As always, I am behind the times. But as they say, better late than never.

The Queen’s Gambit makes chess interesting as a spectator sport as it tells the story of the power–and the dangers–of passion, skill, genius, and obsession. Tangled as it is in the history and politics of the 50s and 60s, The Queen’s Gambit also has a lot to say about the Cold War and gender equality.

Anya Taylor-Joy’s Elizabeth Harmon is, like so many of Taylor-Joy’s characters, ethereal. Most of the time she exudes a calculating calm, but we know that underneath, she’s a mess of emotions, fears, pride, and doubt. These negatives are squashed with a mixture of booze and pills.

The Queen’s Gambit‘s main antagonist is never the person on the other side of the chessboard, but the person in the mirror. Genius is so-often self-destructive; that’s a story that’s been told many times, and in the real world, Harmon was probably much more likely to flame out than she was to get her act together, get clean, and stay brilliant without the chemicals. When she finally starts accepting help from the people who love her most–quietly and tentatively–her internal life begins to turn around.

The ending, therefore, is maybe a little bit of fan service, but I wanted her to win, anyway. Rocky was always going to beat Drago, but his fight is worthwhile.

So is Elizabeth’s.

Somewhere in these stories of addiction and pain, we grew used to seeing the illness swallow its victim. It’s nice to see a real villain defeated, every once in a while.

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