“Queen’s Gambit” is the new show to watch

Queens Gambit is the new show to watch

Chloe Ragsdale, Head Editor

Three words come to mind when dreaming about Netflix’s new series, The Queen’s Gambit: Anya Taylor Joy. A sort of underground actress to grace the screen of perhaps Netflix’s greatest success, Joy represents much more than just an unconventional beauty – she embodies a new wave of feminism to take control of the masses, a wave of feminism that is just as unconventional and unpredictable as her features.

Based off of the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, The Queen’s Gambit follows the mysterious and atypical Beth Harmon, a wide-eyed, ambitious chess prodigy who begins her journey as the victim of abandonment after her mother commits suicide. Harmon develops a drug addiction to tranquilizers throughout her time at the orphanage, but uses them to her advantage as she begins to learn the game of chess and is able to visualize each game as if she is merely watching them on television.

After Harmon is adopted by her new manic mother and forced to leave the oprhanage, the first sign of a feminist movement prods the stage as her adopted father leaves them in a dramatic traverse across the country. Forced to now fend for themselves in the misogynistic bubble of the 1950’s, Harmon and her adopted mother, Alma Wheatley, discover an easy path to profit – chess. 

From there, Harmon skyrockets to ultimately becoming the best chess player in the world, overcoming a multitude of grandmasters and geniuses in order to not only obtain prestigious titles, but to overcome sexism in the most intellectual (and physical) form. 

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Beth Harmon’s character is that she embodies a combination of the world’s greatest chess Gods, Grandmasters Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky, and Anatoly Karpov. In particular, her young prodigy style, history with substance abuse, and strategy are most linked to Bobby Fischer, whose talents flourished in the same time as Harmon’s. 

Harmon, as the female-counterpart of Fischer, brings a key feminist aspect to the game of chess and the intellectual world at whole, one that startles her male counterparts and urges them to question, “Did I really just lose to a girl?” The essentiality of that question is one that brings light to the equality and power of women in the intellectual world, and allows these women to respond with, “Yes, and there’s many more just like me.” 

Written by a male, Harmon’s character surprises many in that she too acts like a male in terms of competition and relationships. Her romantic relationships are viewed with a casual eye; she leaves her suitors feeling attached and mesmerized while she is left unfazed, which is highly dissimilar to the portrayal of women in other forms of well-known cinema. She holds the upper hand in her relationships with Harry Beltik (played by Harry Melling) and Benny Watts (played by Thomas Brodie Sangster), which is proven by her lack of caution when it comes to initiating sexual relations with them, a fact known best by men in television. 

This complete role reversal hands a load of power to the feminist movement in inspiring the idea that whatever men can do, women can do just as well, a concept that is still taking root in our world today despite the progress women have made to gain equal rights. 

However, the film of misogyny still covers The Queen’s Gambit in unsuspecting ways, which is seen throughout Harmon’s mental breakdowns, in which she is depicted dancing around in lingerie clutching a bottle of wine and pressing a cigarette to her freshly painted lips. Anya Taylor Joy’s ethereal beauty also plays a major role in the demeaning attitude towards Harmon’s character, as she is evidently praised more the more beautiful she looks, thus continuing the tone for women that has been set for as long as anyone can remember, which is that beauty defines worth. 

But to focus on these critical aspects of the series and of misogyny as a whole is to distract from the absolute masterpiece of The Queen’s Gambit itself, which turns perhaps the most boring spectator sport into a thrilling, lustful type of television. Anya Taylor Joy’s performance is also one that has contributed to the show’s unrivaled success, and her message of female empowerment creates even more meaning out of Netflix’s most popular series.