The MVP: In The Bear’s Best Episode, Ebon Moss-Bachrach Made Us Believe In Richie’s Transformation

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The MVP: In The Bear’s Best Episode, Ebon Moss-Bachrach Made Us Believe In Richie’s Transformation

Editor’s NoteWelcome to The MVP, a column where we celebrate the best performances TV has to offer. Whether it be through heart-wrenching outbursts, powerful looks, or perfectly-timed comedy, TV’s most memorable moments are made by the medium’s greatest players—top-billed or otherwise. Join us as we dive deep on our favorite TV performances, past and present: 

In a series defined by its loveable cast, Richard “Richie” Jerimovich is a bit of an asshole through much of The Bear’s first two seasons. From the jump, Ebon Moss-Bachrach plays the character’s chaotic energy perfectly, as his frantic, frustrating decision-making leads to a non-stop procession of disasters. If there’s an argument between staff, he’ll make it louder, and if there’s a dispute between customers, he’ll bring out a gun.

At least initially, he’s basically the closest thing the show has to an antagonist, and between his many blunders and overly protective streak towards his best friend’s restaurant, he drags down this flailing business while acting as Carmy’s (Jeremy Allen White) foil. It’s not that he’s an entirely terrible person or outright malicious, but his deep-seated anxiety about being replaced and his dismissive attitude toward Carmy’s expertise in the kitchen ensure that, for a long time, he makes bad situations worse.

But despite where he starts out, over the course of a single 35-minute episode (Season 2’s “Forks”), Richie undergoes a transformation that demonstrates one of the key ingredients for The Bear’s success: its ability to swiftly cook up compelling story arcs that make the most of its talented cast of actors. Moss-Bachrach’s charismatic performance sweeps us up in this brilliant half-hour of television as we finally see this character move past where he’s been stuck since we met him.

To set the stage, “Forks” begins after Carmy sends Richie to train at a famous 3-star restaurant so he can take the next step as a server, and implicitly because Carmy senses his cousin is losing a sense of purpose amidst the changes to their sandwich shop. But of course, in classic Richie fashion, he interprets this helpful gesture as a slight and a means to keep him out of the way so he can’t screw anything up (to be fair, it doesn’t help that our protagonist is notoriously terrible at communication).

“Fuck you, cousin,” Richie says under his breath as he arrives at Ever, an acclaimed fine dining spot, in the early hours of the morning. For his first job as a stage (basically an intern at a restaurant), he has to dry forks; lots and lots of forks. Somehow he manages to be slapdash about this simple task, and his loud clanking tosses make it clear he’s very pissed that he has to do a job he perceives to be for teenagers, not a grown man. Like in previous episodes, Moss-Bachrach captures this annoyance without making the character appear overbearingly petulant, with a certain saltiness keeping his behavior from being entirely cloying. It also helps that underneath his unreasonableness is a quiet hilarity and charm as the actor sells every ridiculous Chicagoan quip that flies out of this dude’s mouth.

But as Richie half-heartedly cleans his utensils, something changes. His supervisor, Garrett (Andrew Lopez), takes him outside and chews him out. At first, Richie is unconvinced, as communicated by Moss-Bachrach’s eye-rolls and cynicism, but then Garrett’s passion begins to break through as he explains how much coming to this restaurant can bring people joy: “You don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid, Richie. I just need you to respect me. I need you to respect the staff. I need you to respect the diners. And I need you to respect yourself.” We can see the words bouncing around inside Richie’s head as Moss-Bachrach’s face fills the frame, his subtle expression shifting from that of a rebellious teen getting scolded to the countenance of someone fully considering what he’s been told. “I can do respect,” he finally replies.

From here, Richie pays attention to his surroundings and is confronted with the meticulous detail that goes into everything this staff does. He sees that they research customers to ensure their experience is as tailored as possible and that they obsess over the tiniest mistakes, all to live up to their reputation and brighten peoples’ days. He’s clearly fascinated by the complexity of this place and is swept up in the hustle and bustle as he asks questions in an uncharacteristically genuine fashion, as Moss-Bachrach’s sudden serious expressions convey his sincerity. Instead of his normal unenthusiastic shuffle, his movements gain a precision and intentionality that was previously absent.

When Richie finally gets his chance to interact directly with customers, his pre-existing people skills burst to the forefront, no longer bogged down by his combativeness and deeper dissatisfactions. He sprints to a pizza shop to help customers experience Chicago deep-dish pizza, completely sells the surprise delivery, and banters until they’re all beaming. Moss-Bachrach’s grounded charm makes it utterly believable, and in that moment, we can see exactly what Carmy has always seen in his old family friend.

The camaraderie he’s found here couldn’t be clearer as Richie nails a light-hearted exam with his co-workers, their laughter making it clear that he’s won everyone over. Flying high on this momentum, the camera smash cuts to Richie in his car, jamming to “Love Story” by T-Swift as he flies down a back alley, the genuine joy on Moss-Bachrach’s face hitting like an explosion of catharsis. It’s undoubtedly the happiest we’ve ever seen him, and it’s all because he’s finally found the thing he’s been searching for the entire series: a sense of purpose.

The Bear is about obsession. It’s about the absurd and sometimes self-destructive lengths people go to be the best. However, at the same time, it also portrays how affirming it can be to chase dreams. If Carmy embodies the dangers of caring too much, up until “Forks,” Richie embodied the dangers of caring too little. But as he belts out his daughter’s favorite song in his black sedan, Moss-Bachrach still channeling the character’s underlying chaotic vibe, it becomes clear he’s finally accepted many of his previous screw-ups in his life, like his divorce, and has found something to latch on to, a reason to care. Here, the performer marries these two halves, the devil-may-care and the purposeful, bridging the gap between who this person was just a few days ago and who he’s quickly become to make his metamorphosis feel satisfying, but not entirely out of left field.

When we first meet Richie, Moss-Bachrach perfectly captures the disaffected vibe of someone who thinks they’re above caring and who never outgrew high school, a place where anyone who expressed passion was ragged on for being a “try-hard.” But here, just as effortlessly, he embodies the exact opposite, transforming this figure from an insecure washout to a person striving for the passion and self-love he saw in co-workers who gave it their all. In many other stories, this kind of abrupt 180 shift would feel jarring, but thanks to this series’ thoughtful character writing and, perhaps most of all, Ebron Moss-Bachrach’s magnetic performance, it’s easy to believe that Richie “wears suits now.”

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Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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