on who you ask, who’s watching and crucially, what they think they’re seeing. 

“The Bear” evokes an uncommon level of infatuation not typical of most workplace series, probably because it doesn’t follow the standard pattern of such shows. For one, it is extensively psychologically and artistically focused, pulling on the connective tissue between those two forces and depicting them as a tug-of-war with Carmy’s psyche.

That part lurks behind the sharp writing and aesthetics. The story’s terrific, but have you taken notes about techniques shared by celebrity chefs Carmy happens to know?  What about the world-class eateries featured in each episode alongside beloved Chicagoland institutions, and places that qualify as both? 

People scrutinize each episode for Easter eggs in the form of book titles, including cookbooks, or the production’s precise needle-drops

There’s an indolent model in romantic comedies that posits love can fix anything, but not this.

Some viewers also search for signs of developments we want to see, producing the ever-widening rift between those who want Carmy and Syd to stay platonic and the SydCarmy masses yearning for the two to kiss already. The under-table scene is prime evidence, coming after many episodes of Carmy choosing to spend time with Claire over getting the restaurant in order for its opening. Urgent requests made by Sydney and others have gone unheeded, but it's more personal than that — Syd failed at launching her own catering venture, and sees The Bear as the one great she knows she can pull off.

But not without Carmy's help, and at crucial times, she feel abandoned. He acknowledges that as they assist each other in getting a wobbly table on even ground, he tells her he couldn't do the restaurant without her. "I wouldn't even want to do it without you," he says. "You know, you make me better at this . . . you love taking care of people."

The BearAyo Edibiri as Sydney and Jeremy Allen White as Carmy in "The Bear" (FX)This quiet exchange is romantic — in the way it shows the pair's kinship in the craft and joy of cooking, not sex. The satisfaction and pride that chefs take in nourishing others is a central theme of "The Bear," a concept that necessitates a kind of intimacy not often explored in TV. We're so used to two people being gentle to each other in tight spaces ending up in a lip-lock that watching Carmy, a man seeking redemption gently counseling his colleague through her self-doubt, and without touching her or gesturing toward it, begs for an erotic reading.

But this forgets that Carmy is someone damaged by learning that greatness is fired by cruelty, and who is desperate not to let down those he respects, and who on some level doesn't think he deserves the faith they have in him. 

I’ve established my preference that their relationship remains platonic. But if series creator Christopher Storer and his writers decide to make SydCarmy real and do so convincingly and thoughtfully, I wouldn’t protest.  But I do take some issue with a perspective shared in TeenVogue proposing that resistance to their possible romance “seems to be rooted in colorism and racism” which . . . is a view. And not entirely without merit. 

Writer Jendayi Omowale points out that TV and film have frequently side-stepped the nuances of race in their ever-evolving and frequently regressing efforts to portray interracial relationships — especially between Black women with darker complexions and white men. A counter-argument to this is that along with Black women spending years being relegated to play the sassy best friend, judges, police chiefs or the pillar of strength is the therapist trope, with several recent TV shows presenting Black women characters as wise guides dedicated to repairing broken souls. I do not want to see Sydney Adamu unofficially cast in this part, and it doesn't seem like she's up for it either.

SydCarmy is a product of social media, an arena where floating bigoted takes prompts engagement. A wound-up ‘shipping contingent guarantees a vocal opposition will materialize. That’s the way of such platforms. 

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Of course, some of this desire to see the leads fall for each other is tied up in White’s sex symbol status, fed by the actor’s turn in the latest Calvin Klein boxer brief ads. With the world acknowledging his sex appeal, it follows that people would want Syd to find bliss with her heroic dirtbag of a creative collaborator. (White and Edebiri, along with Storer, have gone on record saying they’d rather keep things as they are between Syd and Carmy, for what that’s worth.) 

Thus, the pro-SydCarmy passion escalates as the writers further alloy the characters’ mutual respect and love for culinary artistry to the survival of their shared dream.

Mainly this shows up in Storer’s insistent tight focus on small details and tender corners of dialogue. Consider the show’s main director of photography Andrew Wehde’s predisposition to zoom in on actors' faces during moments of intense vulnerability. This mainly favors the leads – White, who sublimates Carmy’s deep-seated doubts, grief, and depression into a language of hard squints and tics, and Edebiri, who carries Syd’s delight and frustration around her eyes and brows even as her voice strains to remain even.

The BearAyo Edibiri as Sydney in "The Bear" (FX)That closeness imbues every frame and edit with manifold meanings, including its food porn stills. Beauty always plays its part here. But Syd’s hamachi plate tells a couple of stories, each open to interpretation. An overhead perspective shows it to be a bleeding heart, which could be a Valentine or, knowing the stress that went into its creation, a cry for help. 

Look again. Most of the premiere is a view into Carmy’s interiority, but maybe that part of the movie is Syd’s. Either way, the memory belongs to both. Since Carmy doesn’t know who’s getting that plate, his going rogue could be a matter of self-satisfaction and nothing more. Sydney may know who Carmy is by then, so for her the plate is an inspiration. 

The satisfaction and pride that chefs take in nourishing others is a central theme of "The Bear," a concept that necessitates a kind of intimacy not often explored in TV.

But if we’re going to contemplate whether this accidental crossing is more evident of kismet, we’re also obligated to sit with where the season ends for Sydney.  The finale finds her doubled over the hallway outside her apartment, hyperventilating with a violence that threatens to turn her inside out. The episodes leading up to it show her frustration steadily climbing as Carmy’s anxious demands for perfection takes over, sidelining her creativity and disempowering her. She has wonderfully original ideas, and he shoots down nearly all of them.

So. Seizing on the meaning of Syd popping into Carmy’s consciousness in one of his darkest hours this season is inseparable from the rage blackout in the first season episode “Review” that leads her to quit, the first major test of their professional relationship.

We definitely can’t forget White’s monologue in the first season finale “Braciole” where in a moment of self-examination, he explains the sources of his drive to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting: a determination to prove everyone who doubted him wrong, starting with his dead brother, and an incurable habit of viewing anyone of comparable talent as competition he needs to smoke.

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With Mike gone, the one person who shares his level of fluency in and love for the art of cooking is Sydney. When everyone else flies off the handle, including him, she is a rock. 

The BearJeremy Allen White as Carmy and Ayo Edibiri as Sydney in "The Bear" (FX)But this makes her more of an instrument to him than a person. Syd’s creativity and ambition can help The Bear succeed, but knowing she’s at his level compels Carmy to work against her. He can help her push her recipes from great to excellent, but his preoccupation with his own suffering makes her question whether the psychic irritation is worth it.

There’s an indolent model in romantic comedies that posits love can fix anything, but not this. Storer and his writers know it, and by extension, so does Syd. That's why she delays in signing the partnership contract guaranteeing her a partnership stake in The Bear, although the terms seem straightforward. What is a contract if not a kind of marriage?

That's why, when a better career suitor comes calling, she’s torn between remaining loyal to Carmy and the crew and honoring her ambition. Hence, the heaving.

All those close-ups we scour for meaning are tiles in a broader mosaic telling the story of the bond between family and legacy. “The Bear” has established that Carmy and Syd share a love expressed in dedication and commitment, and stretched meals over multiple seasons by cracking, shattering, and repairing those foundations.

Therefore, let's really consider what it means to want these two to fire up a romance. Loving the fantasy of Carmy and the sensually charged “Yes, Chef” purring he inspires is not the same as understanding the reality of this character’s messiness. If Syd’s fans want the best for her, then by the end of this season they may conclude she’s better off not wanting anything more from Carmy than a Michelin star.

All episodes of "The Bear" are streaming on Hulu.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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