If you liked Star Wars: A New Hope, and everyone does, then you will enjoy The Queen’s Gambit. It’s like The Mighty Ducks for chess, with a lot more drugs and female coming-of-age.
The main character, Beth, achieves success and seems happy at the end. There is some pretty on-the-nose dialogue about happiness in the show.
Other female characters represent other arenas of achievement. A high school friend, Margaret, has a baby. The baby curtailed Margaret’s freedom and locally-high-status social life. Marriage and children is portrayed as a drag. Margaret’s baby carriage basket contains only clinking bottles of alcohol, which I suppose is meant to indicate that Margaret is even more miserable than the face she presents to Beth when they meet in a store.
Motherhood is not interesting to Cleo, a model. However, even her own achievements in terms of physical beauty leave Cleo unsatisfied. Cleo says, “Modeling and models are insipid.” Cleo’s life might seem exciting to those of us on the outside of the fashion world, but Cleo wishes she could win at chess and is openly envious of Beth.
A non-Beth female character who is pursuing a life of the mind is Jolene. Jolene is a paralegal who aspires to be a lawyer because she believes that will make her powerful and respected. Jolene envies Beth’s winner status. Jolene has an active role in giving Beth straight talk about drugs and also in loaning Beth money.
Patriotism and religion are despised by Beth and Jolene. They hate the Christians who run an orphanage where Beth and Jolene apparently received an excellent education. Jolene says she was happy when the director of the “Home for Girls” broke her hip and became crippled thereafter.
The irony of the Queen’s Gambit is that the show exalts intellectual ability and yet a social scientist is left with very little to think about. The star of the show is mesmerizingly beautiful. Viewers mostly just stare at her. Here is some honesty from Twitter
In the show, every typical source of meaning is knocked over like a king in checkmate. It all works out for Beth, because of her inimitable talent and adoring fans.
If you are actually thinking, you might wonder what those of us who are not chess champions should do with ourselves. We can’t all become lawyers, and not even all lawyers are happy.
Some research shows that American women report wishing they had more children.
In the show, Beth is just as beautiful and fashionable as Cleo, but also wins at chess. Some of us mortals can’t have it all. If anyone is wondering, this is the haircut of the woman who might be the most comparable historical female to Beth.
Incidentally, a social science book has recently been written about the economic power wielded by the Cleo’s. You can listen to Ashley Mears on status and beauty here.