This post contains spoilers for Birds of Prey.
Loss is a great story catalyst. Jay Gatsby’s loss of his first love, Daisy, is what drives his accumulation of wealth and power. Ahab’s loss of his leg at the mouth of Moby Dick fuels his obsessive revenge. And loss is what powers Harley Quinn through a life of solo crime into a world of sisterhood. No, not the loss of the Joker. The loss of a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.
Yes, Birds of Prey has been billed as an action-packed breakup film, beginning with Quinn (Margot Robbie) being dumped by the Joker, crying over him, and also realizing that without his protection there are a lot of people out to get her. She’s been keeping their breakup a secret because of the power his name association affords her, but one night, drunkenly runs a truck into the chemical plant where they originally sealed their love, effectively announcing it’s over. The next morning, hungover as hell, she goes to her local bodega and watches as Sal lovingly crafts her a BEC.
Two eggs crack onto a griddle in slow motion as she narrates the steps — melted cheese on top, plenty of bacon, not too much hot sauce. We hear the grease sizzle and watch the yolks wiggle. The scene is rendered with Food Network-esque intensity, cinematically conveying that this object is important and you should be paying attention. Because as soon as she leaves and tries to take a bite, she’s attacked by the first of many after a bounty on her head. She apologizes to her sandwich, sticks it in her shirt, and runs.
Birds of Prey is, if anything, a movie about self-actualization. Quinn, who has a PhD and is quite an accomplished woman, wrestles with having become a sidekick and sidepiece. She openly wonders if those who say she’ll never amount to anything on her own are right. She’s good at lying and hiding, and she could do that forever. But during the chase, she trips and her glorious sandwich goes flying. As she watches the bacon scatter and the egg yolks smear in the street, she realizes she can’t hide anymore. She may not know where her journey will take her, but the loss of her sandwich is what causes her to confront her problems with the intensity of someone who has just had what is most precious to them stolen.
In real life, Margot Robbie is allergic to egg whites, so her acting is even more impressive knowing she’s mourning something she wouldn’t even order. But anyone who has loved and lost, and perhaps specifically loved and lost an opportunity for a really satisfying sandwich and now has to spend even more of their hangover hungry, understands the look in her eyes.
While the combo has been available at every corner store, and McDonald’s, for decades, it’s been relatively recently that the bacon, egg and cheese has crossed over into an acronymn-able phenomenon, and a thing so known and loved that it can have an entire restaurant dedicated to it. In 2015, Pete Wells wrote an ode to the BEC, calling it a “hero among sandwiches,” and worrying that its increasing popularity would obscure its roots as a breakfast that “doesn’t divide New Yorkers by class, income or neighborhood.” The fact that Quinn is chasing the dragon of a BEC — not a burrito, not an Italian sub — confirms that the sandwich has gained even more notoriety in the past years. But it’s also a testament to exactly what Wells loves about it. Quinn’s BEC is not fancy. The corner store she shops at has no name and no line out the door. It looks delicious, but a hundred other corner stores are probably making the same thing. It’s special because it’s hers.
To paraphrase Tai in Clueless, having a near-death experience really makes you think about the important things in life. And what’s more important than being able to taste your favorite sandwich again? A good BEC is worth facing a whole city of mercenaries for.