Previously on Marco Polo, ‘Feast’
*Spoiler Alert: do not read this review if you haven’t seen S1E4 of Marco Poło.
Marco and Kokachin finally consummate their relationship.
Apparently lethal snake bites induce fevered dreams of the delightfully sexual nature. Remember what I said last week about Marco grasping my attention by taking his shirt off? That definitely happens at the beginning of this episode. When he finally regains consciousness he’s being attended to by Hundred Eyes while Prince Jingim barges in hurling threats at the European, inquiring about his health as per his father’s instructions.
Marco’s deadbeat dad and equally uncharming uncle return this episode by the way. And therein lies the main theme of this episode: the relationship between fathers and sons.
On one hand we have Jingim with his low self-esteem borne out of his crippling Daddy Issues and on the other hand we have Marco and his strained, arguably non-existent relationship with his father.
Do you blame either of these guys, though? Jingim has to live up to the daunting legacy of his father, you know… the Great Khan who’s consolidated his grandfather Genghis Khan’ empire and now plans to unify all of China under one flag. No pressure, right?
Unfortunately Jingim does fail to rise to the occassion despite being prodded on my his mother and the Finance Minister to represent the Mongol court at a parley with the Song Dynasty. It doesn’t help matters for Jingim, who’s dying to impress his father and erase the taint of his catastrophic loss at Wu Chen, that Mei Lin is doing a great job of spying on the Great Khan’s court on behalf of her brother. When Jingim does show up at the meeting he is not even met by Jia Sidao but by some sniveling tertiary minister of the monstrous bureaucracy that characterized much of Medieval China. Whatever meager terms the two agree upon is nullified by the fact that Sidao has the Chinese delegation murdered on their way home from the negotiations.
Jingim can’t seem to catch a break this entire episode. His father’s fascination with keeping a token Caucasian at court drives the Mongol Crown Prince mad with envy. And when given the oppurtunity to rise to the occassion as the son and heir of the Great Khan, Jingim fails to represent his father’s interests.
Then there’s Marco Polo who’s grown up never truly knowing his father until three years earlier. When he does make an effort to get to know his dad by joining him on a perilous road trip, the guy barters his own son in exchange for safe passage back from Kublai Khan’s court. His own son!
When Daddy Poło does return in this episode with an ostrich in tow he doesn’t even inquire about the welfare of his son. As a matter of fact, it’s Kublai who summons Marco to court to be reunited with his father.
On a brief side note, it’s actually magnanimous gestures from Kublai such as these that prickle Jingim’s pride and drive him to become even more envious of “the Latin.”
It does come as a surprise then, later this episode, that Marco actually goes out of his way to plead for his father’s and uncle’s lives when they’re caught smuggling silk worms out of the capital. Why does Marco do this? Nicolo has been such a horrible father to him all his life. Is it out of some skewed sense of loyalty that’s probably part of his European Christian upbringing?
Just like Marco’s subplot with Kokachin in this episode I can’t help but feel that the writers are scrambling to make him a more compelling character for the viewers. They want to make us feel that the stakes have been raised by having Kublai leave their fate in Marco’s hands but the execution of this plot just fails to arrest my attention. Like I said in a previous review, it’s perfectly fine to have a boring protagonist if his main purpose is to be a stand-in for the audience. Kublai Khan and Jia Sidao are arguably the true frontrunners of this show truth be told. Their respective storylines are far more intriguing and provide a delightful contrast between the two opposing Imperial courts.