Netflix’s Diamond in the Rough: The Queen’s Gambit

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In the latter part of 2020, Netflix dropped what they would unexpectedly find out to be the most talked about and successful show of the year — The Queen’s Gambit.

The show follows the self-destructive Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a chess prodigy trying to navigate her intoxicating career while battling the demons of substance and alcohol abuse. While the main focus is chess, the series highlights the burdens of being a child prodigy, and the disturbing coping mechanisms to ward off the loneliness.

Raised as an orphan in the Methuen Home for Girls in the 1960s, Beth discovered what the game was after wandering into the basement past curfew, and seeing the janitor, Mr. Shaibel, with his own 8×8 set. Because of her incessant harassment, Mr. Shaibel finally agreed to teach her how to play; thus, igniting the inner flame she never knew she had.

While using chess as a refuge, Beth develops a crippling pill addiction in the orphanage which later sabotages some of her most pristine opportunities. One of the unique reoccurring scenes is when Beth pops two green tranquilizer pills at midnight and hallucinates different chess games on the ceiling, being able to see thousands of moves ahead.

Finally, being adopted at 14 into a broken marriage, Beth creates a special bond with her adoptive mother, Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller), who becomes her ultimate supporter and escort to future chess matches. After winning the Cincinnati Tournament in 1963, Beth’s fame skyrocketed. Known for her striking Sicilian Defense opening, she rapidly became a world-renown chess titan, even gaining attention in the Soviet Union from the reigning World Chess Champion, Vasily Borgov. “There is one player that scares me. The Russian. Borgov.”

What really carries the show is Taylor-Joy’s elegance and poise she brings on screen. She executes the role of a chess genius with charm and sophistication along with a touch of quirkiness that the audience finds endearing. Her cold quips and witty remarks just make sense with her personality: a chess-obsessed drug addict with a slight social deficiency. We watch Beth slowly come of age, going from a prepubescent weirdo with choppy bangs to a polished young woman with a Vogue-esque glamour. Supporting characters alongside Beth help make the show too, everyone having a specific purpose in Beth’s ploy to becoming a Grandmaster.

Although apprehensive to start due to my lack of knowledge about chess, I am extremely thrilled with the series. Not only has the storyline fully captured my attention, but I was never bored during any of the episodes and found myself wanting to binge-watch. The ending is extremely satisfying, and even quite touching, as all of Beth’s past mentors come together to help her defeat the chess kingpin in Moscow.

The Queen’s Gambit gracefully showcases a woman’s rise to the top in a male-dominated sport, simultaneously trying to flush out the copious amount of pills in her system. The story is about letting other people into your life without suspecting ulterior motives, and finding yourself admist the gruesome pressures and mental challenges of being a prodigy.