[This is a review of the season 2 premiere of Marco Polo. There will be SPOILERS.]
If we've learned anything over the past few weeks in the world of television epics, it's that being a ruler is no easy task. Whether you're a proclaimed ruler of the North in Game of Thrones, or the great Kublai Khan in Netflix's most ambitious series Marco Polo, wearing the crown on the small screen is heavier than it's ever been before.
When season 2 of Marco Polo begins, we find ourselves in a post-conquered South China, with Marco (Lorenzo Richelmy) and the deadly beauty Mei Lin (Olivia Cheng) on the hunt for the young emperor (Max Kellady). Kublai assumes that his new subjects will fall in line without hesitation, but Marco quickly learns that the people of South China are not so easily swayed.
If there is a villain this season, then it appears that Ahmad (Mahesh Jadu) will take up that mantel, as his plot to overthrow Kublai and his empire has not diminished. Hopefully we will get more insight into what moves him to do what he does as the season progresses. His painting of himself seated on the throne while holding the decapitated head of Kublain states his intentions well enough; however, in a world of men who hunt down little children, can Ahmad really be called a villain?
Well, if he's trying to kill the best character on the show then yes, he is most definitely a villain. Both Jadu and Wong are terrific in their roles. Portraying one the greatest rulers in known history is difficult enough, but to emote the kind of range that Wong does is a masterful performance. He can be cruel, vile, lovable and caring all in a matter of seconds. The veteran English-born actor has created one of the better television characters in recent memory and it's a shame that he's not getting recognized for it. Perhaps his performance in season 2 will earn him an Emmy nomination? Only time will tell.
The rest of the supporting cast is as strong as ever, especially the women. Joan Chen (Judge Dredd) is a force to be reckoned with with her portrayal of Empress Chabi. Last season we learned that she can shoot an arrow better than Oliver Queen and her devotion to her husband (for better or worse) is uncanny. She is a warrior both mentally and physically. Chen and Wong's destructive chemistry is a joy to behold whenever they share screen time.
Mei Lin, played by the lovely Olivia Cheng, is the wildcard this season. While out on her bounty hunt with Marco, we discover her great understanding of her own people, as she describes to Marco why the villagers would rather drown themselves than submit to Kublai. We already know that she's a great fighter, but it's always fun watching her swing her sword in effortless fashion.
There's also the question of where exactly do Mei Lin's loyalties lie? We know there is a weird kind of relationship she shares with Ahmad, but she also seems fond of Marco too. Then there's her daughter, who she wants to be with more than anything. She is the carrot that is forcing Mei Lin to remain loyal to the Khan dynasty, but how long will it last?
Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) makes a spectacular debut, with a well choreographed fight scene between Marco, Mei Lin and the rest of their entourage. She is simply referred to as Lotus, and while we assume there is a connection between her and Hundred Eyes, there is definitely still more to be discovered about her in future episodes.
Marco Polo season 2 has several moving parts to its plot, but the team of writers and directors prove once again that they can handle a show of this scale. However, you may've noticed that there's been no discussion of Marco during this review - and the reason for that is that he remains one of the series' weaker characters. This isn't meant to jab at Richelmy (who seems like a perfectly capable actor), but to say the supporting cast, along with Kublai himself, are just more interesting. Marco is more of a reactionary character, which probably has to do with him being a foreigner and observer. While everyone is trying to find their place in this world ruled by Kublai, Marco seems to just go along with the flow as it were. Again, this may change as the season progresses, but as of now, Polo is the least interesting character of the group. Hopefully this reviewer will be proven wrong.
There are still many other stories to explore in a future review, like how will the young prince's marriage to Kokachin turn out and who will Byamba stand with when Kaidu challenges Kublai? With such a wealth of stories and characters to explore this season, what are you most excited to see?
Marco Polo season 2 is currently available in its entirety on Netflix. Check out a behind the scenes look below: