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Drugs and Debauchery Fuel Sweetbitter’s ‘Weird Night’

Major spoilers ahead for the new Starz restaurant drama


The fifth episode of Sweetbitter is the most dramatic chapter of the Starz restaurant saga to date. Like last week’s terrific episode “Simone’s,” a lot of the action in “Weird Night” takes place outside the restaurant and focuses on blooming relationships between co-workers. But unlike that earlier installment of the show, this one also includes a brush with death.

The protagonist, Tess (played by Ella Purnell), begins the last day of her “trail” at the restaurant expecting to go on a date with bartender Jake (Tom Sturridge) after her shift. But when Tess arrives at the restaurant, she finds out that Jake did not show up for work and, what’s more, everyone appears to be in a bad mood.

Relegated to the dishwashing station, Tess sees Ari (Eden Epstein) popping a pill to help her get through the shift, and she asks for one for herself, not knowing what it is. The mystery pill turns out to be some sort of stimulant that sends Tess into a frenzied state. Elsewhere in the restaurant, manager Howard (Paul Sparks) cancels a review that could have lead to a promotion for Sasha (played by Daniyar), and in the middle of service, Becky (Katerina Tannenbaum), another backwaiter, comes in to yell about a schedule change. In the middle of the shift, one of the kitchen crew members also gets mad at Tess for helping another staffer cash a check, since he typically does that for the dishwashing crew, for a fee.

After work, instead of heading home to rest up for her review with Howard the next day, Tess goes out to a club with Sasha, where she proceeds to get drunk and hook up with an old flame, Will (Evan Jonigkeit), in the bathroom. Tess and Sasha then decide to go to a party in a ritzy suite, where a bunch of their friends from the restaurant are hanging out. Several drinks (and pills, and cocaine bumps) later, Tess and Sasha have a heart-to-heart on the balcony, where he expresses his sadness over how things aren’t quite working out for him in New York City. Tess goes inside to get some water and returns to find that Sasha is now lying face-down on a terrace several stories below the balcony.

In a hospital room the next morning, Tess comforts Sasha as he heals from what, he implies, was a suicide attempt.

Since Sweetbitter is based on Stephanie Danler’s hit 2016 novel of the same name, Team Eater thought that it might be appropriate for an editor who’s read the book to discuss each episode with an editor who hasn’t read the book. Here, now, is an unedited 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 5, “Weird Night”: The Eater Slack Convo

Greg Morabito: Okay so, I just had to pour myself a fresh cup of coffee, because there is A LOT to talk about with this new episode. I’m just happy [minor spoiler] that nobody dies.
Sonia Chopra: Oh man, WHAT an episode.
GM: Several times during this episode I thought, “I’m so glad I’m not any of these characters right now.” So, at the jump, Tess is getting ready for a long day that will perhaps culminate in a date with Jake.
SC: It’s funny you say that because so many times during this episode I thought, “Wow I’m so glad I’m not this person anymore” :upside_down_face:
GM: Haha yes... it was full of rich details that I’m sure a lot of people will relate to from their past. And quick check: Is Tess sticking for you yet?
SC: Tess as a name is definitely still not sticking with me.
GM: Fair enough.
SC: But I liked her! She felt so real!
GM: Yes, I think she... becomes a real person in this episode.
SC: Yes!
GM: Not to jump too far ahead, but I was unexpectedly moved by the relationship between Tess and Sasha in this episode. Now, after this crazy night, she has a real friend.
SC: Our man Sasha really played a big role in this episode.
GM: Yes. I previously thought he was sort of a background character — a prankster who made things complicated or interesting in Tess’s life. But he’s complex and human and is perhaps drowning his sadness in a sea of alcohol and pills. Anyway, Tess is getting ready for her big night at work. She has a few sensual black-and-white flashback moments before leaving her apartment, so clearly she’s got big plans for the night. On the way in, she helps one of the immigrant dishwashers cash his check — because she’s a nice person. And then as soon as she gets to work, things start to go off the rails.
SC: She immediately loses her shoes! And... is handed a pair of orange Crocs to wear instead, which are an interesting choice.
GM: Yes, the damned crocs. It is an interesting choice (though also, as I recall, these orange Crocs were sort of trendy pieces of chef attire back in the mid-’00s).
SC: I hear they are, in fact, very comfy. But, okay, so she loses her shoes and then immediately things start to go off the rails. She can’t work the floor because the dishwasher is broken and she’s needed in the kitchen.
GM: Jake is not at work, so odds are she won’t be going on their date.
SC: Oh RIGHT. Major news right off the bat — she was looking forward to that so-called date with Jake after he came back from the Cape but... he didn’t come back from the Cape. So she got all dressed up for nothing.
GM: She got all dressed up before her shift for nothing. No jake, no Simone in this episode. Everyone else in the restaurant is in a bad mood, too. Sasha was going to get an interview to become a server, but it didn’t happen because manager Howard cancelled it. Will is a little snippy with Tess for some other reason... maybe he’s still mad at her for rebuffing him or he’s just over it. The chef (who’s name I forget or we maybe we haven’t learned yet) is pissed that his wonderful vegetable dish did not make the cut.
SC: It seems like a good dish, with octopus too! But he thinks the restaurant is “stuck in the ’80s.”
GM: He’s low-key one of my favorite characters. Ari is also in a bit of a bad mood, but she has a little trick to getting through this shift: a blue pill that is maybe speed? Ecstasy? MDMA?
SC: She calls it a “treat” and gives Tess half and it makes her talk at 1.5x speed.
GM: And scrub glasses at 2.5x speed.
SC: Ha, yes. That scene where she’s scrubbing the glasses and silverware makes me happy I never worked in a restaurant.

Tess (Ella Purnell) and Will (Evan Jonigkeit) on the dance floor

GM: I was worried someone would notice she was on drugs and fire her. But, anyway, that didn’t happen. What did happen, though, is one of the other backwaiters who hasn’t talked ver much comes storming in the restaurant yelling about how Howard transferred her. Awkward.
SC: She throws a glass!
GM: And now we know, or at least we get the hint that, Howard is maybe not a nice guy. It appears that he had a relationship with her and when things went south, he started messing with her schedule.
SC: Not a good look.
GM: Nope. We don’t know all the details, but this could possibly fall into a legal category of harassment, is my guess. But anyway, things keep chugging along, being weird.
SC: The other thing that happened early on is she gets yelled at by someone in the kitchen because he’s the one who always cashes the undocumented kitchen guys’ checks — and grossly skims some off the top for himself.
GM: Yes, so little did Tess know, but she was getting in the way of this guy’s money-making scheme. It’s really just bad news all around. Mercury in retrograde or something.
SC: AND THEN it turns out that he’s the one who hid her shoes. Because he was mad.
GM: But hey, haven’t we all had days/shifts from hell? It happens, I think.
SC: It happens!! I actually love this as the construct of an episode: She wakes up so excited and then just has one of those kinds of days where literally everything goes wrong.
GM: Great set up! But where things really get... interesting, is after work. Tess has a choice: Go home and rest up for her make-it-or-break-it review the next day, or go out clubbing with her co-workers. It’s pretty clear that one option is the smart thing to do, and the other is the foolish thing to do. And she choses the foolish one. Cut to Tess pounding shots, taking pills from Sasha, and working it on the dance floor. She’s a pretty good club dancer, I think.
SC: WORKing it.
GM: Like sometimes, you think you know someone pretty well and then you see them on the dance floor and you’re like, “Oh, okay, they’re really into this,” and that’s what Tess is all about. I dunno if this was her first club experience or what, but it’s all happening.
SC: Yeah she gets really into it. Sometimes you just need to dance.
GM: She needs it tonight, since the date with Jake didn’t happen. She tries to kiss the octopus chef, but he pulls away saying, “so unprofessional.”
SC: SO unprofessional. I loved that.
GM: He’s got a totally different energy than everyone else. Then she spies her old paramour, Will, and they hook up in the bathroom, but she leaves abruptly, There’s so much going on tonight.
SC: So much!!!
GM: Sasha knows about an after party, and then the next thing they know it, they’re in the suite of a high-rise building, because Ari, as it turns out, is secretly rich and got the room on her parents’ credit card or something. And it looks like a party from a music video.
SC: Lotta cocaine.
GM: And more “treats.”
SC: And a lot of Sasha-Tess bonding.
GM: Yes. She really thinks he’s great, and could run the restaurant if given the chance. She’s effusive about how much she like Sasha, but he says, “Tomorrow Jake will be back, and you won’t care about me, or Howard, or anyone else.” Pretty accurate, I think.
SC: Harsh but true.
GM: But then something happens that does make her care about poor Sasha.
SC: Tough love, one could say. Oh yes. Well first there’s a VERY weird scene where she’s shaving his legs?
GM: Oh lord how could I forget? Yes that was... bracingly weird. They bond over her shaving his leg. Fine, it plays.
SC: We all have our moments.
GM: Maybe in 10 years Tess will say to him, “Remember that time we were out of our minds on ecstasy and I shaved your leg in a fancy hotel room that Ari got with her parents’ credit card?”
SC: He won’t remember though.
GM: Likely not.
SC: Because of all the treats.

Sasha (Daniyar) and Tess (Ella Purnell) smoking on the balcony

GM: Yes. So, after a somewhat sad conversation where Sasha lists a bunch of things that didn’t happen for him, Tess goes inside for some water, and comes back only to find that... Sasha is gone. She looks down to see that he’s lying face down on a balcony many floors below. Scary stuff.
SC: So horrible. But! he’s okay.
GM: Not dead.
SC: Not dead.
GM: Cut to Tess comforting Sasha in the hospital, where he will be for two or three days. She asks: “Did you fall?” And he responds: “What do you think, baby monster?” Dark.
SC: So dark but also the only true “naive Tess” moment of the show.
GM: Yes. I feel like, now this is the “shit just got real” moment of Sweetbitter Season 1. The stakes were raised pretty high. Someone almost died. And now Tess has presumably got to leave the hospital to finish her trail. Her training period has been a whirlwind of excitement! Wild week.
SC: Very curious to see how she does in her trail... exam? Whatever it’s called?GM: Yes, yes. I hope she doesn’t eff it up, but I also doubt she’ll ace it.
SC: Considering it’s tomorrow and she spent the night taking treats and then in the hospital... not the best prep.
GM: Nope. But these are also important experiences in her trail of adulthood.
SC: They sure are! she’s growing up.
GM: My only complaint with this episode is: needs some Simone. I’m so intrigued by whatever is happening there, and how it will converge with her trail on next week’s episode.
SC: I certainly cannot wait to tune in next week to find out.
GM: Word. So, after five eps, would you still be watching Sweetbitter if you didn’t have to for work?
SC: I am way too invested to not watch it. You?
GM: You betcha. Praise be to baby monster!
SC: Praise be!

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