Confidence, two ways

I watched the first episode of The Queen’s Gambit over a year ago. The intensity of the show and my lackluster TV watching meant it took me a year to watch the second episode. Last night, I made it through.

The thing I love most about the main character (Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy) is her two-way confidence. Beth is as confident about what she knows as she is about what she doesn’t know. She is confident she will win the first chess tournament she plays, and she is right. Her confidence and skill (and the ways they disrupt gender stereotypes) keep the storyline going.

But what I laid awake thinking about last night was the confidence from which her questions spring. She asked a mentor from the orphanage for the $5 entry fee for the tournament when she didn’t have it. She asked the tournament hosts about how tournaments and rankings work once she got on site. She asked her opponent about the timing clocks and the pad of paper sitting to her right when she sat down for the first match. She asked the woman who just adopted her for help putting on a pad the first time she menstruated. She asked these questions as if she was asking someone’s name when meeting them first time: she didn’t expect herself to already know it.

Beth’s unashamed vulnerability takes my breath away. Her character normalizes not knowing despite being a master chess player. No amount of expertise assuages her need for other people; it might actually pronounce it. Perhaps Beth’s character gets away with this because she is a child, but her unashamed vulnerability and confidence in not knowing tempts my 41 year old self.