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I watched the first episode of The Queen's Gambit on Netflix today. I watched it in English but as it's not my mother tongue I did not understand what are the green pills Beth Harmon takes when she's around 9 years old.

What I understand is:

  • Beth's supposed to take them once a day but one of her friends suggests to take them before to sleep, which she does and she even saves them to take them several in one taking. She likes what the pills do and they help her playing chess without a chessboard.
  • She's also supposed to take a green and a red one, but the red one doesn't seem so important.
  • I also understood she became addicted to them.
  • At the beginning, we are told they are for their "dispositions" but I don't know what that is nor how it translates into French.
  • Close to the end of the episode, we learn it is called tranquilizers and is banned from the orphanage while it was previously called "vitamins" by the young girls.
  • Finally, the very beginning scene shows Beth, older and before a chess game, quite late and taking those pills.

With all this in mind, I still have no idea what they are. Can you help?

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    Why do you say "I still have no idea what they are" when your question answers it: "we learn it is called tranquilizers"? – BCdotWEB Oct 26 at 7:31
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    @BCdotWEB, oh! Yes you are right! I think I didn't know the answer but while summarizing my question and writting it down, I just had it somewhere in my mind and just needed to search for the term online! :) – JKHA Oct 26 at 8:58
  • 'we are told they are for their "dispositions"' - I believe dispositions here is used as a euphemism for behaviour control... The word "disposition" can mean your state of mind or outward personality – colmde 23 hours ago
5

Just to clarify the answer:

The green pills are indeed tranquilizers:

Tranquilizer, drug that is used to reduce anxiety, fear, tension, agitation, and related states of mental disturbance. Tranquilizers fall into two main classes, major and minor. Major tranquilizers, which are also known as antipsychotic agents, or neuroleptics, are so called because they are used to treat major states of mental disturbance in schizophrenics and other psychotic patients. By contrast, minor tranquilizers, which are also known as antianxiety agents, or anxiolytics, are used to treat milder states of anxiety and tension in healthy individuals or people with less serious mental disorders.

Using tranquilizers on orphaned children makes sense, since they went through a traumatic experience of losing parents which could cause various anxiety disorders. On top of that, especially if we look at the size of those pills, such big doses would turn them into obedient, easy to command (in other words - "good") children *

The first minor tranquilizers were introduced in 1950s and indeed they were optimistically accepted by society as a cure for stress and worry, until the side effects were found: sleepiness, reduced alertness, involuntary muscle movement and (as presented in the series) the physical dependence.

In case of Elisabeth, using tranquilizers might be indeed beneficent: from the brief look at her mother, we can judge that she was not only very intelligent (young Beth holds something looking like a Ph. D thesis in math written by her mother) but also mentally unstable. Reducing this mental instability could indeed enhance her cognitive functions.

As for the brand of the drug: I am unsure is it mentioned early in the show (during Betty's childhood), but "Libritabs" or "Librium" (which was also the brand name of the drug that Beth was purchasing later on) based on chlordiazepoxide were one of the earliest ones.

* You can read a very traumatic experiences of an orphan drugged with tranquilizers for example here. So sadly, what the movie depicts is not an isolated incident from the past

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The green pill is Librium, brand name for chlordiazepoxide. It is a derivative of benzodiazepine, which produces compounds such as Valium.

Discovered in the late 50s, it was popularized in the 60s.

https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4588&context=flr

Image of Librium

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  • 1
    Hi Peter, can you also tell us the reasoning behind your answer? – Joachim Oct 26 at 7:21
  • Hi, Peter! While your answer explains what it is and it's effects, it doesn't prove that is what the pills are in the context of the show. Could you edit your answer and provide how you came to deduce this? Thanks! – Darth Locke Oct 26 at 16:48
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    I believe that the brand name Librium is mentioned in the series – Andrea Mori Oct 26 at 17:46
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    @AndreaMori Yes, Beth mentions that she has a prescription for Librium near the end of episode 4 (Mexico City ) – racraman Oct 29 at 13:32

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