Tremontaine: the future starts here

Header image: Tremontaine - The Final Season (copyright Serial Box: two figures swordfighting, seen from above)

In a break with tradition (although I did something similar for Season Three), I’m going to talk about the final three episodes of Tremontaine at once. It’s been emotional, folks. And now it’s over… until I pick up Swordspoint for a reread, anyway. Be warned: there will be spoilers.

This is a tricky review for me to write, because I find I’m quite torn in two. I have two equally weighted yet opposing reactions to the end of the final season, and it makes it difficult to discuss.

You see – if I’m horrifyingly, painfully honest – I have to admit that I haven’t found the second half of this final season of Tremontaine as satisfying as I expected to. Yes, there have been interesting characters (Octavian); yes, it’s been lovely to get closure on some emotional journeys (William); and yes, it’s been rewarding to see our youngsters grow up (especially Rafe).

But since the death of Tess (I’m still not over the death of Tess), Season Four has frequently felt more like it has been tidying up plots than exploiting them to the full. In some cases things have been a bit too easy (I’m looking at you, Tullans; you didn’t live up to your reputation); in others, intriguing possibilities just evaporated (…I said I didn’t expect answers to my questions about Lord Arlen, but that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied without them). And on the strength of earlier seasons, I think I expected more tension. At no point – unlike, say, the ends of Seasons One and Two – was I biting my nails and screaming as I read (I may have shed a tear, but we’ll get to that).

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the final three episodes of the Season. I’m a type A personality; I do love a bit of tidying up, even if I’d like it to have felt a bit more challenging.

Kaab is a good case in point. Like Rafe, her arc from first meeting to final farewell is deeply satisfying. We’ve seen her mature as a person and a lover, and grow into her role as the first daughter of a first daughter of the Balam. Her experiences of the past three seasons – and perhaps some mentoring by her wily lover Diane – have made her an excellent spymistress. For me, her arc completed when she made peace with Rafe, achieving a balance between heart and duty. Tess would be proud (a little sad, perhaps, but proud).

But Season Four isn’t quite done with Kaab, and I really enjoyed her last trip to Riverside with Esha. The women who knew Tess best celebrate their friendship with the Hand, but the scene is really setting up the future. Kaab’s decision to return Rafe’s book is unexpectedly reaffirmed; and her reward is the promise of a lucrative new trading opportunity in Zeren.  

In just three episodes, Kaab identifies a way to counterbalance the loss of her people’s sea-faring advantage; talks Esha (…and Diane) into her plan; and defeats her Tullan enemies so that she can go open new chocolate markets. Neat and tidy, but is it too much, too quickly? The Tullans were frankly disappointing – making noises off all season, and then executing a semi-competent plot only to be undone by the unexpected (and unappreciated by this reader) quasi-redemption of Florian Larue. I’m happy for Kaab, but the potentially tasty developments felt rushed, their inherent conflicts papered over; packed into just three episodes (tucked away with the other loose ends), they had no time to breathe.

The politics surrounding the election of the Crescent Chancellor worked better for me (I enjoyed both the political lobbying and the pomp and circumstance), although – having read Swordspoint I was pretty certain who was going to win. I was still happy to see this play out – and the sting in the tail here was Octavian catching river fever. I’m almost as bitter about that as I am about Tess.

Because Octavian and Diane are the beating heart of Season Four for me. Yes, I enjoyed the would they / wouldn’t they tension of Rafe and Reza (to a point – I got a bit impatient with it) and I remain grateful for the deeply emotional journey Joel Derfner and Liz Duffy Adams took us on in Ep8. I’m so glad they got their happy ever after, but adding in one last loop of ‘but what if he doesn’t really want to’ was less interesting than seeing Reza grapple with freeing Mino (Mino was in many ways the most interesting character for me in these final episodes).

Meanwhile, Octavian and Diane seemed a far less likely couple: an unexpected meeting of minds, which they were determined to hide behind closed doors. Brilliant, crafty, manipulative… and good for each other. I loved how enthusiastically they embraced their relationship. In terms of Diane’s personal journey across four epic seasons of Tremontaine, the change wrought by Octavian is on par with Esha’s healing influence. Diane can be silly, girlish even (in private). She has the freedom to flaunt her intelligence. She finds not only an ally, but a soulmate – and she permits herself to grow close to him, even if she doesn’t acknowledge what he has come to mean to her.

And she loses him. It’s the one end-of-season punch that isn’t pulled, and oh, it hurts.

I’m both deeply satisfied with this storyline and utterly miserable with the outcome. Diane is the only (surviving) protagonist who doesn’t get a happy ever after. Oh, sure – she’s Duchess in her own right, pulling the strings on the Council in spite of Lord Arlen and the fusty Lords, and she’ll be as rich as sin. But she won’t be happy. She will once again be heartless and manipulative, bereft without even Kaab and Esha to melt the ice.

So: I have mixed feelings, here at the close. I love the stories that broke my heart (Tess, Diane); some others feel a little over-played. And as for Micah and Joshua? They just sort of fade out. I feel poor Micah has been under-served throughout this final season; far from the heart of the stories being told, and half-forgotten by the end (I guess that heart-warming trip home with the cow just didn’t resonate quite as much with me as it was meant to).

Taking a step back from the last three episodes to the bigger picture though, four seasons of Tremontaine has been a heck of a satisfying journey (SO MANY FEELINGS). It’s been a delight to see Ellen Kushner’s City and Land expanded; I’ve been introduced to authors I had never previously encountered, and loved seeing their influence on the world. Some characters were favourites from the start; some seduced me over time; and I will miss them all whole-heartedly.