Netflix may have just released its best original series to date – at least, that’s what critics and audiences have been almost unanimously agreeing upon. The Queen’s Gambit follows Elizabeth “Beth” Harmon from girlhood to young adulthood. Viewers first get to know her as a young orphan after her mother dies in a (most likely intentional) car accident.
At the orphanage, Beth becomes addicted to a tranquilizer pill given to each child, and also learns to play chess. Years later, she’s finally adopted, leaving behind her friend Jolene, and finding a new life of high school, chess, and travel. Along her journey, she becomes the best chess player in the world, losing and finding herself over again, and finds a new family. The series is empowering in its messages of feminism, autonomy, independence, and found family.
10 “Chess Isn’t Always Competitive. Chess Can Also Be Beautiful.”
After winning one of her first major tournaments, Beth captures the attention of local news outlets. In one interview, she is asked about a few things, including how close her genius is to madness. Of course, Beth is never perturbed, and answers evenly.
Beth talks about how she was initially drawn to the game: “Chess can also be beautiful. It was the board I noticed first. It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it; I can dominate it. And it’s predictable, so if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.”
9 “It’s Foolish To Run The Risk Of Going Mad For Vanity’s Sake.”
Harry Beltik becomes a sort of mentor to Beth after she defeats him as a teenager. He is humbled and later helps her through her career. In addition to teaching her tactics and strategies, he also offers wise advice on the lifestyle that comes with chess.
He thinks that Beth is perhaps too obsessed with chess – or rather, too obsessed with winning. She punishes herself severely whenever she loses or even when she thinks she could have lost. He tries to encourage her to tame herself, to not throw away her sanity for the sake of living a lavish life, while aiming to be the best.
8 “Do You See It Now? Or Should We Finish This On The Board?”
Beth soon becomes confident in her ability to win, even a little cocky. (Anya Taylor-Joy plays this tilt in Beth’s attitude perfectly). It proves to be no problem, though, since she really is capable of winning almost every single game.
At some tournaments, she encounters many different kinds of players – different in their approach to the game, as well as different in their personalities. Some are sore losers, while others refuse to concede. Beth prods one player to accept that she has won. He isn’t too happy about it.
7 “You’ve Been The Best At What You Do For So Long, You Don’t Even Know What It’s Like For The Rest Of Us.”
Jolene makes a triumphant return at the end of the series, proving to be Beth’s final and truest mentor and friend. She helps Beth see the bigger picture and gives her a bit of a reality check.
“You’ve been the best at what you do for so long, you don’t even know what it’s like for the rest of us.” This statement gives both Beth and the audience pause. What Jolene says is true, but it’s also the fact that Beth doesn’t remember what it’s like to be ordinary. She became a winner at such a young age that she doesn’t know any other way to be – and this is her fatal flaw.
6 “The One Thing We Know About Elizabeth Harmon Is That She Loves To Win.”
During the final tournament of the series, Beth is in Moscow, playing the best of the best. Of course, she’s also one of the best. The commentator perfectly sums up Beth’s character in a single sentence.
“The one thing we know about Elizabeth Harmon is that she loves to win.” In fact, this is one of the only things anyone – including Beth – knows about Beth for sure. She’s ever-changing, enigmatic, and unsure of her true identity, but victory is a constant in her career.
5 “Anger Is A Potent Spice. A Pinch Wakes You Up. Too Much Dulls Your Senses.”
Once again, Harry Beltik offers Beth a wise piece of advice, and something she would do well to heed. Unfortunately, Beth isn’t one to just listen to others and change her ways.
“Anger is a potent spice. A pinch wakes you up. Too much dulls your senses.” Harry is warning Beth against several things: her addiction to winning, as well as her abuse of substances. She is quick to anger, and never quicker than when she’s angry at herself, usually for missing something in an opponent’s strategy.
4 “I Would Say It Is Much Easier To Play Chess Without The Burden Of An Adam’s Apple.”
Beth is witty, something that makes her both attractive and formidable to her male opponents. She almost always plays males in chess, and all of her friends in the chess world are men.
However, during one interview at a tournament, she smoothly dismisses a question about how it feels being the only woman playing the game. To Beth, it makes no difference: she is the best, and being a woman doesn’t hinder her in the slightest.
3 “It’s Chess. We’re All Primadonnas.”
Harry and Beth develop a strong friendship and one that continues on into her adulthood. Beth starts using her money to buy nice clothes, expensive drinks, cigarettes, and other luxuries.
Some people accuse her of being too glamorous to play chess, and early on in the series, she asks Harry if he thinks she’s a primadonna. He, however, answers that they (chess players) are all primadonnas, all equally as self-obsessed as she is.
2 “I’m Not Your Guardian Angel. I’m Not Here To Save You. Hell, I Can Barely Save Me.”
When Jolene comes back into Beth’s life, she is overcome with emotion and gratitude. Jolene offers her a lot of advice and puts things into perspective for Beth, something she hadn’t even considered before.
She tells Jolene that she’s her guardian angel, but once again, Jolene gives her a reality check: nobody can save Beth but herself. “I’m not your guardian angel. I’m not here to save you. Hell, I can barely save me.”
1 “Let’s Play.”
At the end of the series, Beth is on her way to the airport to catch a flight back to the States. But she stops the car, gets out, and decides to walk through Moscow alone.
At last, she comes to the place where she saw many elderly men playing chess in the park. They are awestruck to meet her and ask her for a game of chess. She accepts the offer, sits down, stares into the camera, and in Russian says, “Let’s play.” This is an apt way to end the series for her character.
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