Sweetbitter Episode 3: The Big Decision

Photo: Courtesy of starz.
This week’s drink of choice is a piping hot black coffee. Decisions must be made, and we need to have our wits about us.
We open the episode on Tess (Ella Purnell) unpacking plates she has “borrowed” from the restaurant. She’s doing her homework and is determined to master the three-plate stack. You can’t graduate from back waiter to server without serving. A quick cut to one such attempt during dinner service ends with a gorgeous plate of lamb chops shattered on the kitchen floor and some choice curse words from Scott (Jimmie Saito), the sous chef.
I’m continually impressed by Tess’ work ethic. Perhaps the restaurant job landed a little too easily on her lap to be realistic. But her determination to turn this temporary gig into a permanent one is notable. No doubt this stubborn drive comes from a refusal to admit defeat to her father. We're three episodes in and we know nothing of her past or why she was so determined to leave her home.
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Back in the dining room, the hostess runs up to Simone (Caitlin FitzGerald) to talk about the next night’s reservations. Serena (Wrenn Schmidt), a former server, wants to know if she can be squeezed in for dinner with her husband. In Howard’s absence, Simone makes all the big decisions, so she says no. “But Serena is soigne,” says the hostess. “Everyone is soigne,” Simone responds, curtly ending the conversation. I should probably not keep you in the dark and let you know that soigne means VIP.
My admiration for Simone grows with each episode. In real life, I would probably grit my teeth at someone who seems so perfect. But she is calm, cool, and collected. Her berry lipstick is perfectly applied, her blonde ponytail has nary a strand out of place. Her voice is always at the same decibel and sounds more like a stage whisper than regular speech. Where everyone else hurries with plates, she walks with an even-keeled gait through the dining room. Even if she wasn’t serving me, I would notice her.
Meanwhile, Tess decides she needs to kick up her plate-carrying lessons up a notch and brings in a professional to help. That’s how we end up with Will (Evan Jonigkeit) in her apartment, taking in the perfectly set table with all of Tess’ stolen dishes and cutlery.
I can immediately tell Will is a shit teacher. He clearly likes Tess and came over with an agenda, which he can barely hide as he sensually rubs her arm in the guise of helping her stack her plates. Before we know what’s going on, he holds up two plates over the flaming gas range, heating them up to get Tess’ skin used to the scorching heat of a plate. Oh! Scratch what I said, Will is a horrifying teacher. He then hands Tess a plate and asks her if she’s alright with him kissing her. (Yes, Will, consent!) Tess leans in for the kiss herself before Will goes down on her, all the while insisting she keep balancing the plates. Chill, dude, I don’t think any of the guests are going to be distracting her like this during the evening rush.
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At the next night’s service, Ariel (Eden Epstein) is grumbling about a girl who has yet to call her back, despite Ariel giving her three orgasms (the nerve!). Perhaps Tess thinks this now means the two are having girl talk, because she then asks Ariel, “Are we friends?” Damn, Tess. Be cool! Ariel doesn’t respond with a yes, but that’s good enough for Tess to spill the beans about hooking up with Will. But she has nothing to worry about, Ariel says, since the two are in the same position at the restaurant. “You can’t fuck above or below level,” she says, which is actually a good rule to have in life.
In less than a hot minute, Ariel tells Heather (Jasmine Mathews) — who also hooked up with Will — Sasha (Daniyar), and Jake (Tom Sturridge). Jake doesn’t take too well to the news, his bae fingers let a wine glass slip, and it breaks right into the ice bin. Oh, hello! What do we have here? Is our sulky Jake catching some feelings? Is he jealous Tess didn’t wait for his mood to clear to hook up with him instead?
He later explains to Tess he was shaken because Simone is pressuring him to head up home to Cape Cod together. We don’t have long to dwell on the thought of Simone and Jake on a road trip together because Jake reaches over as Tess’ back is turned to him, pulls down the back of her collar, and caresses a tiny star tattoo on the back of her neck. The moment slows down for Tess and all background noise dims. Jake asks if Tess is going to Home Bar later. Yes, she is. Is that what the youths call setting up a date?
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After service, Simone sits down next to Tess, who asks if it’s a pinot grigio kind of night. “It’s never a pinot grigio kind of night. Ever!” Simone retorts. What did pinot grigio ever do to Simone? (After brief research, turns out pinot grigio has a reputation of being the wine for people who don’t like wine. The shade!) Simone then looks over at Jake in the corner and asks to walk home together. His perpetually furrowed brow and brooding eyes dart quickly to Tess before he agrees to walk home with Simone. Is that what the youths call being stood up?
Don’t lose sleep feeling bad for Tess; she went home with Will. But while he’s passed out sleeping naked next to her, Tess is staring up at the ceiling. We can all safely assume she’s thinking about Jake. Unlike her quiet moments with Jake, though, straight up drums and cymbals play during this shot. Is this subliminal messaging that Tess doesn’t really like Will at all?
At next night’s service, Howard has found a way to squeeze in Serena and her husband, the soigne from earlier, in Simone’s section. Serena, an alumna of the restaurant, is described as “a back waiter, turned server, turned Greenwich housewife.” There’s a quiet but palpable tension underneath the conversation between her and Simone.
When Jake sends Tess down to the wine cellar, she overhears a heated conversation between Serena and Simone. While Serena only wants Simone to reciprocate her friendship, Simone chides Serena for marrying her husband, asking her to leave him. Serena says it’s not as easy as Simone thinks. “I think you might spend the rest of your life here,” Serena says. “I can live with that,” Simone responds without missing a beat.
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As if to explain the argument, Simone later asks Tess to bring the Champagne bucket from Serena’s table and unfurl the crumpled up cloth napkins hidden under the champagne bottle. A shocked Tess opens them up to reveal Serena’s chewed but uneaten food. “She does this every six months,” Simone says. “She says she’s going to leave him. She begs for my help, and she wants me to pretend like nothing ever happened. It’s exhausting. Good reminder of the consequences…. Of settling.” There’s a backstory here that I hope we get into later, but seeing Simone livid at the unhealthy and damaging choices her friend is making just put her at the top of my list of Sweetbitter faves.
At after-service drinks, Will asks Tess out for a day of burgers and a pretentious movie — a real date in the daylight! But as soon as Amy Winehouse’s “Wake Up Alone” starts crooning in the background, I know things won’t end well for him. Tess looks over at a mug of steaming coffee on the bar and gets flashes of Jake caressing her tattoo and of shooting back the oyster he gave her — she knows exactly what she needs to do. Tess awkwardly turns down Will’s date and every other date, “I don’t feel… it’s not right. I’m sorry.” He gets it. And while I’m sad to see Will go, I’m so happy Tess is mature enough not to string him along or toy with his feelings while she figures out hers. She’s not about to settle and become Serena 2.0. And with that, it’s time for Will to exit stage left.
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Highlights and Thoughts
— This whole episode with Will and Jake was like a walk down Sex and the City memory lane and the great Mr. Big versus Aidan debate. Just like Carrie, Tess went for the aloof bad boy instead of the sure (and charming) thing. But I'm continually in awe of how confident she is in her decisions. I respect that she doesn't waver once she has made up her mind. It would have been so easy for her to keep seeing Will and also test the waters with Jake. Okay, Tess. I trust you. Do your thing.
— I need more of my lyubimiy (beloved) Sasha in each episode! I missed him.
Best Sasha Quote: “He’s crocodile hunter, he goes down under. Disgusting."
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please call Beat on 0808 801 0677. Support and information is available 365 days a year.
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