Let's Talk About the REAL Reason Everyone Loved "The Queen's Gambit"
The Covid-19 pandemic has robbed humanity of many things in 2020 and now bleeding into 2021, we feel much more of the same. But if you may recall, our salvation at the beginning of 2020 came from a Netflix docuseries called Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness – a ridiculous by all means of the word docuseries that took the world and its people by storm and subsequently, distracted us all from every inch of the sad reality we were already a part of. But alas, the year 2020 progressed, the Tiger King fandom and fun wore out, and we were once again brought back to our very different and not so fun reality. Until… The Queen’s Gambit, October 2020.
Once more our lives were saved by Netflix in 2020 but this time, by a very different genre. The Queen’s Gambit took the entire world by storm but instead of exposing the world to the unknown world of tiger breeding in the US, it exposed us to the world of chess – a world most people evidently had no interest in despite its ancient history, and a game a fair few people never knew how to play nor had any interest in learning to play. That is, until The Queen’s Gambit miniseries told you all otherwise! I myself learned to play chess at a fairly young age. I was not nine years old like our protagonist Beth Harmon nor am I a chess prodigy, but I did learn around the age of 12 and realized it to be a “game” that involved an incredible amount of thinking and foresight. For a kid, I thought chess was more work than play, so I never played it too much and my interest in playing was never too high. But then the end of 2020 comes around, The Queen’s Gambit exhibits the chess world as one of luxury and discipline, and because of the luxuries surrounded by it in this miniseries, the entire world now wants to learn how to play chess or get themselves much more involved with chess. But chess aside I was always curious, how is it that a miniseries set in the 1950’s-1960’s about an orphan turned chess prodigy actually engulfed the average Joe, pretty much all millennials, maybe even Gen Z’s (not sure if they're aware of a world that exists outside TikTok so I cannot confirm), and even parents? I knew it had to be more than just the chess, because if it were chess alone why would so many of these people not have already known how to play chess? Well today is the day my blog and I are here to unearth the real reasons, everyone and their dog loved The Queen’s Gambit.
First and foremost, The Queen’s Gambit involves much more than chess. It is principally about the protagonist, Beth Harmon, who happens to be a chess prodigy by the time she is finally taught chess at nine years old. But the fact that she is amazing at chess isn’t why people like or are intrigued by Beth. No, the real reason we like Beth is because she has a very different, albeit sad, past and present. She is a girl riddled with trauma due to her familial setting and problematic Doctorate mother. Although we are only ever shown glimpses throughout the series of what her childhood was like and what her mother was like, the fragmented pieces of her past are enough for the viewer to piece together that her mother was driven mad by something, and it seriously affected her ability to look after her daughter, let alone, herself. These fragments of memories are perhaps confusing and choppy to the audience as much as they are to Beth herself, and this parallel quite frankly parallels perfectly the how and why Beth has the character or traits she has, why she is the way she is, and becomes the woman she becomes (despite of course, the chess genius that is only brought forth by Mr. Shaibel). Ending up at an orphanage at nine years old as well, continues to feed into the character creation of a troubled, lonesome, confused and angry human being that is and stays, Beth Harmon, and only continues the plot for the protagonist as each episode passes and as she ages. Now although her past trauma is very traumatic and one most people most likely cannot relate to, everyone (especially these days in the world of immense mental health awareness and oversharing through the only climbing numbers of social media platforms) has some form of past trauma or perhaps even a somewhat recent trauma, and love to relate or compare traumas as a means of, I don’t know… healing? A way to pass time? A way to feel less upset about it? A way to, revel in it? Human beings are mysterious creatures and when it comes to textbook “bad” things, humans eat it up for breakfast. Alas, trauma is undeniably a major player in the game of “why does everyone love The Queen’s Gambit?”
Now if the above sounds depressing, just wait, there’s more! Another factor people love to revel in in life and thus, heavily appreciated witnessing in The Queen’s Gambit, are vices – to be exact here, alcohol and drug addiction! Yes, both very common vices and addictions in the “real world” and perhaps even more so during the pandemic and lockdowns, things that are terrible for people are what attract people because again, we are mysterious creatures that seem to revel in far more bad things than good things (an example? Watching crime docuseries of how brutally murdered people have been, how terribly men have treated women, and etc. as opposed to spending time watching docuseries about climate change, the beauty of our Frozen Planet, understanding our existence in the Universe that undoubtedly is a void of black, empty and every growing “space”, or maybe even the Salmon Run and the circle of life). No, drugs and alcohol are what interest people the most, I mean “sex, drugs and alcohol” are known aspects of life that will never cease to make money so because of that statistic alone, it means human beings are forever interested in such vices. Having said that, that’s exactly why The Queen’s Gambit is more interesting than just a girl who grows up to be a chess prodigy, because that alone sounds nerdy and boring – most likely the exact adjectives you used to describe chess… before you watched The Queen’s Gambit and wholeheartedly jumped on the chess bandwagon that evidently went on World Tour because of this miniseries. Furthermore, we do also have the idea of sex or our favourite or not so favourite aspect of life, love. Like I said earlier, Beth is nine when she is taken to the orphanage and her “life” and the series starts, but time passes and Beth grows with all the above and we witness her aging and the phases of life she moves through because of it, so of course, the idea of sex and love become a key part of the series as well. Another vice we love or love to hate! Hurray for another aspect of relatability that draws viewers into the series and not actually into chess.
The last “big ticket item” (before I delve into more cinematic and “nerdy” aspects of the series), is travel! Especially because 2020 and most likely most of 2021 are years of extremely limited travel, what better way to travel the world than through the comfort of your own screen with The Queen’s Gambit! Beth being so skilled leads her to chess championships and tournaments around the US and eventually, the world – and all very glamourous places so as I said earlier as well, luxury is a shining star within the series that entrances many people to stick with it. Going from Kentucky to Cincinnati, Las Vegas to Mexico City, Paris back to Kentucky and eventually New York then Moscow, Beth is frequently seen in airplanes and lush hotels and that adds the excitement factor to the world of chess that most people probably never knew existed. And again, allows the audience to feel like they're travelling with her which, is probably a very unprecedented feeling or yearning since we’ve never been so restricted to travel on our own accord before.
Now, let’s talk about chess! As I mentioned earlier I learned to play chess when I was a kid, but never thought of it as very exciting or intense. No, for me chess was a game of strategy and a lot of thinking – which is all fine and well, and now that I am older those are aspects of life I do pay more attention to and would love to excel at, but as a child you would much rather do things that are fun. Chess was not “fun”, chess was work. But alas, I like many others I’m sure was blown away by the additional layers and complexity of chess that I quite frankly, never even knew existed. I mean, chess openings and endings? Rejecting openings? There are names for specific sequences of moves? Certain plays ensure wins by a certain number of moves? If you’re a much more experienced chess player than I am, you probably think I don’t even know how to play chess! Leading me to say what enticed me so much about The Queen’s Gambit was actually the fact that it taught me so much more about chess, and made me realize that perhaps why I never found chess to be a fun game to play, was perhaps because I only knew the basic rules and sentiments of chess! The Queen’s Gambit therefore exposed a new door in the world of chess to me – the same way it might have for some of you, or opened the door to chess altogether for some of you as well. I can strongly say The Queen’s Gambit brought back my interest in chess, in a way that made me want to study chess to determine how much better I could play if I knew openings, unspoken rules of chess sportsmanship, and thinking far more ahead than I had originally thought was sufficient forethought. Chess is an incredibly complex and layered game, and to really feel its affects one truly must know the game, so The Queen’s Gambit and all its characters with their intense love of the game and their dedication and devotion to countless hours of study and playing, truly motivates and inspires people (much like myself) to actually do the same. I never thought about “studying” chess. I never even knew you could study a game. But The Queen’s Gambit opened my eyes to this and for that I truly am thankful! Having said that, discipline and genius go hand and hand for our protagonist and certain characters in the series as well, but what one may lack in genius, can certainly attempt to make up for by truly studying. Therefore I also found The Queen’s Gambit to be incredibly inspiring on the topics of discipline, focus, and determination (attributes human beings are only becoming more distant from due to the technological era we currently live in), and have motivated me to become far more disciplined and focused which again, is something I am truly grateful for.
Lastly, for all my fans of cinematic brilliance and true appreciation of the art of film or series making, let us delve into what entrances the audience even more so, from this point of view! First of all, we have the score. The Queen’s Gambit although principally set in Kentucky and is about an American girl, has a very classical albeit chilling score. This score is what sets the tone and mood of the miniseries. It is serious, it has a dark underlying tone, and it very much so heightens the serious emotion of the scenes it surrounds. The score can also come across as intimidating at the right moments, which perfectly parallels the protagonist Beth, who becomes intimidating tenfold as she matures and begins to lose herself to her addictions of not only her vices, but to chess, and winning. Second, we have the characters! If you’ve read a handful of my other pieces, you no doubt have come across me saying that interesting characters and solid character development is vital in a great film or series, because it expands the field of relatability for the audience to its characters, it might present a type of person or personality you have never once come across in your everyday but entices you so much, you truly wish you knew someone who had such characteristics or traits (which subsequently draws you further into the film or series because the only way in which you can “know” such a person is by watching the character), and it levels the playing field if you will, to also shed some light on other parts of the story that are not simply following the protagonist or antagonist. A great story has more than the “good guy” and “bad guy” which makes you believe those are the only important characters in the entirety of the film or series, so The Queen’s Gambit does an excellent job at making you understand and pay attention to all the other characters that are vital to the progression of the protagonist’s story. I therefore applaud The Queen’s Gambit on that front, because it has so many key characters and storylines! Moreover however, it is the precise blending of all the above-mentioned aspects of this piece plus, its remarkable character creations that truly make The Queen’s Gambit as addicting as the many addictions brought forth and highlighted by the miniseries.
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