Sunday, October 25, 2020

REVIEW: 'The Queen's Gambit' - Beth Explores a New Family Unit While Entering Her First Competition in 'Exchanges'

Netflix's The Queen's Gambit - Episode 1.02 "Exchanges"

Suddenly plunged into a confusing new life in suburbia, teenage Beth studies her high school classmates and hatches a plan to enter a chess tournament.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Netflix's The Queen's Gambit.

"Exchanges" was written by Scott Frank and directed by Scott Frank

The transition between Isla Johnston and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon is incredibly seamless. Sure, it's awkward a little bit later on with Taylor-Joy trying to convincingly play a teenager experiencing her first period. However, the characteristics she embodies reveal a sense of maturity in this young mind. She is wise beyond her years. She projects herself as a chess prodigy. The sport was actually taken away from her for several years. That was the consequence for her breaking into the dispensary to get the tranquilizers. Her friendship with Jolene wasn't lost because of that action. However, Mr. Shaibel pushed her away. Her skills and brilliance could no longer be encouraged. As such, it's reasonable for the story to move ahead in time to depict Beth getting adopted and finding her way back to chess. It presents as the sole thing that provides her life with purpose and dimension. At the orphanage, she is simply one of many young girls hoping to be adopted. With each passing day, that promise grew dimmer and dimmer. She is still one of the lucky ones. A family arrives to take her home with them. Even then, it's clear they want to adopt an older kid in order to replace the child that they lost. That doesn't fix what's broken in this family unit though. The father is incredibly dismissive to the person now occupying this space. He left his wife long before he decided to make his work trip permanent. This family suffers without him. Alma is in the thralls of despair unsure how they'll continue to afford the lives they have. Beth worries about being sent back to the orphanage. Chess brightens their lives. However, this environment also introduces the tranquilizers to Beth once more. Alma has a prescription for them. She too uses them as a way to calm herself down when the unfortunate happens. It's not long before Beth is hoarding them for herself. She remains quite resourceful and rambunctious. This addiction has already led to so much despair in her life. She became addicted young. That temptation was removed from her with serious consequences attached. But now, she has more freedom because she has been adopted into a new world. It's not the picture of a perfect family life. The Wheatleys have their struggles as well. For the longest time, they treat Beth as what a daughter is suppose to be instead of trying to connect with who she actually is. And so, Alma takes Beth shopping for new clothes and buys whatever she thinks looks best and is reasonably priced. Alma expects Beth to attend some of the more social extracurricular activities available at her new school. Beth is alienated in this environment as well. And yet, chess always keeps her grounded. There isn't an opportunity for her to expand her horizons there though. Instead, she has to seek out competition. Even then, she remains curious about the obstacles standing in her way of succeeding. The people in charge of this tournament dismiss her. Her words are shushed. She is treated with a dismissive attitude. The narrative even goes so far as to suggest that her naivety in the world may ultimately prevent her from success. She doesn't know how a person becomes a grand master or what that even is. She doesn't know how the competition circuit works. She doesn't know how to use pads once her period strikes. And yet, this story needs Beth to prevail. She is a vessel to deliver devastating blows to the pompous and sexist attitudes that dominate this particular world. She provides the salvation that her new family needs right now. Alma finds a new vigor for life because she sees the financial windfall that can come from Beth's brilliance at chess. This mentality is being encouraged once more. Beth is still a young girl though. There is so much she still doesn't know. Her life has been consumed by chess. People have the right instincts in encouraging her. She is more skilled than her competitors. She freaks out for a couple of moments. She still wins. That is a rousing success. She has support in her adoptive mother now. This family unit is different than what she expected. It allows her to chase what she wants. That is empowering. But doom still lingers over the horizon because of just how young and innocent she still is. She needs help. She receives it once more from Mr. Shaibel who gifts her the money to enter the competition. Alma makes extensive plans for the next one. They connect with her on a deeper level as a result. However, she still closes herself off to an extent which may only increase the internal pressure she places on herself to succeed. She knows she's great. She has that confidence. That may only take her so far though.