Oh, Tremontaine, how I love you.
We are properly at this season’s halfway point now, and what a mid-season spectacle we’ve gotten! As I’d predicted, everything goes disastrously wrong at the party … well, more or less everything. But I’ll save the spoilery bits for below. Let’s discuss The Swan Ball!
An Ugly Duckling attends the Swan Ball. Diane gets desperate.
Violent passions erupt at the Tremontaine Ball! A misunderstanding comes between Rafe and Will, while Micah threatens to expose Kaab’s secret to her family. Diane’s plans to salvage the Tremontaine name and fortune hang by a thread, and Kaab recognizes the locket sketched by Tess . . . in the last place she would have expected to see it.
This episode is brought to you by Joel Derfner, whose sparkling wit makes him the perfect party companion.
From start to finish, this episode is cleverly crafted. From the misleading opening, in which Diane’s dream of a party going perfectly the way she’d hoped rapidly takes a very dark turn (which I will discuss in due course), to the intricate dance of events that follow, all the way to a steamy conclusion, we’re left guessing at what’s actually going on and what’s going to happen – and that’s the real success of it here, for me. Joel Derfner is a shockingly clever tease of a writer and he needs to write more of this kind of thing, please and thank you.
Micah and Kaab
Minor misgivings first – I felt a tiny bit short-changed on Micah in this episode. In retrospect, and after reading twice, I can see why this part of the story focused more on others, and I’m certainly not picking on what we did get to see of her. I could put that misgiving down to my emotional connection to her character, which is certainly done no harm in this episode.
As someone who suffers from social anxiety, I was well aware that Micah’s intention to go to the Swan Ball was one thing, but that the experience of actually being there could be quite another – and I was right. She’s very quickly overwhelmed by all the people and the noise, and her social anxiety gets the better of her. I know this feeling all too well, so I had nothing but sympathy. Thankfully, though, she manages to fight her way past it (even surviving a conversation with a stranger, sort of!) enough to find Kaab, and so I’m glad her part in the story didn’t just end with her behind a curtain.
That said, she might be wishing it had after what follows. Kaab really should have guessed at what putting Micah and her family in the same space would lead to… Her need to keep Micah’s mathematical genius mind thrown off of her goal and to keep her family from finding out that, oops, she’s been out and about endangering their trade secrets, is getting more desperate all the time. It comes to a bit of a head at the Swan Ball, but rather than allowing anything confrontational to happen here, we get one of the most brilliantly contrived slapstick scenes I’ve ever read. Good slapstick is perhaps harder to really pull off than you might think, and that’s when it’s happening in film. On the page, I imagine it’s harder because you lack that visual medium. The fact that Joel Derfner makes this one work is another point in his favour. (Furthermore, so is the ‘unfortunate’ end result involving Lord Karleigh and the swan pudding. Though I’m sure it would have been tasty, I can’t imagine a more fitting end for the poor pudding.)
Rafe and Will
GOD. These two. I honestly don’t know if I want them to run away together, or if I want to slap them both sensible…
Rafe, in particular. I’ve noted before that I have some difficulty deciding how I feel about him, and his volatile nature apparently isn’t likely to settle any time soon. Though I’m sure he and Will can’t complain about the end results (cough cough, close the door, nothing to see here), Rafe spends most of his time at the party avoiding Will after refusing a gift of finer clothes for the ball and instead insisting on wearing his scholar’s robes. Our would-be scientific pioneer is chafing at the new high-society role he’s found himself in, and his response here is to… throw a tantrum, essentially. The only thing keeping him from simply leaving outright is Will, who spends his own time at the party trying to catch him again – and, it’s important to note, ignoring his own wife in the process. This is bad form on Will’s part, I think, and not simply because you know Diane will keep score – almost literally, as it turns out. (Mental revenge score cards; that’s not creepy and kind of insane at all, oh no.)
So there would appear to be some genuine feelings growing here, between these two. The issue is apparently that neither one is equipped to handle them well. Swoony feelings aside, my growing concern is that it’s going to end badly, and not just because of any revenge Diane takes. It’s entirely possible that these two might beat her to the life-ruining punch all on their own… Assuming they can get out of each other’s trousers long enough, that is. I may not approve entirely, but good grief, I can’t look away. *Munches popcorn*
After being sidelined a little in the previous episodes, our Duchess gets to take centre stage here, and the show we get is both spectacular and deeply intriguing. Up until the slapstick finale, the Swan Ball does go more or less smoothly- until the racist walking stench that is Lord Karleigh insults the Balams and they walk out en masse, seemingly leaving Diane’s financial plans in ruins.
Seemingly. Diane is smart enough not to put all her eggs in one basket, and she has backup plans in place. In this case, said plan involves starting an affair with the Dragon Chancellor and attempting to use pillow talk to influence his politics. (Also, there’s that score card again.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as she’d hoped – she’s even advised to speak to Will about it if the tax on chocolate bothers her so much.
DIANE THIS IS NOT BAD ADVICE WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT. IF YOU’D DONE THIS AT THE START THINGS MIGHT BE FINE.
Leaving aside all the party-related stuff for a moment, what really has me intrigued about Diane more than ever now is that dream I mentioned. At this point we know she’s keeping a secret about her past that she’s willing to commit murder over, and that the locket she took back from the unfortunate Ben is Very Important Somehow, since it was meant to be Ben’s proof of… What? What did he find out?! And that dream, about an attack on a young girl in a carriage? We can reasonably assume now that Diane was in that carriage. Now hark back to the stories told at Ben’s wake, about his father’s life as a highwayman of dubious yet unquestioned integrity…
WHAT IS DIANE HIDING?! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED THAT NIGHT AUGH I CAN’T STAND IT.
But now Kaab is onto her! Thanks to Tess, she’s able to recognise the locket when she sees it on Diane’s wrist at the ball. Our spy may still be learning the tricks of her intended trade, but she’s definitely got the potential to unravel whatever it is Diane’s trying to hide.
You just KNOW this is going to end badly for somebody. Might be Diane, might be Kaab. Might be Tess, because I don’t believe for a second that the bystanders will be allowed to remain innocent. Just ask Ben.
This story is killing me. KILLING ME.