In the latest episode of the Starz restaurant drama Sweetbitter, the young protagonist, Tess (played by Ella Purnell), enters a fling with a co-worker and learns about an intriguing relationship between her mentor, Simone (Caitlin FitzGerald), and a former employee.
“Everyone Is Soigne” begins with Tess dropping a hot plate in the kitchen. To help improve her plate-carrying skills, she invites fellow backwaiter Will (Evan Jonigkeit) over to her apartment for some practice. Shortly after his tutorial beings, they start kissing and he ends up spending the night at her place. Back at the restaurant, Simone gets word that an old acquaintance named Serena (Wrenn Schmidt) is coming in for dinner. The rest of the staffers find out about Tess and Will’s fling, and she learns that he has had similar relationships with other co-workers before. Bartender Jake (Tom Sturridge) breaks a glass by accident right after learning about Tess and Will’s relationship.
When Serena comes in for dinner with her husband the next night, they are given the major VIP treatment and Simone waits on their table. Tess learns that Serena is a former restaurant employee who married their biggest regular and moved off to the suburbs to start a family. While fetching a bottle of wine for Jake in the cellar, Tess spies Simone talking to Serena about dissolving her marriage, and the conversation ends with the former employee storming back to the table.
Later that evening, Serena tells Tess that Simone has been unhappy since leaving the restaurant and settling down, and she keeps coming back to her old co-worker to ask for relationship help. During shift drink at the end of the night, Tess turns down Will’s invitation to go on a date on their day off, suggesting that she’s over their fling.
Since Sweetbitter is based on Stephanie Danler’s best-selling novel of the same name, Team Eater thought that it might be appropriate for an editor who has read the book to discuss the themes and plot points of each episode with an editor who has not. Here, now, is a Slack conversation between Eater director of editorial strategy Sonia Chopra (she’s read the book) and pop culture editor Greg Morabito (he hasn’t):
Sweetbitter Episode 3, “Everyone Is Soigne”: The Eater Slack Convo
Greg Morabito: Hey, hey want to talk about “Everyone Is Soigne” ?
Sonia Chopra: I sure do!!!
GM: Woot woot. So, before we dive into the nitty gritty, let me just say that this is perhaps the most action-packed of the three episodes in the Tess and the City saga so far.
SC: Could not agree more.
GM: Our hero is really gaining some life experiences, a mile a minute.
SC: And with that it seems like we are finally starting to remember her name.
GM: It’s still a struggle for me TBH. So, at the jump, Tess can’t hold hot plates: a very real problem for backwaiters all over the dining world. So she steals some plates... because she doesn’t have any at her apartment... and invites WILL over to show her the way. What did you think of this whole Tess/Will situation?
SC: Wow. Well first: What I liked about Tess and the hot plates is that the scenes show — and she even says — that she really is trying her best.
SC: She’s not just floating through her job. She cares and really wants to be there.
GM: She’s showing some determination and asserting herself.
SC: Yeah, I mean she stole plates.
GM: Her deadbeat banker roommate apparently doesn’t have any. Just barbells. And beer. SC: That’s how much she cares about getting this right; she’s taking the work home (and risking maybe getting fired to learn more). Okay, also, how weird was it that she just casually dropped in that she had never seen the roommate?
GM: It’s weird. Although, dare I say, not out of the realm of possibilities. I had a roommate once who was a stagehand for a traveling Broadway show and I literally saw her twice in six months. So, weird, but not out of the question.
SC: Yeah — it seems very New York.
GM: Pretty good set-up, TBH.
SC: So she brings Will home with her to help her practice carrying three plates at once, and it seems like she meant it totally innocently.
GM: Yes. I actually couldn’t figure out whether she had any designs to get to know Will more or not... and if she was testing the waters by inviting him over. But most likely, the answer is: She just wanted some help with the plates. The show has sort of set him up as one of about seven possible love interests.
SC: LOL, yeah he’s the nice one, the kind one.
GM: He’s sort of nice? He’s actually the nice guy/not nice guy... like a faux nice guy?
SC: Like nice but with a motive?
GM: Yes ^. Anyway, while she’s balancing the hot plates, he asks to kiss her; she’s surprised but says yes, go ahead. Things get a bit 50 Shades for a moment while she’s holding the plates... flash forward and they’re lying in bed.
SC: Yeah it gets a lil’ scandalous. The scene where he’s showing her how to hold the plates is very much the analog to the whole trope of showing someone how to play pool.
GM: Ahaha yes, yes. ”Put it on this palm right here, and then on your forearm just like this.” So, I like that he asked for consent to kiss her and I actually can’t remember the last time I saw this in a TV show or movie, but then things got scandalous.
SC: And then we learn that this happens so often that there are rules around it in the restaurant.
GM: That was an interesting development: They’re both backwaiters, so he’s not like her boss or vice versa (though he’s still higher up in the social strata of the place).
SC: Yeah, you can only date — do they use the word “date”? — people “on your level.” Which is not a bad rule to have necessarily, especially once we learn that our bud Will has slept with at least a couple other people in the restaurant.
GM: Yup! It’s a pattern with this guy. As Ari tells Tess the next day, “You can’t [expletive deleted] above or below your level. And you’re both backwaiters — well actually, you aren’t yet.” Anyway, news of their tryst travels like wildfire through the restaurant and nobody’s really surprised. I thought this detail was... fairly accurate. Goss travels fast.
SC: Yeah, same, I thought the whole thing felt pretty real — from Will making a comment as soon as he walked into Tess’s apartment where he was clearly fishing to see if she had a boyfriend to literally none of their coworkers caring that they had hooked up. And then they do it again!
GM: Yes, yes. So, Simone is a big part of this episode. And we learn a bit about her mysterious past.
SC: Okay so things we learned about Simone this episode: 1) She and Jake are both from “The Cape,” which is presented as a very random aside from the ever-so-moody Jake and contributes to the plot, like, not at all.
GM: Yes. I believe they alluded to this in maybe the last episode as well.
GM: Becayse I remember Jake all of a sudden adopting a thick Mass accent when he said “Cape Cawd.”
SC: I missed/forgot that.
GM: All good, it’s a weird detail. So, they maybe grew up there? They were neighbors or something. So what is the deal between Jake and Simone? Are they lovers? Siblings?Cousins?
SC: Well SO there was that scene with Jake and Tess, where he traces around the tattoo she has on the back of her neck, and then asks her to meet him at Home Bar later, but then ends up leaving with Simone when Simone asks him to walk her home, so...!
GM: Yes, he’s very surprised to see that very common tattoo. Oh, I see it — Simone doesn’t want Jake getting close to Tess.
SC: What I wrote down was, “Jake is apparently very interested in what I would consider the least uninteresting tattoo: a star outline on the back of a neck.”
GM: LOL. Simone’s ex, a former employee, is in for dinner with her husband, and there’s tension. Tess meets them and hangs out for an awkward amount of time around their table while Howard introduces everyone.
SC: So much tension — Simone tried to stop the former employee, Serena, from coming in. (Wait, they dated?)
GM: Oh... that’s the vibe I got. Maybe I misread that.
SC: It seems like they were definitely very close in any case. Maybe we’ll have to tune in to episode 4 to find out!
GM: True, true.
SC: In any case, Howard intercepts, Serena ends up coming in, and it’s very awkward
GM: Total Howard move.
SC: Simone and Serena have a moment in the wine cellar, and Tess is eavesdropping and gets caught. Simone had just told Serena to leave her husband.
GM: Yes and after Serena leaves, Tess, showing a surprising amount of forthrightness, tells Simone, “Don’t let her get to you.” Like, Okay, Dr. Phil. But still, I commend her for trying to help out her new friend and co-worker.
SC: Ha yeah, I thought Simone was going to snap at her for that. But you’re right, it was kind and came from a good place. Tess is not bad!
GM: She gets better with every episode, it seems.
SC: Thank goodness. Then we learn something very interesting about Serena, right?
GM: She was like Tess once upon a time: a young backwaiter trying to work her way up the ranks of the restaurant with no name. And then she up and married their biggest regular and moved to Westchester.
SC: LOL no name but a lotta VIPs.
GM: ”Soigne” guests.
SC: Serena and her husband are now peak “soigne.” Ultra-VIP. But does she seem happy?
GM: Not at all. Simone was explaining that every few months, Serena tries to rope her into a plot to leave her husband. “That’s the consequences,” Simone explains. And when Tess asks what she’s referring to, Simone says, “Settling.” Simone clearly hasn’t “settled.” She’s older than most of the other people at the restaurant, but she’s also powerful — and maybe happy and not locked into something she doesn’t like.
SC: Right — it seems like she likes what she’s doing, and she’s an expert at it.
GM: She’s read books about wine.
SC: When Serena kind of cuttingly tells her that she might be working at the Unnamed Restaurant for the rest of her life, Simone is like: that’s fine!
GM: Yes! And later that evening, at the shift drink, sometimes-nice-guy Will cozies up to Tess and tries to pitch her on a movie and burger date a Film Forum, which he so accurately describes as, “This place where they show movies that nobody wants to see.” And then Tess has one of her signature sensory flashbacks.
SC: She sure does — featuring those steamy oysters and more.
GM: I think it’s pretty clear she’s got the hots for Jake, not Will, and she rather directly rebuffs his date offer with no excuse or anything. I actually loved this part.
SC: Yeah! She’s very direct about it.
GM: Although they didn’t make like a huge deal out of it, I surmised that Simone’s lesson about “settling” really sunk in. Why should Tess settle for Will? She’s not really that into him, it seems.
SC: Right — like you said, she’s into mysterious Jake.
GM: Oyster boy.
SC: Who is maybe also into her, judging on the steamy tracing of her very uninteresting tattoo and the fact that he broke a glass accidentally after finding out that she slept with Will.
GM: Yeah, this is the story I’m tuning in for next week. Which reminds me to ask: Now, after three episodes, if you didn’t have to watch this for a professional reason, would you still be tuning into Sweetbitter?
SC: Yes. I continue to be surprised by how much I like Tess, and I want to see how she continues to evolve.
GM: I bet she’s going to read one of those wine books soon.
SC: Only true adults read wine books TBH. Also, like we’ve talked about a couple times, I like how this show addresses some things really head-on and I’m curious to see if they’ll take that farther.
GM: Totally agree.
SC: We kind of see an eating disorder come up in this episode with Serena (who doesn’t eat any of her food and instead hides it in a Champagne bucket) — will that be discussed more? Will they tackle consent and #MeToo? I want to know!
GM: Oh yeah, that thing about the eating disorder was a surprising detail. So far, I like that they have... not made the show about #MeToo, but put in details that show that they are conscious of the conversation happening right now.
SC: Yes, same. It feels real.
GM: And in an interview, Sweetbitter author/show creator Stephanie Danler actually said, “We were talking about #MeToo the entire time” while making the show, so I hope to see how that plays out. Anyway, Sweetbitter is improbably still very watchable I think at the halfway mark of the season. Catch you next week to talk about number four!
SC: See you next week! Stay away from hot plates!
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