The Queen’s Gambit: A Must-Watch

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The Hollywood woman genius trope, where a character has a remarkable brain and incredible skill, but their most distinctive trait is their gender, is exhausting. This is especially true for female viewers who have spent their entire lives having their intelligence, qualifications, and abilities put under a microscope. The newest Netflix original, The Queen’s Gambit, directed by Scott Frank, uses this trope, but manages to tell the story of a gifted young woman without being sexist. The show follows Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, from her early life all the way into her adulthood as a successful champion chess player. The seven-episode miniseries captures its viewers from its very first scene and holds them dear as the series progresses. The Queen’s Gambit is a must-watch masterpiece that features superb acting, phenomenal production, and a deeply compelling plot that perfectly portrays an honest and meaningful story. 

What captures the viewer first is Beth, a young girl with a bright red bob cut, deeply solemn eyes, and an incredible gift for chess. She is orphaned after the suicide of her mother and stalked by an addiction to tranquillizers introduced to her as a child, yet she remains a tour-de-force. Beth is a wunderkind, yet she isn’t cliched and overdone. What makes Beth so compelling is the nature of her life; at every turn, she battles some deeply upsetting tragedy or failure but remains focused on her goals, recovers with grace, and becomes smarter and more empowered with every tribulation. Her life is tragic, but the series is so masterfully crafted that it isn’t overdone with addiction, sexism and abandonment. Instead, the show is a smart portrayal of an intelligent woman who also faces challenges. One Beth’s best qualities is her ability to see herself as equal to all her competitors. She is her first and loudest advocate, and never once does she falter in her ambition. The writing and directing set Beth as a fierce, bold and talented character who, despite her circumstances, can advocate for herself, appealing to a modern-day audience and setting the show apart from other iterations of the child genius.

The Queen’s Gambit is undeniably sexy. The costumes and set design are appealing, but the characterization, tension and dialogue hooks the viewer. From the subtle innuendos to the choreographed dances across chessboards, there is an enthralling buildup of sexual tension and intimacy. In the fifth and sixth episodes, sexual tension is used to communicate Beth’s development and her desire for connectivity. Beth and her fellow American co-champion, Benny Watts, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, meet again in Ohio to face off for the title of American Chess Champion and win the chance to compete in France and Russia. Through rhythmic chess moves and sustained eye contact, it is evident that both parties have a strong desire for one another, but their competitive nature and dedication to the game hold them back. The disappointment of not getting intimate details as a viewer is infuriating, but adds to the building sexual tension throughout the series as well as enforces a pro-woman stance. Beth has three important sexual encounters throughout the show, but the audience never sees beyond the first kiss. This directing does two things: it establishes Beth as a sexual being without constraining her to the status as only a prodigy. Second, the direction establishes a seductive and intriguing atmosphere without exploiting any of its characters.

The final episode of The Queen’s Gambit is an ode to Beth and every talented woman like her. The audience can finally see the complete transformation Beth endures, in which every trial and tribulation that has contributed to her character shines through in her resiliency and dedication. In the show’s final scenes, Beth truly comes into her own, not supported by anything but an unequivocal belief in herself. Beth was always her loudest advocate, but her ability to fully trust her skills and development of self-assurance was achieved throughout the series. By ensuring that Beth is responsible for her accomplishments and her abilities, The Queen’s Gambit employs feminist undertones and empowers women viewers to accept ownership for their accomplishments. 

The series is quietly empowering. It tells a story of a female prodigy without drowning the viewer in tired tropes, instead choosing to display its themes through character development, symbolism, and incredible direction. As a sucker for a love story, I dream this show ended with Beth showing up at Benny’s doorstep and fades out as the two play chess together. But as a girl desperate for a story that doesn’t revolve around the exploitation of women’s experiences, I adore that this story is fully and completely Beth’s. The Queen’s Gambit is a perfect telling of a heartbreaking yet empowering story that I encourage everyone to watch and enjoy.