In a world where streaming content often competes for attention, few series manage to leave a lasting impression. One such exception is BEEF, the 2023 comedy-drama miniseries created by Korean director Lee Sung Jin for Netflix.
Starring Steven Yeun and Ali Wong as Danny Cho and Amy Lau, the series explores the repercussions of a road rage incident, unravelling into a complex and spiritual feud. Produced by A24, BEEF has already swept this awards season, winning the best limited series categories at the Primetime Emmy Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, as well as the Golden Globes this year.
The accolades garnered by Yeun and Wong at the Golden Globes and Emmy, alongside the series’ victories, underscore its impact on viewers and critics alike. Now is as good a time as any other to revisit the series or binge it for the first time, if you must.
While there is a lot to digest in every episode—from the art used in the series to its music—one of the details often overlooked is the episode titles and their meanings. In the intricate tapestry of BEEF, the episode titles serve as cryptic signposts, guiding viewers through the characters’ tumultuous odyssey.
So, what do the BEEF episode titles really mean?
Episode 1: ‘The Birds Don’t Sing, They Screech In Pain’
The inaugural episode title draws inspiration from a quote by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.
The line, “The trees are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing. They just screech in pain,” is from Herzog’s 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams. It encapsulates the internal misery and rage embodied by Danny and Amy in BEEF, which makes them lash out, self-isolate, and find solace in self-destructive behaviours.
Episode 2: ‘The Rapture of Being Alive’
Delving into more of a philosophical territory, the second episode’s title quotes Joseph Campbell.
“I don’t think the meaning of life is what we’re seeking. I think it’s the experience of being alive… so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive,” this line from Campbell emphasises the experience of being alive over the quest for life’s meaning. As Danny and Amy’s lives undergo transformative shifts after their violent meet-cute, the title mirrors the cracks emerging in their established facades, prompting a search for something more significant.
Episode 3: ‘I Am Inhabited By A Cry’
Sylvia Plath’s haunting words from her poem Elm become the lens through which episode three’s title is interpreted.
The cry within, seeking something to love, echoes the inner turmoil within Danny and Amy, as Plath poured out, “I am inhabited by a cry. Nightly it flaps out. Looking, with its hooks, for something to love,” this episode peels back layers, exposing Danny and Amy inner darkness and their yearning for escape.
Episode 4: ‘Just Not All At The Same Time’
The title of episode four borrows wisdom from feminist icon Betty Friedan, who asserted that one can have it all but not simultaneously.
“You can have it all, just not all at the same time,” Friedan wrote. Amy’s seemingly perfect life unravels during a Q&A panel in Las Vegas, illustrating Friedan’s sentiment and reinforcing the thematic exploration of life’s fundamental compromises.
Episode 5: ‘Such Inward Secret Creatures’
Referencing Iris Murdoch’s novel The Sea, episode five’s title deals with the secret lives of Amy and Danny.
Each have their hidden desires and ulterior motives, mirroring Murdoch’s exploration of the inward complexities that define human existence, “We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason.”
Episode 6: ‘We Draw A Magic Circle’
“We draw a magic circle and shut out everything that doesn’t agree with our secret games,” Ingmar Bergman’s insight into human behaviour is quoted in this episode’s title.
The title is reflective of the main characters’ stubbornness and denial. Living within their metaphorical magic circles, they resist facing uncomfortable truths about themselves, perpetuating internal conflicts.
Episode 7: ‘I Am A Cage’
Franz Kafka’s metaphorical exploration of being a cage in search of a bird resonates in episode seven.
The title, taken from Kafka’s line, “I am a cage, in search of a bird,” captures Danny and Amy’s feelings of being lost and trapped despite convincing themselves that they have dealt with their past issues.
Episode 8: ‘The Drama of Original Choice’
Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy on original choice takes centre stage in episode eight.
“The drama of original choice is that it goes on moment by moment for an entire lifetime” is the thought that underlines Amy and Danny’s recurrent fate in the series. Exploring the characters’ backstories, the title delves into the notion that life’s drama unfolds through individual choices, unscripted by any predetermined destiny.
Episode 9: ‘The Great Fabricator’
Drawing from Simone Weil’s perspective on attachment, episode nine challenges the characters to confront reality through detachment.
“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached,” Weil’s thought, as reflected in the ninth episode title, contrasts with earlier titles, highlighting a shift towards the spiritual. As Amy and Danny keep getting further entangled in their web of lies, the title harks back to what our protagonists need to do in order to truly rise above.
Episode 10: ‘Figures Of Light’
The series culminates in episode ten with a quote from Carl Jung, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
In this episode, we see Danny and Amy finally facing their demons head-on, navigating the shadows within, mostly triggered by a hallucinogenic plant they ingest. Nonetheless, it leads to one of the most comically cathartic philosophical interactions between the two.