“The Queen’s Gambit” traps us one move at a time

The limited drama series “The Queen's Gambit” may not seem thrilling at first glance, but within a few episodes, each move the characters make keeps viewers at the edge of their seat. 

Photo from Netflix

The limited drama series “The Queen’s Gambit” may not seem thrilling at first glance, but within a few episodes, each move the characters make keeps viewers at the edge of their seat. 

Ria Phelan

The limited drama series “The Queen’s Gambit” may not seem thrilling at first glance, but within a few episodes, each move the characters make keeps viewers at the edge of their seat.  The story follows a young female chess prodigy, Beth Harmon, from the beginning of her chess endeavors at 8-years-old to her experiences competing in the World Chess Championships. 

At first this show takes viewers by surprise, as the first few episodes do not jump straight into chess matches, but rather flash back a decade to show an orphaned little girl adapting to life in a 1950s orphanage. The eerie setting and characters urge viewers to pay closer attention to every detail in regard to each character’s reactions to grasp some sort of understanding. This plot is unconventional and allows for an entirely new viewing experience. 

The opening episode focuses on Beth’s first days at the orphanage. Viewers are immersed in the culture of the 1950s and the mannerism of 8-year-old Beth Harmon. The introverted girl stumbles across the janitor Mr. Shaibel, who introduces Beth to the game of chess after her relentless requests to understand the game. He eventually gives in and recognizes the prodigy in front of him. He becomes the catalyst for her success in chess. Shaibel’s background and development remain a mystery but are proven to be vital to the plot.

The setting of the 60’s is also taken into account through the costumes, scene and attitudes of the characters. The plaid patterned dresses and hairstyles worn by Beth Harmon alluded to the overall theme of chess while matching the fashion of that time. 

Although chess is advertised as the focus of the series, the focus is on Harmon’s coming of age rather than the game itself. Throughout the show, viewers see a young girl slowly transition to adulthood through smoothly interwoven scenes. This incorporation of realistic events allows a deeper sense of character development beyond the focus on chess. From events such as getting her first period and dealing with high school bullies, the show uses stereotypical coming-of-age tropes, but remains unique due to Beth’s unusual story. 

Harmon also deals with an addiction to tranquilizers from a young age. This battle isn’t fought until the end of the series but makes viewers question, is her life the product of insanity or genius? The performance given by actress Ann Taylor-Joy seems to imply instability.She seems almost crazy for her tunnel vision toward winning. This obsession aided by her inclination to substance abuse rarely falters throughout the entire series, which reveals the fragility of her mental state. 

Throughout this journey, her battle against addiction is subtle, but still reveals the extent of the pressures she faces. The producers made this abuse rather elusive by portraying it in a way that seemed more like an addiction to winning. After losses, Beth would spiral into a drug or alcohol induced depression.  The story is able to interweave commentary on many such issues within the overall focus on her chess journey. 

The obstacle of sexism also lacked development. Many scenes with Harmon’s biological mother in several scenes possibly hinted at feminist themes. Being a female player in a male-dominated game leads to implications of fighting those stereotypes during that time. Many instances of these stereotypes were added as filler scenes rather than incorporated throughout the show.

The lack of sexism from many male players was unrealistic. They were skeptical at first, but with a female climbing the ranks during that time period there should’ve been more pushback from their male counterparts. The portrayal of how accepting so many men were in this show didn’t accurately portray the struggles of women in the time period.

The show ultimately leaves viewers with unresolved questions. Characters such as Harmon’s adoptive father and Harmon’s real mother had numerous scenes that leave viewers with confusion as to the purpose of their characters. The scenes seemed to be dropped into the show and didn’t drastically advance the plot.  The lack of character development for these characters could have been built on to lead to an overall better show. 

The show is filled with its fair share of issues, most likely due to the length of the series. Beth Harmon is a very complex character that Taylor-Joy depicts perfectly, but seven episodes aren’t enough to develop all side characters, address substance abuse issues and work through Beth’s familial struggles along with her own coming of age experiences.  

Despite some missing information and lost opportunities, the show is able to successfully showcase Harmon’s life from a young age into adulthood. The dramatic nature of the show makes even the smallest details interesting. However, these details are likely the cause of many unanswered questions due to the focus on so many different topics that the producers don’t have time to address. Following Harmon all over the world as she slowly conquers each match again and again and has proven to be an interesting watch and will win viewers over one move at a time.