This story contains major spoilers for the season finale of BEEF.
After finishing BEEF in a timeframe I’m not ready to publicly admit, I had three immediate takeaways: 1. Danny Cho’s church hoops team has a better chance at making it into the NBA play-in tournament than the Mavs, 2. I fully understand why Marvel tapped BEEF‘s creator, Lee Sung Jin, to rewrite Thunderbolts, and 3. BEEF is one of my best shows of the year so far.
Since I wrapped BEEF, which dropped all ten episodes of its first season on Thursday, I haven’t stopped thinking about its final shot: Danny Cho (Steven Yeun), in a hospital bed, wrapping his arm around Amy Lau (Ali Wong). This follows an absolutely batshit final two episodes, which includes, but certainly isn’t limited to: an automated door smashing Jordan in half, Amy and Danny merging their consciousnesses shortly after Thelma and Louise-ing off a cliff, and George putting Danny in the hospital.
I figured I’d distill our postgame into a few different interpretations of that final shot. Just don’t, you know, start beefing with me if you hate my take on the finale. Be nice in the comments, people.
From Beefers to Lovers
First up: the most obvious interpretation of BEEF‘s finale. After finally seeing each other’s perspectives and ending the show’s titular beef, Amy and Danny fall in love. Their time in the desert together certainly could be taken that way; they both begin to feel as if the other is the only one who has ever seen them for who they really are.
“Yeah, I knew that some would [see that] for sure,” Lee told ELLE about whether he thought viewers would see Danny’s half-conscious side hug as romantic. “I think any time two people have that deep of a connection, it’s easy to extrapolate that. But I honestly don’t know. I’m very curious what would happen to Danny and Amy once they leave that room. I have my own feelings on the romantic side of their relationship, but I certainly welcome all interpretations.”
Now, Lee did add in that same interview that he did “pitch this show as a limited anthology, so there is sort of a close-ended-ness to the story [of Danny and Amy],” but his comments here are feeling a little bit like a red herring. Let’s move on.
An Unhappy Ending
Here’s another hint from Lee’s Elle interview—he shouted out the closing song, Smashing Pumpkins’s “Mayonaise.” “I’ve been wanting to use that for quite some time. It was in the outline, and I’m so glad we actually got it,” he said. “All those things combined really created this feeling that I was chasing and what that feeling means, I think, is open to each viewer. I’m really curious what people are going to think by that final moment.”
OK, do me a favor and read the lyrics for “Mayonaise.” Particularly:
Mother, weep the years I’m missing
All our time can’t be given
Shut my mouth and strike the demons
That cursed you and your reasons
Out of hand and out of season
Out of love and out of feeling
“Mayonaise” is about regret, lost time, and understanding. In a few different ways, it fits Amy and Danny’s stories. Amy married someone she never felt like she was good enough for and pursued a career that gave her little happiness. Both are ripped away by the scene in the hospital room. Danny’s life, on the other hand, has been defined by wasted potential, and all the times he came this close to figuring it all out. Meanwhile, BEEF has much to say about the Asian-American experience, often making the case for predetermined rage, showing two people on the opposite end of the economic spectrum who both struggle with similar feelings.
Let’s take all of that to the pairing of the final shot with the Smashing Pumpkins song. BEEF is unrelenting with its treatment of Danny and Amy; the very point is to show us that nothing can fulfill them. Wouldn’t it be cruel, but entirely fitting to BEEF, if Amy and Danny saw each other’s souls—and the beef reignited as soon as they left the hospital? It’s possible!
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They Died! (Or It Was a Dream, At Least.)
I’ll keep this one short. You’re telling me that Danny and Amy crashed their cars, fell dozens of feet, meandered around the desert for an indeterminable amount of days, suffered from violent food poisoning, and survived? Not sure about that one. I know BEEF veers very far into allegorical territory by the end of the series (more on that below), but if we’re interpreting what we’re presented with literally, you have to consider the possibility that Danny or Amy (or both) never made it out of the wilderness. That would make the hospital scene Danny or Amy’s near-death hallucination.
As much as I want the Paul Cho spinoff, I doubt BEEF‘s finale really killed off Amy and Danny—we need Season Two, after all. So a hospital-scene-as-dream theory is much more likely. We see days and nights pass through Danny’s room, then the darkness and light turns to Northern Lights-esque medley of colors. Maybe one of our protagonists is dreaming about the other? What kind of elderberries did Amy and Danny eat?!
Let’s Get A24 With It
Pulling out my English Major, skipped-half-the-books-on-the-syllabus glasses here… OK! The title of BEEF‘s season finale is “Figures of Light,” which may offer a clue. It seems like a riff on this Carl Jung quote: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
This, reader, is our best shot at a truly happy ending. Throughout BEEF, our antiheroes chased figures of light, only to be rewarded with more misery. Amy escaped her trauma by seeking wealth, notoriety, and the business deal that would take her day-to-day stresses away.Danny criticized his brother’s faults, racked up money to build his family a new home by whatever means possible, and hell, even looked to God.
Danny and Amy’s camping trip is all about making their inner darkness—the parts of themselves they haven’t revealed to anyone, like Danny’s aborted suicide attempt—conscious, to both themselves and each other. BEEF might be saying that, by simply opening up, Danny and Amy found peace. On a larger scale, BEEF points out how first-generation Asian Americans repressed their emotions, leading to confusion and anger in the next generation. In this theory, Amy and Danny free themselves by opening their hearts. Hopefully, that paves the way for a slightly more uplifting future for BEEF.