“There’s always something…”
Despite its success, Netflix comedy series BEEF frankly still hasn’t had the amount of discussion and love it deserves. I am perfectly content recommending this show to the next person, and there are plenty of reasons to do so. From a stellar cast, to sharp comedic dialogue, to memorable title cards — and, at its heart, a great exploration of stunted emotional health among Asian American millennials. But in this article, I’d like to focus on how BEEF ends on strong, impactful images to close out its episodes.
The primary and recency effect points to people in general remembering the first and last things best in a given sequence. This phenomenon can also be used to guide people through an artistic work. The opening lines of a poem can ease readers in, and frame the entire work by letting readers know, for instance, what language or cadence to expect. Closing lines typically create impact through a reversal of or callback to a previous detail, or by introducing a new perspective right at the end.
In TV series, opening and closing images — visual fragments — contain promises. They tell us what highs we might expect throughout the show, and what kinds of messes we will find ourselves in, respectively. In the case of BEEF, those questions can look like: ‘How will Danny win?’, ’How will Amy win again?’, and, ‘What do we still have to do to win?’ The beauty in BEEF is that all of those questions are intrinsically linked.
The First Bite
The first thing we see in BEEF is Danny being inconvenienced by a cashier at a grocery store. But the real, I guess, meat of the opening scene comes in the parking lot, when Danny gets cut off by the driver of a white SUV, just as he’s about to exit his parking spot. As the driver flips him the bird and speeds off, Danny decides today is the perfect day to be petty, and chases them down. But despite his best efforts, all he could collect was a plate number as the driver escapes. Our first image is that of a defeated Danny, in the heat of a car chase. It’s stressful, relatable, and high stakes right off the bat. A strong scene, at its heart, has an emotional hook — in this case, experiencing Danny’s defeats one after another, after another, after another…
The episode closes with another chase scene. This time, it’s Amy, the SUV driver, chasing down Danny, who’s sprinting to his car laughing after urinating all over Amy’s bathroom. Danny speeds off, as Amy catches his plate number, all while Hoobastank’s “The Reason” plays in the background. It’s a cathartic, albeit small victory. The fleeting hand of justice coming for the driver of the white SUV, Amy be damned.
The show succeeds in delivering on its promises by the end of the its first episode. We see that Danny is capable of winning, Amy is capable of losing, and both sides are capable of committing their lives to this beef. More than intrigue, this creates a sense of satisfaction and trust in a story that tells you what it is from the start.
And Every Succeeding Bite Afterwards
The closing images that follow upset the balance/symmetry set by the pilot episode, making eventual resolution (of this asymmetry) a must, a natural craving. In Episode 2, we find Danny and his car back at Amy’s house, but this time it’s the dead of night and Danny has a weapon. Episode 3 ends with Amy and George’s emotional affairs, while Danny’s singing at church. Episode 4 ends on Amy wagging a finger at Danny. Episode 7 ends on a burning house. Episode 9 ends with our main characters driving off a cliff.
For those like myself who came into this show blind, the last cluster of closing images may have felt like a barrage of viable endings. Concern for the characters can be replaced by a legitimate concern for where else the story can possibly go. The finale, which almost exclusively features our main characters talking to each other, can feel more like an epilogue than a climax. But given the precedent set early in the show — the promises it fulfilled early on — you could see how each inciting escalation at the end of each episode led to this necessary and inevitable destination. Winning beef won’t end beef.
* * *
All in all, BEEF felt like a light watch, thanks in large part to solid, human dialogue, as well as its easy back-and-forth structure similar to another tremendous series on Netflix, Love & Anarchy. At the same time, its lighter aspects carried depth, as in general these characters not addressing what needs to be addressed is part of what it makes things funny. But when the show really goes for it, it’s your parents asking to fly home, it’s your dense-ass husband, it’s you talking to Junie, it’s you having lunch alone. It’s your beef; you have to squash it, you have to swallow it.