Series is based in the 1960s, with chess and a young prodigy at the centre of the story – Beth Harmon. When Beth is orphaned with her mother’s death, she is sent to an orphanage. She meets Jolene and they become fast friends. She also meets Shaibel at the basement, the janitor who is a chess player. Her periodic escapade with Shaibel led her to learn more about chess, the basic & its strategy. Leading her exposure to competition, and further curiosity with the games. When she was adopted by the Wheatleys, her fascination continued. Even leading her to open competition to earn money. As she is exposed to more professional chess players, her fascination with the Russian chess players motivate her to learn the language and prepares towards more competition, ultimately the final showdown with Borgov in Moscow.
The 7-episode series is a comparatively short series. Beth does have quite good luck on her side. Losing her mother, she gains a reliable good friend in Jolene – providing her tips in surviving her days in the orphanage. Her first teacher in chess – Shaibel, although strict, does have a good heart & a special place for Beth. I am very disappointed that Beth does not visit Shaibel until he passed on. I thought it would have meant so much to Shaibel for Beth to visit occasionally & play a game or two with him. Her mention of Shaibel during press conference during the end provides only very little redemption, especially Shaibel is not there to experience it. Remember the living, don’t regret it until they pass on.
With the Wheatleys, she forms a peculiar bond with Alma Wheatley, especially when Alston Wheatley finally leaves. I guess Alma provides companionship to the Beth, who is quite an introvert. Their exchanges on the planes are quite classic, with Alma offering her a sip of martini & advices on what goes well with the drinks. On one occasion when Beth calls to inform that she will be home late, Alma is quite surprised but supportive especially when she knows the obvious. I also thought that Alma is happier when she starts chaperoning Beth on her competition, enjoying the luxury of life rather than living life as a mundane Stepford’s wife. Alma’s death is a big blow to Beth, and it shakes her to the core. It is very pitiful to see how lonely Beth is when she comes back to a totally empty & dark house, made very much worse when there are remnants of Alma’s existence with the lipstick-stained cup still on the table.
Her romantic escapades are a little peculiar too. But I thought that all the guys that she dated are so sweet and supportive of her. What a wonderful bunch of boys! Beltik was a surprise, although near the end she is quite crisp to him & almost always sarcastic. It is good that Beltik realises that they are just not meant to be, but is always so supportive even when Beth doesn’t know that she needs help. The intensity with Benny resembles a petulant competitive streak between the two of them. I love the fact that Benny always brings up discussion on chess, and helps her to re-focus her negative energy. Beth’s infatuation with Townes since her teenage years – there is indication that there may progression.
There are a few themes & patterns that I observed.
Chess is a strategic & mind-reading game. Never let the opponent sees through your facial expression, it may just give away your next step. Having a “poker” face is important.
Geniuses seems to really have it tough, and seems easily depressed. Why is that so? Perhaps their relentless pursuit of perfection in their quests make life really difficult. The art of perfection has never been of one easy attainment, and continuous pursuit for perfection makes it arduous.
Fashion of the 50s & 60s! Checkered coats, dresses, overalls. Love them!
Soundtracks of the series is beautiful.
Never thought that chess can be of such interest that it spawns a series on its own. But the true grit of the series lies in Beth & how she flourishes. It is a joy to see how she enjoys the chess & her growth throughout the series.
She goes through the exciting stage when she is first exposed to chess, the exploration stage when she dabbles with different players & strategies, the rebellious stage when tries to find the edges, the falling down stage when she thought she lost it and the enlightenment stage when she realises there is more to the games than just winning. Enjoying a nice game is what matters most.
Exactly how life should be. It is not the results that matters, the enjoyment is going through the process. For me, it is an uplifting series. The series is not for everyone, as it does seem heavy & at times the pace is slow. Give it a try, enjoying the process is what counts after all.
Last but not least, the series tempts me with shopping not just for clothes but for a set of chess. My old set carved out of stones (lugged back from Vietnam during my young backpacking days) is now officially missing 2 pawns & 2 castles. The Royal Selangor Pewter’s Star War chest sets look like a good addition…