The Queen’s Gambit and the Beautifully Messy Future of Autism on TV

We need more impulsive, substance-addicted Autistics like Beth Harmon on screen

Devon Price
6 min readDec 6, 2020

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Image of chess pieces and a glass of wine by Randy Fath courtesy of Unsplash

I’ve been slowly working my way through the Netflix series Queen’s Gambit, and have become smitten with the show’s protagonist, Beth Harmon. She’s such a richly rendered, desperately needed portrait of Autism, particularly of how Autism can look among women, people who “mask” their symptoms, and people who were never diagnosed. She’s also a rare media depiction of an Autistic with a drinking problem. And a prescription pill addiction. And a penchant for shoplifting. And trouble managing her money. And maybe some compulsions around sex.

Like so many media portrayal of Autistics, Beth Harmon is shown to be singularly focused on her special interest, competitive chess. She pursues her craft relentlessly, doing anything and sacrificing everything to identify new competitors, amass books on chess moves, shore up her skills, and enter highly-billed competitions. Beth faces down her opponents with a cold-blooded stare, and delivers verbal postmortems on her games in a rapid-fire monotone. She’s blunt and emotionally withdrawn, unable to understand other people’s feelings, or so lost in her obsession as to not care.

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Devon Price

He/Him or It/Its. Social Psychologist & Author of LAZINESS DOES NOT EXIST and UNMASKING AUTISM. Links to buy: https://linktr.ee/drdevonprice