"End Game" is the seventh and final episode of The Queen's Gambit. Along with the rest of the series, it was released on Netflix on October 23, 2020.
Synopsis[edit | edit source]
Plot[edit | edit source]
Beth remembers her final day with her mother, when Alice Harmon drove her to the home of Paul, Beth's father. Paul already has a new family and a new son, Christopher, who he quickly ushers inside the house so he can deal with Alice. Alice breaks down in desperation and begs for his help, because she can't give Beth a proper life the way she's living. However, Paul is agitated and wants Alice gone, sending her away because "it's too late", cementing his words from five years earlier that he wouldn't help Alice if she sent him away again. Although Paul does offer to speak with her another time, Alice insists on talking now, and takes his insistence to reschedule as a complete refusal to help. She drives away in desperation.
Snapping back to the present, Jolene looks around Beth's house and tells her that Mr. Shaibel has died, offering to attend the funeral together. Jolene stays over that night and tells Beth about her time in Kentucky State college, originally entering on a physical education scholarship until she found out that the school used to be called the "State Normal School for Colored Persons". Enraged, she switched to history and became even angrier than usual, so she again switched to political science and is now saving up money as a paralegal to pay for law school.
Beth, meanwhile, is under pressure by the Chess Federation play in San Francisco and go on The Tonight Show, but she's in a bad place due to her addictions and recent losses. She compares herself to a man who bought an original Michaelanglo painting only to destroy it, wondering if she hasn't done it to herself, although Jolene chides her for egotistically comparing herself to Michaelangelo. She gives Beth a present, the Modern Chess Openings book she stole from Beth the day she was adopted, the book she was given by Mr. Shaibel. Jolene says she was angry over Beth's adoption, although Beth blithely suggests Jolene did it because Beth's a "white trash cracker bitch" — this is portrayed as something completely normal and even humorous, with Jolene saying "who could forget?"
Mr. Shaibel's funeral[edit | edit source]
Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.
Jolene, on her "radical" friends disapproving of her dating a white person
The next day they both drive back to Methuen in Jolene's Corvair coupe, a gift from a rich white partner at the firm she works for who wants to marry her. Jolene herself was hired at the firm for the singular purpose to, in Jolene's words, "keep up with the times", although she plans to abandon the firm as soon as she passes the bar. Jolene herself admires Beth's exceptionalism and wants to work hard to achieve it herself, in her own way.
En route to Methuen, they stop by Beth's old home, the trailer she lived in with Alice Harmon. Even despite Alice coming from money and marrying into more of it, and earning a Ph.D. to boot, she still managed to end up in a trailer. At Methuen home, Jolene jokingly invites Beth to "throw some rocks through the windows" of the orphanage they both despise so much. Beth herself only just then realizes that she never wants to set foot in the place again.
When Beth asks why Mrs. Deardorff and everyone else isn't at the funeral, Jolene relays that Mrs. Deardorff fell and broke her hip right after Beth left, and things were "never the same after". Beth herself feels bad because she never paid him back the $10 from her first tournament winnings, which greatly amuses Jolene. At this point Beth changes her mind and decides to visit Methuen, and after seeing Mrs. Deardorff with her cane, goes down to the basement where Mr. Shaibel played chess with her years ago. There, she finds collages of newspapers all about her, and realizes that Mr. Shaibel watched her rise to chess fame through all the years, though he never saw her again in person. Beth leaves with the picture of her and Mr. Shaibel in her hand, the one that Mr. Ganz had taken and Mr. Shaibel kept as a memento. Looking at it in Jolene's car, Beth begins to break down sobbing, and Jolene comforts her.
Funding a trip to Moscow[edit | edit source]
Afterward, Beth meets with Christian Crusade regarding them sending her to Moscow:
- I’m a chess player.
- Christian Crusade
- Of course you are, my dear. But you are also a Christian.
- I’m not sure about that.
- Look, I have no intention of saying anything like this.
- Christian Crusade
- Why not?
- — Christian Crusade angered that Beth won't make a statement against atheism in the USSRBecause it’s fucking nonsense?
Christian Crusade takes it badly and mentions the money they've already given to her, so she writes a check to give all their money back. Doing so, however, leaves her without enough money to pay her own flight, and the Chess Federation won't pay it because she didn't go on The Tonight Show. Benny Watts also refuses to help her because she stopped living with him, and tells her to never call him again. The State Department also won't give her any money, although they will send an agent to keep her safe if she pays her own way to Moscow.
We weren’t orphans. Not as long as we had each other. You understand what I’m saying? I’m not your guardian angel. I’m not here to save you. Hell, I can barely save me. I’m here because you need me to be here. That’s what family does.
Jolene to Beth
Jolene pulls Beth out of the fire by giving her a loan from her law school fund, expecting to receive it back when Beth wins in Moscow. She chides Beth for thinking that Mr. Shaibel was the only person who followed her meteoric rise in the chess world, and accepts Beth as family. Beth then flies to Moscow with an agent of the State Department, who warns Beth that she may not leave her room without him accompanying her. Further, she cannot drink, and must report any Russian player who tries to speak with her privately.
Moscow 1968[edit | edit source]
The Russians aren't impressed by Beth, given their own Nona Gaprindashvili, the women's chess world champion. Beth plays through her matches, and each time she leaves she has to give signatures to an ever growing crowd outside the tournament hall. As the tournament progresses, she notices that Borgov goes to consult with fellow chess players after every match to work on his games, as Benny Watts had mentioned was the strength of the Russians' ability to dominate world chess tournaments.
I went over your games at this tournament. You are a marvel, my dear. I may have just played the best chess player of my life.
Luchenko, in response to Beth's admission that she used to study his games
After beating Hellstrom, he refuses to shake her hand, although after beating Shapkin he actually kisses her hand as he loses with grace. The group of people clamoring for her autograph outside grows ever larger with every victory. Beth's match with Luchenko, the former world champion, doesn't finish and has to be concluded the next day. That night she notices Luchenko planning with Borgov, and using this knowledge the next day, she defeats Luchenko and receives his glowing praise.
Beth next has an unusually drawn out game with Flento, who overperforms and exceeds all expectations, but not enough to win. The crowds, meanwhile, have reached comical sizes as they clamor for Beth's signatures every time she leaves a match. That night, Beth remembers the rest of her last day with Alice Harmon, the end of the car ride:
Harmon v Borgov[edit | edit source]
After remembering her mother's ultimate insane action to drive directly into an oncoming truck, which killed her, Beth decides to flush her remaining tranquilizers down the toilet. The next day, Beth wades through a sea of people to get to the final match with Borgov. She plays the Queen's Gambit opening, and after some time Borgov calls to adjourn. During the adjournment, Time Magazine, The Observer, Reuters, & UPI all want to interview her, which the State Department official encourages her to accept.
During this interview, she insists that Mr. Shaibel be recognized as the one who taught her how to play chess, even if the recognition is posthumous. Townes himself is with the reporters, having gained an easy visa through the Russian embassy in the hopes that he would distract her. Instead, he goes to her room and calls to New York, where Benny, Beltik, and other chess players Beth is acquainted with are standing ready to help her. They go over the possibilities for the rest of the match with her, and send her off against Borgov with their well wishes.
Borgov never offers draws, but he’s offering Elizabeth one. If she accepts, she leaves the stage in a tie with the world champion. If they play on, once the dust settles and the endgame emerges, she could find herself in a very different position. Borgov is death on endgames. He’s famous for it. Harmon, on the other hand, is not. She’s more known for coming up early and strong, demoralizing her opponents from the start. So, I think she should accept the draw. The world will see it as a solid achievement. A draw, however, is not a win. The one thing we know about Elizabeth Harmon is that she loves to win.
Beth goes on the attack, but Borgov pivots and plays a new variation that stymies Beth. She centers herself, and without any tranquilizers in her system, begins visualizing a chess board on the ceiling. She plays through the possibilities in her head while everyone looks up at the ceiling in utter confusion, and when she finishes, plays Borgov into a position where he offers a draw for the first time in his chess career. While the commentator speaks of the advantages of doing so, Beth refuses the draw and continues playing.
In the end, Beth sacrifices her Queen and checks his King with a rook, which he is forced to take, allowing Beth to send a pawn to the end of the board and transform it into another Queen, beginning the endgame. After a few tense exchanges, Borgov at last resigns, and gives her his King as a memento of her winning.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
Benny and the boys celebrate with glee, and Jolene is also happy for Beth. Townes escorts Beth out to the State Department agent, who invites Beth to the White House. However, the U.S. Government wants Beth to speak at a Chess Club in George Town, where there are "dissidents", using pre-screened talking points from the government. As she did with the Christian Crusade, Beth gets out of the car and leaves, refusing to be party to anyone using her as a mouthpiece. She then walks through the streets of Moscow until a group of old men recognize her, and surround her in glee before inviting her to play chess with one of them.