Episode 5 of The Queen’s Gambit begins with sound advice from Alice toward a young Beth. She tells her daughter she needs to take care of herself as one day she will be all alone.
As rain lashes down, a taxi pulls up back at Beth’s family home. Only, it’s no longer a family given she’s alone after Alma’s death. Not long after, she receives a call from Harry Beltik offering condolences and the prospect of training for the upcoming contest against the Russians. Mulling it over, she decides to invite him over to help.
And help he does. He talks about her anger and how it’s making Beth narrow-minded and only seeing what’s in front of her. Midway through talking, Beth flirts a little over his teeth being fixed up and he takes his leave. Flustered, he agrees to head back in the morning.
While he’s gone, Beth decides against going to bed and instead curls up on the sofa with a blanket and that familiar chatter from TV that Alma found so comforting.
In the morning, Harry returns and encourages her to do some homework on Borgov, especially given he’s a world champion. As Harry heads to the bathroom to compose himself, he notices the green pills in her bathroom and expresses concern. He keeps it quiet for now while Beth takes his advice and starts looking into Borgov, understanding exactly what he’s capable of.
Beth eventually uses her initiative and invites Harry to stay with her. As he leans forward and kisses her, the two eventually hook up. Beltik admits that he got his teeth fixed up for her and wanted to wait for her to come back. Beth interrupts him though and changes the subject, unwilling to even entertain the notion of romance right now.
Given chess is all she knows, Harry instead asks her to play. She berates his slow playing style though, prompting him to call her “too sharp” and walk away. Things are clearly tense between them and it eventually leads to Harry packing up his things and leaving. He’s got to start studying soon. After teaching Beth everything he knows, there’s nothing else he can teach.
Before he goes, Beltik drops the pill bottle on the side and tells her to be careful. It’s a stark warning and one that she carries with her to the US Championship in Ohio, 1967. There, she runs into Benny Watts again.
As the days tick by, a slick montage ensues as both Benny and Beth play their way into the final together. While Benny talks to reporters as a way of stroking his ego, Beth continues to read up on tactics in between studying.
Benny eventually catches up to Beth one evening and encourages her to play a game of speed chess with him – with $5 on the line. For Beth though, it’s another loss… followed by another and another. The pair continue to play while Beth continues to become more and more angry.
Beth is humbled by the repeated losses and it eventually leads to the inevitable – Benny and Beth are facing each other in the final. He apologises for the speed chess gig and admits he wasn’t trying to hustle her. Just before playing, he also admits to playing out the chess games inside his head too.
Speed chess is very different to a normal game though, and slick editing sees one move play out on-screen before cutting to Beth and Benny drinking together in the bar and reflecting on their previous game.
It turns out Beth has been invited along to the Moscow Invitational following her win. Before that though, Benny encourages her to join him in New York for some training. Oh and sex is completely off the table of course.
The Episode Review
Beth’s destructive behaviour continues but her genius continues to strive through, interlocking into an internal battle for dominance. Beth clearly has a lot of internal problems and her inability to connect properly reinforces that idea of being alone with your talents.
Beth’s an outcast for sure but finds solace in the genius of others. The idea of her learning from those she beat as a rookie in the past has a lovely poetic ring to it too.
All of this is, of course, backed up by some gorgeous visuals flowing throughout the series. The montage between Benny and Beth is one such example where this works beautifully.
Still, this series has been really impressive so far and leaves the door wide open.