All I heard over and over again about this show from all the Geeks who tuned in was this show managed to find ways to make chess exciting television.
We’re two episodes in and I cannot disagree.
It helps that Beth is grown up enough for series star Anya Taylor-Joy to play her throughout the entire episode. What we have seen so far is she is still stuck at the orphanage, and following her theft and overdose of the tranquilizers the place had been giving all the girls to keep them docile before state law forbade it, she is forbidden from playing chess in the basement with the custodian Mr. Shaibel. He’s not even talking to her, but he does so in a stoic manner, somewhat mournful in a way.
However, for an addict to two things (tranquilizers and chess), going cold turkey is not a good thing. But then the unlikeliest of things happens and Beth gets adopted by a couple that actually wants an older child. That would be the Wheatleys, Alma and Alston. Alston seems to be some kind of traveling salesman. Alma is, well, an alcoholic, and the implication seems to be the only reason they adopted Beth was because Alma needs company at home, and a quiet girl like Beth is the best choice.
So, Beth goes to school, and no one there plays chess.
Alma takes Beth shopping, but won’t buy her a chess set.
Beth runs errands for Alma, discovers chess magazines are a thing, and takes to stealing one when she learns chess tournaments are a thing.
So are entry fees. Alma doesn’t have five dollars to give, but Mr. Shaibel will send it by mail with the promise of ten back of any prize money Beth wins.
And I like how this is playing out. Beth managed to get more of her drugs when she had to retrieve some from the local pharmacy for Alma, pocketing some pills and giving the rest to her adoptive mother when the woman doesn’t seem to notice. Beth isn’t getting much in the way of guidance from, well, anybody. She’s not a ranked player when she enters the tournament, but she picks up a few things. She has to ask about clocks and other things because, well, she knows chess and chess strategies, but she doesn’t know that stuff. She even has her first period in the middle of the tournament and had nothing to go by. Fortunately, another woman at the tournament there had some pads.
But really, Beth at this stage of the story has to win. She’ll lose, I am sure, around the midway point of the seven episode series to somebody, but that didn’t make the tournament any less suspenseful. Beth beats everyone, including the handsome fellow Townes, who she clearly has a thing for, and then the state champ Harry Beltik. She did need to slip away for a second to pop a pill for that last one, but Harry seemed a little disturbed by how…intense she was after that.
I think I might be a bit thrown off too by Anya Taylor-Joy staring at me in an intense manner.
However, Beth’s success impresses Alma. She gets that chess set, more books on chess, and Alma starts looking for more tournaments on her own. Since Alston apparently left her, they don’t really have much of an income, but Beth, well, she can win money at a profit if she can take at least third place in an upcoming tournament in Cincinnati…
Yeah, this is meditative and cool. I am enjoying this.