Sweetbitter Episode 2: Welcome To The Club

Photo: Courtesy of Starz.
Welcome back to the restaurant! I have decided that the wine of choice for this episode is a sweet and crisp Riesling. You’ll see why soon.
We pick up with Tess (Ella Purnell) days (or is it weeks?) after she first started her trial. While the first episode slowly built up to Tess’ first dinner service, we never got to experience what I assume was a chaotic first evening at work right along with her. I had riled myself up for a montage (spoiler: I love montages) of our heroine rushing to and fro from front of house to the kitchen. So it was a little disappointing to be robbed of that. But where the pilot failed me, “Now Your Tongue Is Coded” more than delivered.
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The rapidly paced montage at the start of the episode has a dizzying effect. Servers spew directions at Tess so fast that I became overwhelmed and invested in her success at clearing the dishes. Work at the restaurant is electric and stressful, but I wouldn’t assume Tess hates it just yet. I’m sure she could do without the cascade of criticisms to move “fucking fast,” though.
As one service winds down, we get our taste of the bold humour of some of the other characters. Without a doubt, you’ll be laughing out loud as Ariel (Eden Epstein) and Heather (Jasmine Mathews) give dagger eyes as one last table stands between them and freedom for the night. “Look at dick face just blowing on his cappuccino,” says Ariel. You can bet servers have said that about all of us when we have overstayed our welcome.
Meanwhile, Tess watches Jake (Tom Sturridge) as he cleans up behind the bar, a hint of a mermaid tattoo sneaking out from under his rolled-up shirt sleeves. She gets up the courage to say hello and attempts at conversation, but he’s a cool guy, so obviously he gives Tess one-word answers. She later awkwardly walks in on Simone (Caitlin FitzGerald) and Jake’s banter as they change out of their work clothes. In her haste to run out and away from the sight of Simone’s bra, Tess drops her wallet in the locker room. When she returns to retrieve it she can’t believe what she sees: the stuffy restaurant has turned into a hot bar at night. Servers pour out drinks, blast music, and smoke until the haze hangs over the main dining room. It’s like walking into a booming party that everyone but you has been invited to. I should note, it’s a full three years after Mayor Mike Bloomberg outlawed smoking indoors — how on earth do they get the smell of cigarettes out of those pink fabric chairs? The magique of television, I guess.
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Tess is mostly alone at the bar as everyone parties around her. That is, until Simone comes over and, like every bad date you’ve ever had, orders a drink for Tess when she hesitates with an answer. They both get a Riesling, and Simone launches into a short speech about the geo-political history of the region where the wine is produced. Ugh, Simone. When Tess wonders how she knows so much, Simone says, “You don’t do anything without investing in it.” And with that my annoyance at Simone just melts away. She’s arrogant because she’s put time into acquiring knowledge. She’s confident because she’s prepared. And what I thought was a holier-than-thou pretension was the self-possession that continues to impress Tess.
As if that wasn’t enough to change my mind, Jake calls for Simone, motioning to her that it’s time to go. Instead, Simone pulls out a cigarette from her bag and slowly leans back into her chair, taking a drag and looking right back at Jake. Ooof, teach me your ways, Simone!
When everyone leaves to go to a different bar, no one gives Tess a second glance. Except Sasha (Daniyar), who runs back in for her wearing what must be the coolest studded leather jacket ever made. The two meet up with the rest of the crew at Home Bar, a dive joint where the staff of all the top restaurants in the city come to unwind from the stress of serving you and me.
In a matter of minutes, Jake takes Tess’ hand and buys her a shot, dropping hints that there’s nothing between him and Simone. They just grew up together on Cape Cod. Before Tess can take this all in, a scheme by Sasha to find out the whereabouts of his greencard wife goes horribly wrong and gets Tess sucker-punched in the face. When Ariel whisks her away to the bathroom to clean her up, she also gives Tess a kiss on the lips and her first hit of cocaine. This whole chain of events happen fast, and it’s a really fun watch.
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Tess then takes a shot with Will (Evan Jonigkeit) as he explains why it’s important to unwind after work. (Ahh, they’re together! Yes, I love it.) Then, another shot as the whole crew joins the two in a booth. (Okay, calm down. You have work in the morning.) Then, another shot (will no one stop her?!?!?) as she tells a story about inviting John Lennon to her birthday party and realizing god doesn’t exist. This story comes out of nowhere and breaks up the moment for me. It’s hard to believe the whole crew would sit there and let this newbie blather on about a memory from when she was six years old. I don’t buy it. I’m sure it was supposed to give Tess another layer, make us care for her, tell us a little more about her past. But instead, I couldn’t wait until this story was over so Ariel, Sasha, or Heather could throw out another funny quip.
Unlike my cold and frozen heart, this story strikes a chord with Jake. He walks away from the group and, I’m guessing, finds the release he needs in the inviting arms of the bartender. Tess catches the two making out in a dimly lit hallway in the bar. She was visibly relieved to hear Jake was not involved with Simone, so this leaves her frozen in her place, perhaps wishing it was her he was kissing so passionately. Where’s an oyster when you need one?
Highlights and Thoughts
— It seems all of Tess’ run-ins with Howard (Paul Sparks) are cringeworthy, but I had to put my hands on my face when he catches Tess about to chomp down on an uneaten lamb chop from the garbage.
— Will is giving all kinds of sideways glances to Tess as she’s giving all kinds of sideways glances to Jake. It’s beginning to look a lot like a triangle.
Best Sasha Quote: “I hate vodka. Racist bitch.”
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