In this episode, the promise of progress is overshadowed by the dread beast Politics, and everyone’s feeling it bearing down in some way.
Let’s discuss Tremontaine.
Spoilers follow for this episode.
This episode is co-written by Joel Derfner and Liz Duffy Adams, and it manages to delight and impress me on account of how well they handle the various distinct shifts in tone of the narrative that I’ve come to expect, while still stamping their own mark on the episode. Liz Duffy Adams first impressed me with the Season 3 episode “Into The Woods”, which she co-wrote with Delia Sherman; the episode itself gave us a close, intimate (almost claustrophobic, but intriguingly so) look into noble society and the interactions and various alliances and enmities among the City nobility. The opening scene of this episode does it again, from the perspective of a newly entitled Duchess Tremontaine – only this time, she’s got the full weight of her political power, however cleverly she disguises it, working for her.
But some people seem intent upon not letting Diane forget that even the highest in society can be brought down. Lord Arlen continues lingering, like a damned intriguing watcher in the proverbial shadows, around the edges of this story, and neither Diane nor the reader can be sure of his intentions. Does he appear here in order to caution her, to intimidate her, or to warn her? And regardless of which it is, why is he doing it?
Whatever’s going on, it forces a newly confident Duchess to take a mental step back, and I get the feeling that won’t be a bad thing going forward…
Speaking of pride and political positions, Kaab must come to terms with the marriage arrangement being imposed upon her and her cousin Koet, and despite some well-played pranking on his part (he turns out to have been faking an effort to convince Kaab he is actually in love with her, and I think we can all be grateful for that much), she’s relieved to find herself with an ally in this particular situation. Neither of them want to end up married, but what can they do? And how hard can either of them push back against this ‘decree’ from their family without causing irreparable damage?
I am chewing so happily on all of this, even while it’s making me nervous. Also, I am extremely relieved at the turn of events involving Ahkoet. They might be heading for disaster, but at least he and Kaab are on the same side of the mess. It might not make much difference in the end, but it clearly matters here and now to Kaab, and I feel better for knowing she’s not going to be The Stubborn Daughter struggling through this on her own. Male allyship, people. These writers are doing it right.
Elsewhere, despite all of his progress in the arena of Not Screwing Everything Up (pun intended), Rafe takes a bit of a tumble (also pun intended) into old, bad habits this week following the revelation that the dear friend he’s been struggling not to fall for is actually Chartili royalty, and Reza never bothered to confide in him about it. Given how Rafe feels about nobility, and how open he’s been about those feelings, he’s left feeling foolish and untrustworthy in his friend’s eyes, and I have to say I don’t blame him. Reza’s position is understandable, perhaps, but they were doing so well. Barely disguised lust aside, they were both making progress toward healing from old wounds, and their friendship was undoubtedly a part of that. But now Rafe’s wounded pride sends him back to the docks to seek the kind of solace he’s been better off for not seeking, and Reza … Well, Reza has some apologising to do if you ask me.
I don’t believe, as Rafe seems to, that the decision to keep his lineage a secret was fueled by distrust. Reza is a political creature, and he did have to consider the danger that his confidence would put Rafe in. As evidenced, in fact, by Rafe’s blissfully ignorant brush with poisonous death here. On the other hand, some things are just not about politics. And who the hell just leaves poisonous fruit lying around anyway?
Reza. REZA. When someone sends you a gift of something that is SO CLEARLY BLATANTLY POISONOUS, as your taster pointed out RIGHT AWAY, you DO NOT LEAVE IT LYING AROUND WHERE YOUR OBLIVIOUS FRIEND MIGHT FIND IT AND HELP HIMSELF.
Rafe. RAFE. I understand that your feelings are hurt, and perhaps you’re justified but JUST MAYBE THE POLITICAL LIFE OF A CHARTILI NOBLE ISN’T SUDDENLY 100% ABOUT YOU.
Anyway. Regardless of face-palmingly stupid moves, I am invested enough in this particular relationship that I just want to see them sit down like adults and sort all this out. And then to take off all their stupid clothes and sort themselves out in other ways because ye gods, the repression. GENTLEMEN, THIS IS FOOLISH.
Seriously, though. If Liz Duffy Adams owned the opening scenes here with Diane working her political magic, then (as he always has) Joel Derfner owns this scene, and this development, with Rafe. In an odd way, it’s comforting to still be able to yell RAFE NO at my Kindle while also still getting to enjoy all the progress Rafe has made, from Season 1 to this point. There are shades of his formerly aggravating self here, but what’s nice is that it’s nuanced enough that I feel more sympathy than frustration, now. Well played, Mr Derfner.
A bridge too far
Continuing the theme of progress meeting with (not quite) unexpected trouble, matters in Riverside are getting steadily worse for the locals, as the construction workers on the new bridge are now the ones deciding they can just move in – literally – and do as they please in Riverside. A quick, nasty brawl soon sorts them out, but it’s beginning to feel like opening a window to let out smoke from a fire. Sooner or later someone will need to act in order to actually put out the fire, and signs still point to that person being Tess the Hand. While others around her seem satisfied that winning a brawl in the street will settle things and are otherwise ignoring the root cause, Tess can see which way the wind is blowing for Riverside, and it’s understandably leaving her disturbed. But what can she do? What will she do? Last week we saw her act somewhat impulsively upon her anger, and so far she seems to have gotten away with that. This week, she is thankfully seeming to take things a bit more seriously even as she acts decisively to try to settle the immediate issue (and don’t think I didn’t spot that sweet little moment of leadership, oh yes I did), but what direction will she take from here?
It’s still unclear how much power Tess can wield, because Tess herself isn’t sure what she can do. It definitely seems like change is coming to Riverside, regardless of what she does or of how stubbornly the rest of Riverside ignores it. And so, I remain in nervous anticipation…