The Queen’s Gambit’s Representation of Substance Use is Refreshingly Accurate

Claiming that Beth’s ending was too “easy” reflects tired misconceptions about addiction

Nicole M. Luongo
Invisible Illness
Published in
9 min readDec 9, 2020

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Photo Credit: SK via Unsplash

Warning: This article contains spoilers

When I first read about The Queen’s Gambit, I expected it to be terrible. The Netflix miniseries dropped in October, and its protagonist, chess prodigy Beth Harmon, was immediately lauded for her beauty, wit, and nuance. She is a brilliant mess, and as is common in prestige television, her instability is emblemized by her substance use.

This is what I knew going in. I had seen the reviews calling Beth an alcoholic/addict, and as one myself, I was wary. More often than not, substance use becomes a character’s defining feature. Depth is replaced by a singular, insatiable need for more (booze, pills, powder, crack, smack, whatever), and it is always disappointing to see subtle personalities be reduced to vapid stereotypes.

This is why I was reluctant to start the series. I didn’t want to see yet another shallow take on a complex behaviour whose misrepresentation in media contributes to deadly consequences. But friends had raved about Beth, the series’ other themes were appealing, and I happen to be home a lot right now. I gave The Queen’s Gambit a chance…

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