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Beef: What Your Nemesis Reveals About You

The Oasis Reporters

February 13, 2024







Andrew Cooper/Netflix

Nilufar Ahmed, University of Bristol

The Netflix series Beef is about a battle between two strangers that escalates to dramatic heights over ten episodes. What might first appear as a petty feud unravels over the series as the show deftly touches on themes of anger, frustration, abandonment and intergenerational trauma.


The characters, who are strangers to each other, seem completely different. Amy Lau is a highly successful business owner on the cusp of landing a lucrative deal to sell her business. Daniel Cho is a struggling handyman who keeps getting knocked back by customers and life in general. By the end, however, we see they have much more in common than appears – both are carrying intense pain that they feel unable to share with anyone.


As the series unfolds, audiences see how their internalised anger has resulted in depression and shame, which has shaped their identities. We also witness how repressed emotions always find a way out.


A nemesis


In Beef, Amy feels powerless as she waits for the sale of her company to go through. While Daniel also feels powerless when he hands over control of his company and his truck to his cousin Isaac. Both are situations where neither can express their true fears of losing the deal or worsening family ties.


Amy and Daniel feel trapped and helpless and tired of feeling powerless. Their battle with each other becomes symbolic of the opportunity to regain power and control.


Having a nemesis allows people to gain a sense of control. By projecting their negative attributes or their desires onto a nemesis, a person has a target at which to direct their anger. This sort of relationship can create meaning in a life that otherwise might feel meaningless and lacking in power.


The reason why this “beef” is so potent is that they see their shadow selves – things about themselves they fear or despise and want to keep hidden – reflected in each other. Amy sees in Daniel someone who is angry and wants justice, and Daniel sees in Amy someone who has made an independent life for themselves. These are things they each want for themselves but don’t dare voice and this further fuels their rage.



Their battle is to control these repressed parts of themselves. But as we see during the series, it’s simply a distraction from dealing with their own feelings. And, far from gaining control, their already fraught selves begin to spiral further.


In the final episode, Amy asks Daniel: “Why are you so angry all the time?” to which he responds: “I could ask you the same thing.” As the episode progresses, their overlapping experiences become clear to them and Daniel asks: “Why is it so hard for us to be happy?”


After accidentally taking some (perhaps psychedelic) berries, they begin to connect with their feelings, shedding all ego and allowing themselves the freedom to be honest about their fears and vulnerabilities. They begin to see that what they despised in the other was a repressed part of themselves.


Generational patterns


The show also explores generational patterns through flashbacks, which offer an insight into the ways the characters’ pasts and family members have moulded them. We see Amy is frustrated at her parents’ lack of communication and Daniel by his parents’ financial concerns. We then see how they replicate these traits as adults.


The revelation of her husband George’s infidelity mirrors Amy’s father cheating on her mother. When she visits her parental home to talk to her mother about her father’s infidelity, her mother stops her, signalling that problems are not to be spoken about.


Amy tells her therapist: “I know my parents loved me. They showed me that through sacrifice.” Her parents had worked hard to provide for her, but this meant they were not always there for her.


Sacrifice as a measure of love is common in many immigrant families. Immigrants work relentlessly hard to start again in a new country and sacrifice their time just to get established.


This dedication to hard work can lead to a lack of emotional availability to children, sometimes experienced as emotional abandonment. If this happens it can impact all future relationships for children.


This history may be one of the reasons Amy is so driven to sell the business, so she can spend more time with her daughter. She is subconsciously worried June will experience the same feelings of disconnection she had, which will also affect all of June’s relationships.


However, we can see her daughter has inherited another of Amy’s patterns of behaviour. The witch-like character in Amy’s flashbacks is a further manifestation of repressed emotion, this time Amy’s shame. When a young is Amy hiding chocolate wrappers under her mattress, the witch tells her: “I am always watching … I can’t tell anyone your secrets, because no one would love you.”


For Amy, this shame becomes solidified into a sense that no one would love her if they truly knew her and begins a lifetime of isolation as she hides her authentic feelings and thoughts. Such repression is known to lead to isolation and depression. Years later, we see Amy’s daughter June repeating the generational pattern by hiding chocolate wrappers.


Daniel’s flashbacks give us an insight into his not fitting in and fears of being alone. In the future, this manifests in his job as a handyman where despite his best efforts he continues to flounder and not fit in.


With his parents in Korea, he has taken on responsibility for his brother Paul who, like many younger immigrant children, feels suffocated and frustrated by his elder sibling, which further compounds Daniel’s isolation.


We see the complexity of his love for his brother Paul. He wants him to succeed but on his terms and this leads to controlling and manipulative behaviour as he tries to keep Paul with him and avoid ending up alone. This is seen when Daniel throws out Paul’s college applications.


Both are replicating patterns. Amy and Daniel’s “beef” is rooted in their generational trauma and their shadow selves. Similarly, if you are harbouring an irrational hatred for someone, it might be worth considering what you are bringing to that dynamic.The Conversation


Nilufar Ahmed, Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences, CPsychol, FHEA, University of Bristol


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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