"Fork" is the fifth episode of The Queen's Gambit. Along with the rest of the series, it was released on Netflix on October 23, 2020.
Another cold opening with Alice Harmon sees her giving advice to a young Elizabeth Harmon, admonishing her that the most powerful people are those who aren't afraid to be alone. She warns her that one day she, too, will be alone, and that she must be able to take care of herself.
These words hold true in the present, with Beth's adoptive mother gone, leaving her alone in an empty house. Before she can brood too deeply, Harry Beltik calls her and offers to help coach her in chess, even though he admits she's the better player. However, she invites him straight over, so he brings a slew of chess books go over with her — but she's read every single one already. They banter over famous chess players, with Beth preferring intuition players, and Beltik advises her that anger can weaken her chess games, much as Mr. Shaibel admonished her.
He eventually earns his keep when he points out a sequence from Alekhine that Beth had overlooked. Afterward they go to eat, but the awkward tension is too much for Beltik, so he clears out, leaving Beth to her thoughts of her dead mother Alma. The next day, Beltik warns Beth that she's still playing blind, on instinct, without any specific plans in mind. Further, he advises her to study Borgov's career, his games, in order to gain an edge on him.
Attackers may sometimes regret their moves, but it is much worse to forever regret an opportunity you allowed to pass you by.Vasily Borgov, translated
Beltik then goes to the bathroom where he privately berates himself for acting like a master, when he was consistently beaten by Beth. He notices her tranquilizers in the bathroom, and when he comes out he finds Beth dancing to a song she likes, but is too awkward to do anything but stand and gawk. Beth studies Borgov's interviews and writings at night and practices with Beltik during the day, until eventually he announces that he won't be coming by so often, as he's moving into his apartment, getting a part time job, and taking classes.
To his shock, Beth offers to let him move into her house, live there for free. Finally seizing the initiative, Beltik kisses Beth, and although initially awkward, Beth assures him that she just wasn't ready and that "I'm ready now". Naturally, Beltik freezes up again at just the wrong time, but Beth quotes Mr. Shaibel and says "now or never", so he finally gets up the nerve to kiss her again. After they have sex, Beltik is once again uncomfortable in his own skin, not sure what to do with himself or whether he should fall asleep in Beth's bed with her or leave. Beth assures him he may do whatever he wishes, but he cannot stand the pressure of not knowing what to do with himself, so he leaves for his room.
The next morning, Beth encounters Margaret Neil (now Margaret Johnson) at the store. She now has a child, having married immediately out of high school, and does not remember her past obsession with men that Beth recalls so vividly. Back at home, Beltik tells of how there's more to live than chess. He talks of his love of history, and even rattles off a quote from one of the famous chess players he's studied:
It’s foolish to run the risk of going mad for vanity’s sake.
This quote displeases Beth, so Beltik tries to salvage things by mentioning how beautiful he thought she was in the papers when Townes photographed her. He goes on to earnestly tell her how he was waiting for her to return, and that he even threw away his tuition money just so that he could get his teeth fixed for her. This sudden rush of affection is too much for Beth and she quickly changes the subject. She goes to get away from Beltik, but at the last moment he offers to play chess with her, pulling things out of the fire.
The next day Beth goes to get cigarettes and a magazine, and Mr. Bradley the clerk reveals that he saw her steal a chess magazine all those years ago when she was a teenager. He wishes her good luck in her next tournament, and she pays him back for the magazine she originally stole. While practicing with Beltik that evening, it eventually becomes apparent that Beltik simply cannot keep up with Beth enough to properly tutor her, so he leaves and confines himself to his room, listening to loud jazz music.
The next morning Beth makes breakfast for Beltik, but is startled to see him packed and ready to leave. He tells her that he's taught her everything he knows, "which admittedly is not a lot", and that he has to move on with life rather than stay focused on chess forever. Beth assures him that he actually taught her a great deal, and although Beltik is pleased, he lets her know that she helped him come to the realization that he doesn't love chess anymore. He leaves her with a book by Morphy, a parting gift, but not without strongly comparing Beth to him, how well-mannered Morphy was during the day while partying the night before, and still managing to excel at chess until he found a bitter end. At length, Beth begins to get defensive at the comparison, but Beltik doubles down, showing her the tranquilizers as evidence, saying "it's always been you". He tells her to be careful, and then leaves.
Beth moves on to another U.S. Open, hoping to take the title of U.S. Champion completely away from Benny. Beth runs into Benny at the start of the tournament in the auditorium, where he complains about the lack of press attention for chess. They face off several different opponents, both winning their matches. After the day’s matches, Beth walks out and sees Benny getting interviewed by an impressionable chess player. He gives the advice to young players to get in shape before spotting Beth. Benny immediately runs over and invites her to come play speed chess with him that night. She declines, intending to study instead, but later changes her mind and goes to meet Benny. She finds the United States Champion in a small cafeteria, and they play five rounds of speed chess together — Benny wins every single round, draining Beth's pockets and her confidence.
Oh, and about sex…forget it.Benny, after Beth agrees to live with him for a month
The next day Benny apologizes and earnestly boosts her confidence, saying that speed chess doesn't count. His words prove true when, in the game itself, she finally defeats him and claims the title of U.S. Champion for herself. At the bar afterward they both banter and discuss going up against Borgov, so Benny offers to train her, claiming to be able to do far more for her than Harry Beltik ever did. Although it takes some coaxing, she agrees to stay at his home in New York while he trains her, before flying off to face Borgov in Paris.