Ali Wong brings to life the character of Amy Lau, one of the two leading characters in Lee Sung Jin’s Netflix black comedy “Beef,” where Amy is a hardworking business owner who seemingly has it all but whose sadness persists anyways. Jin’s show presents what childhood trauma and repressed anger do to people and how children grow up to mirror their parents and then proceed to pass on the same toxic traits to their offspring until they decide to break this cycle of toxicity. Frustration is built up from years of subtle jabs, being ignored or silenced, and failing to have what someone deeply desires. This image of frustration is Amy, whose life is in shambles, but she still tries to present a brave face for both her professional and personal lives. But how far does Amy succeed in this façade, and does she ever break out of this cycle?
Amy Lau’s lifestyle reflects affluence and success, with her posh home and a stay-at-home husband who makes sculptures, but the truth is Amy is internally screaming every day. The road rage she gets into with a random trucker is the emotion of anger, rage, and frustration pouring out after being forced to conform to racial expectations and being docile, soft-spoken, and well-behaved for the greater part of her life. Amy is exhausted from working all day as she tries to make a living for her entire family so that her daughter June gets to have the life she never had, and her stay-at-home husband George is of no help. After tolerating her employee’s wrong assumption of Amy’s heritage and digesting the subtly racial jibes from an obnoxious billionaire, her home is supposed to be her safe space. However, her husband, who’s famed for his sickly sweet positivity, cuts her off mid-sentence and spews Zen nonsense like “anger is a transient state of consciousness,” further irritating her.
As she bends over backward trying to provide for her family, Amy’s needs are never looked after. She wants to retire early and spend time with her daughter, June, but her husband will not take one step out of the ordinary to help her out, and then comes up with the most irritating phrases like, ‘Money isn’t everything.’ Meanwhile, a random Korean handyman finesses his way into her home and then almost ruins her European wood bathroom floors. This draws Amy into a feud with the man named Danny Cho, and it transgresses into an animosity so ferocious that the two are ready to do anything to take the other down. But even in this case, her husband is of no use, and she ends up having an argument with him at an art exhibition.
In hushed voices and plastering a smile for their daughter, Amy finally lets out how unsatisfied and tired she is of George being as boring as a piece of wood. She also decides to exact vengeance by painting slurs on Danny’s truck and creating a fake ID to catfish his brother Paul, just as a way to exact vengeance. For most of “Beef” Season 1, Amy is presented as a vengeful and hypocritical woman. Not only does she cheat on George with Danny’s brother Paul, but she also keeps it a secret from him and then acts severely upset when George confesses that he had an emotional attachment with her employee, Mia. But she’s not a monster, despite how she’s presented in a few episodes.
While trying an intimacy technique with George, Amy opens up about her depression and says she feels the ground in her chest. She tries describing a sinking feeling where she’s barely keeping her head in the air, and her heart feels unbelievably heavy because of all the trauma that’s pushing her down. The affair doesn’t stay hidden for long, and it’s Paul himself who rats Amy out to her husband, and George leaves for a hotel with June. For a while, Amy hooks up with random men but keeps her face hidden under a blanket because, when she looks at her reflection in the mirror, she sees a grotesque witch staring back at her. This is what her trauma looks like and how Amy became so messed up in the first place.
Growing up in an impoverished household, she’d hear her parents fight multiple times, and her father would shout that it was expensive to have a child. As little Amy would hide in her room, she’d read a children’s book where she first saw the grotesque witch drawn on a page, and the witch appeared before little Amy and said she’d always watch her do everything but never speak about it. This was synonymous with the toxic trait in the Lau household—people were abusive, toxic, and manipulative, but they didn’t speak about anything bitter. Instead, they chose to stay mum on everything unsavory and repugnant because it helped keep the peace while passing the trauma down. The adult Amy decides to break this circle, and this gives her personality a significant development when she decides to come clean to everyone whom she has wronged, starting with George. After being disparaged for her horrible nature for most of the series, the viewers can finally agree that Amy had been acting out based on all the trauma she’s been forced to endure all her life, but when she consciously makes a choice to do better, she’s given a second chance by the audience—although her husband understandably doesn’t.
However, the truest version of Amy comes out while she and Danny lie in pain and in a dazed state, continuously throwing up after eating poisonous berries. It’s here that Amy reveals that she’s been looking for her ‘home’ everywhere but has never found it. She has sought refuge in George, and initially, it did feel like she’d found it, but then it changed. She felt June would be her safe place, but then quickly realized the little girl was growing up and wouldn’t be a little baby anymore. All her life, she has felt things happen to her arbitrarily, and she’s being made to lead a life she didn’t ask for. At the very end, she concludes that nobody has understood her quite like Danny, and neither has she been able to express her true self to anyone before this arch-nemesis of hers. “Beef” ends with Amy snuggling against Danny, who is lying in a hospital bed after her husband shot him, as the two former enemies were helping each other reach civilization. As it turns out, Amy Lau was not really all that different from Danny Cho, and it only took a few poisonous berries to reveal this simple truth.