After the pill incident last episode, episode 2 of The Queen’s Gambit begins with Beth more determined than ever to memorize the Sicilian Defence. Only, that’s problematic given she’s been banned from playing chess.
Time passes and we skip forward to find a 15 year old Beth hanging around with Jolene at the orphanage. Up at the window, she looks out and notices two guests arriving for her. She’s the model girl at the orphanage but that’s all about to change now that Beth has been adopted. Just before she goes, Mr Shaibel watches from the doorway.
Leaving the orphanage, Beth’s plunged into this strange world with Allston and Alma Wheatley. Although things look good on the surface, Allston is wrapped up in work with constant business trips. This inevitably causes tensions between him and Alma.
She destresses by playing the piano though, which Beth comments she’s very good at. It’s a pipe dream, as life goes, and Alma’s miscarriage brings up painful memories of what could have been.
Elizabeth stats school but immediately finds herself isolated from the other girls. Even worse, they don’t have a chess club there either, replaced instead by the Apple Pi club.
Well, the next port of call is clothes shopping after school. With Mr Wheatley returning for the night, she and Alma head out. On the way though, she notices a chess set. Given 40 cents allowance a week, Beth’s encouraged to save up to buy it herself.
After running an errand for Alma, Beth steals a chess magazine from the local convenience store and feels a burst of excitement over the future. Only, this is unfortunately short-lived due to money problems with the family.
Alma is unhappy with the idea of Beth working, (“Only colored girls your age work!” She exclaims) causing Beth to turn toward Mr Shaibel instead. There’s an upcoming chess tournament but the entry fee is $5. If she wins, the prize is $100.
She receives a reply from Mr Shaibel in the mail with the cash attached – but that’s not all. Alma’s new medication happens to be the same green tranquility pills she had in the past. Beth inevitably takes a pill or two and enters the chess tournament. Her first opponent is a woman named Annette Packer who she sweeps aside with ease.
With time to kill, she joins the growing list of people watching Beltik (an aspiring Grandmaster) play. After an impressive victory, Beth has one of her own – managing to hit the undefeated list after 4 wins in a row.
Her fifth match however, is a different caliber of opponent. She beats Townes and gathers quite the crowd, who hear him tell her she’s “quite something.”
After the game, Annette finds Beth in the bathroom who’s just had her first period. After some encouraging words of wisdom, Beth continues on before facing her final opponent Beltik in the final.
While things are looking up for Beth with chess, at home thing are anything but stable. Alma’s addiction to the green pills sees the home trashed and in disarray. All of that stems from Mr. Wheatley being stuck out working indefinitely. Together, the girls decide to lie about their situation while Alma promises to try and be a good Mother to her.
The day of the final arrives and Beth faces up against Beltik, who arrives late and arrogantly yawns. Beth is determined to beat him though.
Although things go badly to begin with, she pops a green pill in the bathroom and composes herself. Beltik refuses to go down without a fight and although Beth has the match won, they play out to its conclusion.
The win sees Beth crowned state champion and brings home the $100 prize. Alma is impressed and agrees to let her open a bank account.
With the winnings, Beth heads back to the department store and buys up a whole stack of chess books – and the chessboard she’s been eyeing up. As she starts unpacking, Alma only has eyes for the money and books Beth up for a new tournament in Cincinnati.
The Episode Review
With Beth finally entering tournaments, there’s more chess action this time around. The gorgeous zoomed-out shot of Beth in the midst of this hall full of boys is arguably the best of the entire season.
This slick camera work and cinematography as a whole is partly what makes this such an endearing series.
That’s to say nothing of the plotting itself which begins Beth’s descent into pill addiction by beating Beltik at a cost. This is perfectly conveyed across the episode and certainly sets things up nicely for the rest of the series.