What ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Can Teach Us About Chosen Family

SPOILERS: The Queen’s Gambit

If you haven’t watched The Queen’s Gambit by now, I can’t suggest it enough.

The Queen’s Gambit is a Netflix Limited Series based on the novel by the same name by Walter Tevis.

The story begins in the mid-1950s, takes us through the 1960s, and centers on the life of orphan chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor Joy) as she struggles with drug and alcohol dependency while rising to the top of the chess field.

Yes, this is a story about chess, the game, the strategy, the competition, and the history, but that’s just one of the many facets of this story. The Queen’s Gambit digs into depression, addiction, and what it was like to grow up as an orphan. It speaks to the children of addicts to mental health and what it’s like to own your excellence without apologies.

It also showcases the beauty of the meaning of a chosen family.

When we first meet Beth, she is being shuttled off to The Methuen Home for Girls, an orphanage in Lexington, Kentucky. Her mother has just died in a car accident. Her father is not in her life; she has no siblings, nor does she know any of her extended family. She is an orphan—and then, she meets Jolene, played by the brilliant Moses Ingram.

Jolene has been at Methuen for quite some time—she is loud, she knows all the rules and how to circumnavigate them, and she becomes Beth’s closet friend. But it’s more than friendship—they are each other’s family.

And even when life takes them in different directions, it is Jolene who shows up on Beth’s doorstep, as the mirror for all she chooses to ignore and the hope of all that she can be. Jolene lends Beth the money she needs to get to Moscow and reminds her that they are each other’s family and that this is how family shows up for one another.

And yet, by the end of the series, her chosen family has expanded and includes Benny Watts, Matt and Mike, Harry Beltik, and Townes—former chess adversaries who have now become her cheerleaders. When she is facing the biggest match of her career against Borgov, they are the ones who coach her through the phone. They are the chorus of glee and delight as she finally beats him, too. Her mother and adoptive mother are not there to share in her success, but her chess comrades and Jolene are cheering her on, even if it’s an ocean away.

The Queen’s Gambit is an entry point into the world of chess and a slice of what it is like to be an expert and addict, but it is also a beautiful depiction of what it means to choose your family. To build from what you have given and show up for the ones you call home.

When a family is not something you are given, it is still something you can choose to create, and that is remarkable.

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