Sweetbitter Episode 5: What About Sasha?

Photo: Courtesy of Starz.
This episode is an emotional rollercoaster, so it would be best for everyone involved if there was chilled vodka readily available. Just in case we veer off course. It’ll all make sense soon enough.
Last we saw Tess (Ella Purnell) and Jake (Tom Sturridge), they were making plans for a wild night out during their Chinatown rendezvous. So it’s only natural that we open on Tess carefully picking out lingerie during a montage of her primping for her sure-to-be steamy date at Home Bar after work.
Before heading out to the restaurant, she meets Santos (Rafa Beato), an undocumented kitchen employee at the restaurant, at a bank to help him cash his pay cheque. Tess views this whole interaction matter of factly. She’s earnest in her desire to help, but doesn’t fully comprehend the systematic abuse that has led him to ask her for this favour. We’ll get back to this later.
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Approaching the restaurant, Tess spots a suited up Sasha (Daniyar) chain smoking and pacing outside the entrance. “What’s the occasion? You look straight,” she jokes. Sasha, still a back waiter, is preparing for his review with Howard (Paul Sparks) to be promoted to server. His excitement is infectious and jumps off the screen. I want to hug him and wish him good luck myself.
Tess’ good mood melts away when she finds out Jake has gone up to Cape Cod with Simone (Caitlin FitzGerald), leaving a fill-in bartender to take his place. This is now the second time Tess has been stood up for Simone, and her anger spills over into her work.
She’s not the only one, either. It seems like everyone at the restaurant woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. They’re all snappy, anxious, and in a sour mood. Nothing goes right all night long, so to ease her irritation, Tess asks Ari (Eden Epstein) for a pill, takes half without knowing what it is and goes into overdrive.
Tess’ check cashing trip with Santos leads to a dramatic standoff with Manny (Gabrielle Gutierrez), a prep cook who aggressively throws a rag at Tess. He calls her out for her “white privilege guilt” and for taking Santos to the bank, meanwhile he had made a racket for himself by using vulnerable, undocumented workers in the restaurant as cash cows; making a profit by taking a cut for cashing a check of their earnings. This scene pulls the curtain back on the abuse and exploitation of so many undocumented workers in the New York restaurant scene and the country at large.
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“It’s wrong,” Tess tells Scott (Jimmie Saito), the sous chef. But all he wants is this altercation snuffed out, so he makes Tess apologise for messing up Manny’s “flow.” She does, and before long, pops the second half of her unidentified pill.
After work, the gang is walking to Arie’s show nearby, and Sasha is in a foul, foul mood. Howard pushed their meeting and ignored Sasha during service. “That man wants everything squeaky clean,” Sasha bemoans. “No fags, no fatties, no black people.” Tess and Sasha decide to forget all their troubles by getting completely “fucked up.”
Sasha gives Tess a pill that will turn her into a dancing queen, and for a little bit, it definitely does. Tess and the group dance wildly, having a truly good time. But every so often she imagines Jake when he’s not there. In a series of bad decision after bad decision, Tess kisses Scott, who (bless his heart) pushes her away and calls her unprofessional. It’s almost funny to see how shocked she is that someone would refuse her advances. So she only does the next logical thing and tears Will (Evan Jonigkeit) away from his date for the evening. Cut to the two having sex in the bathroom.
After the club, everyone heads to the swanky hotel room Ari booked for the night. There are A LOT of drugs, everywhere. Sasha digs around his bag like the scariest pharmacist you’ve ever met and pops yet another mystery pill into Tess’ mouth. The two end up outside on the balcony, wrapped in comforters on a chilly New York night.
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This scene is Daniyar’s most powerful moment in the series so far. Sasha’s hopelessness, depression, and desperation jump off the screen to tug at your heart. His story may be a little different than Santos’, but he is yet another hard working immigrant willing to do anything to make a future for himself in his new country. “No wife, no server, no America. I don’t know how to stay,” he says quietly, bringing real tears to my eyes.
When Tess protests, feeling enraged for him, for Santos, for everyone, he gives her a little bit of a wakeup call: “Princess, tomorrow Jake will be back, and you won’t care about me or Howard or anything else.” And he’s right. Tess is young, Tess is white, Tess is American. She has basic rights and every privilege so many of her own co-workers can only hope for.
When Tess steps briefly in to the room, she comes back out to an empty balcony. She looks over the railing to see Sasha’s lifeless body laying on the balcony below. My heart stopped beating.
Pause.
I need a moment. This is emotional and might be triggering for some viewers.
Play.
Sasha is alive, he’s in the hospital, and Tess is in the chair right next to him. She moves in closer as they share Sasha’s Jell-O.
“Sasha, did you fall?” Tess asks. “What do you think, baby monster?” he whispers, hugging her gently as the two snuggle together on his hospital bed.
Highlights & Thoughts:
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Now we know for sure there is something going on between Becky (Katerina Tannenbaum) and Howard. A disheveled and livid Becky runs into the restaurant in the middle of evening service. She’s cursing and makes a scene when she breaks a glass in front of the shocked patrons. She yells at Howard for transferring her, and me and all the servers are convinced Howard and Becky are sleeping together.
Best Sasha Quote: “Hope is the ugliest word.”
If you are thinking about suicide, please contact Samaritans on 116 123. All calls are free and will be answered in confidence.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please visit FRANK or call 0300 123 6600 for friendly, confidential advice. Lines are open 24 hours a day.
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