The Best Needle Drops From Season Three Of ‘The Bear,’ Ranked

This article contains spoilers!

The third season of The Bear hinges on the outcome of a restaurant review. Like so much of the “action” in this latest data-dump of 10 episodes, it’s a seemingly small matter presented with life-or-death urgency. Other narratives this season include: Will my girlfriend take me back? Can I feel happy for my ex as she marries someone else? What if I take this new job? Should I call my Mom?

What’s interesting about the restaurant review subplot is how it unintentionally echoes the current response to The Bear itself. After the first two seasons were showered with accolades (along with all those Emmys), the “I always thought it sucked” contingent of the critical community has pounced on Season Three, essentially sending it back to the kitchen with complaints that it is severely undercooked.

Nothing happens, it’s self-indulgent, it’s all tics and flourishes and no substance — the criticisms of The Bear have come to resemble the Chicago Tribune’s climactic takedown of Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto’s embattled eatery. More than that, Season Three of The Bear has been turned into a referendum on the sins of Prestige TV. And look, I get it. I kind of hate prestige TV now, too! We are in a moment in which hacky TV writers have learned how to construct a facsimile of a critically adored, Emmy-feted and social media-wooing television program, while at the same time putting nothing of actual value inside the televisual meat suit. It’s annoying, and makes me want to go outside.

Also, as a loyal viewer of The Bear, I can enumerate the show’s flaws. Does it sometimes spin its wheels narratively? Yes, chef. Are the many famous guest stars turning up in small roles distracting? Yes, chef. (John Cena is not a Fak brother, John Cena is John Cena.) Does the cycle of emotional breakdowns and heartfelt reconciliations, at times, feel repetitive? Yes, chef.

And yet, for all these flaws, I was pretty much riveted for the roughly five hours I spent watching Season Three. This show’s magic trick is that it can put two people in a room, have them talk for 10 minutes, and make it as exciting and intense as any battle scene from House Of The Dragon. Is The Bear self-indulgent? Sure. But to simply dismiss it as “bad” strikes me as an overreaction to the acclaim this show has garnered rather than a fair accounting of The Bear’s strengths and weaknesses. The fact is that the main creative minds behind this show — creator Christopher Storer and executive producer Josh Senior — are attempting the TV equivalent of changing the menu every single day. They are trying some shit, in other words, and while they don’t always hit the mark, I don’t think they can be credibly accused of doing boring work (unlike many of their peers in the Prestige TV business). Even the episodes that don’t fully cohere have at least one scene that’s as good as anything you’ll see on television.

One of the most fascinating aspects of The Bear for me is the soundtrack, which is carefully selected by Storer and Senior. In the past they have shared with me how they picked the music, and while some viewers might find their choices to be corny or overbearing, you can’t say they don’t put a ton of thought into it.

On The Bear, the soundtrack isn’t the typical sonic window-dressing it is on most shows. The music functions partly as a Greek chorus and partly as a window into the psychology of the characters. It also — and this is even truer after Season Three — acts as a kind of narrative thread for the entire series. The songs are like memories that bring you back to certain moments from previous episodes, while also foreshadowing what lies ahead.

I’ll explain what I mean while reviewing the 10 best needle drops from Season Three of The Bear.

10. R.E.M., “Strange Currencies” (Episode Nine)

An unwritten rule for TV soundtracks is that you don’t repeat songs or draw multiple tracks from the same album. Music supervisors make their money by finding that one song nobody has used yet. Call it The Obviousness Doctrine — going for the more obscure or unique musical option is always viewed as preferable.

The Bear violates this doctrine constantly. Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts V, the Van Morrison live LP It’s Too Late To Stop Now, Tangerine Dream’s score for Michael Mann’s Thief — this show has returned to these albums repeatedly over three seasons. And that plays into the overarching theme of The Bear, which is about how the past controls the present and the ways in which your omnipresent emotional damage never fully escapes the front of your mind. Your memories don’t change, and the songs that stick in your head don’t really change, either.

And so it goes for “Strange Currencies,” a major song from Season Two that is briefly revived as a love theme for Carmy’s estranged love interest, Claire, in the current season. (It’s the sister song to Refused’s “New Noise,” The Bear’s unofficial “anxiety” theme, which pops up again during Natalie’s frantic pre-labor traffic jam in Episode Eight.)

9. Counting Crows, “A Murder Of One” (Episode Nine)

The stock joke about The Bear is to point out how many times a Wilco song turns up. But the better joke about The Bear is that the show uses Counting Crows at least as often. Whereas Season Three is Wilco free, Counting Crows is now for 3-for-3 after this August And Everything After track popped up at the end of Episode 9 (after “Have You Seen Me Lately” in Season One and “Baby, I’m A Star” in Season Two).

8. The Rolling Stones, “Mixed Emotions” (Episode Five)

Another musical motif of The Bear is an unusual preference for somewhat off-brand classic rock songs. In Season One, the show used “In Too Deep” by Genesis (from their mega-selling 1986 album Invisible Touch) with subtly strategic precision to evoke the setting of a neighborhood Midwestern restaurant, where everything feels static and out-of-date. (As Storer explained to me at the time, it’s that feeling of “even though it’s 2022 out there, it’s 1998 in here.”)

The same could be said of “Mixed Emotions,” the hit single from 1989’s Steel Wheels that is surely playing at some random Chicago beef place as we speak. An added layer of resonance comes from the song’s inspiration — the fractured relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards that nearly derailed The Stones in the mid-’80s — which echoes Carmy’s strained partnerships with Syd and Richie.

7. Weezer, “Getchoo” (Episode Four)

A criticism of The Bear this season concerns Carmy’s abusive behavior toward his co-workers and the alleged rationalization — he’s a tortured guy who’s been emotionally abused by Jamie Lee Curtis and Joel McHale — the show makes on his behalf. Is it possible this guy is just a toxic jerk? Sure. It might even be probable. But this is beside the point from whether he’s an interesting protagonist (which he is).

I would make a similar case for Pinkerton, in which another problematic genius tries to rationalize his behavior even though he might just be a toxic jerk. For that reason, bringing The Bear and Pinkterton together for the closing credits of Episode Four was especially inspired.

6. Smashing Pumpkins, “Disarm” (Episode 10)

Another violation of The Obviousness Doctrine, and not only because Smashing Pumpkins is yet another Chicago band appearing on an already Chicago-saturated soundtrack. “Disarm” was previously used during one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the late great cop show The Shield, another show I love. I know this should make me dislike this choice. But it does not. I was, shall we say, disarmed by this needle drop.

5. Charles Laughton and Walter Schumann, “Main Title/Dream Little One, Dream” (Episode Five)

Forget The Obviousness Doctrine for a second. Pulling the opening theme from the classic 1955 noir The Night Of The Hunter is a big-time “We Know Film History” flex. But what does it mean? The parent-child dynamic — and how it continues even after the child becomes a parent, as evidenced by Natalie’s “expecting mother” storyline this year — is one of The Bear’s central obsessions. But I’m thinking specifically about the scene at the end of Episode Five, in which Uncle Jimmy confides to Syd that he feels responsible for not stepping in to help his niece and nephews when they were kids. It’s the inverse of Robert Mitchum wannabe child-murdering swindler from The Night Of The Hunter, no matter Jimmy’s own mysterious (and possibly criminal?) history.

4. Cocteau Twins, “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops” (Episode Four)

Or: Maybe the powers that be were drawn to that Night Of The Hunter song because the word “dream” is in the title. A certain dreaminess recurs in several songs this season. There’s “(Nice Dream)” — from another “house” artist for The Bear, Radiohead — at the end of Episode Two. There’s all that “dream, dream, dream” talk from “A Murder Of One.” And there’s this track from a definitive dream-pop act, a natural accompaniment for one of Carmy’s romanticized daydreams about Claire. Is it possible that Carmy has invented a version of Claire in his mind that doesn’t match up with reality? Do “pearly-dewdrops’ drops” exist in real life? I’m not so sure.

3. Adrianne Lenker, “No Machine” (Episode Seven)

Another “I’m thinking about Claire” song for Carmy. But since this is an Adrianne Lenker heartbreaker, there’s plenty of misery to go around. It also soundtracks Richie’s misery over his ex’s impending marriage and Syd’s growing emotional separation from Carmy. But what I’m most intrigued by is the relative newness of this song — it came out with the rest of Lenker’s stellar 2024 album Bright Future at the end of March. Was this plugged in last minute? Was there another song originally in this spot? Perhaps a different Lenker tune that casually rips your heart out and shows it to you right before you die?

2. James, “Laid” (Episode 10)

A song about how the thing that gets you off eventually becomes an overriding obsession that ruins your life. And the scene that it soundtracks starts off as a party and ends with Syd crying and hyperventilating in the hallway. It’s the perfect capper for the episode, and for a season where nothing and yet everything happens.

1. Nine Inch Nails, “Together”

In the Season Two finale, Storer and Senior took “Hope We Can Again” from Ghosts V and looped it three consecutive times for most of the episode. For the Season Three premiere, they took a different Ghosts V track and did essentially the same thing for possibly the most formally inventive episode of The Bear yet. “Together” is woven so well into the episode that some media outlets initially misreported that it was an original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It’s not. It’s just an extremely well-executed needle drop.