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The Queen’s Gambit: Why Elizabeth & Townes Are Better Friends Than Lovers

Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit deconstructs the “manic pixie dream girl” trope with its protagonist Elizabeth “Beth” Harmon and her complicated relationship with her childhood crush and unrequited love, Townes. The Queen’s Gambit follows Beth’s lifelong quest to become the world’s greatest chess player, starting with her traumatic childhood in an orphanage and addiction to tranquilizers. After meeting Townes at her first chess tournament, Beth develops a crush on him, and the two navigate a complex friendship that follows them for the rest of their lives.

Although Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) has multiple relationships throughout the course of The Queen’s Gambit, Townes (Jacob Fortune-Loy) is one of her strongest and most enduring. For Beth, Townes represents her platonic ideal of a perfect romantic partner that is forever just out of her reach, and her childhood crush that turned into an unrequited love. Years after they first met, she name-drops him to Cleo when they’re drinking together, and Townes finds a way to stay in her life even after he stops playing chess competitively. In many ways, Townes is one of the most constant and dependable men in Beth’s life.

Related: Why The Queen’s Gambit Is Being Called “Perfect”

Beth’s carefully cultivated persona comes across as a “manic pixie dream girl” – and her complex relationship with Townes is one of the primary ways that The Queen’s Gambit explores and challenges that convention. Townes’ toxic impulse to sleep with Beth because of his attraction to a fantasy version of her, and his subsequent rejection of that impulse is what finally lets them have a healthy relationship. Beth and Townes are much better friends than they are lovers, and whatever mutual attraction that they share is based on their fantasy of who they want the other person to be.

Why Elizabeth & Townes Never Sleep Together

The most obvious reason that Beth and Townes don’t sleep together in The Queen’s Gambit is the implication that Townes is gay. The closest that they come to becoming lovers is in episode 3 “Doubled Pawns”. Beth and Townes run into each other at a chess tournament, years after they first met, and share an intimate moment that’s interrupted by the man Townes is living with, Roger. Townes doesn’t address that moment until episode 7, “End Game”, when he travels to Russia to help Beth in her final tournament, and apologizes for the incident.

However, there’s a deeper reason that Beth and Townes never sleep together. A major part of Beth’s arc is her refusal to deal with her abandonment issues, and her attraction to Townes – a man that, by definition, she can never have – is a part of that. Beth was abandoned by her father and her adoptive father, and her idea of Townes as a romantic partner is just as impossible as a relationship with her father. It’s key to Beth’s arc that she eventually lets go of that and the two can just be friends.

Why Elizabeth’s Romantic Relationships Are Toxic

By the time Beth decides on pursuing romantic relationships, she has already lost her adoptive mother, emptying her life further. She then turns to build relationships with the chess players she is competing against. However, Beth is never able to emotionally connect with these players, especially those she is sleeping with. This is most likely because, for her, these men offer companionship, which is what she needs the most. In fact, their relationships are often one-sided, with the other party idealizing Beth — seeing her as a fantasy, rather than a person. Aside from that, she has reservations, for as long as she still thinks of Townes as a potential partner, she will never be willing to break down her walls and establish a personal connection with them. Her relationships with both Harry (Harry Melling) and Benny (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) never surpass a superficial stage, and instead, only depend on their mutual love for chess to exist.

Related: The Queen’s Gambit Ending Explained: What Happened To Beth?

An example of this is found in Beth’s relationship with Harry, who also met Beth at her first tournament. Harry is in love with an idyllic fantasy of Beth that simply does not exist. Although he recognizes her destructive instincts, he spends his time trying to fix her, not understand her. He expects Beth to return the effort he has exerted on improving himself for her. Eventually, their romantic relationship ends when Harry realizes that Beth is so much more than what he imagined, resulting in him leaving the chess world entirely. In her later relationship with Benny, Beth finds herself with someone who views her as a mystical “other,” and is trying to take advantage of her pervasive loneliness, something Benny feels that they have in common.

Neither of Beth’s romantic relationships is healthy. Benny and Harry cannot respect Beth because they do not actually understand who she is, and both of them are trying to change her into their idea of who she should be. Additionally, Beth, for her part, still refuses to confront her abandonment issues, and her relationships represent her search for the father figure she never truly had. She is only able to establish a truly meaningful relationship with Harry and Benny when they already let go of the fantasy of a romantic relationship. This is evident in the final episode, when the guys are able to come together and treat her as a peer.

The Queen’s Gambit Is A Love Story: Elizabeth’s Self-Love

Although Beth spends The Queen’s Gambit trying to find someone to fall in love with, ultimately she learns to love herself. Her closest and most honest relationships are with the people who actually see Beth for who she is, such as her longtime friend from the orphanage, Jolene, or Townes after they mutually realize that they don’t have a romantic future. The way that Beth sees herself, for most of The Queen’s Gambit, is shaped by how she’s seen by other people: she buys into her savant persona and refuses to accept failure, growing increasingly reliant on tranquilizers to maintain the fantasy. When her friends actually get to know the real Beth and can dispel their version of her, Beth is finally able to see herself – and start to visualize her chess games without the drugs or alcohol.

The Queen’s Gambit builds Beth up as a chess prodigy and an enigma, and then systematically deconstructs her persona over the course of the series. With Townes, and her subsequent romantic relationships, Beth is struggling with an idyllic version of herself that she desperately wants to be true, and slowly comes to terms with the fact that it’s not. As Beth begins to untangle her abandonment issues and deconstruct her own persona, it becomes clearer and clearer that the relationship between Beth and Townes is one of the most important parts of The Queen’s Gambit.

Next: The Queen’s Gambit: Why Beth Ending Up Single Was The Best Choice

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