Well, that was nice. Really nice.
After watching Beth’s self-destructive behavior bring her down to the bottom as various men in her life couldn’t quite bring her out of it, the ones to help her snap back to herself was arguably the only girlfriend Beth ever had plus her original mentor Mr. Shaibel. Jolene came to, among other things, let Beth know Shaibel had passed away, and the two attend his sparsely-attended funeral before Beth finds his basement room in the orphanage is covered with articles about her. Apparently, she had fans.
There is one thing I never quite got about this show: why did so many people support Beth? It’s not that she’s evil or anything, but she’s so emotionally closed off, it’s hard to see why so many people were rooting for her success. That’s more a lick on the writing than it is anything else, but between Jolene giving Beth the money she needs to go to Moscow to finally beat Borgov, Townes meeting her there and the two having a long-deserved emotional connection, plus Benny getting all of her player friends (including Harry) to his basement apartment to offer tips during a break in the game, Beth sure did touch a lot of people while being as emotionally distant as possible.
That seems to come from finally revealing how her mother didn’t die in a car accident but in a suicide attempt because people aren’t math problems, and she couldn’t see that after her own wealthy family disowned her. Beth, by contrast, is now in a forced sobriety (her State Department minder wouldn’t allow it regardless), and if anything, Beth’s vision of the game in the final moments becomes much, much clearer when she finally gets completely sober. This is Beth in victory over Borgov, a Beth who signs autographs for Soviet fans outside the tournament every day, and a Beth who will happily ditch her ride to the airport to eventually meet the president in order to greet the old folks playing chess in public spaces. She’s a changed woman. If she was mad about anything, she isn’t now, and it does seem as if the combination of Shaibel’s death, Jolene’s return, Townes’s reconciliation, and a host of other factors put her into a new and healthier emotional space, with her victory at the tournament against the Soviet grandmaster who had always beaten her to be merely the symbolic representation of all that.
Really, it was a fantastic moment, Anya Taylor-Joy deserves every accolade she got for this series, and as much as the chess here was exciting, it was also more a medium about a woman’s journey. This wasn’t a conventional sports story where an underdog triumphs over adversity by just biting down harder and doing the thing she always could do. This was about a woman finding her happy place, so to speak, after tragedy and addiction left her in despair and misery. The Beth who greets the old folks in Moscow at the end of the series isn’t anything like the one we saw stumbling out of bed drunk in the opening minutes of the first episode, and I was glad to follow her trip along the way.
10 out of 10 ceiling glances.
Well, that was fun. What shall I do next? Oh yeah, American Gods came back.
Season one of that show was fantastic. Season two was a mess. What will season three be? I will have to find out. Hopefully it isn’t another mess…