The Queen's Gambit: Episode 5 (Fork)

Actress Anya Taylor-Joy from the Queen's Gambit scene where she's smoking and drinking.
my favorite scene of the queen
The strongest person can live alone.

In Chess, a “fork” happens when a single piece makes two or more direct attacks simultaneously. Most commonly two pieces are threatened, which is also sometimes called a double attack. The attacker usually aims to gain material by capturing one of the opponent's pieces. The defender often finds it difficult to counter two or more threats in a single move. The attacking piece is called the forking piece; the pieces attacked are said to be forked. A piece that is defended can still be said to be forked if the forking piece has a lower value.

The episode “Fork” starts off with the mom telling a small, Beth Harmon, “the strongest person can live alone.” Harmon returns from Mexico to find a house devoid of Mrs. Wheatley, who passed away in Mexico from Hepatitis. Since her first days as an orphan she’s alone again. She gets a visit from Harry Beltik, who she beat five years ago. He teaches her a few tricks and brings her books, several she has already read. There’s a sense of camaraderie as they get intimate, because they share a passion for chess. Beltik kisses Beth, but she doesn’t necessarily like him; still she allows him to carry on. She doesn’t want to be alone, so she lets him stay, but chides away from being overly affectionate or paying attention when he talks about how he changed his teeth for her. He wants her undivided attention, but realizes Beth’s obsession with chess will always supersede their relationship. As seen in the scene when they’re laying together in bed after having sex, and her reading a book about chess, smoking, listlessly forgetting he even exists.

This episode is a turning point, as Beltik confronts Harmon and she finally sees herself through the eyes of someone else. After seeing the tranquilizer pills in her bathroom, Beltik hints at the dangers of addiction and getting lost in the glamour of being a chest player and compares Beth to a famous player Morphy, who lost his way because of alcohol, and tells her she’s destined to end the same. He knew her drug use represented a critical setback in her aspirations to dominate the chess world. When he decides to leave, her fear of being abandoned is put into focus as well as her lack of empathy. Beltik’s prediction forces her to confront her fears of burning out at a young age and never becoming a renowned chess player, as reflected in her heavy drug and alcohol use in the later episodes.

Beltik was of the few people that had confronts Harmon about her drug use. By allowing herself to get close to Beltik, she revealed a sudden weakness, something rare for Harmon who is an astute chess player, revealing nothing. At first, I distrusted Beltik knowing her secret, since in that moment he had so much power against her.

The scene between them puts into question her god-like status, and because of her decisions, she’s forced to be alone once more. For the first time, she’s more than just a stoic chess player, but rather someone who is fragmented. She becomes resilient with the way she copes with loss.

In Adjournment, the episode opens with Harmon’s mom saying to her, “men are going to come by and to teach you something to make you feel smarter.” Harmon gets some lessons from Benny while also growing romantically close to him in the last few days of her stay in NYC. While learning much about Chess from Benny, she forgets to listen to herself, and that need for companionship clouds her mind. After she loses to the Russian, she descends into drunken nights in her Kentucky home, stealing bottles and waking up with hangovers.

The scene when she’s dancing in the living room is my favorite, because it shows who she really is. This is how she recovers. She could be robotic and pretend everything is back to normal, but this is how she copes, refusing to seek security from Benny and instead figuring her life on her own. Benny also did not return the affection after they had sex, and tells her, “you play what’s best for you."

This moment in the show resonated with me, because she could chosen companionship or some form of security, but instead she chose to battle her own demons, her insecurities and failures, maybe not through the healthiest method, but if anyone can save her it’s her. As she said during the third episode when being interviewed by a silly reporter, that chess was the only thing that allowed her full control and if she lost, there was no one to blame but herself.