The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix, 2020)

The Queen’s Gambit is an American drama television mini-series based on Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name, starring Anya Taylor-Joy. It was created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott and premiered internationally on Netflix in October, 2020.

Let’s do things differently this time. Let’s start with the ending.

What I liked especially about the Moscow chapter is that it puts Beth’s relationships with the men, with the chess players in her life, into perspective. The show is very good at putting almost everything into perspective, through the flashbacks when her mum tells her,

Men will come into your life, and they will think that they can teach you something; and, well, maybe they can, but it doesn’t mean they’re smarter than you. It just makes them feel bigger than you. And they will come and they will go, and you will move on, and you will do whatever the hell you like.

And that’s really… the show is quite good at lampshading these things, so just when first there’s Harry and then there’s Benny, and you start to worry about the show miscasting its own heroine, it then becomes clear that that is the motivator for why Beth lets them in. The thing that her mother told her, that in the end you’re your own master. What it really means, however, is that Beth still needs a support system. Those flashbacks explain her motivations, but they also lay the groundwork for her realisation that what her mother taught her isn’t sustainable. Not because these other people are men, but because they’re her friends. (Plus, with Beth being bisexual, that burden of proof, that male-female dynamic is displaced, anyhow. Men were just around more; relationships are what’s difficult for Beth. Another facet that her mother couldn’t have predicted.)

They’re trying to pull the same trick with Jolene, but it doesn’t actually work: because it’s quite hamfisted, because Beth never looked her up, and because they foisted on Jolene a responsibility that shouldn’t have gone to a Black woman in that moment. Because it just throws her squarely into the Mammy trope and calls it done. Suddenly, she reappears to essentially save Beth, but they attempt to subvert it, unsuccessfully, when Beth tells her she’s her guardian angel and Jolene denies it — ostensibly subverting the trope, but not really — and says, “We’re family.” Okay, but…

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