With the Final Season just around the corner, I have finally managed to finish Season Three. It’s taken me an awfully long time to get back to Tremontaine, but Season Three more than stands up to a reread: if anything, it’s better second time around. Time for a look at the final four episodes before all our hearts are (probably) ripped to pieces this autumn…
Want to jump straight to a particular episode review? Go for it:
Sword and Spirit | A Blur of Bright Water | Dragon Rampant | Surrounded | A City’s Favor
3.09: Sword and Spirit – Karen Lord ****
Reza has – narratively speaking – stepped into Vincent’s shoes this season, and episode 9 sees him inching closer towards answering the question ‘what would Vincent want me to do?’. Having spent the first part of the season in self-absorbed deathbringer mode, Reza is finally stepping back into his ambassadorial role and trying to influence the City. It’s clear that politics is almost as familiar to him as warfare, as he manipulates social gatherings and drops careful suggestions into the right ears. While I suspect that Esha will bring him and Diane together as allies, there’s a little bit of me that’s curious to see what would happen if they were antagonists. After all, he has no reason to love the woman who sent Vincent Applethorpe to his death…
Reza has returned Esha’s sword to her as good as new, and between his friendship and Diane’s possessive desire, Esha has once again achieved an inner peace. She’s going to need it, as Davenant make his move at last, letting both Esha and Diane know that he knows exactly who gave Diane power over him. Timing is the one thing he leaves to chance – and ironically, it’s timing that gives his revenge extra teeth. Diane gets news of his actions on the very night Micah goes to play cards with him. I’m not sure which bit harder: my anxiety for Micah, or the heart-wrenching moment where Diane wished she could walk her fear away in the garden with her ward – Season Three has been all about making the Duchess vulnerable.
It’s another beautifully-written episode from Karen Lord, ratcheting up the tension one more notch as we head towards the inevitable showdown between the Dragon and the Duchess.
3.10 A Blur of Bright Water – Tessa Gratton ****
It’s funny: I’m not a fan of the more poetic episodes on a first read. I’m too impatient to get on with plot, especially as we near the climax of the season. But while we don’t really learn anything new in Blur’s flashbacks, they do cement the impression that Reza is finally coming to terms with Vincent’s death. Hard on the heels of his melancholy, he finds himself dining with the woman who killed his lover (I don’t think he’s quite aware of the extent of Diane’s involvement), and yet he and Kaab… get on. Make a cautious peace, of sorts, bonding over their shared respect for Vincent.
Diane, meanwhile, is plotting (surprise!). I liked her manoeuvring to support Kaab and the Balam, but I can’t approve of her chosen weapon against Davenant. I don’t particularly like or pity Aurelia, but poor Basil! He is a capable man who doesn’t _need_ a Duchess making cavalier decisions about his marriage, however silly his wife may be. Diane is too high handed with the lives of those she (ironically) considers beneath her. Tut, Diane. Tut.
But perhaps Rafe’s unexpected visit to Tremontaine House is a punishment of sorts. It’s a fabulously tense scene between these two close-knit people who hate one another so fiercely. They both know his proposal is sound: but it salts Diane’s wounds. Diane has changed in many ways, and her internal conflict over what she did to William is at best papered over. The Duchess is still carrying a parcel of guilt (as she should!) and if Rafe’s school cannot publicly memorialize William, she can’t consider it part of her penance. She must truly believe in / commit to the project – and odd or not, I think she does.
Still, there’s a lot of humble pie to be swallowed, and I suspect her only comfort will be trying to force it down Davenant’s throat. I just hope she has more than Aurelia to work with, because the lady seems like a flimsy tool.
3.11 Dragon Rampant – Karen Lord ***
Dragon Rampant is a solid slice of City shenanigans, but to me it feels slightly out of place in the pacing of the season. Where A Blur of Bright Water was undercut by (but gained emotional weight from) flashbacks, Dragon Rampant spends much of its time focused on previously peripheral characters, shading in details.
While I enjoyed getting to know Wild Kate – more nuanced and more interesting here than in previous episodes – and I appreciate that her perspective builds up Tess’s gathering profile, I’m struggling to maintain an interest in Rafe’s school as a primary plot. The sexism and classism incense me (and hooray for Simone, who will clearly so far more with her appointment than Rafe intended), but I am less invested in the outcome. I want it to end well for Micah, Rafe, Joshua and Charlotte’s sake, but it doesn’t carry enough weight to feel like a spin up to the climax for me.
Kaab, meanwhile, has scored a major victory – and I loved the scenes in which she shows her cousins her mettle. She’s really grown into her new role, practising a subtlety that nobody (me included) would have suspected her capable of. Has the change been abrupt? Yes, rather – practically overnight from S2 to S3 – but she always had the training, and her handling of Diane showed her capability. Responsibility has transformed her into a power to be wary of.
…which brings us to Diane and Davenant. This week has him winning directly and indirectly: Esha calling off her affair with the Duchess (…I’m flabbergasted, honestly, and I can’t entirely agree with her assessment that Diane should just let Gregory win; he’s too much of a scorched earth and slavery man for that to be a good idea), and the undercutting of Tremontaine’s designs for the warehouses (…and how will that affect the Balam I wonder?) The Duchess needs to move, and instead she plays for time.
…which ultimately calls the mood of the whole episode: playing for time before the finale.
I do love Basil Halliday tho.
3.11 Surrounded – Joel Derfner ****
Our main plots finally climax this week, and if I find it somewhat anticlimactic for a season climax it is still a satisfying episode. Anyone who has ever mischievously asked if there’s someone at the University Rafe hasn’t slept with will be surprised to discover there is; and unsurprised to find him a prime agitator against Rafe’s school. They may be less surprised – given the nerve shredding extremes of S2 – to find that Rafe has reserves of courage and determination that can impress even a Riverside Rat. And he is rewarded with insight and grace, which is perhaps the best possible outcome for our scholarly hothead.
Meanwhile, the inspector reaches his judgment on the chocolate trade. This was probably my favourite strand of the narrative this week. Kaab’s growth this season has been pronounced, and sets her up for interesting times ahead. Will she seek a fuller vengeance against the Cocom? Will her path be more closely tied to that of our other protagonists? We’ll see.
Davenant gets something of a comeuppance, and while I appreciate that it’s acceptable to have affairs but not to get caught in the act, I’m unclear just how much damage this will do him. That he finds it a turn on is a given; but it makes my stomach turn that Diane lets him kiss her. She’s a passionate creature who enjoys a man with a full read of steam, but it’s hard not to also intuit an all-too-familiar undercurrent of fear if she doesn’t permit him his moment of (physical) mastery.
…and in handling him as she does, she may have given him a meaningful victory after all. However much my heart ached for Diane’s internal pretence that his move against Esha was no big win, it was nothing to my strangled yell at finding Micah had overheard the Duchess and the Dragon’s barbed exchange. Oh, Micah.
3.13 A City’s Favor – Ellen Kushner, Racheline Maltese, Joel Derfner, Tessa Gratton, Karen Lord and Paul Witcover ****
Season Three draws to a very neat close – no cliffhanger, just lots of tidying up. Tremontaine could end here and feel like a satisfying story well told: our protagonists lives will continue, and have plenty of scope for future shenanigans, but the immediate urgencies are all resolved.
I thought Kaab was being handed a new crisis with the shocking suspicions of who really murdered Ixsaabim – but the situation is at least internally resolved before A City’s Favor is done (although there will be ramifications for the Balam’s dealings with the Middle City). The scenes in which the Kinwiinik mete justice on the murderer are haunting: stately, measured, and handled with a reverence that hides just how gruesome they are.
Rafe, meanwhile, has his moment of victory: his school’s official re-opening is a social event attracting people from across the City, with students finally enrolling from the Middle City. It’s also a moment of victory – indirectly at least – for Diane, with Basil demanding public satisfaction from Davenant. I felt like a bit of an idiot for forgetting that Basil would have the privilege of the sword when I wondered about what the consequences for Davenant would actually be!
However, I have to assume that we haven’t seen the last of the Dragon Chancellor. His appetite for vengeance – and, I suspect, his stomach for social embarrassment – are not minor attributes. But it’s lovely to see Basil Halliday come to the fore as a character; he is a favourite of mine in Swordspoint, and I am enjoying this younger incarnation. I hope we’ll see him step into the limelight in S4 to take advantage of the gap left by Davenant’s humiliation.
For Tess and Micah, Season Three has been a coming of age arc. Each have slowly learned to accept their influence or independence, and to appreciate the need to ensure their own safety. My heart aches for Micah’s assessment of her relationship with Diane (and it hurts for Diane too: she learnt to love two people in Season Three, and she has spoilt both relationships), but I can’t argue with her. But I am so proud of how she has grown into herself this season; and proud too of Tess, carving out a space for herself and asserting herself within Riverside and beyond.
The Final Season
So what will s4 have in store? An alliance between Kaab and Diane? Davenant’s revenge? Tess’s apprenticeship? Who knows. But it will be our last. Expect devastated weekly reviews each Friday through the autumn. And I can already feel the need for the Riverside Re-read that will most certainly be in my plans for 2019!