I put off watching this show for a while. I thought it looked boring and I couldn’t be bothered getting worked up about feminist issues right now (there’s too much going on right now). However, I gave it a chance and actually enjoyed it quite a lot. It was so much more than about chess and feminism, it was about growing up too fast, having a bad family background, being an orphan, depression, alcoholism and coming out of it all triumphant. In this post I want to discuss the show and the amazing message behind it. There will be spoilers so beware please!
The Queens Gambit is about a girl who goes to live in an orphanage after her parents die. Elizabeth (Beth) Harmon is then discretely taught chess by a janitor in the basement of the orphanage. Eventually she gets adopted, by a husband and wife. The Wife’s name is Mrs. Alma Wheatley and I don’t remember the husbands name but he then abandons his wife, as well as his newly adopted daughter. Mrs. Wheatley and Beth hatch a plan. They decide to pretend Beth is sick so she can compete in chess competitions. Beth is incredibly good at chess and is considered a child prodigy. The rest of the story is about Beths journey to become the worlds top chess champion. Along the way; her mother dies due to alcoholism, Beth herself goes through alcoholism and drug addiction, she also encounters people along the way, hurting them but ultimately they support her in the end. So, let’s get into the reasons why this show was fantastic.
A Chess Girl’s Place in the World
Beth is a complex character and she’s written incredibly well. Throughout the show, I noticed her personality was a bit robotic. She doesn’t show emotion quite the same as others and I think that stemmed from her troubled childhood. Despite this, she was very susceptible to peer pressure and even taking on the habits other people taught her. In one scene, she’s at a party and they talk about boys, asking her if she’s taken interest in or even slept with any boys that she’s played against. Already we can see her place in the world. She doesn’t quite fit in with other girls her age nor with the boys. As a result? She feels the need to sleep with a guy to have that sense that she fits in with both of these genders. As with most teenagers pressured into sex at a young age, she didn’t enjoy it, even asking if the guy was finished yet during sex. I think this is something we can all relate to, not specifically in such a way, but the peer pressure to fit in. This show demonstrates another aspect of sexism, from being a female in a male dominated world to having female ideals pushed on her due to living in a patriarchal society. Because god forbid a woman enter a male dominated profession without fraternising with them. This show comments on feminism in a different way to a lot of shows I’ve seen. It does it subtly. From Beths style and elegance in such a male dominated world to her intelligence. She isn’t afraid to be smart and she does this without emphasising her gender (not that there is an issue with that). Beth draws attention to her intelligence through skill and the way she articulates language. I think it’s important to understand a feminist can express their feminism in different ways and my favourite way is to unapologetically be yourself.
As we progress further into Beths world, we see her rise up in the chess world and watch her mother delve deeper into alcoholism. Beths mother was supportive, yet she didn’t act like a mother at times. It made me challenge my idea of motherhood. Alma and Beths relationship was very much a partnership in which she was like Beths manager. But regardless, they spent a lot of time together and when a man stepped into the pictures, it felt like there was jealousy on Beths part. When Beths mother died, that was when we glimpsed her first step into alcoholism. She toasted the spot her mother was supposed to be sitting with a martini on the plane. It showed that she needed to drink to cope with stress and sadness. While she progressively became better at chess, she enlisted a guy named Benny to help her. She was drinking at this point by Benny helped her to reduce her intake. What threw her into a horrible bender was Bennys friend, Alice. Beth met up with her the night before an important match and as a result, entered the match hung over. The defeat made her addiction spiral.
Addiction is an ugly thing to battle. A downward fall is hard to escape and she couldn’t. Those around her weren’t able to help because she wasn’t accepting aid. That all changed when an old friend (Jolene) resurfaced, to tell her the janitor (Mr Shaibel) who taught her to play chess had died. Jolene brought her to that orphanage and when Beth saw the newspaper clippings of herself hung on the wall, that is when she changed. For me, this was symbolic that she needed someone to be proud of her, because she screwed up so immensely. The fact that it was Mr Shaibel is what mattered. The person who taught her the thing she loved. The childhood dream had re-awoken and the path she had lost was cleared. There’s a scene in which the press are asking her for a statement about a match in the Russian chess tournament. At first, she wasn’t going to say anything, her bodyguard turns and says she should make a statement about America (he was with the NSA I think). Instead she tells them about Mr Shaibel, a janitor who taught her to play chess – and the crowd is shocked that a janitor could do such a thing. She held an enormous amount of respect for this man and returning to her beginnings helped her to come out of the addiction she was trapped in. He helped her even in death. We all face these moments in life, where we’ve had such defeat that it seems like there’s no hope. Like we are alone and lost. Some can turn to substance abuse and that’s hard to come out of. I think this message is extremely important, but that’s not my favourite part of it.
Now, we’ve reached the end. Endings are often bittersweet for me, but I absolutely loved this one. Beth went off to Russia to face the Worlds best chess player in his home country. She got there with a stranger as her body guard (this was set during the Cold War) and she played without drugs or alcohol. Then a friend appeared. Someone from the past, who I haven’t mentioned because like many of us, she had friends whom she lost. They reunited and sorted out their mistakes. Then Benny reappeared in her life, with an (ex-lover who helped her with chess) and a group of people she had become acquainted with. These people reappeared through a phone call and they wanted to help her win and they succeeded. Brainstorming strategies collectively and going through them with her. So, why do I love this ending so much? These people who she thought she lost re-appeared in her life wanting to help her achieve her dreams and through letting them help, she did. They had witnessed her worst, and even her maturing into an adult. They still wanted to help her fulfil her dream and the best part is she let them. Instead of using the alcohol or pills, she let her friends help her and that is amazing character development. I think at times society underestimates the powers of friendship. There’s a stigma that emotions and feelings are meant for romantic relationships. One should be comfortable expressing thoughts and feelings with friends. It’s okay to let see you at your worst. Friends who ignore that aren’t the ones you want in your life. Friends who let you be you and let you grow if need be. Space is fine too, as long as there’s growth. So, this is why I love the ending. Friendship is powerful. A romantic partner isn’t always going to save you. That takes coming to terms with oneself and letting the right people in. Obviously it’s easier said than done, but the journey is a process most people go through in life.
The very last scene was Beth, telling her body guard she wanted to walk to the airport. She walked through an area with old men playing chess. They recognised her and wanted to play with her. Beth was happy and she was making other people happy while doing what she loved.
Thanks for reading everyone! This show demonstrated so many topics but at the very end it was wholesome and inspiring. I wanted to write a review because this is the first show that has left me smiling in a while. I hope you can watch it!
Just a uni student who loves to write. Any donations are greatly appreicated!
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