By Sarah Brill, Science and Technology Review
Netflix comes through once more with a stellar mini-series about intellect, struggle, drug abuse, and a game no one really cares about. “The Queen’s Gambit,” based on the book by Walter Tevis, is more than a cerebral masterpiece, it delves into the life of prodigious introvert Elizabeth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her climb from orphan to a world-renowned chess champion.
The show starts off with orphaned Beth Harmon in the Methuen Home, an all girls Christian orphanage. Residing down in the basement of the Methuen Home was Mr. Shabiel (Bill Camp), a janitor of the orphanage and a chess player — Beth’s first teacher. After every game she would play with Mr. Shabiel, Beth would return to the sleeping hall and take her sedation pill, required by all students, which allowed her the mental capacity to reply games and visualize the board. Beth soon became a prodigy, beating out high school level boys at the mere age of nine. Unfortunately, Beth’s addiction to this drug progresses, and once the pill is no longer mandated by the orphanage, Beth struggles through withdrawal. Her addiction leads her to break into the medicine box and shovel down hundreds of pills at once as though they were candy.
Throughout the season, we see Beth discover her passion and addiction to this game. In her teenage years, Beth is adopted by the Wheatley family and is thrust into a regular high school scene with her source of adrenaline, chess, taken away from her. We see Beth struggle with the normal high school experience ultimately signing up for her first chess tournament without practice in order to feed her drive. Beth’s passion for chess progress throughout the proceeding seasons beating out cocky male chess players who underestimate Beth for her age and gender.
This TV show should be on your must-watch list of 2020. Not only does it tackle issues such as substance and alcohol abuse with grace and composure, it conquers the themes of friendship, loyalty, and the importance of family and passion. We see Beth struggle with isolation and turn to alcohol and drug-use as a form of relief; and on the flip, we also see Beth gain confidence in her chess skills completely dominating that world. This mini-series allows the watcher to not only experience chess through Beth’s eyes, but to grow up with her and see the progression of a character who was shy and stand-offish, to a character who is confident and determined.
Who knew Netflix would be able to make a TV show that makes chess, a seemingly uninteresting and slow-paced game, be so entertaining and encapsulating. The characters within this show are dynamic from Beth’s best friend Jolene (Moses Ingram) who has her back even when separated from each other, to Harry Beltik (Harry Melling), who Beth won her first major victory over. Needless to say, this TV show checks-off all the boxes of a great mini-series and everyone should be watching it.