Key art for 'The Bear,' featuring characters from the FX series amid the Chicago skyline

‘The Bear’ Heals Years of Generational Trauma in One Episode

Who's chopping onions here?

Remember when we thought we would never recover from all the family trauma the Berzatto family served for Christmas in The Bear season 2 episode 6 “Fishes”? Well, a year later, The Bear season 3 episode 8, “Ice Chips,” is healing something in all of us.

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The Bear season 3, which came out on June 26, 2024, has gotten mixed reviews. To me, season 3 was the mundane calm that both succeeds and precedes moments of great turmoil or change. We needed season 3 to focus more on what was happening within these characters, how their histories had shaped them, and who they are now.

Richie (Ebon Moss Bachrach), Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), Marcus (Lionel Boyce), and even Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) have all evolved considerably since we first met them. However, the tragedy of this alchemical process is that Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) is the last one to begin his own healing. In the season 3 finale, we see him confront his old abusive boss, who mocks his anger and hurt and tells him his behavior made Carmy a better chef, leaving the latter stumped and speechless. Clearly, the darkness in him is not going to be dispelled by seeking light outside.

It’s evident that a lot of Carmy’s anxiety and other behavioral issues are shaped by his mother and brother’s substance abuse. Both Donna (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Mikey (Jon Bernthal) were alcoholics with mental health struggles, and we haven’t seen Carmy confront all of that yet. He hasn’t even spoken to his mother yet, but there’s one person this season who had a beautiful cathartic experience that helped heal (to some extent) years of generation trauma that comes from being the daughter of a bipolar, alcoholic mother.

In fact, let me go ahead and say this: The Bear season 3 episode 8, “Ice Chips,” written by Joanna Calo and directed by Christopher Storer, is easily one of the best episodes of the season (the other is “Napkins”!) and a very real portrayal of what it means to be a woman, a mother, and a daughter.

A very pregnant Natalie, a.k.a. Sugar (Abby Elliott), has stepped out for some shopping for The Bear when she realizes her baby is coming. After no one answers her phone calls, she’s forced to call the last person she’d want in the room with her when she’s in labor: her mother, Donna Berzatto. 

The scene where Donna approaches Natalie and tries to “coach” her to breathe could give the most zen person anxiety. And you think, with Nat in labor and Donna being Donna, this is probably going to be a repeat of “Fishes,” with lots of screaming, incessant talking, and all your senses overstimulated. Instead, Nat and Donna have a conversation that beautifully captures the complexity of mother-daughter relationships as they discuss childbirth, such a crucial shared experience for many women.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Donna and Abby Elliot as Natalie argue in the hospital parking lot in The Bear season 3 Ice Chips

Initially, of course, Nat loses her cool at Donna several times and regrets calling her. Donna tries to fuss over her daughter, even telling Nat she’s crazy if she doesn’t ask for an epidural. It looks like things might tense up when Donna gets emotional and talks about Nat not telling her that she was having a baby.

It’s a moment where the old Donna would’ve been uncontrollable and demanded consolation, but a persistent and surprisingly calm Donna puts her daughter first, assuring her that she understands her reasons. Despite protests, Donna continues to teach Nat how to breathe and lets her make her own decisions, assuring Nat that she’s there for her, no matter what. And Nat soon realizes that the breathing technique actually does help with the pain of her contractions. Eventually, she even agrees to an epidural.

It’s a great way of showing that no matter how estranged a daughter is from her mom, having her there and benefiting from her mother’s own experience of childbirth is always going to matter—and that mothers need to loosen their grip on their daughters and only gently offer their wisdom as a guiding hand; eventually trust that your daughter will make the right decision for her.

“I thought I was gonna be on easy street. ‘Cause I was told, you know, boys are easier.“

“Are they easier?”

“I don’t think any of it’s easier. It just all hurts the same.”

– Donna and Natalie Berzatto (The Bear)

Nat is in a vulnerable position at the time, and has no strength to have her usual guard up. She’s able to open up to her mother about what she really feels for their relationship, and how the reason she didn’t want her mother around during the birth of her child was because she didn’t want “all the stuff,” all the baggage, that she would bring with her. Nat doesn’t want her daughter to be scared by their family’s toxicity. Once again, Donna shows us how far she has come by assuring her daughter that she’s been working on her issues, though it hasn’t been easy.

Nat even acknowledges her own people-pleasing and over-empathizing traits that bother other people, harking back to the “Fishes” episode last season where she kept asking her mom if she was okay, and caused Donna to lose it. Nat confesses her fears about her husband, Pete, leaving her because she is always trying to please her mother and put her first.

As an elder daughter of an Asian household, this moment hit me hard because it vocalized how most mother-daughter relationships are fraught with guilt and fear, and a tinge of hate that is born of love. Nat doesn’t hate her mother, but her mother doesn’t make it easy to love her, either. And that, in turn, affects Nat’s perception of herself and her place in the world.

Both Donna and Nat, in this episode, overcome and avoid repeating toxic behavior patterns that they’ve exhibited in the past. When Donna brings Nat some ice chips (once again, from her own birthing experience) and talks to her daughter about what it was like giving birth to Mikey, Carmy, and her, you see Nat also melting and warming up to her mom’s presence there. She finally understands her mother, and having vocalized her own feelings, her mother understands her, too.

They both even laugh about how weird this moment is because their family has probably never had such cathartic heart-to-hearts! The lyrics of the song that Donna plays for Nat, that was playing at the time of Nat’s birth, perfectly sum up what they feel for each other at the moment.

The most poignant moment, though, arrives when Pete (Chris Witaske), Nat’s husband, finally makes it to the hospital. Nat and Donna have just had a beautiful cathartic moment, yet Donna, who we saw in “Fishes” make everything about her, steps back to let her daughter get what she wants instead of catering to her mother’s emotional needs. She sits with the Faks (Matty Matheson and Ricky Staffieri), who are also like her kids, and shares the moment with them.

Thus, the mother and daughter have broken the cycle of generational trauma just in time for a new generation to be born. We already know Nat’s having a girl, and from the looks of it, she might just grow up minus all the anxiety, fear, and strained mother-daughter relationship that her mother had with her grandmother. Nat never knew her grandmother, and from Donna’s reaction, it doesn’t seem like she was really missing out. But Natalie’s daughter is going to know her grandmother because of all the healing that happened on the day of her birth. 

Now can someone get Carmy a plate of catharsis, please? 

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Jinal Bhatt
Jinal Bhatt (She/Her) is a staff writer for The Mary Sue. An editor, writer, film and culture critic with 7+ years of experience, she writes primarily about entertainment, pop culture trends, and women in film, but she’s got range. Jinal is the former Associate Editor for Hauterrfly, and Senior Features Writer for Mashable India. When not working, she’s fangirling over her favourite films and shows, gushing over fictional men, cruising through her neverending watchlist, trying to finish that book on her bedside, and fighting relentless urges to rewatch Supernatural.