Yes, Chef!

The Bear Just Revolutionized the Flashback Episode

A trip to the past has rarely felt this worthwhile.

Jeremy Allen White in 'The Bear' Season 3, Episode 1

There are few things more hit or miss than flashback episodes. At their best, they feel like dramatically enriching detours into the past. At their worst, they come across as nothing but filler meant to pad out their respective seasons. Whether it's written well or not, though, a flashback episode almost always manages to grind a show's narrative momentum to a complete, often frustrating halt. That's why it's important that TV creators not only use them sparingly, but make sure that they communicate the narratively necessary reason for each.

Plenty of TV shows have failed to do that over the years. One that hasn't is The Bear. From last year's "Fishes" to this year’s “Napkins,” the FX comedy series hasn't just routinely turned its attention to its characters' pasts, but it's also used their memories to enhance its present-day scenes and set up future epiphanies and moments of emotional disintegration. Frankly, very few TV shows have ever used flashbacks as effectively or successfully as The Bear.

In its third season, the series manages to one-up itself in that department and delivers what might be the best and most stylistically invigorating flashback episode in TV history.

In The Bear’s Season 3 premiere, Carmy’s past weighs heavy on his shoulders.


The Bear's Season 3 premiere is unlike any other episode of TV you'll ever see. A 35-minute visual tone poem, the episode is an endless stream of memories and moments. Set to one monorhythmic piece of music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the episode (titled "Tomorrow") follows Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) as he cleans up The Bear in the wake of its turbulent first test night, reorganizes its dining room, creates an entire new menu, and writes a list of "non-negotiables" that he plans on forcing both himself and all of the restaurant's other workers to follow. All the while, writer-director Christopher Storer beautifully intercuts Carmy's early morning clean-up with scenes from his past.

We watch as Carmy works his way up the culinary world, earns praise, enjoys a level of creative excitement he's never felt before, and endures vile abuse from his last boss, David Fields (Joel McHale). We see him be cared for and taken care of by Stevie (John Mulaney) and Natalie (Abby Elliott), share a brief moment of public embarrassment and connection with Claire (Molly Gordon) in the wake of his family's disastrous Christmas dinner in "Fishes," miss his brother's funeral, and we rewatch as he lets down both Claire and Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) in The Bear's Season 2 finale.

Through its seamless cutting and visual storytelling, "Tomorrow" gradually makes us feel the weight of Carmy's experiences. It illustrates to us not only just how much Carmy has been through and accomplished, but also how he routinely finds himself trapped in memories that — even when he tries to focus on paving the way for a new, better future — never fail to propel him into an endless cycle of regret, reminiscence, and anxiety. On top of all of that, "Tomorrow" also packs in moments set immediately after the events of The Bear's Season 2 finale. Specifically, we’re shown both Carmy apologizing over the phone to Richie and Marcus sitting silently in a hospital following his mother’s passing.

Carmy’s talent and ambition have taken him a long way, but he didn’t get to where he is now without some help.


All of this is to say that "Tomorrow" does something flashback episodes very rarely do, which is simultaneously expand and deepen the history of The Bear’s world and gently propel its overarching story forward. In just 35 minutes, it clears the table for what's to come, offers us a deeper look at what's come before, and sets up the themes of guilt, regret, and cyclical abuse that hang heavy over the entirety of The Bear Season 3. The series' third batch of episodes are a collection of tiny steps forward and backward. They are, at times, deeply frustrating, but so is trying to ride out the aftershock of traumatic events and, conversely, trying to hold onto the happiness of certain, fleeting moments.

This balance of heartbreak and joy is present in "Tomorrow," an episode that follows up the victories and failures that occur throughout The Bear Season 2's finale by highlighting how Carmy's life has never been marked by any clear-cut wins or losses. The same is true for most people's lives, but it's a difficult truth for Carmy to accept when The Bear Season 3 begins. As "Tomorrow" reminds us, he's finally arrived at the point in his career that he's been working toward for years. But what does he do now that he's reached it? How does he not let the lingering effects of his past traumas prevent him from staying at the top of the mountain?

Carmy gets some time alone to think, plan, and reflect in “Tomorrow.”


The past weighs heavier in The Bear Season 3 than it ever has before. Multiple times throughout the season, Natalie expresses her concern that the drama and baggage of her past will negatively affect her daughter's life. Gesturing to her own head, she tells Richie at one point, "I'm thinking about how to not let what's in here get to her." It's a problem that is at the forefront of The Bear's mind this year. How do we reckon with the things, both good and bad, that have made us who we are? How do we move beyond the past when the past is evident, in one way or another, in everything we do?

The Bear doesn't have an easy answer to those questions. In its third season, though, the series finds new, sometimes astonishing ways to show us how what we've experienced is as much a part of our daily lives as what we're experiencing. Nowhere is that expressed more beautifully than in "Tomorrow," a half-hour installment of television that redefines what flashback episodes can do and be — and not a minute too soon.

The Bear Seasons 1-3 are streaming now on Disney+ and Hulu.

Related Tags