How The Bear Captures Intergenerational Trauma in “Ice Chips”

The quietest episode of The Bear season 3 just might be its best. "Ice Chips" delves into crucial Berzatto family history.

“THE BEAR” — “ Ice Chips” — Season 3, Episode 8 (Airs Thursday, June 27th) — Pictured: Abby Elliott as Natalie “Sugar” Berzatto.
Photo: FX

This article contains spoilers for The Bear season 3 episode 8.

As Natalie “Sugar” Berzatto (Abby Elliott) heads out to Restaurant Depot during the seventh episode of The Bear season 3, we all know that she’s totally about to go into labor. Settling into the driver’s seat, she flips on a podcast and repeats the five personality types of children of alcoholics: enabler, hero, scapegoat, mascot, and lost child. While Sugar might have no idea that she’s about to have a life-changing experience while loading C-Folds into her car, it’s clear that she’s been preparing for this day for a very long time. 

While she may have been prepping mentally and spiritually, Sugar is definitely not physically prepared for what’s about to happen to her. Even though she’s in active labor, she promptly gets herself stuck in traffic, and tries to call every person in her contacts. Pete is returning home from a work trip, the staff at The Bear have all been placed on phone lockdown, and Siri can’t seem to differentiate “Claire” from “The Bear”, so Sugar is on her own. Terrified at the prospect of going through this alone, she reaches out to her mom, the infamous Donna Berzatto (Jamie Lee Curtis). 

Sugar and her mother have a fraught relationship, to say the least, and episode 8 “Ice Chips” follows them as they begin to take small, tentative steps toward a mutual understanding, all while Sugar is experiencing contractions for the very first time. The episode is intimate, intense, and packed with exposition that sheds a lot of light on the particular brand of dysfunction that creeps up the Berzatto family tree. As Donna tries her best to comfort her only daughter, she unwittingly works to bring the focus back to her own problems and needs, even prompting Sugar to offer to give her mother a back rub while she’s in between contractions. We don’t need to guess what role Sugar played in her family: she’s an enabler, through and through. 

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But Sugar has a vested interest in breaking the cycle in her family — she doesn’t want to terrorize her daughter like she was terrorized by her mother. She’s well aware of her patterns of behavior, even if she’s having trouble shaking those behaviors loose. Throughout the encounter with her mother, she tries her best to assert herself, telling her that she has a specific birth plan and that she doesn’t want anything to do with the aggressive, Lamaze-like “HEE HEE HEEEE” breathing that Donna is pushing on her. However, by the end of the episode, each woman shifts a bit to meet the other, with Donna realizing that her daughter is trying to forge a new path, and Sugar realizing that her mother was also the victim of the perpetually spinning wheel of intergenerational trauma. 

Much of the episode is a tightly framed two-hander, with Donna sitting by Sugar’s side as her contractions increase in intensity and frequency. While the conversation is punctuated by bouts of screaming brought on by the contractions, the two women never really stop communicating. During the contractions, Donna loves on her daughter the only way she knows how — with knowledge gleaned from the births of her own three children. She offers up the “hee hee hees” as well as a cup of ice chips and a motherly hand as a makeshift cool compress on her daughter’s forehead. And then, when the pain passes, she offers up her stories. 

First, she tells Mikey’s birth story. Mikey, we know, took on the role of mascot and hero of the family. (He was also a secret sixth choice that isn’t introduced in Sugar’s podcast: the addict.) He was also the oldest child. Two episodes prior, in “Napkins,” we learned that he stayed on to take care of the family business when his dad split out of duty to the family. As he tells Tina, he felt like he got “skipped” over when it came to following his dreams, but in reality, his family structure never really gave him a chance to escape. Donna recalls that she had to walk by herself, in the snow, to the hospital when she went into labor for the first time. Where in the hell was Daddy Berzatto during the birth of his firstborn son? It’s anyone’s guess, but probably nowhere good. We’ve seen what hell Donna hath wrought on her family in the worst of times in “Fishes”, but here we’re also reminded that Carmy, Sugar, and Mikey had a father who was often absentee and likely under the influence when he was around. 

Honestly? This sounds like a total nightmare, and it’s certainly a story that elicits a bit of sympathy for Donna. She then tells Sugar the story about Carmy’s birth, and makes sure to mention that Mr. Berzatto was in attendance… but she wishes that he hadn’t been. Carmy, the youngest, also took forever to come out, but it was because he kept getting stuck. It’s an interesting parallel to where Carmy is at the present moment in his life, and it’s also telling that they move past his story so quickly. 

It feels pretty clear that, in his childhood, Carmy was the lost child, and even with all his success, he still takes on that role in the family. (See: Carmy telling Syd, “My sister doesn’t think I’m a genius,” in season 2, Richie’s general attitude toward Carmy in season 1 and beyond, literally almost everyone’s dismissive attitude toward Carmy at Christmas dinner in “Fishes.”) It’s difficult for him to cultivate close relationships with anyone, including his family members, and he prefers activities that are solitary in nature — cooking being very solitary, unless, of course, you need to work and collaborate with a staff full of other people. 

Sugar is the middle child, but she is also the eldest (and only) daughter. (Cue “Surface Pressure” from Encanto, amiright?) She was the enabler and the caretaker, a role that often falls to women in dysfunctional family structures. And yet. She chose to marry Pete, a man who is also very clearly a caretaker. Poor Pete gets so much flak from the rest of the Berzatto family for simply being a good and present husband and friend, but his presence in Sugar’s life is a strong indicator that she’s been trying to work on herself for a long time. 

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Even while in labor, Sugar pushes back against her mother’s assertions that their codependent relationship was healthy. When Sugar tells Donna that she always put her first, Donna smiles and says that it’s “sweet.” Sugar is horrified and blasts back, saying, “No, it’s not sweet. It’s fucked up, mom.” However, it’s of note that Sugar has also put herself in a situation in which she is needed by everyone at The Bear. She’s the glue that holds everything together, and she’s still stubbornly putting the restaurant first — such as going to Restaurant Depot by herself even though she’s about to give birth. 

Ultimately, Sugar just wants what every new parent wants: not to fuck up their kid. She wants reassurance that the choices she makes will lead to a happy and healthy childhood for her daughter. She needs to know that getting the epidural will be okay. She needs to know that she’s good, and she needs to hear it from the one person she was never able to get unconditional love and acceptance as a child: her mother. And, perhaps as a birthday gift to her new granddaughter, Donna gives that to her. And then, she tells Sugar her own birth story. 

Apparently Mr. Berzatto didn’t feel like he had to be at the birth of his second child, either, because Cicero’s (Oliver Platt) first wife accompanied Donna to the hospital and played a lovely song when Sugar was born. (I’m sorry, but did this woman have a tape deck with her at all times in the late ‘80s?!) Donna recalls the moment with such love and happiness in her eyes, talking about how beautiful it was. She plays The Ronettes “Baby I Love You” for her daughter, and the two look at one another, hope and promise in their eyes, as Pete finally arrives. 

The two brief codas to the episode see Donna interact with Pete and then Teddy and Neil Fak. She is kind and loving to all of these men, giving Pete an emotional landing strip for his anxieties, and snuggling the Fak brothers as they gently tease her about her impending grandma status. While Donna wasn’t the perfect mother — and while Sugar won’t be a perfect mother, either — The Bear reminds us that even flawed family is family, and that the most important thing is to try to show up for the people we love and listen to them, even when it might hurt. 

All 10 episodes of The Bear season 3 are available to stream on Hulu now.