Previously on Marco Polo, ‘Prisoners’
The stage is set, the weapons are honed and ready as Marco and Kublai lead the Mongol horde to get my take the walled city of Xinjiang and lay waste to the Song Empire and its Cricket Minister once and for all.
“Build me a monster,” Marco says when their trebuchet prototypes fall short of their goal. He needs his team of engineers to construct a trebuchet that hurl boulders from a safe distance away from the archers that will no doubt line the battlements of Xinjiang. They need to be bigger, Marco insists. They need succeed because my life depends on it, is what Marco truly means.
Within the Khan’s inner sanctum, Kublai welcomes the arrival of Kaidu. His cousin pledges his men and their strength to bolster the numbers of this newly formed Mongol horde that marches on Xinjiang once again. The Great Khan accepts Kaidu’s assistance but insists that this army ought to be unified under his sole and undisputed command. Kaidu is reluctant to agree with his cousin attributing the deaths of too many of his warriors, including two sons, to the poor leadership of raids led by commanders from the Mongolians of Cambulac. While Kaidu does not explicitly state it, he’s clearly taking a jab at Jingim whose pride (once again) has once again been insulted in front of the entire court. An argument between the two Mongol leaders immediately follows where Kublai asserts his dominance as the Khan of Khans despite Kaidu’s misgivings. The Great Khan is determined more than ever to take Xinjiang by any means necessary even if it means hurling insults at the nomads of Karakorum (his own kin) and banishing Kaidu from Cambulac thus reducing the strength of his army.
Elsewhere in Cambulac, Empress Chabi has secured a match between Jingim and Fake Kokachin by manipulating the results of the Blue Princess’ virginity test. It’s clear that Chabi wants to secure this betrothal by any means necessary. I’ll spare all of you from the details of the rest of this subplot because it’s clearly one the most uninteresting storyline of the season not only because Fake Kokachin fails to be a compelling character but also because the “romance” between her and Marco is devoid of chemistry. By throwing Chabi into the mix it’s as if the writers agree that this subplot stand on its own without a little help from one of the more fleshed-out and interesting characters in the entire series.
Victory for the Kublai’s army hinges on the success of Marco’s trebuchets. The showrunners have definitely raised the stakes in this finale episode: Kublai’s army marches with half their number and Marco’s trebuchets are an unorthodox and untested method. The siege of Xinjiang lives up to its hype. From shots of flaming boulders flying through the air and breaking through Xinjiang’s impregnable walls to fights on horseback between the Mongol and Song Chinese forces, the producers surely spared no cent on pulling of this visually stunning section of the finale and the effort definitely shows. Xinjiang falls and Kublai is relieved that his gamble to once more place his trust in Marco has paid off.
When the Mongolian army storms the Royal Palace, Hundred Eyes and Marco Polo face the Cricket Minister inside the throne room. Sidao quickly dispatches Marco leaving him out of commission for the rest of the fight. The final duel between Hundred Eyes and Jia Sidao is a both an exciting and beautifully shot scene. The blind monk wins the duel and decapitates Jia Sidao effectively delivering the Song Empire into the hands of Kublai Khan.
The triumphant and celebratory mood of the finale that follows Kublai’s (and essentially Marco’s) victory is cut short by the final scene however. The budding relationship between Ahmed and Mei Lin as evidenced by their private conversations since her capture at the end of “White Moon” finally bears fruit. Mei Lin makes a daring escape from her prison by quickly dispatching her guards. She finds her way into Ahmed’s private quarters where the mural that Ahmed has commissioned since the earlier half of the season is finally complete. It depicts Ahmed sitting on the Khan’s throne with Kublai’s severed head dangling from his hand. Ahmed appears behind Mei Ling and in an exchange that is both cryptic, sinister, and absurd it is suggested that these two are going to be the antagonists in season Two. Let’s hope that nobody ever pays a visit to Ahmed’s private chambers. Let’s hope they get renewed for a second season.
Overall Season Rating: 7/10