I generally don’t watch Netflix hits. The Queen’s Gambit is a pleasant surprise, though. It has its flaws. The pacing is inconsistent. Some of the relationships feel superfluous. And the premise that a child can go from merely playing frivolous chess games with a janitor to becoming the world champion in a few years is a bit unrealistic—no matter how many books she reads or tournaments she plays. Additionally, some parts of protagonist Beth Harmon’s life felt neglected. At other times there were scenes that seemed unnecessary and should’ve been cut. Still, Anya Taylor-Joy was absolutely phenomenal in her role as Beth, a troubled orphan with a phenomenal mind. The writers clearly did ample research on chess strategy and other details (I say this as an avid chess player). And ultimately it’s quite an entertaining series with charisma and layers of nuance.
For starters, Beth Harmon is a great character. Her personality is textured and idiosyncratic. She reminds me of legendary chess player Bobby Fischer. Fischer learned how to play chess at age 6, became a professional player at age 8, won his first of 8 straight U.S. Open titles at age 14, won all 20 games to claim his first world championship title in 1972, and soon enough became the greatest chess player of all time. He was a prodigy and a genius—but, like Beth Harmon, he was also extremely tormented. They were tormented by loneliness, estranged family members, and their fragile pasts. It’s sad. But the difference between them is that, while Fischer essentially went crazy and resorted to living permanent exile, Harmon turns things around with an inspiring journey. I won’t spoil anything else.
Overall, I was very impressed with how the writers synthesized modern themes: isolation, substance abuse, a strong female lead at the top of the male-dominated chess world, etc. These modern facets blend well with the historical aspects. Perhaps more importantly, it didn’t seem like The Queen’s Gambit was made solely to gratify. Its scope is far greater than that. And although I personally think that the series doesn’t quite live up to its hype, art is art. It’s not fair to judge a work on the basis of how well-received it was. Alas, we live in a society. And sometimes I have to work within its parameters. So, I cannot in good conscience say that The Queen’s Gambit should be at the top of your list (if you haven’t already seen it). The Americans, for example, remains the best show I’ve ever seen. But if you really like the trailer and think it could fit your vibe, check The Queen’s Gambit out! It’s only seven episodes, so it can’t really be a waste of time.