A Sharpie is never just a Sharpie.
To the new head chef, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), at The Original Beef of Chicagoland on the bear, a Sharpie is an organizer. A Sharpie reminds that, as he tells his team of chefs, consistency is the only way to take it to the next level. In episode 7, “The Review”, the dupes flock because sous chef Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri) forgets to turn off the pre-order option, Carmy rushes a Sharpie to order the madness. However, that’s not where it’s supposed to be.
Imagine the maniacal, disobedient and colorized tunnel that David Bowman rushes through 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is how Carmy sees himself, the chefs and their customers as they sink into takeout oblivion, where 255 sandwiches, among other orders, are expected in eight minutes. His desperation for a Sharpie intensifies with the F-bombs.
Carmy loses it. He knows you curb chaos by organizing, and ordering is not. Sydney’s basic impatience is to offer her new dish to a customer, who ends up being a food critic, so customers ask about the risotto. It’s messy, Carmy says, and can be fixed but, for now, it’s the cause of the contextual chaos. Case in point: Sydney’s attention is divided, otherwise she wouldn’t have made the mistake of moving on.
Thus, contextual chaos feeds circumstantial chaos, and vice versa. In a fantastically delivered line, as Carmy shouts about the colossal number of orders, his eyes clenching in emoto-environmental pain, he shouts at Sydney in the same breath, telling her he told her the dish n wasn’t ready. It suddenly seems like Carmy is a chef who curses and yells at the staff, but his anger is neither accidental nor unexpected. His hard work ethic, his gentleness, his respect for others (even deference at times), his precision and his calmness define him.
In other words, the motivation for his behavior is not an aberration from Carmy’s modus operandi, but the behavior itself is a mistake.
On the surface, Episode 7 can be summarily described as Carmy losing her shit, but what really happens is that almost all of the bosses are. The episode is a breaking point for back of house dreams, the staff envisioning heights for the restaurant, scaled by facing their reality: in a mismanaged operation for years and years, they are now racing upriver to become a resort kitchen and elevate everything they present to customers. The thing is, they succeed. The episode opens with Chief Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) reading a review from the reviewer who tastes Sydney’s sneaky dish. He gives the restaurant five stars and calls its sandwiches elegant.
Is it a pressure cooker waiting for chefs? It might be. Sydney walks out after Carmy yells at her. She is at her tipping point between antagonisms with Cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and, oh, by the way, accidentally stabbing him in his backcourt. But, really, for Sydney, it’s the fact that she sees and feels Carmy’s naked fury that shocks her into some sort of post-mortem state.
The same soul crush happens with warm chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce), who was previously only responsible for buns and, inspired by Carmy, now makes multi-layered chocolate cakes that look delicious and perfect donuts. Carmy supports him, which is another checkmark on his “really great boss” profile. But that day (episode 7), Carmy decimates Marcus’ jelly donut. So, Marcus walks out too, tossing a tray of donuts onto one of the patrons’ tables, while untying his apron. In the background, Carmy shouts, “Where the fuck is Marcus?”
The hurt on Marcus’ face is the hurt of someone who was not only incredibly disrespectful, but the hurt of someone who knew that specific person to believe in them. “Who are they to me now?” and, moreover, the heartbreaking thought: “Who am I (perhaps) without them believing in me?”
Chief Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas), who has worked at the restaurant forever and was fond of Mikey, Carmy’s brother (played in flashback by Jon Berntal), who committed suicide and left the restaurant to Carmy, like a son, checks on Sydney, seeing how shaken she is after her interactions with Richie and Carmy. Tina came to admire Sydney, although she doubted her as a “new young girl”. So people change, or maybe let others grow on them, once they put their ego aside. The ego, of course, is where Sydney slips up. Even Richie knows it, revealing a bit of self-introspection he never does, while spitting a bombshell of truth, saying, it wasn’t “his bullshit” that ruined them today, but the ones from Sydney.
After Marcus left, after Sydney left, while the kitchen continues to bleed and the customers don’t stop – the episode was shot in one take, so feel it — the smile on Carmy’s face as he bends down to taste a piece of Marcus’ crushed donut on the floor is gorgeous. It’s real. As a chef, Carmy will always melt with the salivating pleasure of life, because that is how his soul flows.
The moment works, as a way to show a digestible and relatable life experience, because, just as Carmy’s philosophy guides the evolution of the restaurant, the show itself is a state of mind more than an entertainment room. The character tension that bubbles up in “The Review” is, of course, between the chefs of this extraordinary cuisine, but it’s also about feeling yourself, in natural states of aggravation, healing and pleasure absorption because damn, sometimes a thing is so good it stops you in your mental tracks.
A close-up of “The Rules” and “Notes” pinned to the wall in the back of the house is the last shot of the episode, followed by the show title flashing and the credits rolling to beeps, as the dupes flock. Yes, to rules, and yes, to grades, because efficiency is the point, right? Or is efficiency only achieved when the systems are combined with the heart?