I just finished watching the Netflix miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit.
It’s a great show and if you haven’t watched it already you may want to stop reading now. This post is full of spoilers.
There’s been a lot of analysis on the final game with chess experts racking up millions of views on YouTube. But one point that I haven’t seen mentioned is the symbolism of that final game and how it ties into the final episode and the series as a whole.
The final game of the miniseries pits chess prodigy Beth Harmon up against Vasily Borgov. She’s an orphan that lost her mother at a young age. She starts out as a pawn and slowly rises through the ranks ending as the queen of the chess world.
The show starts with Beth always playing as black. Black goes second in chess and has a slight disadvantage to white because of it. She’s not allowed to play as white yet. The show in contrast ends with her playing as white and becoming world champion. A true turnaround from her humble beginnings.
Beth’s story starts with her surviving a car crash in which her mother dies. This is played out in the final game. It’s the first time we’ve seen her play the Queen’s Gambit. The opening starts with white moving the queen’s pawn to d4, black countering with d5 and white offering the queen’s bishop’s pawn to black by moving it to c4 as in the diagram below:
The free pawn that white offers is the gambit. Borgov declines the gambit and moves his king’s pawn to e5.
The two white pawns represent Beth and her mother driving headfirst into the truck. Her mother is killed but Beth survives. Black jams his pieces into the centre and neither side can move forward. That black has decided to take the unorthodox line and move his king’s pawn forward two spaces may also be an illusion to Borgov being the king of chess. The king’s pieces charging into the queen’s pieces. Who will come out the victor?
The game continues and we see Beth moving her queen’s pawn further up the board eventually getting to this position:
If Beth can just move her pawn one step further it turns into a queen. Beth figures out a way to do this by sacrificing her own queen. This alludes to Beth’s mother who took her own life but her little pawn, Beth, survives and eventually turns into a queen herself.
Beth goes on to win the game after this.
As the show closes out we see Beth dressed fully in white wearing a hat for the first time. This is the hat/crown that the chess queen wears.
Beth is told by her US guardian that she has to go to the White House to play a game with the US President and a host of other engagements. But she doesn’t feel comfortable with this. Beth is looking for freedom. She no longer wants to be told what to do. She’s looking for the freedom to move around the world like a queen with no restrictions, moving as far as she wants in each direction.
She gets out the car and walks through the streets of Moscow. She decides her own path now.
If you think this show didn’t care about the finer details they most certainly did. The final game and episode were chosen with extreme precision. You would expect nothing less with people like Gary Kasparov, former World Chess Champion, advising on the games in the show. Every move during the chess games was choreographed by chess consultants Garry Kasparov and Bruce Pandolfini. Garry helped provide a lot of the background knowledge on how a chess prodigy would feel, and he designed the final chess matches in Russia during Episode 7, including the one between Borgov and Beth.
Another fun fact I would never have noticed but even the lipstick in the show was chosen with extreme care. The lipstick Beth wears in the final episode is the exact same shade as the lipstick her adoptive mother wore. “Towards the end, Beth’s shades become similar to her second mother’s as an ode to her. It all helps to tell the story, translate the character without [the viewer] knowing it.”
It’s no coincidence either that Beth shares a name with queen of England, Queen Elizabeth. Or that her surname, Harmon, means soldier in German. Beth is a solider on the chess board that becomes queen.
You can see all the moves for the final match here: https://lichess.org/zbNlJc0R#96. They made a slight mistake on the opening as Borgov rejects the gambit in the show but the game plays out the same in any case.
If you noticed any other hidden secrets behind the movie I’d love for you to share them in the comments!