Breaking Down the Beautiful, Bonkers Ending of ‘Beef’
It’s been about a month since Netflix’s Beef was released, which is a little wild to think about. In just a month, we saw the show go through highs and lows, from initial critical acclaim to the controversy surrounding actor David Choe. It feels as though the show came in hot and went out cold, which I suppose is the norm for television these days, but it was even more pronounced due to context around Beef.
All the same, it’s still one of Netflix’s highest-rated shows, and with the writers’ strike ongoing with no end date in sight (WGA Strong!), there will likely be more than a few people who finally give this show a try. And I’m sure they’ll find themselves wondering what the hell happens at the end, after all’s been said and done. If that’s you, we’ll do our best to sum it up!
Violence, violence, and more violence
For many, the sudden escalation of action in Beef episode 9 came out of nowhere. Though the show had been building up to a major conflict all season, most of the tension was psychological; nobody expected the Cho Bros’ robbery to get so bloody.
By this point in the narrative, the two main characters—Amy (Ali Wong) and Danny (Steven Yeun)—have already sunken to lows they can’t climb out of. Amy admits to cheating on her husband, George (Joseph Lee), with Danny’s younger brother, Paul (Young Mazino), and Danny refuses to admit that he’s responsible for burning his family’s new house down due to his electrical negligence.
George is at the center of this. Prior to learning about her affair, he sold the Tamago Chair, a prized piece made by his late father, to Amy’s “New Age racist” business associate Jordan, in order to make up for damages he thought he’d caused to Amy and their family. This prompts Amy to visit Jordan’s house and negotiate the chair back, to make things up to George (and help ensure she has custody of their daughter Junie).
However, while Amy’s gone, Danny goes to the Lau household in an attempt to blame the house fire on them. At this point, he’d already infiltrated George’s social life with a fake identity, and they became genuine friends, but by episode 8 Amy had told him everything. George and Danny get into a fight, resulting in George suffering a head injury and Danny stealing one of their cars—the one that Junie happens to be in, which he doesn’t realize until she’s already been more or less kidnapped.
The timing of this is terrible, as when Danny gets home, he’s greeted by his dangerous cousin Isaac, who’s just gotten out of prison (after Danny more or less put him there, “accidentally”) and is demanding all of his money back—or else. Discovering Junie, who’s just happy to be there (and whom everyone is very sweet to, don’t worry), he decides to hold her ransom, calling Amy and issuing a $500,000 demand.
Amy then gives the crew Jordan’s location, telling them (with no small degree of malice toward Jordan) that her house is loaded and they can easily rob more than $500k from her collections. This is where things get sticky: the crew arrives (with Junie safe in an SUV), and Jordan, her partner Naomi, and Amy are held at gunpoint. Jordan makes a run for it, and she and Naomi book it for the “safe room.” But when Naomi gets there first, and shuts the door early out of panic, Jordan is sliced in half by the industrial-grade doors, making her the season’s first death—and it’s a truly gruesome, nauseating one.
The rest soon follow. The police show up and a shootout occurs, in which Isaac and his goons are shot down, and Danny forces Paul to leave without him. Paul is initially reluctant, up until Danny admits that, many years ago, he threw out his college acceptance letters, thus preventing Paul from having any sort of future of his own. Both Danny and Amy are able to sneak out unharmed, finding that Junie has been safely taken into custody, but Amy would never see her again.
Enraged, Amy spots Danny, and they have one last fit of road rage down a lonely mountain pass. Amy only sees the man who ruined her hard-earned life and took her daughter away; Danny only sees the woman who made his hellish life even worse, with no possible way out. Distracted by their anger, the two careen off the side of a cliff and into the desert below.
This part might have seemed ridiculous to people unfamiliar with LA, but we really do have large patches of desert highlands with no real roads or sense of direction. People can hike them, but it’s dangerous to do so without preparing first. And that’s where Amy and Danny find themselves after waking up bloody, covered in cuts, and in need of serious medical attention.
They angrily go at each other, with Amy forcing Danny to forage for her by threatening him with her gun. In the end, all he can find are berries that end up being poisonous. The two spin out for an indeterminable period of time—could be a few hours, could be days—and in that time, they talk. To each other, through each other. They talk about everything, from their childhoods to their former hopes and dreams, and they come to realize something: they are both profoundly lonely in ways only they can understand.
When it seems like the light is about to dim, they lament that they didn’t meet sooner, under different circumstances, and then surrender to fate. But—joy of joys—they awake to another day! Determined to get out and renew their lives with second chances, for themselves and each other, they eventually hike down to an interpass tunnel. However, as their reception has returned, Amy’s GPS tracker is finally on, and George is able to find them. Without a second thought, he shoots Danny down.
The ending shows us the two of them in a hospital: Amy able to walk and talk, and Danny in a coma. When the show ends, it gives us a shot of Amy lying next to Danny, as the days pass by over and over and over again.
What does it all mean?
Neither Amy nor Danny were what you might call “good” people. They were deeply hurt people, acting out as a consequence of everything they’ve ever been through. Both Amy and Danny reacted to their pain in ways that weren’t at all healthy: Amy, so used to having her emotions shut down, learned how to put on a facade that started to wear on her; and Danny, so used to getting picked on and being misunderstood, developed a piteous victim complex.
Yet all they ever really needed was for someone to reach out, dig in, and see them for who they really were. More than that, they needed someone like them to do it. And it’s unfortunate that it took multiple instances of violence, fury, and pain to make that happen, but that’s ultimately how things shook out.
The future looks bleak, yet the show’s message is clear: violence begets violence, and anger begets anger, yet at its core there is a truth which merits further investigation. People in great pain struggle to live “normal” lives and are often punished for the ways in which they struggle. This punishment paves the way for future violence. If Amy and Danny had had more support throughout their lives, if they weren’t so alienated from themselves and others, none of this would have happened. In a strange, sick way, it’s a miracle that they found each other, because their relationship becomes something reminiscent of love. Maybe not romantic love, but love all the same—the sort of accepting, all-knowing love that they always needed.
(featured image: Netflix)
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