"Exchanges" is the second 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]
After overdosing on tranquilizers, Beth was barred from playing chess as punishment, although she continues to play and study the game in her head at night, using Mr. Shaibel's book. She begs Mr. Shaibel to help, but he does not respond.
Time skips forward, Beth now 15 years old and best friends with Jolene. At last some prospective parents come to adopt Beth, Alma and Allston Wheatley, so Mrs. Deardorff lies about Beth being 13 and sings praises of her academic excellence to encourage the parents to finalize the adoption. Beth and Deardorff succeed, but while packing Beth is unable to find her Modern Chess Openings book from Mr. Shaibel. Beth (correctly) suspects Jolene of stealing it, but has no evidence and realizes that Jolene is despondent about not being adopted herself, so she drops it to comfort Jolene.
Beth stays silent during the drive to her new home, and is overwhelmed by the size of her garish pink room when she arrives. Meanwhile, Alsto Wheatley leaves on a two week business trip, leaving Alma without a car because "you're a terrible driver anyway" and "some exercise will do you good" if she walks to town. Alma herself wanted to be a piano player in her youth, and had a child of her own that unfortunately died, hence the adoption.
On Beth's first day at a public high school, she's overwhelmed by everyone, and is immediately fingered as "another fucking brain" by Margaret Neil purely because Beth understands what a binomial is. At lunch Beth sits alone, but someone sits near her and she inquiries if there's a chess club at the school. There isn't, only "social" clubs like Apple Pi, which are invite-only.
Back at home, Alma welcomes Allston back from his trip with dinner, but he only cares about beer. At his biting remark about Beth's dress, Alma takes her to get discount clothes, but Alma won't buy Beth a chess set; instead, she'll give Beth an allowance so she can "save up and buy yourself a chess set". At school her discount attire is mocked by the Apple Pis, and although she manages to find some chess books at the local library, she also stumbles upon Margaret passionately kissing someone. Margaret spots Beth looking, and insults her shoes before continuing.
Alma has Beth pick up cigarettes for her, and she uses the opportunity to steal a chess magazine (which the clerk noticed, but says nothing). At home Alma complains of money issues and rescinds Beth's allowance, but Beth has an idea to get a job so she can pay the entry fee to a chess tournament. Alma refuses, saying only "colored" people her age work, so Beth sends a letter to Mr. Shaibel to ask for $5, promising to pay him back $10 if she wins any prize. Later, Beth fills Alma's prescription for her, and is stunned to discover that Alma is taking the exact same tranquilizer medicine that she herself took years ago at Methuen. Naturally, she filches some and once again hallucinates playing chess on the ceiling above her bed.
Again at high school, the Apple Pis take up the entire hallway as they walk, so Beth walks straight through them and responds to their complaints with "Fuck you, Margaret". Later, she receives $5 from Mr. Shaibel and lets her adoptive mother know that she'll be late playing in the tournament after school. Irked, Alma urges Beth to join a dance or girls' club instead of obsessing over chess, but Beth returns a sharp reply and goes to her room, intending to join the tournament.
At the tournament itself, the registrars attempt to put her in the beginner's tournament because she's "unrated", but she blithely overrides their suggestions and places herself in the Open, where the reward is greater. She meets Townes before beginning, and is visibly affected, but goes on to beat Annette Packer without difficulty. After, she watches the match between Harry Beltik and Cullen, where she quickly aggravates the players due to her incessant questions. Cullen concedes, and Beth continues through the ranks of the tournament with Townes' encouragement.
At the end of the session, Beth belligerently argues with the registrars to be able to play Beltik, and they fire back that she has to play 30 games in USCF tournaments plus wait a month before she'll get a rating that can be used to place her higher in future tournaments. Further, they rudely assert that she could not possibly win in any event. Next, Beth plays Townes and aggressively puts him on the back foot, constantly harassing his rook, only for him to stymie her. She beats Townes but can't celebrate her victory as she has to leave to handle her first period. Annette helps her in the bathroom and then gives some words of encouragement for the tournament. Beth then beats Sizemore and goes home.
Though I am no longer a wife, except by a legal fiction…I believe I can learn to be a mother.
At home the house is in shambles, and Alma Wheatley is distraught because Allston Wheatley has been "indefinitely detained in the Southwest". Beth wonders if she'll be sent back to Methuen, but Alma decides to lie because she wants to try to be a good mother for Beth. That night, Beth remembers her own mother, and the next day she goes to finally play Beltik for the championship. Beltik wastes time getting coffee because he doesn't take Beth seriously, and indeed he initially has a confident upper hand. Panicking, Beth leaves, takes tranquilizers to center herself, and then returns to turn the tide. Beltik's time-wasting earlier comes back to haunt him, and his lack of time rushes him and eventually forces him to resign. He applauds her, graceful in defeat.
The world of Kentucky chess was astonished this weekend by the playing of a local girl who triumphed over hardened players to win the Kentucky State Championship. Elizabeth Harmon, a student at Fairfield High, showed a mastery of the game unequaled by any female, according to Harry Beltik, whom Miss Harmon defeated for the state crown.
Alma, reading the newspaper
With the $100 in winnings Beth opens a bank account, buys her own chess set, and some new clothes to boot, although she forgets to pay back Mr. Shaibel. Alma, sensing a financial opportunity, decides to encourage Beth to try even more difficult tournaments with even larger cash prizes.