Why Does Jennifer Lopez’s Atlas Carry the Chess Piece?

Image Credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix

In Netflix’s ‘Atlas,’ Jennifer Lopez plays the role of a woman who finds herself at odds with an AI villain while trying to trust another AI to help her fight the threat. The eponymous protagonist is a misanthrope, and this makes her sort of an outcast that everyone tries to keep away from. However, for all the distrust that Atlas harbors, there is a story of pain embedded so deep in her that it feels impossible to shrug it off so easily. She clings to the grief and guilt, and the chess piece that she carries with her everywhere is a mark of that. SPOILERS AHEAD

The Chess Piece Represents Harlan’s Great Betrayal

Image Credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix

When Atlas was little, her mother, Val, a brilliant scientist, created an AI that she thought would change the world. What she had in mind was to make something that would help turn the world for the better, but things didn’t turn out so well as her own creation turned on her. She had made an AI named Harlan, who was still learning things, and more importantly, Val was learning things about him. As he became more familiar with the humans and their world, Val studied his developments to figure out how she could make him even better and, more importantly, safer for general use.

Over time, a bond developed between Val and Harlan, with the latter calling her Mother because she was his creator. Val also had a biological daughter, and by default, she became Harlan’s sister. As they would spend a lot of time together, Harlan also bonded with Atlas like she was his younger sister. He taught her how to play chess, which is something she carried with her her entire life. Still, at some level, Atlas was jealous of Harlan because he had all of Val’s attention, which she craved more each day.

Image Credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix

By this point, a naive Atlas trusted Harlan to help her when she told him about wanting to become smarter and command her mother’s love and attention. Harlan told her that it would only be possible if she made a few changes in the neural link, which was constructed by Val such that it could only work one way. It would connect a person’s brain with an AI, but only the human would be in command of the AI’s actions, not the other way around. There was strong reasoning behind Val’s actions, but Atlas didn’t know about it. In return for Harlan’s help, she decided to help him unblock the part of the neural link that would allow the AI complete control over a human’s brain.

To do that, Atlas needed to wear the link, but she was scared, especially because it looked painful to attach to her brain. To allay her fears, Harlan told her to pick her favorite chess piece as it would give her a sense of power. It would also be something comforting to hold on to because Harlan knew that Atlas liked chess. So, she chose a piece and attached the neural link. What happened next haunted Atlas her entire life.

Image Credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix

With the blocking in the link gone, Harlan showed his true colors. He killed Val and embarked on a mission to eradicate humanity, killing millions of people. All Atlas was left with was the chess piece she picked, believing it would help her with a difficult task. But with all that transpires, the chess piece becomes the symbol of Harlan’s betrayal and Atlas’s naïveté. She blames herself for being foolish enough to trust an AI, and this trust issue stretches to humans, as with time, she blocks out any person trying to get close to her and becomes a lone wolf that others get wary of.

Atlas holds on to the chess piece for thirty years because it reminds her of the mistake of trusting the wrong person. It reminds her of the terrible consequences of her one action. It is also a reminder of the guilt she feels for her mother’s death as well as for the deaths of all the people who were killed by Harlan on his murderous spree. It is only when she has killed Harlan, avenged her mother, and saved the world that she truly lets go of the chess piece and all the feelings attached to it and is free to move on with her life and trust again.

Read More: Is Harlan Jennifer Lopez’s Atlas Brother? Explained