Beth Harmon reminds her adopted father of his neglect by wearing her mother Alma’s housecoat, which causes him unease and gives her the upper hand.
Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), the main character of The Queen’s Gambit, may be known for her powerful plays in chess games, but she also makes power moves in her personal life. A subtle example of one of these instances comes in a discussion with her adopted father, Allston Wheatley (Patrick Kennedy), when she wears her late mother Alma Wheatley’s (Marielle Heller) housecoat.
Allston was a highly absent father figure, and Beth never truly got to know him before he left her and Alma. Even after Alma passed away, he remained distant and gave up the family house to Beth. He didn’t even return to Kentucky for his wife’s funeral. However, in episode 6, “Adjournment,” he comes back and tries to get the house back from Beth so he can sell it. Instead, Beth buys the house in Queen’s Gambit and renovates it herself.
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When Allston arrives at the house, he finds Beth wearing Alma’s old blue and pink housecoat. While this may be a source of comfort for Beth, especially as a reminder of her deceased mother, it clearly causes Allston some discomfort. Beth is incredibly smart, so she must have known that wearing something of Alma’s would have that effect on Allston. It’s a reminder of the family he left behind and of the wife whose death he barely seemed to care about. It’s also evidence that Alma and Beth developed a close relationship, since Beth finds solace in wearing something of hers.
From the moment he sees Beth in Alma’s housecoat, occupying the role of homeowner, Allston is uneasy. He barely even looks at Beth, which she points out. The power Beth gains from the choice to wear the housecoat only increases as the conversation continues. Allston is confrontational and skittish throughout, while Beth is calm and methodical. She continues to remind Allston that he is her father, a fact that only upsets him.
The greatest evidence of Beth winning the power dynamic over Allston comes from subtle camera movements throughout the Queen’s Gambit scene. Allston refers to Alma and her death as pathetic, at which point Beth tells him that Alma was not pathetic – she was a brilliant piano player stuck in the claustrophobic role of a housewife with an absent husband. As she says this, the camera shifts to a low angle so Beth becomes more imposing in-frame. The inverse happens with Allston: the camera moves to a high angle, diminishing him as Beth calls him pathetic. The camera remained static throughout the rest of the scene, but its shift here indicates a shift in the balance of power, with Beth coming out on top.
While unconventional at times, Alma was a good mother to Beth, whereas Allston was never invested in Beth’s well-being. Beth gains power over Allston by reminding him of his neglect of both her and Alma throughout their discussion, starting off with her decision to wear Alma’s housecoat. Her purchase of the house is her final power move over Allston, as it rids him of his last foothold in her life, acts as a fitting tribute to Alma, and proves that Beth is now a strong, autonomous woman.
Next: The Queen’s Gambit: Beth’s Biological Mother, Alice Harmon, Scenes Explained
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