Adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis, The Queen’s Gambit is a directional masterpiece with a concise and compelling theme. The series takes chess, something generally considered esoteric, and delivers a piece enjoyable by series buffs and classic game lovers. The cherry on the cake is the storyline and rich character development, especially Beth Harmon, magnificently played by Anya Joy-Taylor. Her sex life is an intriguing part of the show as the genius seductress graciously uses the male characters for her gain. But Beth’s preferences are not exclusive to men, and we see her dalliance with Cleo, the French fashion model, who abets Beth’s self-discovery.
Cleo brusquely asks Beth, “Do you like to fuck?” Beth feigns coyness, but we see Cleo clad in Beth’s sheets the next morning. Did Cleo and Beth have sex? It is something most of us have thought about while watching the show. So here is a short guide about the same.
Did Cleo and Beth Have Sex?
The episode Adjournment had one of the most intriguing scenes when we see Beth waking up in a bathtub full of water. When she looks around the room, we see Cleo naked in bed wrapped up in sheets. It leads many viewers to believe that Beth slept with Cleo. But does it really happen?
Although it may seem like Beth was experimenting with her sexuality in Paris when we see Cleo roll over in the bed as Beth hurries off to her game with Borgov, they did not have sex. They returned from the club to the hotel together, and it seems that they drank afterward. Moreover, Beth wakes up in the bathtub, dressed in the same dress as the night before, when the hotel staff member knocks on the door. It seems highly unlikely that Beth had sex with Cleo and then ended up in the tub fully dressed. There was also a lack of obvious flirting between the two.
We also know that both Beth and Cleo prefer men though they have different approaches to sex. Beth has a clinical approach to sex, and she never displayed a sexual interest in women, while Cleo admits living in a polygamous relationship with two men.
Besides the fact that Cleo slept in Beth’s bed and (that too without Beth), there is no proof that they had sex or any intimate moments together. In all probability, they got heavily drunk, went to Beth’s room, got drunk more, and eventually passed out at different places.
Then, what to make of all the attention Beth pays to Cleo?
What About Beth’s Admiration for Cleo?
The admiration that Beth has for Cleo is not overtly sexual. It comes out more as an aspirational admiration. In the book, when Beth gets to Paris, she is fascinated by the women she encounters while she walks around the city. She finds them beautiful, smartly-dressed, oozing out confidence, something Beth aspires to become. The Queen’s Gambit conjures up this aspiration in the form of Cleo – beautiful, chic, and worldly. She is the type of woman that Beth wants to become, and it is why she focuses to such a degree on Cleo.
Moreover, there was mutual aspirational admiration. When Beth talked effusively about models and modeling, Cleo attempted to disenchant her. Later, Cleo told Beth she already had so much more than the Parisian women she admired and something none of them had: talent.
Conclusively Perhaps, the viewer is intended to see that Cleo and Beth had sex as a possibility. However, if they had sex, does it make Beth bisexual?
Is Beth Bisexual?
It is something open to interpretation. To me, Beth is bisexual though she may not embrace that identity and may not sleep with other women. In The Queen’s Gambit, Beth rejects social norms of all sorts, and there is little reason that she would limit her choice of partners to one gender or the other. Beth has declared her love for Townes, who is strongly coded as bisexual, also supports the interpretation. Furthermore, the show subverts some visual media conventions in anticlimactic ways.
Beth is experimenting with different things throughout the series as a learning process. Her sleeping with Cleo seems likely as a conscious decision. A fan suggested on Reddit that Cleo was imaginary, and just Beth being bested by her worst self. With the ‘chess piece’ motif, Cleo and Beth are both queens. Unless one makes a bad error, it is hard for a queen to take another. Beth certainly was drunk enough to make a mistake, and Cleo looks quite rested and victorious.
To conclude, here is what Anya Taylor-Joy told Refinery29 in an interview-
“One of my favorite things about Beth is that she exists semi out of society, she is genuinely baffled whenever people bring her gender into everything. She genuinely does not understand what it has to do with the trashing that she just delivered to her opponent..much in the same way she doesn’t really understand what the ‘60s told people was appropriate… From the second Beth first sees Cleo, she is fascinated by her, so with the guys in the background [at the hotel], she’s like, ‘Eh, you’re not really that interesting. Cleo, you’re cool.’”