I watched the first three episodes of ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ with my folks when I was visiting for Christmas. It was just my parents and I, –my sisters were at their houses and we zoomed to both of them respectively. I was spending some time over there and wanted to put on a show that would be congenial to watch with the family, based on what I had gleaned about it, but also something I was interested in checking out. So I picked the limited series about a chess prodigy I had heard was inspiring millions to an interest in chess, while also recasting the history of the sixties chess world with some slight redaction of the actual level of sexism.
The first three episodes had me hooked, after showing a young child, thrown into desperate and painful circumstances finding her tenuous salvation in a game of skill. Learning by chance– sneaking to meet the janitor in her orphanage and convincing him to teach her the game, partially on the merit of her figuring out much of the game from watching him make a few moves and extrapolating much more in her head, and partially by her quick social adaptation… “I don’t play strangers,” the janitor says, after she abruptly asks him about the game and broaches his table, albeit without introducing herself and acting particularly cordially to an adult, even one in the underground of her strict surroundings.
So what is the thrust of the story? Some may see it as largely a feminist story, of a woman making gains and showing intense skill in a time period when chess was largely a man’s realm. But the support the character recieves, and the writing, tell a much more robust tale, which is not to say the feminist aspect is not worthy of its own narrative thrust. This story simply has much more happening.
I started paying even closer attention in the fourth episode, when her adoptive mother, now during her burgeoning chess career, is having an affair, though while her husband is m.i.a. for months, or longer. They’ve traveled to Mexico City for a chess tournament, but arrived a few days early so her mother could spend time with her ‘pen pal’, a Mexican businessman. Her mother says something like ‘at first I thought it was the altitude, but it’s the culture,’ explaining how exhuberent she is feeling. ‘There’s no hint of a protestant work ethic here, they are all Latin Catholics. They live in the moment, it’s all here and now.’
To which Beth, our chess prodigy hero replies, “You’ve got to stop reading Alan Watts. It’s annoying.”
Is this cultural anachronism of the adult in the room being obsessed with Alan Watts, the 1960s fad counterculture figure, while the prodigous child chides them for their immaturity – a fluke?, Or is this a marker of what this show is trying to say overall?
I aim to write more on this later, and maybe get a piece on ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ published somewhere… but perhaps, to my mind at least, there is some poignant commentary about how the younger generation TODAY, from millennials onward, feel a kind of lost precocity, damaged by the madness of the world… a madness that is inherent to the human condition, but, like the chess games Beth plays out in her head on the ceiling in the orphanage, understandable in terms, by art, design, philosophy, –personal insight, (character)…
And though we may be lost to history, history is not lost to us… if he can think of it in terms… I dare not say of a game, for that is not what I mean. Antithetical to my meaning, in point of fact. But in terms of confinement, under-standing…
If we can rebel against the traps in the end game of the end of history… we may find individual teleological meaning, new myths, and an exciting time of ripening of cultural promise. But much of watching the Queen’s Gambit actually hurts me to some degree, because it aches with a kind of loneliness, this character.
I do wonder where the series may end up, before watching the last three episodes which I inevitably will do, and soon. But I feel like she represents someone cut off from her connectivity at the same time she is discovering it. In movements, checked squares, losing and conquest.
If every generation makes a break from older generations, I won’t say that we are experience anything not experienced before… I’ll just post this scene from ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’
Because in my opinion, “This was a particularly bad case of being cut in half.”