TV

Why The Bear’s Most Important Meal Is Feast of the Seven Fishes


The Bear season 2 episode 6 “Fishes” isn’t just spectacular, it also captures the show’s themes of cooperations vs. isolation.

Mikey (Jon Bernthal) and Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) on The Bear season 2 episode 6.
Photo: Chuck Hodes | FX

This article contains spoilers for The Bear season 2.

In a show that joyously traffics in food porn, the Very Special Christmas episode of The Bear oddly features none. Throughout the season 2 flashback episode “Fishes,” the food imagery that exists is often utilitarian, swift, and violent. Meatballs angrily plop into a vat of roiling gravy, lobsters are audibly cracked in half, and a greasy artichoke unceremoniously falls to the floor. In an episode that underscores the indelible connections between emotion, tradition, trauma, and food, the choice to not linger on the dishes feels very intentional. As in much of The Bear, the focus on food is an emotional conduit, providing a platform for deeper conversation.  

In the Berzatto household, the yearly celebration of the Feast of the Seven Fishes is a chaotic, often hellish tradition. The unstable matriarch Donna (Jamie Lee Curtis in a stellar go-for-broke performance) prepares the meal in a frenzy while chain smoking and binge drinking in the kitchen. The rest of the assorted guests — of both the biological family and found family variety — know that it’s just a matter of time before Donna decompensates entirely, but in the true tradition of dysfunctional families, they’re trapped in a cycle of learned helplessness, just lying in wait for the explosion. They know that no one can stop what’s coming, but bound by love, curiosity, and duty, they stick around anyway. 

To pass the time, the group chats about the Feast of the Seven Fishes. What does it mean, exactly? One gets the sense that these people have had this conversation many times before — the three Berzatto kids don’t even bother engaging with the topic — but what else are they going to do while the ticking time bomb in the kitchen counts down? Donna asserts that the fishes represent the “seven best things” that the Italians brought with them to America. Then, Uncle Lee (Bob Odenkirk) mumbles some stuff about sacraments, virtues, and the biblical undertones of the number seven, which is a theory that only makes tangential sense. Later, when Stevie (John Mulaney) says grace under duress, he surmises that it represents taking time out to prepare seven carefully crafted dishes to “show them that we love them.” Everyone is wrong — the concept of the fishes actually represents the vigil, or the long wait for the baby Jesus, in addition to the fact that eating meat isn’t allowed until Christmas Day — but Stevie, in all his nebbish wisdom, gets the closest to why Italian-American families actually cook the fishes. 

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