"Middle Game" is the fourth 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]
Despite her earlier defeat, Beth continues to study Russian in the hopes of coming to play them in the future. One of her classmates invites her to his house, where she smokes, lets her mom know she won't be back for a time, and then has sex with her classmate. She even stays after waking up to clean the house after all the partiers left.
Not long after, Beth graduates high school, with Alma clapping and whistling in pride. That evening she gives Beth a gift, a Bulova watch engraved with the words "With love, from mother". Beth then notes that she'll be going to Paris to play in another tournament, after a first tournament in Mexico City. Alma is delighted because her pen pal Manuel lives there, and she'll finally get to meet him for the first time.
Mexico City[edit | edit source]
I'm pretty sure they're fucking.
Beth, on Alma and Manuel
In 1966 Beth and Alma arrive in Mexico City, with Manuel meeting them at the airport and driving them around, thrilling Alma. They have lunch and dinner together every day of the week, with Alma head over heels in lust. At their hotel, Alma admonishes Beth to get some enjoyment out of life, that she doesn't know what's most important:
Nevertheless, Alma manages to convince Beth to "relax", on a rainy bleak day at the zoo. She drinks as she walks, broodily, through the depressing day, thinking back to Mr. Shaibel's admonition that she be mindful of her anger; something she didn't take seriously in the past. Even so, the next day she wins handily and watches Borgov's game. However, her mother soon becomes despondent, with Manuel having left and unable to return again before they depart for the United States.
Beth comforts Alma, and then goes on to play a Russian child prodigy, much like herself. They arrive at a deadlock, where neither has clear victory, but Beth refuses to accept a draw, drawing it out to the next day. That night, Alma's health begins to decline, and the next day Beth questions the Russian boy on his plans for the entire rest of his life after becoming world champion. However, he is stupefied by this question, and cannot see past the goal of becoming World Champion. He eventually relents, Beth's tenacity and refusal to quit eventually convincing him to resign.
Alma's last days[edit | edit source]
That evening, Beth sees Alma playing the piano for strangers, doing what she always wanted to do with her life. Afterward they take a meal together in their hotel room, and Beth remembers talking with Matt and Mike about how a computer would always win if it played White. The next day Beth plays against Vasily Borgov himself, the World Champion, but the absence of Alma from the match unsettles her. Borgov, playing robotically and with complete certainty, unnerves and defeats Beth. Afterward Beth retires to her hotel and tells this to her adoptive mother, saying that she's glad Alma wasn't there to see her catastrophic defeat, but suddenly Beth realizes why Alma isn't responding; she's dead. The doctors believe that she died of hepatitis.
Desolate, Beth is reassured by the hotel, which covers all their bills from their stay and offers to assist with the authorities. She has them get her into contact with Allston Wheatley for the first time since he abandoned the family, but he wants nothing to do with the situation at all. He offers her his house in condolence, but no emotional support, so she hangs up on him. Beth then orders a large quantity of tranquilizer, which is over-the-counter in Mexico.