The Queen's Gambit is a Netflix original miniseries starring Anya Taylor-Joy (of Emma fame) as Elizabeth "Beth" Harmon, a young chess player in the Cold War era. The story begins when Beth's mother tragically dies and she is sent to an orphanage where the school's custodian teaches her how to play chess. She soon develops a dependence on the tranquilizer pills given to the children. As the story progresses, she gets adopted as a young teenager and rises in the ranks of the chess world, honing her skills as well as coping with her addictions.
When I started The Queen's Gambit, I thought I knew what I was getting into. As a fan of prestige television dramas, I know how most of them tend to be: brilliantly written and acted, but also deeply depressing. I went into The Queen's Gambit thinking it would be something similar, especially after the dark tone of the first episode. As Beth battled her way through the male-dominated world of professional chess, I kept expecting every male figure who showed her kindness to betray her in some way or to do something horrible to her. I kept expecting her addiction to spiral out of control and leave her seriously injured or in the hospital. I kept waiting for it to get depressing in the way I have come to expect out of drama TV. But, without spoiling anything, it didn't meet these expectations.
The story is definitely not without conflict, but regardless it has such a warm and loving energy. Beth's friends and adoptive mother truly care about her and look after her. They help her improve at chess, compete in tournaments, and get her addictions under control. No one is out to "get" her in the way I expected them to be. Chess is a very polite game, and that politeness translates to the way the story is told. The conflict of the story is not extrapersonal — there aren't really any antagonists or major plot points that stand in Beth's way. The conflict is intrapersonal, within Beth herself, and her friends are consistently there to help her along the way.
Aside from how it makes me feel, which is very warm and fuzzy, The Queen's Gambit is also a technically amazing piece of television. Anya Taylor-Joy is a brilliant actress, and she brings a quiet, measured energy to the part. Beth as a character is flawed and sometimes a bit of a mess, but incredibly sympathetic all the same; she makes you root for her not only in her chess matches, but every step of the way. The side characters, too, are well-rounded and interesting — Moses Ingram and Thomas-Brodie Sangster's characters are especially compelling members of the cast. The story itself is fast-paced and refined, but not without sadder, slower moments that tug on the heartstrings. It's binge-able and addictive, and with only seven episodes, it also doesn't take very long to get through.
Ultimately, The Queen's Gambit is a story about friendship and togetherness, and how one person can't do everything by themselves. Beth succeeds when she allows people to help her. While her talent for chess is remarkable, she also wouldn't be where she was if it wasn't for her friends and family. Setting a story with this message during the Cold War, where individualism ran rampant in America to combat the collectivist nature of communism, is a choice that helps to dispel the myth of individualism. One person can go very far on her own, but much of our strength comes from others. The Queen's Gambit, in this way, is filled to the brim with love and togetherness, which is something I think all of us need now. Because even though the people we love are far away from us, we can still be there for each other.