How do you cope when the internal pressure gets to be too much? Do you address it head-on, or do you escape? Do you seek external validation, distraction, or the intervention of a higher power? In Beef’s third and fourth episodes, Amy and Danny try to cope with their newfound hatred for each other, bringing their inner roiling to the surface while continuing to develop them into deeper, more complicated characters. Rarely has a show so continuously surprised me, depressed me, and made me laugh.
When “I Am Inhabited by a Cry” begins, Danny attempts to get his revenge on Amy for tagging his truck, eventually following her shiny white SUV into a parking lot and dousing it with lighter fluid. Just as he strikes a match, he looks inside and sees June, Amy’s daughter, kicking her feet and waiting for her mom. It’s a wake-up call for Danny, who realizes he almost “set fire to a baby.”
The stark confrontation with his own rage drives Danny to an unlikely place: church. In the last episode, his ex-girlfriend Veronica and her smug husband Edwin invited him to their church in Orange County, though it seemed unlikely that he’d attend. Here, he enters in the middle of a sermon, looking around at all the earnest people, eyes closed, singing about bringing their worries to the altar, and he breaks down. While it could be read as a religious experience, I also see it as Danny seeing what his life could look like if he didn’t carry his anger so close to his chest. In a lesser actor’s hands, this scene could have been cheesy, bordering on Evangelism, but Steven Yeun beautifully showcases Danny’s deep desire to belong.
After the service, Veronica approaches him and is thrilled that he came to church; her husband, Edwin, is not. When Edwin catches Danny fixing a crooked sign in front of the church, he offloads some underhanded compliments, asking whether Danny is in the OC because business is slow. Instead of admitting that business isn’t just slow, it’s almost nonexistent, Danny’s pride gets the better of him, and he ends up agreeing to do some pro-bono work to help the church with some repairs.
Later, while testing out massage chairs, Isaac pulls out a series of T-shirts that read “CHOsen Ones,” which is the name of yet another of Danny’s contracting businesses, this one licensed under Isaac’s name. The show is dropping hints that Isaac is scheming, and Danny is too preoccupied with his anger and depression to see it. Isaac’s plan might have something to do with that plot of land we see Danny at again, where he learns from a banker that his credit score is shot and if he wants a loan, he’ll have to wait seven years. If he had a large down payment, though, that’s another story. Danny forms his own plan: Could the church get a loan from the bank? Next, we see Danny telling the pastor of the Orange County church that they’ll need $100,000 or so in loans to finance their repairs, but that he’ll do the labor for free. Let’s watch this space!
At the beginning of the episode, Amy is in a place similar to church: couples counseling. Unlike Danny, she’s not sincerely engaging. As George talks about their previous argument (and complains about not being able to enjoy vanilla-flavored things), Amy joins in by saying what she thinks the therapist wants to hear. Her anger and anxiety? She says she’s dealing with it by meditating. In actuality, she’s distracting herself by texting Paul as “Kayla,” the catfish profile she set up in episode two, made up of photos ripped from her clueless white assistant Mia’s Instagram page. Her uncontrollable emotions? She breezily chalks it up as a manifestation of her emotionally repressed parents. The therapist laps it up. It’s a reminder of how often society wants problem emotions like anger to be solved quickly, with clear origins, as if they were whodunnit mysteries.
Meanwhile, Amy receives nonstop texts from Paul. Later, alone in Jordan’s house following an anticlimactic business meeting and an incriminating text from George (he accidentally sends her a boob-heavy screenshot of her assistant Mia), Amy escalates and calls Paul and talks to him as if she were Kayla. The two flirt until the cawing of a bird rattles Amy from her reverie. She blocks Paul’s number and goes home to do an intimacy exercise with George. They’re supposed to stare into each other’s eyes for half an hour. It seems like it’s working when Amy opens up about a choking feeling she’s had for a long time, essentially like she’s being buried alive. But George and his toxic positivity don’t so much as hug her or affirm her feelings. Instead, he tells her he knows people who have fought depression and won, following it up by sharing his own confession: Sometimes he fantasizes about what his life would have been like if he and Amy had never met.
The next morning, Jordan surprises Amy at her home with the terms sheet, but the deal isn’t what Amy expected: The Forster’s board wants her to stay on for five years before cashing out. The day takes another unexpected turn when Paul arrives at Amy’s work, looking for “Kayla,” a.k.a. Amy’s catfish persona. After Paul sees Mia, who he thinks is his Kayla, Amy rushes him out of the store and comes clean: Kayla doesn’t exist; it’s just her pretending to be someone she’s not. As she babbles about not being the young, hot, white girl Paul thought he was messaging, he cuts her off by kissing her — he thinks she’s hotter than Kayla/Mia.
As the fourth episode, “Just Not All at the Same Time,” begins, Amy drives Paul home, pretending to have never been to their apartment. She may have come clean about the catfishing, but she doesn’t tell Paul why she was catfishing him in the first place, which was to get information on Danny. When an oblivious Danny walks past the car to take out the trash, Amy furiously kisses Paul to hide her face, then kicks him out of the car.
That night, Amy, George, and June try to go on a combination work-family trip to Las Vegas, but June throws a fit. I felt for Amy as she plaintively turned to her husband and child, saying she really thought this trip could bring them closer. Amy wants to be with her kid (her husband? The jury is still out), but she also has to go and close this deal with Jordan in Las Vegas. Once she gets to the hotel, she enjoys herself more; Jordan has full access to a spa and is treating her to an incredible penthouse suite. She’s vibing out so much that she’s only mildly annoyed when she calls George and sees he’s having a sleepover with his mom, Fumi.
Things get even headier when who should show up to Las Vegas but Paul? Paul pretends he’s there to see a friend, even though he stole Danny’s pickup truck (more on this in a bit), solely intending to see Amy. The two engage in a platonic night of delights in Amy’s hotel room, smoking weed, eating snacks, practicing wrestling moves, and jumping on the bed, their mouths wide and open in delight. When they come down a bit, they share a mangosteen and get vulnerable. Paul confides in Amy that he thinks his brother’s depressed and that he’s tired of being the bearer of Danny’s bad energy. Amy says she’s on the verge of a $10 million deal, and while that might have seemed an unimaginable sum in her 20s, it feels absurdly necessary now that she has a family to provide for.
After narrowly missing a moment where they might have fallen into a kiss, Amy bids Paul good night, tucks him into bed on the couch, and leaves him some cash as a thank you. The next day, she goes shopping and gets her hair dyed and cut into a bleach-blonde bob, declaring to Jordan that she’ll stay on instead of cashing out. Her night with Paul has awoken something in her, revitalizing her fighting spirit. For Amy, Paul is validating; unlike George, Paul thinks Amy is desirable in all her complexity, bitterness, and softness. He represents an alternate reality where she can be totally herself without the threat of isolation (though I don’t think she’s actually in love with him so much as she’s interested in his attention). As for Paul, Amy isn’t trying to tell him what to do like Danny does. She’s hot, she’s unexpected, and she doesn’t think her life choices are better than his.
If Amy is a wealthy Calabasas girlboss, then Danny is the Korean Robin Hood and Isaac the Korean Aladdin. Together, the two steal contracting equipment from someone’s garage, and Isaac’s scheme with the church repairs starts to come into view: Isaac and Danny will use the church’s loan money for themselves and use the stolen materials that the church would otherwise be paying for. When Danny and Isaac return to the apartment, their old familiar baggage sends them into a collective rage. Isaac needles Paul about his “girl,” while Paul quips about Isaac’s jail time, which almost turns into a fight. To lull Danny and Isaac long enough to steal the truck, Paul suggests they do some shots to celebrate the church repair job. Danny and Isaac, being the fools they are, fall for it.
This whole episode gives us a better understanding of Paul and Danny’s relationship. It’s not just an overbearing older brother and snotty younger sibling. Paul is trying to break away and be his own person, but he’s not sure how yet. Danny is terrified of losing Paul, but he can’t see that his constant bossiness is driving his brother away. It’s so clear that they love each other but don’t know how to express that love in a healthy way.
Paul drives away while Danny and Isaac sleep off their buzz. When they wake up, Danny realizes that Paul has taken his truck … and the stolen goods in the back. Danny and Isaac drive to Vegas in Isaac’s car to find Paul and use Find My Phone to track him down to a casino, but can’t find him from there. Isaac convinces Danny to look for Paul while he gambles. Surprising no one, Isaac loses a bunch of money, and just as Danny tries to feed Isaac some food from the buffet, he spots Paul walking by, and a chase ensues.
Paul runs to the top-floor penthouse suite he spent the night in with Amy, and Isaac and Danny follow, huffing, puffing, and struggling as they run up the stairs. Eventually, Isaac and Danny catch up to Paul in Amy’s penthouse suite (which Amy, mercifully, is not in), and things come to a head: Isaac roughs Paul up for not having respect; Paul says he doesn’t want Danny’s bad energy anymore; Danny slaps Paul, telling him he would be nothing without him. As Isaac and Danny take back the truck keys and leave Paul, they walk past Amy onstage, speaking on a business panel. As if by some magnetic force, Danny is sucked into the room. When the panel goes into its Q&A, he gets the mic and asks Amy what she would do if she were in a road-rage incident with someone in a white SUV. He details their saga of one-upping each other before Amy sics hotel security on them. Danny and Isaac are on the other end of a chase as they try to outrun the casino cops, only to end up getting caught and handcuffed. The last thing Danny sees is Amy, smugly grinning as she wags her finger at him.
But Amy’s win might be undercut too; when Danny went off about his road-rage incident, Jordan’s sister-in-law Naomi, who seems insecure about being a stay-at-home mom compared to Amy’s working mom, had a look of dawning realization. She’s starting to put together that maybe the road-rage video she saw on NextDoor wasn’t just an act by a random stranger.
• GIVE STEVE YEUN A ROLE IN A MUSICAL. I’ve been a fan of his voice since Guillermo Del Toro’s Trollhunters, where Yeun voices a character named, well, Steve, but after listening to his cover of Incubus’ “Drive,” I would like more of his voice in every form everywhere, please.
• Back in college, I attended a Chinese house church for a while, which is to say the church scene in episode three resonated with me. The relationship between Asian Americans and Christianity is complicated, often related to histories of colonialism, while also being a real center of community and togetherness in the isolating American landscape.
• Danny saying he doesn’t date white women unless they’re Italians because of the shared peninsula mentality made me laugh. I’ve definitely heard similar sentiments from different members of the diaspora. (As a Japanese person, I must say the insular, uptight, emotionally repressed stereotype of British people feels very familiar. I do not want to date only British people, but trying to find parallel traits makes sense.)