by Briana Butera & Marisa MacDonald, Opinions Reporters
photo courtesy of IMDb
“The Queen’s Gambit,” a Netflix seven-episode miniseries released on Oct. 23, is often described as merely “a show about a girl who plays chess.” Being unversed and uninterested in the ways of chess, we were far from enticed by a show seemingly about just that. Fortunately, in watching the show, we realized that chess was merely a physical motif for the show’s moral teachings.
The miniseries begins with protagonist Beth Harmon as an orphaned child, developing her chess skills as an escape from her depressing life at the orphanage, while succumbing to an addiction to the tranquilizer pills fed to her by her school. Throughout the miniseries, her ability to play chess and her addiction are inextricably intertwined: her addiction inhibits her ability to play chess at her full potential while sober, and she becomes reliant on the intense side effects of the tranquilizer pills to win her matches.
Eventually, she is adopted and begins to enter chess tournaments in an attempt to both further her skills and financially support her and her mother. The show follows Beth as she slowly spirals into a world of substance abuse and deals with the pressures of being a child prodigy.
To us, one of the biggest surprises of the miniseries was how it portrayed the game of chess. A thundering score mixed with creative camera angles brought out the intensity of the matches, a feeling usually only experienced by its players. The pacing was electric and on par with a sports game, leaving the audience rooting for Beth with the same vigor as a dedicated fan.
The acting is superb, with each actor making their character come to life. Without the outstanding performance of Anya Taylor-Joy, Beth might have seemed stand-offish or conceited. However, Taylor-Joy portrays the battles inside Beth’s head through subtle facial expressions and body language that leave the audience with a full understanding of the character’s thoughts. Her Beth is stoic and introverted, but with a blazing and relatable passion for what she loves.
The script feels so natural that it’s evident it realistically depicts the effects of addiction. We as the audience watch Beth’s dependency, first on pills and then on alcohol, grow while her friends and family see nothing wrong until it’s almost too late. While some shows and movies make the mistake of adding the trope of addiction as a mere side plot, the miniseries eloquently depicts how addiction can be a part of someone’s life, even if they seem perfectly fine on the outside.
In an attempt to replicate the classic, award-winning romance trope, however, the show fell short in developing Beth’s romantic relationships. Not only did most of her love interests, who were far older than she, meet her when she was only a teenager, ruining the relationships before they started with an uncomfortably large age gap, but they felt shoehorned into an otherwise complete show.
What Beth craves most throughout the series is companionship, and her lack of ability to show affection is the basis of her character. Consequently, each romantic interaction seems to develop her suitors’ stories more so than her own. The forgettable personalities of her suitors leave the viewer unable to recall their names a day after finishing the show. It’s the moments she connects with them as friends or mentors rather than romantic prospects, showing rare vulnerability, that flesh out the personalities of both Beth and whomever she’s interacting with. Including a romantic aspect to the show seemed forced and superfluous.
Though it has some missteps, “The Queen’s Gambit” is a phenomenal show, detailing the story of a young prodigy from an angle uncommon in the media. It’s hardly the bubbly sitcom people have come to expect from Netflix, but the miniseries will keep watchers on the edge of their seats.