A Critic's Meta-Review: 4/5

The Queen’s Gambit (REVIEW)

Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before I got around to hopping on this bandwagon. The fact that I did eventually cave is a bit of a surprise to me, as I am not known to be one who hops on bandwagons. Case in point: I have not made it past the fifth episode of Game Of Thrones, and the last Marvel movie I watched was the first Avengers flick - and that was only because a family friend of ours played the little girl running in this scene (probably the most profitable minute she ever spent in her life, given the size and frequency of those royalty checks).

Once upon a time, there was a Chinese farmer who lost a horse. And all the neighbours came around that evening and said, "That's too bad."

And he said, "Maybe."

The next day the horse came back and brought seven wild horses with it. And all the neighbours came around and said, "Why that's great, isn't it?And he said, "Maybe."

The next day his son was attempting to tame one of these horses and was riding it and was thrown and broke his leg. And all the neighbours came around in the evening and said, "Well that's too bad, isn't it."

And the farmer said, "Maybe."

The next day the conscription officers came around looking for people for the army and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. And all the neighbours came around in the evening and said, "Isn't that wonderful?"

And he said, "Maybe."

— Alan Watts, Lecture on Zen, 1960

But it was bound to happen as, you see, I have always had immense reverence for the game of chess. This is not because (as one ex-fling put it) “the pieces look prettier than checkers” — though, to be fair, they do; rather, it is because I see the game of chess as a microcosm of life. For in life, as in chess, you must strategically position yourself for a future that you wish to bring to fruition, carefully tailoring each move you make towards the eventual attainment of that end, while simultaneously retaining the ability to adapt your plan if your circumstances begin to change. Furthermore, as a great Zen story popularized by psychonaut darling Alan Watts entitled “Maybe So, Maybe Not” — which, perhaps coincidentally (though likely not), is a phrase featured quite prominently in one of my all-time favourite Phish jams — illustrates, just because things are looking up (or down), that may not necessarily be the case; indeed, to quote another starry-eyed shepherd by the name of Jerome, “when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door”.

I have certainly found all of this to be the case in both chess and in life. Just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row and feel as if you’re ready to lunge forward, full throttle, and unleash all you’ve got, all of a sudden “Boom!” goes the dynamite.

And, just like that, you’re right back on the defensive again. How did this happen? The answer is simple: this is precisely what is supposed to happen. The goal is not to win the game, but to master the art of playing it — which means, one must learn to exist in a state of complete and total presence — being, as Bruce Lee so wisely instructed all those years ago, formless and shapeless like water — while also remaining fully convinced that you are headed towards a resounding victory, and paving the way for this result in your mind, step-by-step.

Unfortunately for us, we do not have access to magical green pills that allow us to visualize the outcome of every single move we could possibly make on the ceiling right above us (spoiler alert: perhaps those pills weren’t so magical after all...this is all I will say since I don’t want to be that guy and suck the fun out of binge-watching the show). We do, however, have access to Netflix — at least most of us do. And if you have access to Netflix, then you probably have access to a remote control or some other type of mechanism with which you can pause or slow down the speed of whatever you happen to be watching.

This was something I tried to do several times while watching this show, purely for the purposes of snagging a few tournament-winning moves for myself to try out on any unsuspecting strangers that want it with me on chess.com (careful, though — I have been known to make quick work of my opponents...quick, quick work). Doing this proved rather unsuccessful, however, as I was much more deeply engrossed in the plot and enraptured by the incredibly well-selected soundtrack of eclectic sixties bops to be taking such detailed mental screenshots.

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Speaking of the plot, there are a few elements that I must take issue with (hence the reduced rating). First of all, I find it rather nefarious that this show — along with most television shows, come to think of it — relies so heavily on the cliffhanger ending as a means of retaining viewership. It is like a drug that keeps you wanting more and more, despite the payoff oftentimes being quite dubious in the end. And on top of all that (not to spoil anything, don’t worry), the whole thing sort of felt a little too...predictable. I found myself hoping for a curveball to be thrown my way, only to be met with the outcome that I had anticipated and yet wished would not have happened.

That being said, there were more than enough heartwarming moments to make up for the formulaic writing. So, it’s definitely still worth a watch — especially if you feel the same way about chess as I do.

And if you don’t, well — you’re already playing it, whether you like it or not. Might as well get hip before someone mates you, mate.

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