'Amy’s destructive behaviour is never packaged as empowering, justified or even funny'Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

In the new Netflix dramedy, BEEF, Lee Sung Jin takes the antihero trope to new heights, showcasing a character who is one of the most unapologetically immoral women to ever hit the screen.

Amy Lau (Ali Wong) is a liar and a cheater. She is malicious, recklessly impulsive, and self-absorbed to the point of narcissism, falling into a spiral of vengeance and destruction in the aftermath of a road rage incident with a stranger. Yet, unlike other antihero models (à la Amy Dunne of Gone Girl, Villanelle of Killing Eve, and the nameless protagonist of Fleabag), Amy’s destructive behaviour is never packaged as empowering, justified or even funny.

When I watched BEEF with my boyfriend, his reaction to Amy’s infidelity was one of disgust, horror and contempt. “She deserves everything that’s coming to her”, he commented, pointing a rebuking finger to the screen. Indeed, the borderline pornographic scene where Amy sleeps with a twenty-something-year-old in her marital bed is a violation that dares to make her irredeemable.

Although her husband, George (Joseph Lee), was also unfaithful, it is his vulnerable confession and desperation to be forgiven that makes Amy’s concealment of her own infidelity stand out as something especially heinous. Amy’s secrecy, which could previously be equated to George’s dishonesty, is reframed as a conscious decision to do a bad thing: to lie to your spouse despite being presented with the opportunity to reciprocate their honesty.

“BEEF celebrates the process of loving Amy, and love in general, as something inherently intertwined with hate”

If her scorned lover hadn’t turned up on George’s doorstep to tell him the truth about the affair, we can safely assume that Amy would have happily continued lying forever. But, as tempting as it is to vilify Amy’s character, BEEF demands a far more nuanced reflection about the root-causes of her actions by revealing the layers of self-loathing and shame that coincide with deceitful behaviour. Like any good antihero, we fundamentally need to love our problematic protagonist in order to root for her, and BEEF celebrates the process of loving Amy, and love in general, as something inherently intertwined with hate.

Beef follows the aftermath of a road rage incident between two strangers, Amy and Danny.

As a child, Amy imagines a witch persona as the surveiler who witnesses her bad behaviour but keeps it a secret, because if anyone knew, “no one would love [her].” The witch haunts Amy throughout her life as a manifestation of her belief that she is fundamentally unlovable and that love can only be offered alongside concealment – a belief that fuels her repeated lying to George.

In the tender moment where Amy finally chooses to tell George the truth, she is forced to confront and reveal how she has learnt to bury the ugliest parts of herself: “George, I’m a bad person. I tried to hide that from you – because you’re not. You’re as good as it gets. That’s why I fell in love with you.” A far cry from the oft-quoted expression coined in Perks of Being A Wallflower, “We accept the love we think we deserve,” Amy ambitiously pursues a love she not only believes she does not deserve, but could never receive if she were to show her authentically flawed self. George is a person Amy admires as “good”, and from the pedestal she places him on, the love he provides validates her belief that love can be earned through performance and pretending.

“This intersection between loathing and loving makes for captivating television”

What Amy gains in her rivalry with Danny (Steven Yeung) is the only relationship where she can be a complete and authentic version of herself. Amy doesn’t care if Danny thinks she is a bad person, because she views him as a bad person, and so she has no reason or motivation to lie and perform to earn his approval. In BEEF’s powerful finale, Amy cuddles up to an injured and hospitalised Danny on life support, who returns her embrace. With this gesture, Amy finally receives unconditional love: Danny is the sole person to see Amy for who she really is, warts and all. And despite his hatred for her, he understands and accepts her.


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This ending simultaneously represents the emotional response of the audience, to whom Amy also cannot lie. Like Danny, we have witnessed her worst acts, and, like Danny, we hate what she has done and what she is capable of. But, over the course of BEEF, we learn who she is, and we understand where she comes from, ultimately deciding to love her anyway.

This intersection between loathing and loving makes for captivating television, explaining the success of antihero archetypes who explore the limits of human conduct and test the boundaries of acceptance and unconditional love. With even the most unlovable fictional characters seeming to have a fan-cam edit to their name, the antihero clearly strikes a powerful chord of compassion, sympathy and understanding with audiences, evoking a deeper, more meaningful and realistic sense of love, which BEEF achieves in leaps and bounds. So move over Amy Dunne and Villanelle, if you can bear to; there’s a new antihero in town, and she’s the best (and worst) of them all.