“Let’s Play.”Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit
Airs: Netflix | Air Dates: 2020 | Number of Seasons: 1
The Queen’s Gambit follows Beth Harmon, an orphan who finds that she has a knack for the game of chess. As the audience follows Beth as she plays tournaments throughout the years, it’s clear that Beth is no ordinary chess player. She relies heavily on instinct over strategy, something the other players can’t seem to do. Beth starts quite a collection of adversaries and friends, all of whom help her to become a better chess player. But, with great intelligence comes Beth’s addictive personality, something that stands to get in the way of her becoming the best in the world.
I think with shows like The Queen’s Gambit, there is a larger story always at play. Yes, the series starts out with a clear focus on the tragedies in Beth’s life that lead to her starting to play chess but the story really feels like a coming of age to me. Unlike most typical coming of age stories, the protagonist doesn’t have a clear cut romantic story. Instead, she’s silently on the unexpected path without any declarations of being different. The audience is made aware of Beth’s differences right from the start and this makes the show a convincing coming of age because it celebrates different means of intelligence and success. Beth comes into her own through chess and this is shown by the maturing of her strategic game. She doesn’t need relationships and the show shies away from detracting from her genius by not focusing on romance to let her grow into herself. Beth is solidly her own person and that’s what makes this show great.
In terms of narrative structure, the story does feel initially confusing. This is a risk that any show that involves time jumps takes in order to effectively tell the story. The showrunners decided not to show the countless tournaments that Beth obviously plays in favor for the ones that showcase her maturity. This only adds to the idea that this is a coming of age story. The audience sees Beth at different stages of her life and including adversaries that are clearly better than her at early stages in her life only to have her beat them at a later date shows that Beth learns from her mistakes. I think that the narrative structure only serves to tell the whole story without feeling like it drags on too long. The best part of the narrative structure is where the show clearly returns to the present and continues on from there. We get to see Beth come into her own, lose and then we’re shown her resilience. I would argue that despite her dependence on substances, Beth is a resilient character. She faces several tragedies and instead of losing what makes her great, she uses these tragedies to fuel herself forward. For the story that’s told, the narrative structure works well.
If I had to state my one criticism, it’s that there was any focus on her romantic relationships at all. I almost felt like it was unnecessary. I didn’t care about Beth’s relationships because the story isn’t meant to have a focus on them. I think adding them in general serves to be an engaging agent for the audience but really isn’t necessary or very cute. Usually scenes like those are meant to be celebrated because it means that the character is coming into their own by loving themselves enough that someone else can love them. Here, Beth doesn’t really love anyone except for one man and it contributes to her issues with male figures in her life. (i.e her father never being present). Her other two relationships paint Beth out to be cold and calculating which is completely unnecessary because it perpetuates the idea that being an independent woman means there are no vulnerabilities. This just simply isn’t true. These snippets of affairs that Beth had just served to make her seem less human and really don’t contribute to the story at all.
Overall, I really enjoyed this show. I think that the narrative structure was sound without any use of unnecessary narration. Beth’s characterization felt consistent and that’s a nod to Anya Taylor-Joy who seems to perfectly encapsulate any character that she plays. I couldn’t possibly imagine anyone else playing Beth Harmon and that’s a tribute to her incredible acting. The show is also entertaining and will have you cheering for a game that cheering never really felt possible for. Overall, I recommend this show for people who want to hear a different story.