A Review of The Queen’s Gambit: Your Move


Pawn to D4. Pawn to D5. Pawn to C4. 

Introducing  the Queen’s Gambit, popular chess opening and sensational television show. Released on Netflix in October, the limited series stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, a female chess prodigy who battles substance abuse and struggles to rise through the ranks to become the world’s best chess player. 

Here, we battle it out on whether this show is able to live up to its full potential. Fair warning, spoilers abound from this point onwards! 


A Character Study

Kasuni: Every show needs its characters, ones who are fully developed, likeable, and show a decent amount of character growth by the end of the series. Beth Harmon is one such character, an independent individual who takes her place in the world of chess with grace. Her ambitious yet apathetic attitude, balanced with her flirtatious nature, adds depth to her character, and prevents her from becoming a Mary Sue. Beth teeters between genius and madness, creating a riveting story that keeps viewers both fascinated and horrified. 

Isha: Though Beth starts as a fascinating and flawed character, the ending of her character arc is underwhelming. Initially, many of her dangerously seductive characteristics turn her into a classically self-destructive femme fatale. Though, unlike the usual femme fatale, she is able to find her own identity, this sudden self-realization is never explained. The show has an opportunity to give the femme-fatale trope nuance by exploring how Beth uses her cold nature and stark ambition to emerge victorious. Instead, they let everything magically fall into place in the last episode for an abruptly kind and optimistic Beth, leaving her uniquely fascinating apathy and self reliance in the dust.

Kasuni: The criticism of Beth’s character arc is unwarranted. By the end of the series, Beth has gone on a rollercoaster of ups and downs, particularly downs (ahem, the Downward Spiral). Despite her many mistakes, Beth comes out brighter on the other side. She tackles her issues with substance abuse, realizing that her genius isn’t sparked by tranquilizers or alcohol, but by her own talent and intellect. She accepts that being independent does not mean being alone, and that asking for support is not a weakness, as evidenced by the last episode when she works with Harry and Benny to help her win her match against Vasily Borgov. 


Introspective Intimacy

Kasuni: The relationships within the series feel authentic, and Beth’s attitude towards them are consistent with her character. Beth’s struggle to truly connect with others is shown as she rejects genuine romantic relationships with Harry and Benny and opts for casual intimacy instead. The writers also create an interesting dynamic as Beth begins to explore her sexuality in her adulthood. 

Isha: While the relationships themselves are genuine, some characters felt like plot devices and a lot of their actions feel unexpected. For instance, Benny’s forgiveness of Beth at the end feels out of character and the substantial rift that develops between him and Beth in the middle is never addressed. 


The Plot Study 

Isha: The plot is predictable. Though the chess scenes are incredibly tense and well-choreographed, viewers are able to figure out exactly who will win and who will lose in every game before it has even begun, because the show sticks to such an overdone formula. The writers could have taken more leeway in their plot structure, which would’ve made the show much more suspenseful and enjoyable.

Kasuni: The plot is admittedly predictable, but the true charm of the story aren’t the events themselves, but more so the subtle details and the how of what happens. The blocking of each scene adds depth to the events; buried bits of symbolism paint a vivid picture for viewers. For instance, even the way that each character moves the chess pieces has significance. Most of Beth’s male opponents, such as Harry and Benny, tend to be “piece-pushers,” brashly thrusting their pieces across the board in a mock show of strength. Beth, however, delicately picks up her pieces, and deliberately places them down on the intended square. Her movements highlight her confidence and intellect, and sets her apart from her opponents. Although the exact sequence of events is obvious to viewers, the detail and depth of each scene still makes it an enjoyable experience. 


The Final Move

Kasuni: The depth of Beth Harmon’s character is furthered by her struggles with substance abuse. Addicted to depressants at a young age, Beth relies on drugs to aid her in her chess victories. Throughout the series, Beth’s addiction causes her to decline further and further, leading to her spiral out of control. Exploring Beth’s struggle with addiction adds another layer to her character, and by the end of the series, her victory over drug abuse allows her to demonstrate true growth. 

Isha: Drugs are merely a plot point in this story, and have no real value to the characters. Beth’s victory in her struggle with addiction is only validated by her winning the final tournament. Her fight with her inner demons feels sidelined, and its importance relies on how it affects her chess performance, not on how it affects her as a person. Additionally, she quits drugs without withdrawal symptoms, trivializing the struggle that drug abusers go through to get clean. Beth’s drug abuse even feels glamorized at times, with her maintaining a fashionably gaunt appearance and undergoing a personality change that feels more quirky than dangerous. Her drug abuse feels more like a useful plot device than an actual issue that Beth faces. 

Together forever (BFFs <3):  Overall, the show is an enjoyable experience for both newcomers and chess fanatics. It is charming, interesting, and full of pretty people. If you are looking for a feel-good show, this is the one for you. However, some viewers may find that it lacks depth and there are more nuances that could’ve been explored. A lack of developed characters unnecessarily pepper the story, and the show has a seriously flawed portrayal of addiction and mental illness. However, at its core, the show is a heartwarming story of a young woman prevailing against the odds and emerging victorious.