NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, December 4th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we are so glad you are!
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham reviews a new show so popular, it’s been inspiring people to go out and spend hard-earned dollars so they, too, can start saying, “checkmate.”
MEGAN BASHAM, TELEVISION CRITIC: Even beyond the 1960s sets and costumes, there’s something old fashioned about Netflix’s massive new hit, The Queen’s Gambit, a drama about an orphaned girl competing in the man’s world of professional chess.
From the synopsis, it might be easy to dismiss it as yet another modern morality play about patriarchal oppression. But if that had been the case, the series probably would have remained one of those critical darlings mass audiences ignore. It certainly wouldn’t have become popular enough to send sales of chess boards and books skyrocketing.
What would do that is a surprisingly warm and riveting tale of overcoming hardship and finding community in unexpected places—namely, from the men many other stories would have turned into villains.
CLIP: I’m in Lexington for the summer and I thought. I thought what? Would you like some training? I know you’re better than me. But if you’re going to play the Soviets, you need help.
When she first arrives at the Methuen school for girls, 9-year-old Beth Harmon has been let down by every woman in her life. First, her mother abandons her through suicide. Then, her headmistress manages her behavior by feeding her daily doses of tranquilizers. The only person to take real notice of her is the school janitor, a chess enthusiast.
CLIP: What do you want child? You should be in chapel. What’s that game called. You should be upstairs with the others. I don’t want to be with the others. I want to know what that is you’re playing. It’s called chess. Will you teach me? I don’t play strangers.
Mr. Shaibel fosters her growing intellectual prowess, teaching her a few lessons about graciousness along the way.
CLIP: You resign now. Resign? That’s right, child. When you lose the queen that way, you resign. No. Yes. You have resigned the game. You didn’t tell me that in the rules. It’s not a rule. It’s sportsmanship.
But Shaibel is hardly the only man Beth comes to rely on. Her male competitors may dismiss her in the beginning because they’ve never played a girl before, but none try to shut her out. Eventually, they set aside their own interests to support hers.
CLIP: Hello? If he goes for the knight hit him with the king rook pawn. Benny? If he goes for the bishop do the same thing. How do you know. It’s in the Times. It’s 7 a.m. here but we’ve been working on it for three hours. We? Hi Beth. Hi Harry. It’s really nice to hear your voice. [overlapping voices from group]
At its core, The Queen’s Gambit offers a Rocky-style tale of achieving success in a meritocracy despite early disadvantages. Though she begins life profoundly underprivileged, the greatest obstacle Beth faces is her own self-sabotage, fostered through drinking and drug abuse. That may have grown out of the harmful place and patterns she was born into, but eventually she has to take responsibility for her choices if she wants a future filled with something beyond bitterness and envy.
CLIP: You need help. What kind of help would that be? Help with my chess because we tried that. That’s not what I’m talking about. What are we talking about? My dad drank.
But if the series doesn’t offer you-go-girl feminist triumphalism or grievance, neither does it place too much power in individual bootstraps. Again and again, the men in Beth’s life come to her rescue, unraveling the toxic lessons her mother taught her.
CLIP: The strongest person is the person who isn’t scared to be alone. It’s other people you got to worry about. Someday you’re going to be all alone so you need to figure out how to take care of yourself.
Without their support, she could never pull herself up to compete on the world stage in Moscow.
The closing image of the series, too perfect to spoil, illustrates how much we gain when we refuse to sort ourselves into superficial categories based on gender and identity.
Which is not to say the show is perfect. Characters swear profusely and the last couple of episodes take unnecessary swipes at international Christian organizations.
Beth also engages in several emotionless sexual encounters, including, one scene hints, with another woman. There’s no nudity, all but one are implied, not shown, and that one is noteworthy for how degrading and unfulfilling it is. And once Beth stops the drugs and alcohol, she also stops sleeping around, illustrating the truthfulness of Ephesians 5:18: Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.
In the end, the show is at least honest enough to show that, sure, sin is fun and can even seem to give you an edge, for awhile, but ultimately it takes much more than it offers.
So if conscience allows you to tolerate these elements, The Queen’s Gambit is the rare show that is as smart as advertised, and even more engaging.
I’m Megan Basham.
One more thought before I go. In our several years of these giving drives, it’s never fallen to me to throw out the first pitch, as it were.
So, fair warning. I throw like a girl.
But metaphorically, I like to think of myself as one of those girls who can fire a 70-mile-per-hour softball for a strike. I like to be direct!
Here goes. I’ve been writing for WORLD for more than a decade now. And Nick asked me when The World and Everything in It was still just a weekly program to start reviewing on-air.
I’ve loved doing it.
From reviewing to hosting to commentary, I am all about this team, and I want you to know the Basham family this year has gone all-in. I’m so proud of my husband Brian, the Big Bash, joining the team to pioneer a new outreach to young people to bring biblical understanding to the news of the day with WORLD Watch.
It was your support that helped make a major undertaking like that possible. And it’s going well, thanks to you.
But you know all the work we do here we do every single day and we do need your support.
So would you renew your support this month? Well. I said I’m direct. How about renewing your support today?
This is WORLD’s December Giving Drive. Would you take a moment and visit wng.org/donate and make a gift to help us keep the work going strong?
I’m Megan Basham and I’m grateful for anything you can do to support sound journalism, grounded in God’s Word. Wng.org/donate. Thanks so much.