Lee Sung Jin’s latest show has it all: a star-studded cast, drama, comedy, action, love, and even a splash of gore. The story centers around the “beef”, slang for a grudge or cause for animosity, that develops between main characters Danny Cho (played by Steven Yuen) and Amy Lau (Ali Wong) when one nearly reverses into the other in a parking lot. The two keep trying to get back at each other in a series of escalating events.
Amy is a career woman with a handsome, caring husband and a darling daughter. Though Danny is unmarried, he is no less family-oriented: he strives to take care of his younger brother and aging parents, hangs out with his cousin, and seeks spiritual kinship in a church community. As their road rage gets out of control, everyone on both sides gets dragged into the mess one way or another.
The premise is relatable even if you don’t have a driver’s license. Who hasn’t been enraged by a perceived slight or injustice from somebody failing to adhere to the same rules as everybody else in civilized society? Who doesn’t want to be treated with kindness and grace when they’re going through a hard time?
However, other elements of the story may be less relatable and more confusing, instead. Not to worry, The Workprint is here to answer your questions about the ending and other major plot points.
Why did Amy and Danny have so much beef, anyway?
Some people, especially those who have never experienced road rage, might struggle to understand why the two main characters couldn’t just let it go.
To Amy, Danny was technically wrong to back up in the parking lot without checking for other cars first, plain and simple.
But sometimes, being right isn’t everything. If you want to be a good friend or a decent community member, sometimes being polite or forgiving is more important than obsessing over who is “right” or “wrong”.
Therefore, to Danny, Amy’s prolonged honking and raised middle finger make her a mean person who deserves to be put in her place.
The more they get to know each other, the more complicated the situation gets. It’s no longer about whether being right or being kind in a singular moment is more important.
When Danny makes a mess in Amy’s bathroom, it taints something which she has worked really hard on, something that has become an extension of her identity. This sets her down a dark, irrevocable spiral. If she hadn’t worked so many long hours in the years leading up to this moment, and if she didn’t feel immense pressure to be the perfect wife and mother and daughter-in-law at the same time, maybe she could have let it go. But because she is extremely stressed out from wanting to “have it all”, messing with Danny—this stranger on whom she can project all her fury and insecurities—turns into an unhealthy coping mechanism.
Danny, too, is motivated by stress. In Korea and other parts of Asia, there is a cultural expectation for children to take care of their elderly parents. He also feels obligated to provide for his younger brother, Paul (Young Mazino), who doesn’t seem to have a direction or viable ambitions in life. Danny is barely making enough money to provide for himself, let alone his family.
So when he gets into a conflict with Amy, this “rich bitch”, and explores the inside of her beautiful house, he feels extra angry that someone so heartless could have such an ostensibly perfect life.
Amy’s greatest fear is loss, as evidenced by her quote in episode 7, “Everything fades. Nothing lasts.” It is also why she has a tattoo of the number 22 on her lower back. In the tenth and final episode, she explains that it comes from the title of Joseph Heller’s famous novel being “arbitrarily changed” from Catch-18 to Catch-22: “Any time you try to hold onto one thing, it slips away.” The potential dissolution of control, stability, and love are all triggers for her. The more she acts against Danny, the more she loses control of her family and work, which in turn causes her to turn toward hurting Danny again.
Danny is terrified of being alone, which is also really the core of Amy’s fear. One of his childhood memories is of getting knocked down and humiliated at the playground. It’s what compels him to throw away Paul’s college applications, attend—and get moved to tears at—Edwin’s church even though it is far away, and lie to Paul about how their parents’ new house burned down.
This, we find, is the crux of their beef: Amy and Danny discover that they are more alike than they care to admit, which makes them uncomfortable to the point of rage. There’s a saying, “What we dislike in others is what we dislike in ourselves.”
What was with those shots of dirt?
In the middle of episode 6, Amy asks Danny for a truce. She’ll pay him $25,000, and he’ll call the neighborhood tip line to confess to the road-rage incident. Of course, “there’s always something” and the episode doesn’t quite end that way. Nevertheless, the feud is over… right?
Later, there are periodic shots of Amy’s or Danny’s mind randomly appearing to flash on a brown patch of dirt, leaves, and twigs. One such moment is right after Danny performs a moving worship concert at the church, to his new girlfriend’s adoration.
This shows that the characters are still thinking about the feud they had. “Burying the hatchet” is a term that means water under the bridge, or resolving a conflict.
The beef is cathartic for Amy and Danny and makes them feel alive. When something else either generates stress or makes life feel too easy, it makes the characters want to dig the proverbial hatchet back up and start fighting each other again for that sweet, sweet release.
Who was the creepy, ghostly woman?
In episode 8, Amy glances at a motel mirror during a one-night stand and sees an older, sinister, witchlike woman reflected back. A high-school flashback reveals that she also saw this creepy woman back then, when she caught her father cheating on her mother.
The answer lies in an earlier childhood flashback. After overhearing her parents argue about how much of a financial burden she is, little Amy takes refuge in her bedroom with a book. On one page, there’s a drawing of the same white-skinned woman with the text, “Don’t misbehave. I’m always watching!” This woman then seems to come alive in Amy’s room. She tells her, “I can’t tell anyone your secrets, because no one would love you.”
The resurfacing of this decades-old memory in the motel symbolizes Amy’s mental and emotional drop to rock bottom. As the couples’ therapist in episode 3 explains, “When we’re stressed, we revert to the pathways we created as children.” With her husband and daughter out of her reach, Amy is at maximum fear that no one will ever love her again.
It also signifies her watching herself become the person she hated as a teenager. Just as her father betrayed her mother by cheating on her, so is Amy now becoming a repulsive adulterer herself.
In the same conversation, therapist Dr. Lin says, “In order to create new neural pathways, we have to uncover what lies underneath our awareness.” Thus, the ghostly woman’s reappearance has a third meaning. This is when Amy realizes what has been subconsciously driving her to behave this way throughout most of her life: not discussing issues or discomfort openly, instead relying on secrets and unhealthy coping mechanisms. She thought this was the only way to hold onto others’ love. The realization is a pivotal step for Amy to “create new neural pathways”, or start coming to terms with her life and learning to love herself.
What was the deal with Naomi and Jordan?
Jordana or Jordan Forster (Maria Bello) is the billionaire owner of Forsters, a fictional equivalent of Home Depot or Lowe’s. She has “more money than actual countries”, as she gleefully tells Amy in episode 4. Naomi (Ashley Park) is Amy’s neighbor, who happened to be married to Jordan’s brother. In episode 7, we learn that Naomi has left her husband to become Jordan’s fiancée.
The relationship might seem to come out of nowhere to some viewers, but it makes sense given the hints dropped along the way.
Jordan is obsessed with, yet disdainful of, Asians—especially Asian women. She lusts after the Tamago chair after learning that it was molded with George’s mother’s behind. She repeatedly calls George “Joji,” which not even Amy does, and views him as a thoughtful “wife.” She strokes Amy’s shoulders fondly in her room of crowns. Even while they’re held hostage by Isaac and Michael, she tries to play handsies with Amy.
Jordan wants Amy, and at the same time, she wants to be Amy.
She takes tea with honey on the side after George serves it to her and Amy that way in episode 3. There’s a glint in her eye as she watches George pick up his daughter’s toys; later, we realize that must have been the moment when she thought an Asian wife would be the perfect addition to her personal collection.
Naomi, on the other hand, needs attention and admiration. When Amy no longer has time for her—and doesn’t give her the glowing reaction she wants when she is nominated as a Calabasas Style “Person to Watch”—she gets disgruntled. And when she sees her bestie Jordan begin to favor Amy over her, she becomes downright wrathful.
Do the fiancées truly love each other? Well, they’re happy to have each other, which might be more than you could say for a lot of couples.
Then why does Naomi close the panic room door on Jordan? Of course, if she thought she could save both of them together, she would try. But with one of the masked men practically on Jordan’s heels, it’s too risky. Additionally, Naomi is resentful that their engagement isn’t enough to win Jordan’s whole heart; she can see Jordan still yearning for Amy. This pushes her to prioritize saving herself.
Why does Jordan die in such a graphic way? Part of what makes the show so thrilling is the “justice boners”, the feeling of excitement you experience when you see someone getting their comeuppance. After all, who wouldn’t love the opportunity to paint the words “I CAN’T DRIVE” on the vehicle that cut you off in traffic the other day? Jordan embodies privilege. She does whatever she wants and always gets her way. In the first episode, she warns Amy that she could easily find someone in China to “copy [her] shit” for less, rather than follow through on the acquisition that Amy so desires. She doesn’t even take the home intruders seriously, goading them with the zugzwang conversation. She is painted as thoughtless, out-of-touch, greedy, and dismissive. So her gruesome death, ironically in the doorway of her own panic room, might serve as a moment of “eat the rich” schadenfreude for some viewers.
So what was the ending about?
Several plot points come full circle in the final episode.
Lost, thirsty, and hungry in the wilderness with no cell phone reception, Amy and Danny eat some poisonous fruit and have hallucinations and delirious conversations. When this begins, Amy says, “Time is not making sense right now.” Time is a big theme in the show. Like The Butterfly Effect, Beef is a study in how one little thing can lead to another and another, down an insidious, inexorable path of no return. Amy thinks spending more time with June will make everything better, as evidenced by her conversation with Naomi in the second episode (“It must be so nice getting to spend all day at home with [your daughter]”) and her drive to sell her company ASAP. In the seventh episode, George and Danny discuss the shifting perception of time.
Remember when Amy talks to the therapist one-on-one in episode 7, after George confesses his “emotional entanglement” with Mia? She says, “I still remember that first year we were dating. It honestly felt like I was high every single day.” Now, with Danny, she gets “high” again and experiences the most profound connection she’s had with anyone, even deeper than the one with her husband, to the point of mind-melding à la Upstream Color. This suggests that Danny could be her “divine twin”, the phrase George uses to describe Mia.
By the way, this scene could be inspired by actress Ali Wong’s real life. In her memoir Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life, she describes participating in an ayahuasca ceremony. “A double of myself appeared. Another Ali Wong with the same jet-black hair, glasses, and tan skin took my hand and guided me toward a barn, where she laid me down on a stack of hay.” This other self “made me laugh, and she made me feel beautiful and gave me a lot of pleasure,” while “some of [the others] were throwing up their past traumas.”
There’s an unusual motif of urine and going to the bathroom, too. Danny remarks, “You know our body absorbs nutrients, and then pisses and shits out all the bad stuff? What if we’re doing that to babies? […] Parents […] piss their trauma down.”
His urinating all over Amy and George’s bathroom in episode 1 is the first act of aggression in their beef. And throughout the show, he asks to use their bathroom multiple times. Each time triggers a major event or revelation, such as George’s attempt to hold Danny at gunpoint and consequently getting knocked unconscious. We even get confirmation of George’s emotional affair with Mia while he is in the bathroom.
Danny’s comment deftly addresses another theme: intergenerational trauma. Amy talks to the marriage counselor about taking “the best parts of [George] and the salvageable parts of me” to create their child, June. She worries that June will be messed up like herself. And we see plenty of flashbacks involving both Amy’s and Danny’s childhood and parents.
As the two fall asleep on the forest floor, we gaze upon the patch of dirt one last time. This time, it symbolizes that their beef is finally, truly squashed.
The final scene of Beef portrays Danny on a hospital bed, wounded by a gunshot from Amy’s husband George. Amy sits by his bedside, climbs into the bed, and hugs him. He squeezes her back. It shows each of them finally accepting the worst parts of themselves, literally embracing the person who embodies so much of the same, their divine twin.