Though production on Season 2 of “The Bear” was well underway before Ramy Youssef traveled to Copenhagen to direct the fourth episode, series creator Chris Storer was slow to bring him fully behind the curtain.
“He didn’t let me watch anything they had shot [in the first three episodes]. He was like, ‘No, no. You can see it when you come back, but just make this what you think it should be,’” Youssef remembers.
Youssef is the first and only person to serve as a director on “The Bear” besides Storer and his co-showrunner Joanna Calo. When a tight production timeline made it impossible for Storer or Calo to direct in Copenhagen on top of nine Chicago-set episodes, Youssef was Storer’s first choice. Storer has been a director and executive producer on Youssef’s Hulu series “Ramy” since its 2019 debut, and had bounced ideas for “The Bear” off of him since “way back when it was a movie idea.”
“I understand the position Chris is in really well,” Youssef says. “It’s his baby. So I appreciated that trust, and also he knew he wanted the episode to feel different from the rest of the show.”
Titled “Honeydew,” Episode 4 follows Marcus (Lionel Boyce) on a trip to Denmark, where he trains under a pastry chef (guest star Will Poulter) to bring new skills and ideas back to Chicago as Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) work to open their new restaurant. Amidst the constant chaos of the kitchen, Marcus’ patient nature means that he’s often the series’ only source of calm, and “Honeydew” zeroes in on the beauty that comes with that outsider status.
“Knowing we were getting someone else to direct it and that it was a Marcus-centric episode just framed it differently, because I haven’t taken on the story in this way,” Boyce says. “I have an understanding of everyone on the show and how we all work together, and Ramy cares about things that are different than they do. He’s asking different questions.”
That began in the episode’s Chicago scenes. Though Marcus is thrilled to develop his craft, leaving Chicago isn’t easy for him, as depicted in a scene of him talking to his mother (Alma Washington) at her hospital beside. As she’s rendered nonverbal due to ALS — according to Boyce’s conversations with Storer, though her illness is not specified in the dialogue — Lionel maintains a visceral sense of intimacy with her. In fact, he says the addition of this storyline allowed him to “reverse engineer the discovery” of why Lionel loves to bake.
“The physicality is when it clicked for me: ‘This is care,’” he says of the scenes where he speaks to his mother without getting a response. “I’m picking her hand up and massaging it, and this is how he approaches his craft, but he’s been doing this much longer. It’s like, ‘Oh, baking bread and pastries is like what I’m doing here.’”
“There’s a multitude of ways to read that moment, but we talked a lot about silent acts of service, and ways of communicating when you don’t even need words,” Youssef says. “It’s very similar to being in a kitchen: the relationship of serving food to somebody you don’t know. You’re just giving them something that they need, and they’re really grateful for it.”
Once they made it abroad, Youssef sourced more of that gentle pace from the kitchens he and Boyce got to stage at. “There’s this energy of being shoulder-to-shoulder with somebody, making something together, that felt like how we should shoot. And what I saw in the Noma kitchen versus Hart Bagaeri was that a bakery should feel slower. The whole episode is a meditative beat for the second season and for Marcus’s life. And meditative tension — it’s still tension, but the tension of needing to focus, which is a lot different from needing to get things out the door really quickly.”
That’s why Poulter’s Luca becomes a perfect mentor for Marcus. In one of those shoulder-to-shoulder conversations, Luca explains that he started his career with hubris, until being humbled by the expertise of a fellow chef (revealed later in the season to be Carmy): “I started looking at it like it was a good thing. At least I knew who the best was now, and I could take that pressure off myself. The only logical thing to do was to try and keep up with him.” In Luca’s kitchen hangs a blue sign with white lettering that reads “Every Second Counts,” a mantra that continues to show up throughout Season 2.
“I always try and get Chris to breathe,” Youssef says. “I’ll touch his shoulders — and then he’ll punch me — but to me, trying to slow down is a spiritual act. It ties to what Luca is doing now, putting aside the competition and sitting with it. The act of chasing someone the way he chased Carmy, and all that did to expand him, felt like, ‘That was a good use of my time. I was able to do so much more than if I was just doing it alone.’ And obviously time looms over the whole series with the death of Carmy’s brother.”
In between the quiet shots of Marcus learning from Luca, we get snapshots of Marcus enjoying his vacation — putting out water for a potentially nonexistent cat, jotting down thoughts on flavor and texture as he pulls apart a pastry, calling his mom so she can hear his voice. Many of those moments were inspired by Youssef’s time alone in Copenhagen before starting the shoot.
“I stayed in Copenhagen for almost two weeks and took a lot of film photography that ended up being the locations you see the episode. Just walking around,” he says. “It totally influenced what we were grabbing, and different bits of dialogue. Not overshooting was a big thing, the simplicity of how we could set it up.”
Another essential piece of making “Honeydew” authentic was addressing “the subtle tension of a tall Black man in Copenhagen, where you think the shoe is gonna drop at some point,” Youssef says. “And then it actually just doesn’t.”
Toward the end of the episode, Marcus comes across a Danish man who’s had an apparent bike crash, leaving him caught underneath a collapsed wire fence. It’s pitch dark outside, and the man can’t speak English.
“Personally, that’s my biggest nightmare,” Boyce says. “Someone being hurt while no one else is around, and the [danger of someone thinking], ‘Was it you?’ And for that to happen in a foreign country, you think about the worst case scenario. But he just helps him.”
Marcus lifts the fence and saves the man, who stands up, wraps in him a wordless hug and bikes away.
“It was like a reward for the nonverbal communication that he’s used to with his mom,” Boyce says. “Being able to help a person, and receive love from this person — a very weird, drunk dude, but still. You don’t really see him hug anyone in the show, except maybe Tina. So this is a hug that he needs.”
“He’s overseas, and he’s emboldened. Especially after what just happened with the bike,” Youssef explains of the next moment of the episode, when Marcus and Sydney hop on FaceTime and sweetly admit that they miss each other. It’s the first time Season 2 makes reference to the potential romance budding between the coworkers.
“Lionel is just so fucking cute,” Youssef says. “His adorableness and charm and attractiveness is all him. It was really just about pointing the camera. But part of it has to do with like, ‘I’m in Copenhagen and I’m killing it. I’ve stepped out. I’m seeing all these other angles, and I’m able to show a different part of myself.’”