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The Best Needle Drops from The Bear’s Third Season

A deep dive into some great sonic moments in the show's daring, messy, and divisive third season.

by Prabhjot Bains

The Bear is easily one of TV’s most musically-charged shows. Like an intricately plated dish, each musical sting acts as a key ingredient: meticulously sourced, timed, and blended to enrich the series’ intensely melancholic flavour. The soundtrack is both completionist and wholly eclectic, flush with classics and deep cuts that ratchet up the anxiety or expose us to each character’s vulnerabilities with unabashed sincerity. Whether it be modern indie acts like Adrianne Lenker and Jennifer Castle or ’80s and ’90s hits from The Replacements and Chicago’s very own Wilco, who hail from the city the show takes place in, showrunner Christopher Storer crafts a soundscape that feels immensely true to its characters and working-class milieu.

Season Three finds The Bear at its most experimental and uncompromising, unfolding less like a straightforward narrative and more like a series of avant-garde short films — with vast stretches committed to a single stylistic or structural conceit. While the previous season didn’t shy away from constantly redefining itself, full of wildly brilliant segues and asides like the catastrophic Christmas dinner of “Fishes,” it also never sacrificed narrative momentum. It’s an effect this season doesn’t quite achieve.

The Bear remains a stirring, insightful, and wholly riveting piece of television, but it often feels like it’s treading water rather than moving towards something pivotal. Season Three is full of style and substance, but they rarely occur in sync. The overarching narrative, which focuses on the struggle to keep the new, fine-dining iteration of the restaurant afloat, is often paused for exercises in concept and style. While not lacking in profundity, these moments also verge on the pretentious and overindulgent, drawing out a story well past its boiling point, especially when paired with a distracting number of cameos.

Like the season it accompanies, the soundtrack is also messy and overwhelming, but it remains a powerful window into the fractured lives of its characters. Though parts of The Bear’s third season feel aimless, they do give us some of the most inspired sonic moments in TV history.

Here are some of season three’s best needle drops:

“Together” – Nine Inch Nails (Episode 1, “Tomorrow”) 

 

Season Three’s first needle drop is also its most significant. It opens The Bear on a solemn note, setting the tone for a season that will unflinchingly peer into the fractured psyche of its characters. Trent Reznor’s murky, disorienting instrumentals have always pulled listeners into the darker recesses of memory and contemplation. It’s that insistence on grave, emotional intensity that allows industrial masterworks like The Downward Spiral (1994) and The Fragile (1999) to continue to score our collective and personal demoralizations decades after their initial releases.

Storer heightens that effect by continually repeating “Together” across the episode. “Tomorrow” begins the season with a grand stylistic departure, unfolding as a 37-minute montage set to a single Nine Inch Nails track, as it navigates a series of formative, traumatic moments in restaurateur Carmy’s life (some of which we’ve already seen). The track’s ethereal, dreamy cadence deepens the episode’s construct as a stream of consciousness, feeding off the negative, liminal spaces that define Carmy’s daily grind. There’s a numbing, almost overwhelming gloom to Reznor and Atticus Ross’ track that perfectly taps into The Bear’s emotional core, emblematic of the show’s somber, tragic beauty — especially when memories of trauma are interlaced with some of the most gorgeously plated food.

 

“Save it for Later” – Eddie Vedder (Episode 2, “Next”)

 

Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder opens episode two with a tender rendition of The English Beat’s ska classic “Save It for Later,” a staple in his live sets but with a studio recording made specifically for The Bear. Vedder’s cover trades the original’s up-tempo structure for more atmospheric acoustics, creating a melancholic earworm that perfectly captures each character’s emotional and creative turmoil.

The Bear transforms the Illinois-born artist’s track into a Chicago ode, taking us from the city’s skyline to busy streets, hotdog stands, hockey rinks, neon signs, and hardworking factory lines. Vedder’s impassioned chorus underscores a stirring mini tribute to the people who define Chicago’s beautiful and storied tapestry.

 

“Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops” – Cocteau Twins (Episode 4, “Violet”)

 

The dream-pop masters lend an equally dreamy edge to The Bear, as it slowly fades in on a pleasant memory of Carmy’s now-tarnished relationship with Claire. The track punctuates a tragic hospital story told by Claire that details the odd, extreme lengths humans go to process the worst of emotional and physical pain. It’s a tale just as surreal as the song accompanying it.

 

“Getchoo” – Weezer (Episode 5, “Violet”)

 

Much of Season Three hinges on the result of a restaurant review from the Chicago Tribune. With Carmy constantly redesigning The Beef’s menu to garner attention from the Michelin board (much to the chagrin of others), he and the team are stunned to discover critics attended the restaurant without their knowledge. “Getchoo” then lights up the episode, setting the stage for the restaurant’s success (or ultimate downfall).

It’s an incredibly fitting needle drop from a song whose parent album was initially panned, but has since been critically reevaluated, with some dubbing Pinkerton (1996) as Weezer’s opus. Yet unlike our favourite albums, restaurants often aren’t afforded the gift of a second chance.

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

 

Beyond highlighting The Bear’s deeply cinematic DNA, the main title from Charles Laughton’s seminal gothic noir, The Night of the Hunter, touches on the frayed family dynamics at the show’s heart. The eerie nursery rhyme zeroes in on an expecting Natalie, whose fraught relationship with her mother and anxieties about her own impending motherhood feel just as precarious as Robert Mitchum’s child-hunting charlatan from Laughton’s masterwork.

“Morning Fog” – Kate Bush (Episode 6, “Napkins”)

Kate Bush’s bewitching tale of a woman drowning serves as the centerpiece of Tina’s backstory, who is also struggling to stay afloat after she’s laid off from her longtime office position. The track serves as an anthem for a new beginning, the dread of starting over, and the danger of self-criticism turning into self-doubt. As The Bear tracks Tina’s arduous job hunt, Bush’s art pop masterpiece continues to immerse us in the sheer pain and fear of reinvention, where we must be “born again into the sweet morning fog.”

 

“Sabotage” – The Beastie Boys (Episode 6, “Napkins”)

 

This needle drop serves as a vivid companion to Kate Bush’s “Morning Fog,” underscoring Tina’s first life-altering entry into The Beef’s maelstrom of a lunch rush. However, the Beastie Boys’ wild, kinetic track doesn’t accompany mean spirits, but a rare act of compassion — a rough, unadorned kindness in the form of a free Italian beef sandwich. The song’s crashing conclusion gives way to the season’s best scene, where Tina and Mikey have a candid, painfully honest conversation about destiny and obligation that finally nets her a job.

 

“Disarm” – The Smashing Pumpkins (Episode 10, “Forever”)

 

It’s only fitting that Season Three’s cliffhanger is accented by Chicago-based alt-rock legends The Smashing Pumpkins. Though it’s one of the more on-the-nose music choices this season, its intended effect is wonderfully realized by Storer and company. As Billy Corgan yelps “The killer in me is a killer in you,” we’re forced to grapple with how Carmy’s destructive past manifests in the destructive tendencies that define his relationships and culinary pursuits. Once the restaurant’s mixed Tribune review is revealed, we too are made just as defeated and as vulnerable as the song’s title.