Sweetbitter Episode 4: Champagne With Simone

Photo: Courtesy of Starz.
The drink of choice for this week is bubbly. But not just any bottle, I’m talking ice cold and all the way from Champagne, France.
We open on a particularly seductive reverie Tess (Ella Purnell) is having. In it, she is glammed up and on the arms of a debonaire and suited up Jake (Tom Sturridge) — don’t worry, his hair is still messy and oily — as they head into the restaurant. The whole staff fusses around them: Howard pulls out their chairs, Sasha pours them water, and Simone picks the perfect wine. Is there anything hotter than being the center of attention at your place of work? Jake and Tess start making out, her dress comes off, his pants are zipped open. But, alas, we find out it’s just a sex fantasy as Tess masturbates with her laundry bag on top of her.
Sexy visions of Jake’s face aside, it’s Tess’ first day off from the restaurant and she’s on a mission to explore her new city. That is, until she runs into an old friend and her mother from back home outside the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. They think Tess is both brave and crazy to move to the city on her own, and during an awkward exchange we learn that Tess’ mother was not in the picture, and she was raised by her dad. We already suspected as much, but now we know for sure. I almost forgot just how little we know about Tess’ family, her history, or even where she’s from.
Tess walks around the city, alone. She eats at a restaurant, alone. No one seated around her even cares that she’s “reading” The New Yorker, which is just infuriating. Guys, it’s The New Yorker. After all these lonely scenes, we’re not even surprised when Tess shows up unannounced on Simone’s (Caitlin FitzGerald) doorstep pretending she’s there for some wine books. She was bound to go seek out the one person who has shown her kindness.
Simone’s studio apartment is... interesting. For one, there’s a claw-foot tub randomly hanging out in her living room. But if you think it’s some weird pretentious decorating choice, think again. Simone showers and takes baths a foot away from her dining room table. It’s so New York I can’t handle it. “Now you know my secret, I’m a slob,” she says to Tess, clearing plates and two wine glasses (who was over, Simone?) from the table.
Getting a tour of the apartment, we can see that Simone isn’t pretending to be knowledgeable and well-read, she actually is. Jazz from a real record player wafts in the background as Tess walks past Simone’s record collection, her bookcases, and even her open Paris Review. I imagine the apartment smells of musty old books picked up at small shops during travels to far-flung exotic locales. But before I can glamorize her life, Simone reveals she’s actually not that happy — not with her life and not with herself.
“I wanted to get job that gave me the whole city,” she says. Instead, Simone’s been living in this apartment for 16 years. That’s a long time to shower in your dining room. With the two women standing near each other it’s hard to ignore that Simone used to be Tess. Perhaps she shows her flashes of kindness because Simone sees herself in Tess, sees what she used to be, how hopeful and innocent she was. Maybe she even wants to warn her about this lifestyle. But I’m not so sure Tess realizes how easily she could become Simone.
Simone goes on to make Tess the fanciest grilled cheese sandwich I have ever seen, and the two wash it down with real Champagne. We also learn a few new things about Simone: she lived in Champagne, France, and she knows her know-it-all attitude “grates” on everyone. But still, there’s a maternal warmth here from Simone and I’m sure Tess feels it too. She may be attracted to Jake, but Tess looks up to, likes, and respects Simone. A much more palpable and powerful mix of emotions, if you ask me.
The two get deeper in conversation as Simone packs for a quick getaway to Cape Cod to clear out her family home and prepare it for sale. She tells Tess that Jake moved in with her family when he was 8 years old, after his mother passed away. Simone then took care of him, becoming a second mom to him, as Tess says. But now, Simone can’t understand why Jake is being a brat and refuses to help her clean up the home. Tess, meanwhile, can’t understand how Simone doesn’t see that he doesn’t want to return to a place where the memory of his mom’s death is so real. We are on episode 4, and until this very moment I thought Simone and Jake had a sexual relationship. I’m still getting some sort of possessive vibe from Simone.
Then, a HUGE bouquet of flowers show up at Simone’s door. She doesn’t open the envelope, but she knows they’re “from a man who thinks he can have everything he wants.”
When Tess began to rip the petals off the most beautiful hydrangeas and peonies, I gasped. But when Simone joins in and they merrily rip up this stunning $300 arrangement (price adjusted for inflation), I just sat back and cried cartoon tears. What a waste.
As if building up to it all afternoon, Simone breaks and tells Tess that Jake is a mistake. “Some men like to pretend that they’re damaged and dangerous for the effect. But some men actually are, and they won’t just be a cool story for later,” she warns. But her words are lost on deaf ears as Tess falls asleep in the tub. When she comes to, Simone is dressed up and looks like she’s on her way out for the night. All the affection and tenderness from earlier is gone. It might as well not have existed. Simone cooly dismisses Tess and sends her on her way, but Tess barely makes it a few steps outside the building before she starts sobbing. She may feel lonelier now after all these hours with Simone than she did earlier in the day.
In the wise words of the Cheers theme song, Tess just wants to go somewhere where everybody knows her name. So she heads to work, the only place where anyone knows her name. As the group gets late-night Szechuan food, Jake shows up and sits down next to Tess. Within moments, he slyly drops a pack of cigarettes on her lap and loudly asks her to bum one. Happily taking the bait from this brilliant fuccboi move, Tess hands him one and goes outside for a smoke with him and his perpetually furrowed brow.
Within moments, Jake ATTACKS Tess’ face with a passionate kiss before lifting her up against the wall. And just like all bad boys, he makes a date for the next night and heads out. Tess can’t believe he kissed her and oof, she has fallen.
Highlights & Thoughts:
— Heather (Jasmine Matthews) says she had another sex dream about Howard (Paul Sparks), the camera pans over the hostess, Becky (Katerina Tannenbaum), as she gives an awkward look. What is that about?
Best Sasha Quote: You two are so beautiful I might spit in your food.

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