[This is a review of the Marco Polo season 2 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
If there is one theme that can be taken away from the second season of Marco Polo, it is simply that the cost of keeping or gaining more power will end up costing you more than you’re willing to bargain with. The great Kublai Khan may have ended up losing everything as a mysterious new foe crosses into the realm of the Mongol Empire.
Throughout this season, many of the leaders in this empire have been focused on trying to do what is right and honorable, while also having to make tough decisions for the betterment of their families. Kublai goes as far to inform his wife (Empress Chabi) that she doesn’t have the stomach to make hard choices, which we soon learn is a false statement – when she forces a stable-boy to rape Princess Kokachin. While Kublai and his wife make peace in the end, the cost is too great.
The results of the Empress’ plans to secure her family’s rule for the next several generations comes at cost of poor Kokachin’s sanity, who decides that killing herself is more preferable to living a life full of guilt. Some people just aren’t cut out for this ruthless game of power and conquest. How Marco and Prince Jingim will deal with the news of her death will be interesting to see if we are given a third season. Zhu Zhu’s portrayal of the false princess was a joy to watch as she stepped up her acting game this season with her slow descent into madness.
Another familiar theme this season was family, especially when speaking of Kublai’s bastard son Ahmed. Mahesh Jadu gave a riveting performance, even if his story ended too soon. In episode 5, titled ‘Lullaby’, we learn the shocking truth about Ahmed’s past. As a young tax collector, he seemed happy and content with understanding the people of Kublai’s realm until one horrific event at a local brothel changed his life forever. Having believed his mother died at the hands of the Khan’s men when he was a boy, Ahmed never thought for a second that she would be working as a prostitute, who he would then have sex with. Both the act and his reaction after the fact was hard to watch, but one can understand his desire for revenge on the man responsible.
The issue with this scenario is not Ahmed’s reasons for his betrayal, but the fact that they were never fully realized. Now, Ahmed had no chance of winning, but the season lacked that moment when Ahmed could have told Kublai why he was so angry. Perhaps it’s overused, but there needed to be that moment when Ahmed and Kublai stood face-to-face. The Khan could then realize why one of his beloved sons could hate him so. For plot purposes, Kublai needed to be at the Kurultai, but a villainous monologue between the two would have been nice before Ahmed’s death. Either way, Mahesh Jadu, like Zhu Zhu, will be missed.
Marco, Jingim and Byamba all stayed true to the Khan in the end, even though Marco let his father live after the battle against the crusaders. It was a bold move, even after Empress Chabi gave him permission to return to Italy. Byamba may be this reviewer’s favorite son of the Khan. His relationship with Khutulun was one of the more dynamic partnerships of the series, as the warrior had to decide if he could ever be husband to a female Khan. Khutulun saw a way to save her family and possibly retain power, but she also proved her wisdom in seeing that all this betrayal and backstabbing will eventually be the undoing of the Mongol Empire.
Even 100 Eyes had a nice arc this season, as he is reunited with his long lost love, Lotus. It was a pleasure to see Michelle Yeoh on the small screen, and her fights with 100 Eyes were some of the best choreographed sequences this season. In the end, she is now watching over Mei Lin’s daughter – but with 100 Eyes in pursuit, this surely won’t be the last time we see them together.
Looking ahead to what we all hope is a third season, this new enemy, this Prester John should make for an enticing story going forward. History tells us that Prester John is more a of legend than an actual person, but there are accounts of him all over Asia. Some claim he could be found in India, Ehtiopia and even Central Asia where he had a vast kingdom.
His story has led treasure hunters and adventurers alike to discover the riches of his supposed kingdom. If the legends are true, Prester John will be a worthy foe for Kublai. Hopefully we will be able to see this great man become a reality before our eyes when Marco Polo is given a much deserved third outing. What did you think of this exciting second season?
Marco Polo may come back for a third season in 2017.