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, the Townes Queens Gambit character. 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 The Queen’s Gambit‘s 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, a 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, the Townes Queens Gambit character is one of the most constant and dependable men in Beth’s life.
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 “Doubled Pawns,” The Queen’s Gambit episode 3. Beth and the Townes Queens Gambit character 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 in The Queen’s Gambit, Townes and Beth 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.
Elizabeth & Towne’s Relationship Challenges Stereotypes
Beth’s carefully cultivated persona comes across as a “manic pixie dream girl,” and her complex relationship with the Townes Queens Gambit character is one of the primary ways that The Queen’s Gambit explores and challenges that convention. Throughout Netflix’sThe Queen’s Gambit season 1, Townes’ toxic impulse to sleep with Beth is because of his attraction to a fantasy version of her, and his subsequent rejection of that impulse is what finally affords them a healthy relationship. Beth and Townes are much better friends than they are lovers, and Beth ending up single worked for the show, and whatever mutual attraction that they share is based on their fantasy of who they want the other person to be.
The manic pixie dream girl trope is found in movies like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but was first coined by film critic Nathan Rabin after watching the Kirstin Dunst movie Elizabethtown. While Beth embodies the stereotype at first glance, her character is far more complex and definitively travels through a nuanced, layered arc — two things that “manic pixie dream girl” characters lack. By turning Beth and Townes’ relationship into a complex, yet enriching, friendship, The Queens Gambit is able to circumvent these ugly stereotypes, making Beth a more defined character.
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 building 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, the relationships Beth has with the men in The Queen’s Gambit‘s cast 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.
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 to understand her. He expects Beth to return the effort he has exerted on improving himself for her. Eventually, Harry and Beth’s bad romantic relationship ends when he realizes that she 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 had. She is only able to establish truly meaningful, less bad relationships with Benny and Harry 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 after battling her reliance on tranquilizers. 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 the Townes Queens Gambit character after they mutually realize that they don’t have a romantic future. T
he 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.
Why There Not Being A Queen’s Gambit Season 2 Is Great For Elizabeth And Townes
Despite its smash success, The Queen’s Gambit season 2 is not happening, but this is actually perfect for preserving the resonance of the show’s original story. Because The Queen’s Gambit is ultimately about Beth learning to love herself rather than relying on drugs and alcohol or a series of sexual partners, the conclusion to its one and only season is the perfect wrap-up, since it shows her completing this arc beautifully and finally learning to form healthier connections, with Townes central to this journey.
While a hypothetical The Queen’s Gambit season 2 could explore how Beth’s life is different for the better after completing this journey, the show would inevitably have to introduce some new conflicts, love interests, or personal struggles for Beth in order to keep things interesting for audiences. This would severely undermine how well-told The Queen’s Gambit already is, without adding much value to the original story. What’s more, The Queen’s Gambit‘s not-quite-true-story source material, the novel by Walter Tevis, doesn’t have a sequel either, so a season 2 would be on shakier narrative footing.
Although their relationship is initially a symptom of Beth’s deep-set abandonment issues and self-doubt, Townes ends up being a crucial figure in her growth towards better self-knowledge and self-love. The ending of The Queen’s Gambit season 1 perfectly illustrates this point by shifting Beth and Townes’ relationship into one of fantasy and impossible romantic tension into one of genuine connection and friendship. This is one of the crucial ways in which the story achieves its catharsis, so while season 2 of The Queen’s Gambit would undoubtedly draw plenty of views, it would only risk jeopardizing the satisfying conclusion Beth and Townes have already reached.
How Anya-Taylor Joy Interprets Beth
The Queen’s Gambit ending sees a sober Beth defeat Borgov while friends like the Townes Queen’s Gambit character watching her charge to victory. After her win, she is escorted to the airport by her CIA-appointed handler, when she asks the car to stop at a nearby park. She gets out of the car and goes up to a group of older men playing chess, at which point, she sits down to join them.
Anya-Taylor Joy spoke up about Beth and The Queen’s Gambit ending (via Decider), and she was thrilled with her character’s carefully crafted ending. “I think it’s just, it’s the first time that she’s able to go: ‘You know what? I deserve to enjoy this. Leave me alone for a second. I have worked my whole life for this moment,’” The Witch actress mused. According to Joy, she was incredibly connected to the character, and would frequently break down into tears during the finale’s takes. The talented actress has seen a whirlwind of success since The Queen’s Gambit, and it’s clear that she’ll grace the screen for quite a long time.