Season 2 was a mixed bag for me, and ultimately, it may turn out that the things I disliked actually fit. I suspect that won't be entirely the case, and in any case, I'm starting from what I've seen thus far, through episode 3 of the third season.
There were many good things about Season 2, particularly when it came to consequences from Season 1. There were many things I didn't "like", but which worked for me, including a couple of deaths.
I like that Rafe finally learned that Micah is not a man. I like his father. I really like his father. This is a man, we learned last year, who knows Micah's Cousin Reuben, and who will go to the market in person. This is also a man who is intelligent enough to know that, much as he would like it to be the case, his son's heart is not with the family business, but with his dream of a school, and who is willing to support that dream with all the tools at his command, including, importantly, lawyers. (Side note: I know enough decent people who are good lawyers that I'm not finding certain types of lawyer jokes amusing. So, points to Rafe's father for understanding the importance of good lawyers.)
I like the relationship Diane and Micah are developing. Diane is learning how to work with Micah and how to get Micah to work for her. And she is learning to laugh with what seems sheer joy when Micah is simply herself. I like that Diane has a consistent weakness, which we've seen in Season 1 and in Swordspoint, an assumption that everyone around her thinks the way she does and will act and react the way she does.
I like that Tess has become a full character. I like this woman. She's not perfect, but she is admirable. And there are many other things I like about Season 2.
Then, there are things I don't like. These include:
1. Racing to the Swordspoint Stage. Season 1 begins, I think, at least 17 years before Swordspoint. That is, in the first episode of the first season of Tremontaine, Diane's daughter has just had a son, and that son is, I was assured, at least 17, maybe a year or two older, in Swordspoint.
This means that it should be 7 years before a certain event happens. That event happens in Season 2. This annoys me -- probably more than it ought to. There is no particular reason it had to have happened 10 years before Swordspoint instead of 17 or 20. It's just that the book says it was 10, and that's something that can be changed for a future edition. Heck, if someone had magically changed my copies of Swordspoint (why yes, we have multiple copies -- obviously!) so that they said it had happened 17 years ago or so, I wouldn't have even noticed. (Well, okay, I might have, but only because I've read that book a few times.) There is no particular reason not to make that change. However, it's related to another thing that annoys me.
2. EVERYTHING that happened or will ever happen is because of Diane Duchess Tremontaine. Yes, this is an exaggeration, but less of one than I'd like, and I'm worried that it will become truer and truer as the series goes on.
And Riverside is bigger than Diane. The City is more than just Her Grace's Own City. Not everything that happens should be down to Diane in the end!
So, it very much annoyed me that a certain duel happened a certain way because of her. Heck, it annoyed me that she hired a certain swordsman to begin with. Why is this necessary? Why does it have to be her behind everything?
Currently, though, I am mixed on this, more mixed than I expected. I don't like the set up. I do like the consequences as I am seeing them play out in Season 3 thus far, particularly the emotional consequences. Reza wandering in Riverside, literally the body of what he considers his rival, trying to understand his lost lover makes for powerful, heartbreaking writing. Tess, torn between her sympathy for him and her loyalty to that lover, makes for powerful, heartbreaking writing. Diane's reaction is unexpected, and simultaneously heartening and terrifying.
And it is crucial that this lover be forgotten by the time of Swordspoint, or at least, largely forgotten. I am terrified that we'll learn Diane is behind a certain training school from Swordspoint, that she had some way of knowing her protege from that novel would go there. I don't want that to turn out to be the case. The City and the story is bigger than she is, and making her responsible for everything makes the story smaller. I want it to be bigger. I want her not even to know a certain person is even there -- although, having reread Swordspoint relatively recently, it's extremely likely she does know, given that she is well aware that a certain person has been training in the art of the sword, and it seems not unlikely that she would take pains to learn who was teaching him.
And, of course, it's important that Diane is not behind warehouse thefts of chocolate. I'm very glad that this isn't even on her radar.
3. People being dumber than I believe them to be. Specifically, Kaab, and, to a lesser extent, Vincent.
Last year, Kaab went from someone in disgrace after a disaster of a mission who had, on top of that, let slip a critically important secret of the Kinwiinik to someone who had learned how to fight, how to love someone, and how to learn what her family needed to know and get the results her family needed.
And this came at a terrible cost, and the consequences of that are very well explored in Season 2, where she makes a slip that I can absolutely believe because I think her decision was eating at her. It was the only decision she could have made, as the stakes were the life and death of her family and her people, but she was never at ease with it, nor should she have been.
But along with that, we have a spoiled woman who's decided that following the rules of the City, the rules of Riverside, the rules of swordsmen is a game that she can drop, proclaiming it stupid when she tires of it. We have a woman who cannot be bothered to clean up after herself or to work at a relationship.
And we have a woman who decides that the best way to prove to her lover that she will do better is to give up the one thing everyone has every reason to believe her lover needs. Seriously, at that point, I would have been fine seeing her written out of the story, never to appear again. I had stopped caring about this character.
So, Tess the Hand has a protector at the start of Season 1. When she loses his protection, Kaab decides that she will test new protectors, showing enough wisdom to realize that she is not good enough to protect Tess herself. And, she decides to learn and improve her swordsmanship, studying under Vincent, who is now Tess's protector.
In theory, she was going to teach him the way she uses a dagger. I don't think we ever saw any of that happening. I don't think it happened.
At the beginning of Season 2, Tess has been threatened, but hey, she has one of the very best protectors, possibly the best, that she could have.
Oh wait, he just decided his job was done and Kaab could protect her. He made this decision knowing how irresponsible Kaab is. WTF?
Okay, in fairness to Vincent, he was emotionally off his game. And --
Josh has started reading Season 1. All he knows about Ben and Tess is that Ben is the bodyguard to "the fiery haired woman", and he's a bit boggled by that because, as he said, Ben is "a drunken sod that shows up at all hours" which is not what one generally wants in a bodyguard.
But, from a Riverside point of view, so what? A lot of swordsmen are probably drunken sods. And it's unlikely a Riversider who's not a swordsman will challenge anyone who is. Well, okay, possibly if they've got a swordsman of their own, but that doesn't seem to be the norm -- that is, unlikely the nobles on the Hill, Riversiders don't seem to do formal challenges of sending one swordsman against another. Likely we just haven't seen the Riverside equivalent of that, but more to the point, Tess is well enough liked and needed in Riverside that the few people who would consider attacking her can be easily deterred by a swordsman -- any swordsman.
The reason Tess is in need of a protector is that she doesn't know exactly why Ben was killed and has excellent reason to believe that she is under threat herself, and from someone outside of Riverside who will not respect Riverside's customs. So, she does need the best in Season 1, and in Season 2, well, that threat's mostly gone.
And Vincent doesn't take Shade and Florian seriously. Kaab's been blooded, and she can handle them. And indeed, Shade and Florian don't really want to confront Kaab openly over this.
So, Vincent is seeing two bullies against a competent swordswoman. Sure, she's a spoiled brat, but hey, more than enough to handle them, and better trained than most swordsmen in Riverside. I can understand that.
But then, Kaab decides she will give up the sword to prove her dedication to Tess -- whom she is now responsible for protecting with the sword. She herself is wary of Florian and Shade, and leaving Tess at their mercy is dumb.
And when Vincent forces her to follow through on one particular duel, he's very clear that refusing to do so would be a dishonor she can't afford. But not a single word about Tess. Not "So, who is going to protect the woman we both agreed should be protected if neither of us will."
And it really annoyed me that Kaab seemed to have figured out that someone was stealing from Rafe's father's warehouse in the first episdoe of Season 2, but to forget it later.
In short, she's screwed up so badly that I stopped caring about her and started wondering -- as I still do -- how much of what looked like competence in Season 1 covered luck and spoiled behavior.
By the end of Season 2, Kaab is made head spymaster. Say what?
Okay, I know her family has no idea how badly she screwed up in Season 1. But, at best, she's a competent field agent. This is far, far from being someone who runs a network of agents or analyzes date or both.
Is there no one more competent in the City among the Balam to take over? Is there a reason beyond grief that Ahchuleb doesn't? I'd like to have seen this at least raised and some explanation given. I'd like to have seen enough competence from Kaab in these areas that her competence thus far in Season 3 doesn't feel -- well, welcome, utterly welcome, but also as if the authors base her level of competence on the needs of the plot, rather than the other way around.
4. Esha ex Machina. From here on in on this list, I'm going to repeat what I wrote in a comment on http://overtheeffingrainbow.co.uk/2017/10/tremontaine-s3e3-bridge/#comment-24980 :
I really didn’t like last year’s Esha ex Machina solution to Diane’s dilemma. I think I’d have been okay with it if she acquired the ledger after learning of Diane’s difficulty, because that fits with what we know of her, as opposed to “Oh no! How will she get out of this one? Well, we introduced a character who we are, at the last moment, saying just happened to have copied a document because, hey, you never know, even though we never show her using this sort of thing before this very moment!” And I’d have liked to know what Diane’s path would have been without Esha there, something whose lack I’d feel less cheated about if Esha had a) acquired the ledger after learning the situation _and_ b) had told Diane before the last minute that she might be able to help, even with no hint of details.
Without that, it feels like lazy writing — the authors don’t need to decide what Diane is thinking of doing because, hey, they’ve already solved the problem, right?
5. Everly and Tess and Riverside, Oh My, aka Florian and Shade Part 1
I have no idea what Everly's angle is in anything Everly does, whether that’s doing business with Florian and Shade, the friendship with Tess that is invisible in Season 1, or the reminder of what kind of power Riverside has. It's a little like Esha ex Machina, although at least this gives Tess more agency to save herself than Diane had. Esha handed Diane an answer; Tess had to do more of the heavy lifting on her own.
But, it turns out that, when Tess thinks about it, she knows how to use the power of Riverside to knock the wind out of Shade and Florian's sails. I like that. I really do. But, it does boggle me.
This huge threat that was Shade and Florian menacing Tess? Terrifying her? Turns out she can make it go away in short order.
Okay, that's not fair. Riverside can make it go away, but this is pretty much a nuclear reaction, and Riverside is willing to do this when Riverside feels the pair have gone too far. And, currently, "too far" does not mean murdering people left and right, or menacing someone like Tess. It means murdering someone not from Riverside, someone whose death will bring trouble on all of Riverside. And, even then, the person who gets banished isn't the actual murderer, just the outsider.
This isn't a magical solution. It is a solution made possible by the conditions that made it necessary, and it is a solution that will have consequences, as we see in Season 3.
That's why this is only part 1 of my take on Shade and Florian. It boils down to:
* I don't understand how Everly fits into everything. In theory, Tess could have come up with her answer on her own, and I'm not sure what to make of this yet.
* Riverside puts up with a lot of shit before it decides to act, and "a lot of shit" includes "threats to and deaths of our own". In other words, it's the opposite of "don't shit where you live", or rather, it's "don't bring in problems from outside the community".
* For all that they are terrifying, Shade kills one named character who never knew his danger, and he and Florian kill unnamed people that readers don't care about. This is more important in Season 3 as of Episode 3, but we're already seeing a pattern of "Will they hurt Tess? Will Shade try to hurt Micah? Nope, just kidding!" (And yes, I know not to count Florian out yet, but Shade is the one used to titilate in this way.)
5. Micah. We all love her. But, I do wish she were less of a mcguffin.
6. Honoria. Diane's daughter is introduced. She comes on stage, and in a single episode -- I think in a single scene -- gets into an argument with her mother where she's utterly outmatched, and goes off to be sick for the reast of Season 2.
Why is it necessary to bring her on? Seasons are being released in volumes, and Honoria's appearance is (probably) set up for a later season, possibly this one (3). Since that is the case, I'd have preferred a quick offhand summary from Diane's point of view, along the lines of "Honoria had arrived last week and, as usual, made a scene. She demanded to know the truth about William. Diane easily answered her questions and let her decamp to a friend's house, unaware of what Diane easily saw -- that she was feverish and wouldn't be going anywhere for the rest of the season", and the actual scene as a flashback in the season where it becomes relevant. I'm picking at nits here, but I'm a lit major, and that is what I do.
So, going into Season 3, I had a lot of very mixed feelings and much trepidation. And so far, it's been unfounded. Season 3's first three episodes have been knocking it so far out of the park it's making a full orbit or two before coming back into the park.
We begin, as always, with Diane looking down at her city and pondering plots.
Kaab and her family are in mourning, and Ahchuleb is handing off whatever he thinks he can to Kaab. I understand this. He's heartsick, and he's not up to dealing with everything. This is healthy. He doesn't know how badly Kaab messed up over the last two seasons. As I said, what boggles me isn't that Kaab is trusted, but that she's handed a supremely difficult job that she isn't trained for.
Diane goes to a dinner in her honor and learns that Vincent Applethorpe is dead. This shocks her more than I would have expected, and I think more than she expected. And she cuts herself, something I had taken at face value and assumed was accidental. But, seeing that others take this as deliberately creating an excuse to leave the table, they're very likely right, especially given the pause before she cries out. But... perhaps not.
Certainly, it's an accident that her dress is ruined by a clumsy chambermaid and Diane's own surprise. I'm not sure she's initially seizing on this as an excuse to return home, but she's certainly using it as an acceptable excuse to cry and yell. onemore.org notes that she is taking out her rage and fear and shock on someone whose position she might be expected to have sympathy with, but of course, does not. And that's quite true. I'm not sure whether Diane is impressed or contemptuous that the maid remains to bandage her hand, but she takes full advantage of this, attempting to charm the maid with a bauble and praise. The perfect touch is that she's letting the maid think she's trying to buy something small, the maid's silence about Diane's tears, when she's trying to buy an agent inside the Crescent's house.
She returns home to Micah, and it's oddly touching how the two are learning to understand each other, at least in terms of how to keep their interactions relatively smooth. And she handles a visit from a concerned Lionel with what might seem to be more scheming than necessary, but from what we've seen and will see over the next couple of episodes, she's almost certainly right about how delicate her position is -- and, we will also see that anyone she seems to be close to might become a target for a certain Dragon Chancellor.
Meanwhile, Kaab tackles the problem of Arthur / Ahtul's murder. She does not, of course, attend the funeral to show respect. That's an extremely Kaab gesture. She cannot comprehend that the Chel might take that as an insult sufficient to cost their loyalty, and when pushed by her family to act, she would much rather take up a weapon to avenge him than to pay a sympathy call.
But, she does listen when told that this isn't how things are done, and she goes to Diane for advice. And she follows that advice brilliantly, going to the merchants. This is what I want to see -- a competent Kaab, showing with her actions visible support for the Chel.
That said, I wouldn't believe her success if it hadn't been preceeded by her selfishness. I've seen too much of that last year to think it should vanish. Yet, I'm so _tired_ of her idiocy. This episode walks the tightrope between her flaws and her strengths.
And it does the same with Diane. Diane is in emotional turmoil, and her first assumption is completely out of keeping with what anyone else would define as reality. She has just learned that Applethorpe is dead. She believes, correctly, but for the wrong reasons, that Kaab knows this as well. Obviously, then, while Kaab is telling the truth about Saabim -- and Diane's sympathy here is genuine (although her surprise is not; she learned of Ixsaabim's death at the end of Season 2) -- she intends to poison Diane with Kinwiinik spices.
Obviously. Er... no. Why would you even think that?
But, this is Diane Duchess Tremontaine. She is very consistent in her assumption that everyone around her thinks as she does and acts and reacts as she would in their position. Diane poisoned her husband. If someone had manipulated her into killing a friend, obviously, she would kill that person. And obviously, not being a swordsman, she would use poison. There are social reasons to do this as well. Therefore, obviously, it's what Kaab is doing.
Yes, this is extreme and irrational. Yes, it's a danger sign. But, it is in keeping with the way Diane has always thought and acted -- just turned up to eleven so that she cannot hear anything else for a time.
I honestly don't remember whether Kaab knew that Arthur had been Diane's eyes and ears. I've not yet reread Season 2, and I'm enjoying Season 3 too much to do that right now. But it makes complete sense that Diane would think she did, and either way, she is, of course, telling the truth. Diane is completely innocent in the matter of Arthur's death.
Meanwhile, Florian's father takes him to visit Rafe's father and, incidentally, Rafe. And Florian quickly seduces Rafe. This didn't bother me. As far as Rafe knows, there's no way he's going to see William again, and any deal he made with gods who may or may not have been paying attention is over. Also, they've clearly done this before, however long ago that was. Certainly, before Florian went to Riverside. Florian's angry, Rafe's in silent mourning, this makes sense to me.
That doesn't mean it's wise, of course. Rafe has no idea how dangerous Florian is, nor any idea about Shade.
And speaking of Shade, he's still in Riverside and still being a problem. In fact, some folks think he's even more of a problem with Florian gone. Two things stand out for me in this part:
1. The question of whether an outsider can become part of Riverside. What does it take? This is something Season 3 has been looking at with Kaab, Florian, and Reza, and it's something that foreshadows Alec's presence years later.
2. Shade has asked the obvious question. Everyone knows that Vincent is dead. Probably everyone knows that Kaab is no longer in Riverside. So... who's protecting Tess these days?
I am really glad he asked that question. I am glad he's still causing trouble. I like that the consequences of all that has gone before do not magically vanish because Tess successfully called the equivalent of a community meeting to banish Florian. I'll have issues with how that works out later, but I was thrilled when I read it.
Rafe has not forgotten his school, and he is trying to recruit Micah and Dr. Goodell. Dr. Goodell points out the obvious: Micah is not qualified to teach, not because of her gender, but because she cannot explain how she knows what she knows. But, she is inspired by Rafe's dream and by the idea of sharing the math she loves with others. Dr. Goodell, more practical, wants to see a school "built of more than words".
And then, we get Kaab's stunning performance before the merchants of the City. And, with beautiful ironic inevitability, Shade's lover's father is the one who backs her and helps convince the merchants that Something Must Be Done about Riverside.
And something is being done as the episode ends, and it's not good. Others have pointed out that Kaab may not have thought through exactly what would happen, and if that's so, I'm fine with it. Flaws and strengths -- and hard choices. Something must be done about Arthur's death, and finding and using the right lever comes with a cost.
Siege of Riverside
After a brutal invasion to make a point, the Watch quarentines Riverside, cutting it off from the rest of the city, just as Reza enters it, searching for Vincent. And we have more development of the theme of the outsider in Riverside.
It occurs to me now that Reza is an interesting contrast to Diane. She is shaken by the news of Vincent's death and immediately moves to get back in control (or at least, to make herself believe she is back in control). Reza is devastated and fights a one man war against his rival, Riverside.
I'm not convinced Riverside is his rival. Vincent's lover is the sword, or more accurately, the art of swordsmanship. And that is something Reza doesn't seem able to comprehend. It's too abstract. Riverside may be a place, but it is embodied in its people. He can fight them. He can kill them. He can talk to them and try to understand them. Perhaps he can come to love them, perhaps not. He can try to prove himself as good as or better than they are, these people who represent what Vincent prized more than he prized Reza.
But the art of swordsmanship -- how can one compete with that? How can one compete with a philosophy, the philosophy which drove Vincent out of Chartil and Reza's arms?
And again, we have a nod to Swordspoint, where Diane seems to understand what a swordsman is. Richard St. Vier has the prize of being the best swordsman. That is what he is and all he is. It is all he has. At least, that is what Diane thinks, and while she's incorrect, she's not far from the mark. This makes me wonder if she does know about Applethorpe in Swordspoint, if she did anything to help him fund his school, if they spoke about swordsmanship and she came to understand him. It is what makes me, very grudgingly, allow as how it might not be so bad if that is the case, despite my issues with Diane as the Source of All.
Last year, Tess became a full protagonist, and that's in no small part because of Tess Gratton, who wrote this episode. And this is the episode where Reza becomes more real to me, although I don't yet know if he's becoming a protagonist. Watching Reza working his way to asking Tess what Vincent would want him to do is the kind of painful I love. And Riverside's defiant celebration is poignant and glorious.
onemore.org is bang on target about the siege, privilege, and the cold reality that it is not unreasonable to want a murderer punished by more than shunning. I can't put it better.
And Tess correctly pegs the force behind the siege as Kaab, "bollixing up her revenge against Shade". But, while Kaab may be bollixing things up, I don't think she's acting purely from revenge. As Ixsaabim's successor, Kaab has a duty to the Kinwiinik in the City, and as she has told the merchants, if nothing is done about Arthur's murder, the message to the Kinwiinik is that none of them are safe in the City, and that no one will lift a finger to to prevent them from being killed.
Meanwhile, Davenant is plotting -- not revenge. He sees Diane's response as a challenge, as a move in a wonderful game. I suspect that this makes him more of a danger than if he simply wanted revenge. His next move is to transfer Halliday, implying to his assistant that this is because Halliday a) has affection for Diane, b) this is obvious to everyone, and c) therefore, Davenant is acting purely to prevent any possible scandal.
Halliday believes him completely and writes an apologetic letter to Diane, who immediately figures out Davenant's role in the man's transfer. And as she flirts with Esha, she warns the woman that Davenant is likely searching for whoever is behind her getting his ledger. And, indeed, he is.
Of course, or at least, if I recall correctly, Esha gave Diane not the ledger itself, but a copy of it. I don't know if that will make it easier or harder for Davenant to put the pieces together. And, it turns out that the reason Davenant embezzled was not because of financial hardship, but because he was bored. He is becoming more interesting and more dangerous, and Esha will have something to say on that soon.
For now, he is waiting for Diane's next move. And it seems to me that her position is dangerous. Whatever she does, he will either interpret it as a move in the game he imagines they are both playing. If she does nothing, he will do something more drastic in an attempt to provoke a reaction. This is creepy.
And people watch or don't watch Riverside. Florian determinedly doesn't watch it, determined not to care about it or his lover. The nobles watch from their barges. The Salamander watches from within Riverside, apparently pleased.
And Reza watches, tries to understand, and thinks about Vincent and a siege in Chartil.
Ellen set the top in motion. Tess turned up the emotional intensity as Riverside was besieged. And Karen bats it out of the park.
We know there needs to be an end to the siege. We know Riverside is still there in Swordspoint. And exactly what happens when the City wants something -- or, rather, someone who belongs to Riverside -- is very much an issue there as well.
For now, we have a very Riverside solution which answers the immediate situation, but may well have consequences.
And, it leaves me with questions, or Everly and Tess and Riverside, Oh My, aka Florian and Shade Part 2:
I didn't understand Everly's agenda last year, and I don't understand it now. I assume Everly is pro-Riverside, but I'm aware I could be mistaken. I don't know what Everly sees in Shade, but I believe there is something there to see.
And we see the power of Riverside again, and I'm left a bit boggled because this is the second time Shade was built up as a threat and turns out to be not all that.
That is, yes, he is a murderer. He's killed plenty of people we don't know and don't care about. And he's killed Arthur, pretty much on a whim. He's plenty dangerous. And he's asked about who was protecting Tess.
And... at no point does he seem about to follow through on his question. This feels oddly like a let down, a gun that we never see fired.
Except, of course, that Florian is still around. And I have no idea what he'll do when he learns Shade is dead.
So, while I'm disappointed that we get a lot of build up of Shade -- will he hurt Tess? Micah? Oh -- he's killed someone I was just getting to know -- but will he hurt Tess now that she has no protector? Will he learn about Rafe and Florian? Oh. He's dead now, so... no to all of that -- Florian is alive, nasty, and the more dangerous for his apparent detatchment from Riverside. Oh, and Riverside banished him and then killed his lover after his lover chose Riverside over him. And, somehow, I don't think he'd be mollified to learn that Shade ultimately chose to protect Florian at the cost of his own life.
And I'm also worried about those in his immediate blast range, Micah and Joshua, who at least know enough to know he's dangerous, and Rafe, who does not.
Oh, Rafe. Florian was his first lover. That -- it isn't that any of what's happened so far between them rang false to me. It all fit. But it fits even better now. Everything between them I've seen makes so much more sense.
And we get to see more of Joshua. I've been wondering about him, and it's refreshing to know that he seems to be Rafe's friend because he's Rafe's friend, and for no hidden motive, and that he's doing his best to look out for Rafe here, and to look out for Micah. And, he seems to have enough practical grounding to have some idea of just how Rafe should go about building his school out of something more than words. And Joshua has a last name! This fills me with great delight.
Meanwhile, Diana and Esha move from flirting to sex, but not before a discussion that reveals something about their character and confirms what we've seen of Davenant's.
Esha does not want to be in anyone's debt. One might think Diane would sympathize, but she seems to find it more annoying than anything. Perhaps not even annoying, but her attitude seems to be, "But why ever does she insist on avoiding any appearance of debt?"
And that shows a certain lack of self-knowledge here. Diane does not scruple to use every tool in her arsenal, and I doubt she'd want to be in debt herself. But perhaps, I'm underestimating her. She may be coming to terms with the fact that she owes her position to a hint from Griselda Duchess Hartsholt, quiet support from Arlen the Serpent Chancellor, and Esha's extremely convenient gift. Or perhaps she sincerely wants this relationship to be one of equals.
I think Esha understands Diane better than Diane understand her, and she certainly understands Davenant. And she understands that for all Diane is annoyed by his attention, she would be even more annoyed if she did not have it.
What I wonder is whether Esha knew exactly what she was doing when she told Diane that she would never accept the duchess as a client and whether her quick reassurance that she does indeed want Diane as a lover is entirely planned, and not a spontaneous realization at all.
While it's entirely possible that Diane will turn on Esha -- she has a paranoid streak that's disturbing and dangerous -- or that Esha will decide at some point that she's at too much of a disadvantage as the duchess's lover, it's also possible that the two women will continue their alliance and their friendship, as well as their sexual liaisons. I hope so.
Meanwhile, Kaab is trying to set aside both her sword and her grief and anger at Vincent's death. In some ways, this is surprisingly mature; in others, it's a little astonishing. "Imagine her challenging Diane!" I seem to remember she challenged Diane in the first season and won.
I also wonder whether that thought of Kaab's is foreshadowing. Skimming the scene in Season 2 where Kaab tells Tess she wants to bring Florian and Shade to justice, she says that she can't simply kill Florian "or have him shunned or shamed in Riverside", words that resonate more on a second reading, four episodes before the shunning is even conceived of by Tess.
If Kaab is uncertain whether the fool who caused Vincent's death is Diane or herself, Ahchuleb is not at all uncertain that she blames herself and that she should not. He thinks the world of her, and while there is much that he does not know, I am not sure that he is not right where it matters the most.
Then again, she did not return from Riverside by choice, but because Tess told her to go. She did not remain in the City for any other reason than that she missed her ship, and while the reason for this was commendable, it was a reason that involved loyalty to one of the Xanamwiinik, not to her own people. And, while she does indeed seem to have sought justice for her people with an undivided heart, I think this is also because she does not think she has anything left to divide it. She has not thought about Tess that we've seen, and I doubt she's yet thought about what her actions have done and may yet do to Riverside and to the people in Riverside she likes.
What makes someone part of Riverside? Tess thinks that Reza is trying to fuck his way into this status, just as Kaab did, just as Florian did. And, as far as she is concerned, all three have and will continue to fail.
Kaab has never been part of Riverside, even when she lived there. But, this isn't because she couldn't have been. Riverside loved the tale of Tess the Hand and her foreign princess. As Tess said, Kaab never thought of becoming part of Tess's family, never thought of Riverside as Tess's family -- but, in theory, this could have happened.
It's early days yet to tell what Reza's status is, and we don't even know if he wants to be part of Riverside. He does want to understand Riverside and what it was to Vincent, even though, as I've said, I don't think Riverside was his rival. As for Florian, not everyone in Riverside considers him completely an outsider, and I think Florian was as concerned for the place as for his lover while desperately trying to convince himself he cared about neither.
What makes Everly of Riverside? What makes Vincent of Riverside? Or Shade or Tess or Madeleine? And, in some years, what will make Alec of Riverside? Obviously, I need to read "The Duke of Riverside", but from what I remember of that part that Ellen read years ago, it's that he came to Riverside and fit in, however bizaarely, before he started fucking a Riversider, and it's that he maintained his relationship with Riverside after becoming Duke Tremontaine. Riverside took him for its own duke, and he became its advocate, its voice. And, he kept a residence in Riverside.
What makes someone belong to Riverside?
Meanwhile, in a plot twist, we learn Ixsaabim was poisoned. I have mixed feelings about this.
On the one hand, I liked -- I hated it, but I liked -- the plot twist that the apparently untouchable Ixsaabim simply got sick and died. There is sickness in the City. Medicine is not as good as our own medicine. People die, and it's not always part of a plot.
On the other hand, in some ways, Diane's irrational assumption that Kaab was trying to poison her in some way puts the idea of poison on the mantel like a Chekhovian gun.
But who poisoned Ixsaabim? And who wrote the note to Kaab? My first assumption was that both are Kinwiinik, but it is possible that the note writer is not. And, my first two guesses for who that might be are Arlen and Everly, and I lean very heavily toward Arlen.
And yet, why would either of these powerful people, but especially Arlen, be personally spying for Kinwiinik? Or did Arlen cultivate a relationship with Ixsaabim just as he did with Diane in Season 2?
As for poisoning Ixsaabim, that is still more likely to have been one of the Kinwiinik. I hope it's not Ahchuleb or Ixnoom. I don't think it's either. But, there's still a nagging little voice in the back of my head whispering that Ahchuleb might have been breaking the chair on purpose, that he might even have been hoping Kaab would poison herself.
That said, I think my money's on the Chel, at least if the culprit is anyone whose existence we're aware of. Ixsaabim's death comes shortly after Arthur's, and it's possible the Chel blame the Balaam. If it's not the Chel, then I suspect it's someone we've not yet heard of, although the Balaam may well have.