There was a lot of talk in the Gabbing Geek home office about the Netflix mini-series The Queen’s Gambit. A lot of it had to do with the fact that it somehow and consistently made the game of chess exciting. Plus, as Watson would tell you (and quite frankly, I would confirm), Anya Taylor-Joy is a phenomenal young actress.
Of course, given the way I do these write-ups, chats with Jimmy, and movie stuff for my own site, it’s sometimes difficult for me to work new stuff into my schedule, so the only thing to do is slot it in when one show ends. And after the lackluster experience that was Helstrom, I needed something better to wash the taste out of my metaphorical mouth. And, quite frankly, the new season of American Gods probably wasn’t going to cut it. So, here we are with The Queen’s Gambit.
Imagine my surprise then when I saw that Ms. Taylor-Joy isn’t really in this first episode very much. She appears in the beginning, waking up in Paris in 1967 before popping a pill and rushing off before an extended flashback cuts in, giving us the start of the necessary backstory for her character, chess prodigy Beth Harmon.
And her childhood was a mess. Orphaned after her mother, a woman with a Ph.D in math, died in a freak car accident, she’s taken to an orphanage in Kentucky where the people running the show keep the girls plied with tranqulizers.
Yeah, she’s a drug addict at nine.
She’s also not the slightest bit interested in “girly” things, instead discovering chess when, while cleaning some chalk erasers, she spies the custodian, Mr. Shaibel (played by the always-welcome character actor Bill Camp) playing the game by himself in the basement. She eventually gets the older man to give her lessons, and when she starts beating him, he gets the chess coach for a local school over, and not only does she beat the coach, she beats him and Shaibel at the same time without even really looking. All Beth thinks about is getting more of the “vitamins” and chess.
Now, if you’re like me and I know I am, you might be wondering how legal it is to tranquilize orphans to get them to behave, and apparently the state of Kentucky finally got around to doing something about it, hopefully because no one thought someone might actually do that and didn’t think to outlaw it, but I could be wrong. Of course, by then Beth is so hooked she needs a pill just to stay calm enough to play, and attempts to steal some during a movie night ends with her getting caught and then overdosing.
So, a chess prodigy with addiction issues played (as an adult) by a rising actor? If every episode turns out as well as this first one, this is gonna be good.