Monday, October 26, 2020

REVIEW: 'The Queen's Gambit' - Beth Steps onto the World Stage as Her Mother Attempts to Find Happiness Again in 'Middle Game'

Netflix's The Queen's Gambit - Episode 1.04 "Middle Game"

Russian class opens the door to a new social scene. In Mexico City, Beth meets the intimidating Borgov, while her mother cozies up to a pen pal.

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.

"Middle Game" was written by Scott Frank and directed by Scott Frank

Alma wants her daughter to live a full and happy life. She is grateful that Beth has an outlet in chess. It has afforded them so many opportunities in life. However, it's just as much a celebration when Beth graduates from high school. It's important to find happiness in many different places. That is an important lesson for so many people. And yet, the narrative continually highlights the tragedy of it all. It has also laid the groundwork for what the dramatic tension will be moving forward with Beth's tournament schedule. Here, she flies to Mexico City for a world competition. She will follow that up with competing to be the best in the United States. And finally, she has been invited to play in Paris. It's a whirlwind adventure for her. She is gaining international fame. But again, the pressure of chess almost becomes too overbearing for her. She remains haunted by Mr. Shaibel warning her about the knife's edge that her personality seemingly is. He picked up on that from her young age. He knew that this drive within her could cost her in other areas of her life. And yet, she has such a loving and trusting relationship with her mother. She is proud to take her along to every destination around the world. It can bring a new sense of adventure to Alma's life. She sees the opportunity to connect with a pen pal she has teased for years. This isn't something she would normally get to do. She gets to have fun in a little romance while in Mexico City. Of course, it still leads to heartbreak. This man can't provide her anything more than this brief moment in time. It's fun to explore the city and be happy with someone else in an arousing way. Beth doesn't want to be a part of that. She wants to focus on the game. She has developed friendships. She sees the competition play. But she also beams with joy upon seeing her mother play the piano for an adoring crowd. These two understand each other and celebrate the various victories they have in their lives. That's what makes the ending so tragic. Beth didn't know when she would play Borgov in chess. He is apparently the best player in the world. This is her first time meeting him. When she turns around and sees their names on the board together, both Beth and Alma know that they can't be distracted by anything else. And in the end, the myth of this man's mental prowess proves to be too intimidating for Beth. She has the opportunity to turn the tables on him while playing black. She has the chance to take control of the game. Everyone is on pins and needles as they await her move. And yet, she knows that he was always in charge. He remained calm and never had any doubt about his ability to beat her. He has that confidence and assurance. The other players and even the KGB officers know that her rise in the sport threatens their hold on world dominance in this area. The Russians train young minds early in the hopes of always maintaining brilliance in chess. Beth knows what it's like to be so completely devoted to the game. She doesn't want to open her life up to anything else. That's how she knows how to beat the Russian player who is younger than her. She knows he can be distracted if she gives him ample reason to be. He idolizes American culture. Beth grew up in that and acknowledges it. However, she doesn't really partake in it. She is learning how to speak Russian because it can potentially help her in the game. Every action she takes is in service of that ultimate goal. Sure, she still explores herself sometimes outside of that identity. The only real stability she has though is her mother and chess. And now, she loses against Borgov and Alma suddenly dies in the hotel. It's absolutely devastating. Beth doesn't quite know what to do. She can analyze her game. She is frustrated because she knows exactly what went wrong. She wasn't surprised. She may have simply set herself up for failure because she was psyched out by the pressure. And now, she will fall into the despair of addiction once more because her support system at home suddenly vanishes. She is thrown by her mother not being in the crowd cheering her on. That distraction is real and genuine. Beth's priority has always been chess. But fueling her addiction also becomes a reasonable coping mechanism for her. It's the pattern of her life. Sure, some viewers can note how repetitive some of the storytelling beats have become. And yet, the show has found a way to derive tension and thrills from the various chess matches in different ways each episode. That takes remarkable skill and such precision from the creative team as well as Anya Taylor-Joy's performance. Beth is an orphan once more. That may make her fight even harder as the Russians fear in their psychoanalysis of her performance style. But her life is so much more than what these strangers deduce about her through this game. She gives her all to it. And yet, she yearns for more too. She is haunted by the past. She wants to embrace the present. The future remains unknown because her status as a prodigy has been challenged on several occasions as she takes on the best in the world.