Queen’s Gambit and those little green pills

Anya Taylor-Joy played Beth Harmon in Netflix’s limited series the Queen’s Gambit.


Anya Taylor-Joy played Beth Harmon in Netflix’s limited series the Queen’s Gambit.

Netflix’s limited series Queen’s Gambit follows the story of the young chess prodigy Beth Harmon and her rise and falls through life as she fights to become the world’s best chess player. Played by ginger, Anya Taylor-Joy, Beth learns to play chess from the janitor after she was orphaned in 1960s Kentucky and excels at it, eventually joining chess tournaments and rising in rank through her aggressive playstyle.

In addition to depicting the game of chess in a way that even I, a person who finds chess boring and dry, entertaining, The Queen’s Gambit also manages to tackle the difficult subject of drug addiction and dependency.

Orphanages in the 1950s were legally allowed to give the children tranquilizer pills, and unfortunately for Beth Harmon, many of them became addicted for the rest of their lives as a result. The small green pills were given to the orphans each day to make controlling and calming them easier.

The show did a great job of showing the dependency Beth has on these pills, and how they affect her day to day life. 

It started small, Beth saving her pills for night time, using them to visualize chess boards on the ceiling as she fell asleep. This led to rapid improvement of her skill, eventually causing the janitor to suggest she go play at a chess club at a local high school led by a friend of his and introducing her into the larger world of chess.

The breathtaking and memorable visual effect of the giant chess pieces moving on the ceiling would come up numerous times throughout the series, showing her reliance on them as she continued to get better and better at the game and rise in the ranks.

The dependence on pills soon morphs to include the addiction to alcohol and cigarettes, not helped by her adopted mother, Mrs. Wheatley (played by Marielle Heller). 

The two become closer and closer, traveling the country for Beth to compete in chess tournaments, and Beth picks up her mother’s habit of drinking at a young age. The relationship of this mother and daughter feels almost tangible, and you can plainly see the tender love that they have for each other.

But that only makes the shock more real when Beth’s mother dies of hepatitis during one of Beth’s matches.

The death of her mother caused Beth to begin drinking more heavily, smoking, and taking pills as she descended into the low point of her life and the show.

It is in these episodes that Gambit is able to make the strongest impact with the realism of the issue they tackled. Beth pushed away everyone she grew close to, drowning herself in the bottom of a bottle as she threw up in the trophies she had worked so hard to earn.

The acting and how the series handled Beth’s dependency on the green pills feels real as you watch, and it is almost difficult to remind yourself that Beth is a work of fiction.

Gambit definitely deserves it’s earning of 97% from Rotten Tomatoes for its wonderful pacing, fantastic acting, and handling of addiction and drug abuse. Beth Harmon’s story will spark conversations not typically had, just like it did in my household when I watched it with my family.

The Queen’s Gambit is definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.