It is time for a breather from … well, everything. That means it’s time to wrap myself up in my favourite comfort read of the moment, and talk about Tremontaine!
This week’s episode sees Joel Derfner take the wheel for the first of his Season 2 episodes, and it’s a cracker of a chapter in the tale! I’ve been looking forward to this, and I’m happy to report that not only is he on fine form, but he’s gotten better. As Rafe Fenton (and Diane, god Diane, I love you more than ever) have progressed, so Joel Derfner’s grasp of their characters has gotten firmer, and the results are wickedly enjoyable.
Caution: Spoilers below!
So for the last couple of weeks, these reviews have been pretty Kaab-centric. Today, I’m not going to talk about her, except to say that yes, she still frustrates me all to heck. (And that I am starting to lean properly toward hoping Tess walks away because AUGH.)
No. This week, all my flailing and appreciation is for my top (utterly non-romantic) Tremontaine trio: Rafe, Micah and Diane.
Over the course of the whole of this series so far, it’s become clear that while these writers work as a unit to tell this story, there are and will always be characters whose voices ‘belong’ to one in particular. Joel Derfner has Rafe Fenton well in hand in that sense, and what delights me most about this episode and Joel’s return to the Rafe-centric helm is how clearly his understanding of the character and his deftness of touch when writing him has improved, from Season One’s affairs of the heart to their aftermath, here and now.
After the disappearance of William, Rafe has set himself to the task of finding and rescuing his love from the Duchess’s evil clutches, even going so far as to swear himself to celibacy until he does so.
… Yeah, that’s probably going to go about as well as we expect, right? Don’t get me wrong; I can’t help sympathising with Rafe’s struggles. He fell in love and had everything torn away from him, and he’s given up yet more in order to try and put this right. But this doesn’t make him infallible. It certainly doesn’t make him perfect, and when our favourite scheming Duchess practically throws handsome young Arthur Chel at him this week, Rafe nearly forgets himself and his mission in all the temptation to take a little comfort where he can.
Rafe is lonely, without either Will or his University friends to fall back on for support or comfort or even the regular opportunity for a stiff drink. He tries to rebuild that bridge by visiting Micah and going out to the Blackbird’s Nest with their student crowd, like old times, but so much has changed in Rafe’s life that it’s just not the same. His friends are moving on, Will is still missing, he believes himself terrible at his new job, and his parents Do Not Understand Him. And there doesn’t seem to be very much he can do about any of that.
But by all the gods great and small, Rafe Fenton can still flirt with a pretty young man. What saves this scene from being one of the sort that used to make me roll my eyes at Rafe is that now I’m aware of just how much emotional turmoil actually lies beneath all the smooth talking and the potential for promiscuity. Like I said, Rafe is lonely – and he sees in Arthur something of what he once was, before the world showed him just how hard it could be to get by in.
A tremor in the boy’s voice touched something in Rafe, made him want to teach him, advise him, protect him from the mistakes that would rend his heart in two.
… William was gone – gone, perhaps, given the futility of Rafe’s search thus far, never to return – and mad, to boot. Kaab’s kinsman was in front of him, warm, alive, present.
… Oh, and don’t forget he’s there because Diane ‘suggested’ to Arthur that he and Rafe would get along. Thankfully for what’s left of Rafe’s dignity, young Mr Chel has all the subtle cunning of a drunk panda, and when it’s clear (despite a lack of anything truly requiring a fan, alas) that Rafe does indeed (ahem) appreciate him, he’s too delighted to keep quiet about Diane’s little suggestion. From a moment of weakness to another crossing of those enemy swords: it is back on with a vengeance for Rafe and the Duchess.
I’ve read Swordspoint. I know how this is ultimately going to end. But damn it, I still want Rafe to win. Somehow. There must be some way to vex Diane, even if he can’t beat her. Right? Rafe has so little left to lose and Diane is obviously revelling a little too hard in her own vicious cleverness and OH GOD THIS WHOLE SCENE MY FEELINGS I CAN’T.
Speaking of scenes that leave me unable to Can, let’s also talk about what may just be my new favourite scene so far in this entire series: Micah meeting Diane for the first time.
First, though, let’s discuss the build-up to it a little, because sweet teacups, Micah came so close to being one of Diane’s “loose ends” and she had (and has) absolutely no idea. Diane needs to be sure that Rafe’s ambitions regarding navigation have indeed been thoroughly shut down, and that means she needs to be sure that Micah isn’t still pursuing the problem of it. So she does what she’s used to doing, and sends an invitation to Micah to visit her at Tremontaine House.
Then she sends another, and another, because this is Micah we’re talking about and Diane obviously forgot to make any mention whatsoever of maths in her invitations. So, for the first time in a very, very long time, Diane de Tremontaine finds herself being quite thoroughly stood up. I loved this because precious oblivious Micah is so precious and oblivious, and also because it’s clear that Diane has, at first, no idea what to do when she finds herself in that situation. Nobody stands up the Duchess Tremontaine! So she goes to Micah’s room at the University, determined to have this meeting and see for herself whether Micah is a thread she can tie up, or one she has to cut. Gulp.
You guys, I was so damned nervous for most of this scene. Nothing terrible happens; in fact, nothing much happens at all – but therein lies the beauty of it, because for all that they just talk, and briefly at that, what’s actually going on here is that two people who could not be more opposite to one another are put in the same room, forced to interact, and neither of them fully understand how to talk to each other.
Oh, Diane finds a way to get her answers in the end. Of course she does. But what’s really noteworthy here is that the way(s) in which she expected to get them fail her completely, because Micah is not like anyone she’s met before and therefore her usual manipulative ways are bound to let her down. Flirting is a no-go – and thank goodness, because not only does this uphold Micah’s apparent asexuality and therefore the integrity of her character, but also because that very notion pushes my HOW DARE YOU MESS WITH MY CINNAMON ROLL button. Even Diane’s attempts at small talk fall flat, and oh, how I can relate to Micah here. I do not understand small talk. It is pointless to me. THE WEATHER IS ALL RIGHT OUTSIDE YOUR WINDOW, PEOPLE, WHY DO WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT. That kind of thing.
But, inch by hilariously awkward inch, Diane realises why Micah is so uncomfortable and reluctant to talk with her (at least, so she believes), and at the same time Micah realises who this strange noblewoman in her room is and why she seems familiar (bless you, Micah my darling) – they were both at the Swan Ball, where Micah did very much not enjoy the festivities any more than Diane did, given how messily wrong they went before it was over. And once this discovery is made, we get to the nugget of true gold in this scene, the one that flipped me from nervous wariness over What Will Diane Do to utter delight at the whole thing.
Now that she was thinking about the ball, the pressure felt much worse. Would the sentences Tess had taught her work when she wasn’t at a ball? “Fascinating,” Micah said suddenly. “Why don’t you tell me more about that?” Was it okay to say that to the woman who had thrown the ball?
“I’m really much more interested,” said Diane Duchess Tremontaine, looking toward the inner room, “in what you are studying.”
And just like that she gets Micah talking about maths, which as we all know she could quite happily do until the cows come home – but I kid you not, I got to this exchange and nearly dropped my Kindle. OF COURSE Diane knows about that conversational gambit. Of course she bloody does, because why on earth wouldn’t she? If there was an actual handbook on how to bluff your way through casual conversation when you aren’t sure what to say, DIANE DE TREMONTAINE PROBABLY WROTE IT. It’s clear, leading up to this exchange, that Diane doesn’t know how to handle someone whose mind works the way Micah’s does. So she bluffs her way into a safer topic, and one that will answer her questions, all with one of the two sentences Micah trusted herself to use here.
And then we get Micah happily burbling on about maths and Diane de Tremontaine deciding it’s safe to leave her alive, which is a win for absolutely everybody if you ask me.
… Except maybe Rafe, because in all the happy burbling Micah lets slip that Rafe is still looking for Will, and … Oh. Oh, dear.
Remember when I said it was back on for Rafe and Diane…?
Yeah. I need the next episode now, please. I need it.
Micah I love you never ever change.