‘Beef’ Star Ali Wong and Creator Lee Sung Jin Break Down That Wild Finale
Netflix’s Beef, which began streaming last Thursday, is already one of the most exciting television shows of the year. As strangers who can’t let go of a road rage incident, no matter how much people get hurt in the process, Steven Yeun and Ali Wong deliver incredible performances, alone and together. It is a sharp contrast from their work as a pair of happy literal lovebirds on the animated Tuca & Bertie, where they previously worked with Beef creator Lee Sung Jin.
In the midst of reporting a feature on the making of this great series, we delved into a number of subjects that seemed better to save until after people had a full weekend to binge the show. But here are Lee and Wong with some thoughts on that ending, whether the show might continue, the origin of that gun masturbation scene, and more. (It goes without saying that the rest of this piece is filled with spoilers.)
This was not designed as a miniseries.
Yes, the season concludes with Yeun’s Danny on a hospital ventilator after being shot by George, the husband of Wong’s Amy, and with Amy and Danny’s past sins and crimes having been exposed to George, Danny’s brother Paul, and everyone else. It certainly could be the period on the end of a sentence, but Lee planned it as an ellipsis that will hopefully lead to more.
“I wanted it to have a conclusive feel just in case,” he says, “but there are a lot of ideas on my end to keep this story going. I think should we be blessed with a Season Two, there’s a lot of ways for Danny and Amy to continue. I have one really big general idea that I can’t really say yet, but I have three seasons mapped out in my head currently.”
The home invasion story could have been much bloodier.
In the penultimate episode, Amy attempts to get her daughter Junie back from Danny’s vengeful criminal cousin Isaac, offering him information about how much money her wealthy boss, Jordan, keeps in her home. What follows is a hostage situation that results in the deaths of Isaac and his buddies at the hands of law-enforcement, and Jordan being graphically crushed to death when her partner Naomi hits the emergency close button on their safe room door before Jordan can get all the way inside.
Lee says much of the craziness of that episode, and of the season as a whole, was a result of how quickly everything had to come together.
“During the writing and shooting, it all vomited out of me and everyone involved, that I don’t think I had time to pause or filter myself,” he says. “The time crunch in television is insane. You just don’t have any time to get your head above water and be like, ‘Wait, what are we doing?’ There was actually a version of that episode that was much darker, believe it or not. To everyone’s credit, people walked me back. If you read the first outline, you’d be appalled.”
Darker than Jordan getting bisected by an industrial-strength door?
Oh, there were so many more people that died in other gruesome ways.
Yes, this harrowing and largely realistic black comedy climaxes with its two main characters undergoing a body swap, sort of.
Danny and Amy spend the final episode wandering through the wilderness near Jordan’s house — by far the most concentrated amount of time Yeun and Wong worked together in the whole shoot — and at one point start tripping balls from tainted elderberries. As they lie next to each other out in the desert, Amy begins talking about herself as if she is Danny, and vice versa, and Danny somehow even has Amy’s tattoo. If it is not a literal Freaky Friday situation, it is at least an extreme way of portraying how this nightmare has forced the two of them to understand one another on a cellular level.
It took Lee and the actors a while to figure out how to play this bit of wildness.
“Originally, we were going to have them do impressions of each other,” Lee says. “But we recorded on Zoom and very quickly were like, ‘No, let’s not do that.’ It got kind of weird. But I think in spirit, they were channeling the other. They both did a great job. It was in the edit that I realized stacking the voices [at the start of the scene] would help ease the audience into it. That required really precise ADR work, and they are both Olympians at ADR. They would hear the line and then deliver it perfectly, so that the editor doesn’t even need to splice the dialogue too much. It’s just perfect intonation and pace. It was pretty fun to watch. Maybe it’s the animation work, but they are very good in the booth.”
Amy’s most scandalous kink owes a debt to The Sopranos.
In the series premiere, we learn that Amy, unhappy with both the emotional and sexual components of her marriage, likes to masturbate while holding George’s gun(*).
(*) Didn’t the playwright Anton Chekhov once declare that if your female lead masturbates with the aid of a gun in the first act, then your male lead has to get shot in the final act?
The idea for this came from one of Lee’s favorite shows.
“We were just trying to figure out the quirks of this character,” Lee explains. “She’s so repressed, she can’t share anything with anyone in her life. Where would that go and what would she enjoy for herself? We didn’t want to do something just to be risqué or crude, and we were trying to figure out what it is that she would get excited by. I knew that I wanted to have a gun in play. And I thought about that Sopranos scene where Richie and Janice are having sex and the gun’s pointed to her head. I rewatched The Sopranos quite a bit while we were writing, and I sent The Soprano Sessions(*) to every writer before we started. We tried to make it a Holy Grail/North Star. That scene is so funny and just perfectly executed. I was like, Oh, that’s kind of like Amy. We started going down that direction and it really came to life once we found the intercutting between Steven driving to her place. Because I think alone, maybe that scene wouldn’t have been as good because it’s just someone masturbating with her gun. But I think the joy of that character with her gun, while Steven is so funny and is coming to their house, it really came alive in the edit.”
(*) Author’s note: The Sopranos Sessions is a book I co-wrote.
No, Ali Wong did not really dye her hair blonde.
Amy undergoes two drastic hair makeovers over the course of the season, including a severe new cut with sharp bangs, and a period where she becomes a platinum blonde. In both cases, Wong wore a wig, in part because the production was block shooting — filming scenes from multiple episodes at the same time — in part because the dye job in particular would have been too difficult.
“I’ve never dyed my hair before, but I was willing to do it,” she says. “I did not know also that when you have jet-black hair, it’s a two to three-day process and a bunch of your hair falls out when you want to go blonde, because you have to strip your original hair of its color and you have to sit in this hair and do nothing, which is like my nightmare. But I was willing to do it. But because we were block shooting, there were days where I would have three hair changes.”
It was also a stark change from how Wong styles herself in her day job.
“When I do stand-up, I just do my own hair and makeup,” she says. “It literally takes me five minutes. I go like this [she brushes out her hair with her hands], and then I put on eyeliner and Vaseline on my lips, and that’s it. I wore the same outfit every single time. So, it was wild for me to do all of those hair changes, but I loved it.”