Beth Harmon and Benny Watts’s shared chess prowess and competitive spirit make them a seemingly perfect match – why did their relationship fail?
Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) appear to be a match made in heaven, but their relationship in The Queen’s Gambit, is rather complicated. Both are talented chess players isolated somewhat by their own genius and ambition, but they find that they are less lonely in each other’s company. Despite this connection and their eventual romance, the show concludes with them as friends. Why did Beth reject Benny in the first place, and how did they reconcile?
Beth first meets Benny at the US Open, where he beats her in her first professional loss. However, he is still impressed by her playing, especially since she is a child prodigy. When they meet again in episode 5, “Fork,” Beth beats Benny, further intriguing him. He offers to mentor her at his home in New York, and she accepts. As Benny trains Beth for her match in Paris against Russian grandmaster Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorociński), the two push each other to improve their chess skills. They also begin a sexual relationship, which is where the first signs of their relationship not being tenable become clear.
After they have sex for the first time, Benny begins strategizing about how Beth can beat Borgov. Beth is visibly exasperated by the fact that he can only talk about chess at this pivotal moment in their relationship. It is as if Benny only sees Beth’s chess abilities, not her feelings – a problem which she also had in her relationship with Harry Beltik (Harry Melling). He is too obsessed with chess and his mentorship of Beth at this point. As Cleo (Millie Brady) points out to Beth in Paris, nobody can compete with Benny’s love for himself.
Beth returns to Lexington after her disastrous loss to Borgov instead of going back to New York to train with Benny. She knows that if she were to return to New York, Benny would want to dissect how she played and train for her next match, which is the last thing she wants. Beth chooses to be alone, which she also knows will lead to her lapsing back into her habits of substance abuse. It’s as much of a rejection of chess as it is a rejection of Benny and his fixation on Beth’s chess playing instead of her whole self.
Beth’s choice clearly hurts Benny. In episode 7, “Endgame,” she asks him to accompany her to Russia. He refuses, saying that her return to Kentucky implied that she’d rather be a drunk than be with him. However, he clearly still follows her chess games in Russia, as he calls her alongside Harry and her other friends to give her both encouragement and advice for her match against Borgov. It’s a clear moment of forgiveness, as well as a rekindling of their friendship.
Benny and Beth both needed time to heal after their relationship ended, especially Beth, as she was confronting her own personal demons. Benny’s call to Beth was a way of acknowledging his understanding of that need and lending chess support and mentorship at an appropriate time. Even though their romantic relationship did not work, the two of them are still able to bond over the game they love and help each other progress, a dynamic that lends itself more to their friendship.
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