Review: ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ gains popularity

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Shivani Sethu, Opinions Editor

Netflix’s hit series “The Queen’s Gambit” follows the life of fictional character Beth Harmon — a chess prodigy with a drug addiction. To most, a truly riveting show chronicling the tales of a chess player may seem paradoxical. However, the compelling characters and clever writing create a unique and honest portrayal of a young girl’s life that keeps viewers engaged and invested throughout. 

Set during the Cold War, nine-year-old Harmon is placed in an orphanage where she learns to play chess with a janitor in the basement. After being adopted at age 15, Harmon begins to compete in chess tournaments where she gains national and global recognition for her skill in the game.

“I think the show became successful so fast because many people are interested in seeing how a show about chess could actually be exciting,” senior Katie Tsai said. “You don’t really have to understand chess or be a chess enthusiast to enjoy the show. I think that’s how the show was able to capture such a broad audience.”

Only one week after its release on Oct. 23, the seven-episode series became the number-one-rated program on Netflix. The success of this show can be broken down into three categories: the authentic characters, the uplifting plot and the game itself. 

Chess has been around since the sixth century, yet its slow-paced and methodical nature has caused it to be largely overlooked. The release of “The Queen’s Gambit,” however, has sparked a renewed wave of interest in the game. According to TheStar, chess app downloads have grown 63% in America and 11% worldwide since the show aired.  

“The show made chess look really exciting and it made me want to play it,” freshman Eric Stone said.

Throughout the show, Harmon uses tranquilizers to envision games on the ceiling when she doesn’t have access to a board. There’s something about seeing a massive, flickering chess board looming down from the ceiling that gives the game a little flair, not to mention the intense games of speed chess that leave viewers’ minds spinning. The passion and expertise with which the characters compete are utterly enthralling. 

The refreshing characters play a large role in the popularity of the show. Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of Beth Harmon as a soft-spoken yet ambitious and confident young woman makes the show thoroughly enjoyable. As a woman in the 20th century competing in a game dominated by men, Harmon’s strong character keeps viewers rooting for her throughout. 

“I thought Beth’s character was extremely complex,” Tsai said. “She went through many hardships, both in her personal life and in dealing with gender stereotypes, yet remained resilient and determined.”

Her personality is met with a charismatic and entertaining group of side characters that round out the show. Their respect and support of Harmon, even in the midst of competition, give the show a truly heartwarming touch.

“I would definitely recommend the show to others because the acting is phenomenal and the storyline is also amazing,” Tsai said. “There wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy, because I seriously thought each episode was amazing.”

The show’s plot is unlike that of almost any other drama. For most shows, having a deep and impactful story is almost synonymous with tragedy. It seems as though everything that could potentially go wrong, does. However, “The Queen’s Gambit” manages to create a powerful story that, despite the never-ending suspense, consistently delivers satisfying and happy outcomes.

This series also doesn’t feel the need to throw in constant plot twists and drama in an attempt to keep the viewer engaged. Instead, it provides tame and grounded storylines that hold one’s attention the entire time.

“I enjoyed the show a lot. I liked all the characters and I liked that it made chess very interesting and exciting,” Stone said. “The story is very engaging and you want to see the character development to the end.”