Episode 4 of The Queen’s Gambit begins with Beth learning Russian, undeterred by her previous loss. After this game, she heads out with some guys from her Russian club, phoning home to let Alma know she’s staying the night.
That leads to her first sexual encounter but it’s not exactly memorable. When she wakes up, everyone’s gone to Cincinnati to watch a movie so she decides to get some booze (and a handy spliff left by the guys there.) She phones home and promises Alma not to get pregnant as she continues to drink.
Time passes and Beth graduates from high school. As a gift, Alma gets her a bracelet with “To Beth, Love Mother.” The pair sit together, with Beth preparing for an upcoming trip in Mexico.
Alma tags along too and on the plane reveals the real reason she’s going. It turns out she has a pen pal in Mexico City called Manuel and he’s meeting them at the airport.
Alma continues to act as moral guidance for Beth but she’s more a devil than an angel on her shoulder. She tells Beth not to study endlessly and encourages the girl to head out and relax before her big game.
This brings back memories of the past with Mr Shaibel as he discusses the ups and downs of her gift. Despite being extremely gifted at chess, she also has a lot of anger pent up inside her. This appears to be a consequence of what happened to her parents and the constant disappointment of potential Father figures leaving her life.
The big day arrives and Beth continues her winning streak. While Alma and Manuel grow closer together, the anger in Beth continues to rise up. Interspersed around these various chess wins are intriguing images of Beth underwater.
Water is symbolically the sign for emotion and being so far underwater appears to hint at Beth being consumed by that aforementioned anger. It’s a wonderful visual motif and one that backs up how aesthetically striking this series is.
The tournament continues and Alma eyes up Borgov as he walks past. Beth has bigger fish to fry though as she’s matched up to the young Gregiv. Their match plays out across 5 hours and they’re forced to reconvene in the morning. Small talk about drive-ins do little to quell her desire to win, and the following day she does just that.
However, she interestingly uses distractions as a way of throwing Gregiv off his game. It’s a tactic that’s been used again here numerous times (Beltik’s yawning, the hair parting etc.) and one that sees Gregiv bemoan his mistakes on reflection.
The pair sit and talk, specifically about aspirations for Gregiv being Chess Champion. Beth admits he’s the best she’s ever played. “Until you play Borgov,” Gregiv mutters as our chess prodigy walks away.
Meanwhile it’s the same old story for Alma as Manuel leaves for work and she’s alone again. She does manage to gain quite the audience though when starts playing the piano again. These moments are overshadowed though by Borgov talking about Beth in the elevator.
Specifically, they comment on Beth’s tenacity to win and being unable to lose at any cost. This is the same for Borgov too but for a very different reason.
Thankfully Matt and Mike are there to fill Beth in on exactly who these intimidating men are. Eventually the match begins and Borgov, known as the Master of the Sicilian, begins his game plan. While the moves slowly go back and forth, each strategizing against the other, Alma is noticeably absent.
Beth channels this anger into her game-playing but it’s no good. She’s outplayed and thrown off her game by Borgov. She resigns, after seeing Mr Shaibel’s face again in her place, and heads back upstairs to tell her Mother the bad news. Only, she doesn’t respond.
As she looks over, Beth realizes that Alma is dead. The liquor bill for the room is extortionate and it seems Alma died of hepatitis. The hotel agree to cover her bill and even agree to call Allston in Denver to let him know. He’s completely apathetic to the whole situation though, as Beth finds herself alone again.
The Episode Review
Berth hits rock bottom and Alma’s destructive behaviour eventually sees her life come to an end too. Seeing Beth struggling like this is certainly good for her character, charting that meteoric rise and fall from grace.
Seeing how all of this ties back to that final episode is beautifully presented, with the flashes of Mr Shaibel shining through from her young anger-fueled days in the orphanage.
Where does Beth go from here? All alone and with no one else around, this young orphan finds herself without parental guidance and a big house full of her Mother’s pills.
So far The Queen’s Gambit has been one of the more impressive period dramas of the year and each episode is perfectly paced and really well-acted by all involved.