Warning: Spoilers ahead for Sweetbitter season 2 finale “Bodega Cat.”
“I think that you should fire Simone.” Those are the explosive last words of Sweetbitter season 2. One may expect someone as cutthroat as Sasha (Daniyar) to spit out that recommendation to restaurant manager Howard (Paul Sparks). Will (Evan Jonigkeit) could even be the prospective culprit as he stumbles toward real power. But it’s neither of those men who toss mysterious ice queen Simone (Caitlin FitzGerald) under the proverbial food truck to close out Sunday night’s 2019 finale,
Instead, that honor goes to protagonist Tess (Ella Purnell), proving Sasha was right to nickname the restaurant newbie Baby Monster. Or, as Tess’ portrayer Ella Purnell tells Refinery29, “Baby Monster’s finally coming into her own.” Baby Monster may just be Regular Monster now. It’s an evolution that comes right on the heels of Tess’ hookup with longtime on-and-off crush Jake (Tom Sturridge), which aired just before the finale in fellow Sunday night episode “Peach Treats.”
Between these two huge season-ending moments, Purnell knows she has a lot to answer for when it comes to her character.
“Actor 101 is don’t judge your character, but then she pulls something like that, and I’m like, 'Goddamnit. It’s really hard to not judge you right now,'” the British actress laughs about Tess’ finale power play.
It’s a chess move that follows multiple whiplash-inducing events with Jake and Simone, the Cape’s most dysfunctional children. In “Peach Treats,” Tess and Jake have sex, reaching the climax of their two-season-long flirtation. Things are good until Tess delves into Jake and Simone’s lifetime relationship and realizes they’ve been sleeping together for years (a revelation that may be obvious to viewers). Tess pushes both of her coworkers on their present relationship, destroying any connection she had fostered with Simone and alienating Jake. Jake storms out of the restaurant in a drunken huff, and Simone takes stock of her life.
“Tess feels like Simone is giving Tess things, but taking things from Jake. Like he has no authority or autonomy,” Purnell explains. “Since she’s very used to being by herself, she’s good at calling out other people’s codependent bullshit.” So she shows up at Howards apartment to recommend the removal of Simone and her own promotion.
“I’ve loved watching her this season come into her own and realize how to find her voice, how to ask for things,” Purnell admits. “I would love to see her get full monster. That would be fun.”
It’s Tess’ decision to touch that abyss within herself that also brings her and Jake together earlier in “Peach Treats.” As the Sweetbitter star says of her character’s lengthy, sexy hookup, “I love that bit of like, it’s two damaged people connecting without using words. It’s not cheap thrills or shit like that, it’s about trust and love.” Tess and Jake are both running from the unresolved pain they suffer from their respective mothers (“All that stuff is going to come back and bite her,” Purnell predicts for her character). But, for a few minutes, they can enjoy each other, at least.
“I’m so frustrated with how often I feel like I have to justify these things, but sex is such an important part of people’s personal development and growth. Sex is not a dirty thing, it’s a really important part of intimacy,” Purnell says, praising creator/author Stephanie Danler’s handling of the sex scene. “Tess recognizes the darkness in Jake that she has in her.”
The result of that emotional honesty is very intense and pleasurable sex for Tess, which is lightyears away from the awkward night she shares with Omar Gamal (Karim Saleh) earlier this season. “Sex is often displayed not in the most accurate, healthy way for women [on television],” her portrayer says. “We get off so quickly and it sounds like this and it looks like this and no one ever uses protection. It’s just not real life.” Both of Tess' season 2 sex scene reckon with how wrong those assumptions are.
Still Purnell knows Tess probably shouldn't stay mired in Jake’s twin darkness forever, no matter how good the sex is. Especially not when a flawed-but-well-meaning love interest like Will is waiting in the wings, along with thousands of other eligible New York bachelors.
“If she was my best friend, I would say, ‘Go for the good guy.’ But we’ve all been 22 and moving to New York and confused about what you want. You have to do some shitty things,” she reminds us. “I’m not saying Tess is likable, but she is growing. We don’t actually always have to be likable, contrary to what people believe. We are also allowed to find ourselves, our true authentic selves, and we’re allowed to fuck up in the process.”
That is why, although Purnell says don’t believe “Bodega Cat” is “the end” of Tess and Jake, she says her character has “bigger fish to fry” than one messy situationship. Namely, there's Tess' own self discovery. “She’s going to go to a dark place before she gets to the good part,” the actress forecasts. “She has become aware that the world is bigger than her. But she has to face her true demons.”
That’s what brings Tess to her late night apartment meeting with Howard. As Ella Purnell says, “I just wish I could watch on and see what Howard says in response. But you’ll never know… or maybe we will. “