needle drops

Charting Yellowjackets’ Deadliest Needle Drops

Photo: Showtime

Teenage girls collude through song; music is a secret code, a signal, a warning. Maybe that’s why Showtime’s Yellowjackets is so good at reaching deep into my lizard brain and splattering my adolescent memories all over the screen. Like in the second episode, right after teenage Misty (played with impeccable ick by Samantha Hanratty) chops off her coach’s mangled leg, the chorus to “Mother, Mother,” Tracy Bonham’s 1996 alternative chart topper — “I’m hungry / I’m tired / I’m losing my mind / everything’s fine” — drops at full volume. This song, this goddamn perfect song. The lyrics pour over Misty’s blood-spattered face as she locks eyes with the viewer, capturing everything that’s so great about the first season of this show: It’s not just a Lord of the Flies meets Lost mash-up; it’s a sharp and attentive exploration of American womanhood. Or, in Misty’s case, the feminine urge to take the Red Cross Babysitter Training Course twice.

The soundtrack comes from music supervisors Jen Malone and Whitney Pilzerand while the score and opening-credits track comes from Craig Wedren and Anna Waronker, musicians who survived the ’90s (Wedren from the band Shudder to Think and Waronker from That Dog). All together, their sonic mix of existential angst, humor, and dread is a Yellowjackets character in its own right, the tracks always hitting with an ease that never feels intrusive. But the most brilliant thing about the soundtrack is the breadcrumbs it drops for the community that’s sprung up to dissect each scene and symbol in the show, hunting for clues as to what really happened out there in those woods.

So for everyone who has ever sat for hours on their bedroom floor, finger hovering over the record button of the cassette player ready for your song to come on the radio, our favorite axe needle drops from season one of Yellowjackets are below. (Leave your season-two recommendations in the comments!)

Episode One: “Pilot”

The first episode is like the best mixtape in the world. You’ve got Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop,” Hole’s “Miss World,” Snow’s “Informer.” But if I have to narrow it down to two choices (and I do), they are:

The Smashing Pumpkins’s “Today,” which plays as the show’s title card fades and the Wiskayok varsity girls learn they are national soccer champions. If your nostalgic heart doesn’t swell ten times when you hear this paean to short-lived jubilee, it’s because you don’t have one.

Later at the bonfire, after teenage Nat (played by Sophie Thatcher) takes a tab of LSD, PJ Harvey’s “Down by the Water” hits at the same moment the acid does. Looking through the flames, she sees teenage Misty — but just for a moment. A song about a mother who drowns her child? Creepy foreshadowing.

Episode Two: “F Sharp”

The 1990 Wilson Phillips earworm “Hold On” plays as we watch young Misty get bullied (via landline) in her teenage bedroom: A group of giggling teenage girls abuse her for her rumored sexual experience (or lack thereof), and Misty retorts by quoting Plato. She is, if nothing else, a survivor, a person with an uncanny ability to “hold on for one more day.”

“Glory Box,” by Portishead, is one of the best drops in the series. As adult Shauna (Melany Lynskey) chirpily seethes under the weight of suburban dystopia in New Jersey, she kills a bunny in the backyard and serves it up to her family. Titus Andronicus walked so Shauna could run. As she watches them eat, Beth Williams’s tremulous and hypnotic vocals kick in: “I’m so tired of playing / Playing with this bow and arrow / Gonna give my heart away / Leave it to the other girls to play.” The foreboding is palpable.

Episode Three: “The Dollhouse”

The Yellowjackets theme song, by Wedren and Waronker, first appears in episode three, and it’s obvious right away that, like the themes of Succession or My Brilliant Friend, “No Return” is a definite do-not-skip. The homage to ’90s music videos — specifically the ones that played late at night on MTV’s 120 Minutes — is spot on, and as you watch each episode you realize the accompanying footage has … clues: a quick shot of the man with no eyes, a flash of antlers. It also has teenage girls partying, giving the finger to what feels like a VHS camcorder (of course), and puking. Incredible vibes.

And with our basic plot and main characters firmly established, this episode gives us a small moment of joy. The girls go searching for a water source, and when they find a lake, they strip off their clothes and plunge in, soundtracked by the Cranberries’ “Dreams.” No matter how beautiful Dolores O’Riordan’s vocals have always been, they get extra shine when infused with the show’s own lilting grief. It’s all the more heartbreaking that this song transitions from teenage Nat and Travis (Kevin Alves) sneaking glances to an adult Nat (Juliette Lewis) approaching adult Travis’s (Andres Soto) dilapidated cabin.

Episode Four: “Bear Down”

Episode four begins in sync with the the opening bass line of “Mountain Song,” by Jane’s Addiction. As the camera pans down the plane’s aisle, we hear singer Perry Farrell’s animalistic groan — cut to teenage Nat listening to the song on her headphones. As Farrell sings “Comin’ down the mountain / One of many children,” the plane hurtles downward; Nat hallucinates her father sitting next to her, but when he turns to meet her gaze, half his face is blown away and Nat is suddenly holding a shotgun. The song gets an excellent reprise later in the episode when adult Nat is listening to “Mountain Song” at full blast as she drives her Porsche to the car dealership to sell it. These women’s demons are as firmly planted in the present as they were in the past.

Midway through the episode, as teenage Nat and goth Kevyn (Charlie Wright) sit in her bedroom listening to Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel the Pain,” we see how aware she is of both her vulnerability and her growing power as a woman. She and Kevyn discuss how Kurt Cobain wanted Dinosaur Jr. front man J. Mascis to join Nirvana. Dreams get diverted, though, as they do when Nat’s dad bursts in and kills the moment.

Episode Five: “Blood Hive”

There’s so much to unpack in Yellowjackets, and instead of a ton of expositional character development and backstory, we get scenes like episode five’s opener: The girls do a relatable (and normal!) choreographed dance to Montell Jordan’s delightfully cheesy “This Is How We Do It.” For a group of nationally ranked soccer players, this is the first time we see them act in sync, like a team, after the crash. They are still just girls, with the same silly interests and need to be part of a community.

Episode Six: “Saints”

Christina Ricci’s adult Misty gets a lot of flak for listening to bottom-of-the-barrel Broadway tunes while she does stuff like … take the battery out of Nat’s car so she can drive her to Travis’s cabin. As one does. In this episode, the “Overture to Phantom of the Opera” plays in Misty’s basement (which looks like it was definitely furnished by a micro-influencer whose stories I hate-watch, ladder bookshelf and all) as she ties up Jessica, a pesky, freshly kidnapped political fixer posing as an investigative journalist. But this is one of those songs where, if you know, you know. This is the moment when Andrew Lloyd Weber is in all his schlocky glory: The Phantom appears, the giant chandelier descends from the ceiling, and the mist rises in time with the orchestra … chills.

When I first heard “Munich,” by Editors, I was positive that adult Kevyn (Alex Wyndham) was actually listening to Interpol while waiting for Nat because: They sound like Interpol, and you know Kevyn loves Interpol. But that’s what makes this song a perfect needle drop. Anodyne with the very slightest bit of edge, it’s the perfect song for Kevyn, who has gone, predictably, from goth to cop.

Episode Seven: “No Compass”

If you had told me in 1997, when the Prodigy released the techno-punk single “Firestarter,” that it would be featured in half of all on-screen chase scenes for the foreseeable future, I would have said … that seems correct. It’s perfectly suited for adult Shauna, Taissa (Tawny Cypress), and Natalie’s stealth mission to identify their blackmailer, especially when the scene ends with an explosion of glitter.

Episode Eight: “Flight of the Bumblebee”

When Kevyn storms out of Nat’s hotel room and she collapses on her bed after chugging alcohol to the tune of Mazzy Star’s 1994 classic “Fade Into You,” we know it’s Travis she’s really longing for. Instead, Travis is dead and Nat is haunted by memories of their time in the woods. That sound you thought you heard echoing in the wind? That was the collective sigh of recognition from anyone who has been turned inside out by love — requited, unrequited, secret, forbidden, star-crossed, lost all — singing along. “I wanna hold the hand inside you / I wanna take the breath that’s true / I look to see you and I see nothing / I look to you to see the truth.” Don’t we all?

Episode Nine: “Doomcoming”

I maintain that Belly never got their due as one of the best bands of the ’90s, and the placement here of “Gepetto,” as the stranded Yellowjackets make their entrances at Doomcoming, pretty much proves that. Tanya Donnelly’s voice is so pretty, but it sounds like she’s singing in a storm of sound. It’s perfect march music for the revelers, who have no idea what they’ve just stepped into.

After the teens gather, they have a moment of silence for their dearly departed Laura Lee (Jane Widdop), and then, with no music to accompany their bootleg wine and mushroom-spiked stew, Lottie (Courtney Eaton) leads the group in an impromptu singalong to Seal’s 1995 hit “Kiss From a Rose.” It starts as a joke, but soon they give in to the sillier selves and let their voices climb. Sure, it’s Top 40 fluff, but it resonates for the girls when they really need it.

Episode Ten: “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi”

I don’t care how wildly overdone it is in TV and film, a slow-motion strut set to a perfect song gets me every time. As adult Shauna, Nat, Misty, and Tai make the decision to attend their 25th high-school reunion, they do so as a united front to “Come Out and Play,” by the Offspring. Forget the whispers and sideways glances that follow them. These women have earned every moment of that strut — more than their peers will ever know.

Charting Yellowjackets’ Deadliest Needle Drops