The Exit Ramp to Spiraling Rage

Grace and Netflix’s Beef

This article is by Samuel Son:

You want to know what grace looks like? Grace, that profound and robust theological concept that holds together the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as a single story — that both days are necessary to each other, and not grace as mannerism or style — then watch Beef on Netflix.

Watch Beef on Netflix.

The story starts off, innocently enough, in a hardware store with Danny (played by Steven Yeun), and your typical frustration of failed returns due to missing receipts (I relate!). As he’s backing up a white SUV honks viciously. Collision is averted.

They should go about their day, back to oblivion to each other. But Danny and the heavy-handed honker, revealed as Amy (played by Ali Wong), cannot. They are too broken to let things slide. Their vampiric ego thirsts for blood. They race into a road rage that eventually escalates, by the end of the penultimate episode, into tragic/comic proportion of a robbery gone sideways, a woman sliced in half by her spouse, and a shoot-out with body bags. How do you go from a honk to mayhem? From a small spark to a raging inferno? The dissimilarity of those two scenarios is the comedy of the show, but the familiarity of it — yes perceived slights birth destruction — is it’s tragedy. Just look at all wars. Just look at my your own life.

Danny and Amy’s self-centered decisions keep pushing the plot of escalating violence. At every decision point there were exit ramps and they watch them pass by. Their families and friends are cajoling or yelling at them, “get off that car of destruction!” Instead, they stomp on the pedal, amp up their rage against each other, and they do it with self-righteous zeal because they have ready-made justifications for their actions. After all, you can’t kill someone without feeling a little holy. Their decisions don’t make sense to anyone but themselves.

At the start of the final episode (spoilers …), they are in their getaway cars (literals cars here), now fully aware of the wake of their destruction: Amy has a pending divorce and Danny lost his little brother to a police shoot out. Their face is shadowed with guilt. They have no place to go. Amy is sitting shocked in her car. Danny comes to a stop sign. In that lostness, they turn to see each other. Back where it all started, deep in the mess of their life, and incidentally, side by side. They should just drive away. But they can’t. They are trapped in their own decisions.

Danny flicks his finger. Amy chases. The reverse of their first road rage (Amy flicked and Danny chased), narratively a beautiful full circle, but an inconsequential reversal, since really they are mirror images of themselves. Doesn’t matter who did what. Both will rage.

Here’s the first false grace. Knowledge. If people know the consequences of their actions, they will make a different decision. Sin is not ignorance. Knowledge offers only the thinnest buffer against sin. History repeats itself, even if you know all history.

There are other false graces.

For Amy, Jordan Forster was her grace. If this billionaire woman purchased her company, Amy would finally give up the rat race which made her such a rat. Amy goes to Jordan’s home to worship Jordan in her sanctuary. Jordan’s grace requires Amy to sell her soul (and her husband’s cherished art).

For Danny, church is his false grace. It seemed, at first, the place of grace, the Korean-American church where he can finally have a good cry. But no one wants to know why he’s crying. They don’t want to know his filthy story. They just want to know that he cried, and that he is crying for Jesus. That’s the only way the church wants to interpret his tears. The church, like Jordan, requires performance. And those wearing masks are fools for false grace, and cannot see the real thing even if it hits them in the face.

So they chase, wheels squealing, horns honking, blind to the cliff ahead of them because they can only see the other, the object of all that’s wrong in the world, and they drive off and crash. They crawl out of the car, and like zombies who drag their dead bodies for brain meat, they drag their injured bodies to murder the cause of all the madness in their life. They chase until their body cannot anymore. Their body falls asleep. Despite how messed up their life, the body will sleep. The body will grant then a stop/shabbat/sabbath. The first stroke of grace. The limits of our body. Our body limits our destruction, sort of.

They wake up and find themselves in a desert wilderness. The second stroke of grace.

Like ancient stories of St. Anthony, Jerome, Moses and Jesus, grace waits for them in the desert, because God is in the burning bush — because death is the face of God. In the desert, their hate for the other withers in the relentless heat of reality. No reception, so they can’t ask for help from false graces. They can’t ask society to prop them up with their lies and justifications.

Then comes the third stroke of grace. Here, bank accounts, moral high road, business success, and family duties can’t shield you from death. In seeking to survive, they offer a little humanity to each other. They break bread. When enemies eat together, it’s hard to stay enemies. But the bread is wild berries. Poisonous berries; poison is their medicine.

They then throw up … a great amount of thick, sick yellow guck.  It burns their throat, producing excruciating pain, but that’s the only way poison/medicine can work through your body. Pain. Then they hallucinate (or do they wake up from their hallucination) and their sense of self melts. They no longer know who is Amy and who is Danny. They can’t separate one’s voice from the other. Are they not the same self in their anger and pain?

Exhausted, with life ebbing away, they face each other lying flat on the ground, cheek to dirt, eyes on each other without their concocted selves. They have seen the worst of each other, and yet the other still looks human, pitiful, and worthy of honor. They lie next to each other believing that when they fall asleep, they won’t wake up again. They have given up all hope, so they have no reason not to be honest.

The fourth stroke of grace, death. The dust of human hope is the flower of truth. They confess their sins and it’s a purer confession than to any priest, because they are not looking for or expecting empathy or absolution. They are ready to accept the consequences of their sins because they now know they were the perpetrators. They were the main actors of their tragedy. Rather than throwing another temper tantrum at the injustice of it all, that they are going to die without a chance at living a different life with their realization, they are grateful that they have had their first, even if it is their last, human connection. They throw up words of gratitude. The poison has been working through their system. Those in the throes of grace throw up gratitude.

The next morning, they find themselves awake! Unexpected gift of another day. The fifth stroke of grace. They died. But their body wakes up to a new life. They scream for joy. Unadulterated screams. An underserved day. Grace upon grace.

When one experiences this grace upon grace, there’s just one response: the exuberance of your whole being and you can’t help it. Laughter. Credits roll, with Smash Pumpkin “Mayonnaise” playing.

Rewatching the end, I realize something new: every waking is a tiny version of waking up alive in the wild.

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4 responses to “The Exit Ramp to Spiraling Rage”

  1. Jason says:

    Samuel Son is back! Great write up!

  2. Matt says:

    Spoiler alerts please!

  3. CJ Green says:

    Jason, this was just my thought. A triumphant return!!

  4. Samuel Son says:

    Hey Jason & CJ! Yes, it’s been a long time. Thanks for the love! The series hit me hard. Had to put it into words. Matt…sorry…should’ve warned you…but, even if you know the end, seriously, how it gets there will still take you for a ride.

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