Previously on Marco Polo, ‘Fourth Step’
This episode begins with a bang at least given the action-packed contents of the cold open. A botched assassination attempt on the Khan’s life leaves the entire court in disarray as his life hangs in the balance.
Kublai’s inner circle is divided over what they should do moving forward. For the first time since the story arc involving Ariq’s betrayal, there’s a feeling of urgency and uncertainty regarding the fates of our protagonists. Jingim takes command and the rest of the court does not feel confident about having him in charge. Ahmed calls for violent reprisal against Jia Sidao who appears to be the obvious guilty party. Hundred Eyes on the other hand calls for a more careful response. Jingim is torn on how to act despite being eager to please his father and prove himself worthy of being the heir. He sends Marco and his half-brother Byamba on a mission to find the Hashshashin and their mentor the elusive Old Man in the Mountain. He also tasks Ahmed with interrogating the only surviving Hashshashin as who sent them.
Meanwhile in Xianjiang Jia Sidao reveals the corpses of the Chinese delegation to the entire court. Like Ahmed he too calls for a violent response to this treachery. Interestingly enough, he orchestrated this whole event by having these people murdered himself if you guys recall the previous episode. The Empress Dowager is clearly displeased by this turn of events but cannot help but acquiesce to the Song Court’s cries for war.
Mei Lin, confused by the lack of any warning from her brother, sends a message to Xianjiang seeking answers about her side’s involvement in the botched attempt at the Khan’s life. This is the first sign that circumstances aren’t as they appear to be and Hundred Eyes was wise to counsel caution.
Marco’s mission in this episode is simple enough: pose as a merchant and travel to a town where Hashshshin are rumored to live in. By seeking the answer behind who hired these assassins he hopes to ingratiate himself with Kublai thus saving his father and uncle from a possibly cruel fate. This seemingly perilous quest provides the audience with a delightful character moment between Marco and Byamba who discuss each other’s lives and compare notes regarding their opinions of their fathers.
Their mission together is perhaps one of the more well-directed and executed plots in the show so far.
Well, except for that awkward acid trip scene that feels like something David Lynch left on the cutting room floor of “Twin Peaks.” I know that the showrunners wanted to recreate the jarring and discombobulating effects of an opium high but why did they have to execute it in a way we’ve seen many times before? I really wanted to let this one slide but it just felt so cheap and contrived. Nevertheless, Marco and Byamba soon come face-to-face with the Old Man in the Mountain and his shocking revelation that his Hashshashins were hired by someone within the Mongol court.
Back in Cambulac Kublai finally awakens from his poison-induced coma. He commends Jingim in not rushing into war and the poor boy FINALLY gets the fatherly love he’s been craving for. Marco and Byamba return from their mission and report directly to the Kublai. He instructs them to continue their investigation to uncover the traitor within their midst but also orders them tell nobody else, not even Jingim (Oh boy, someone’s going to feel left out!). Kublai thanks Marco for his efforts. Although Marco seizes this opportunity to ask for a complete pardon of his father and uncle’s crimes, Kublai “rewards” him by allowing him to pass the sentence upon his own father and uncle. The episode ends with Niccolo and Maffeo being held down by shackles and being branded with the mark given to convicted thieves by none other than Marco himself. As the two men leave Cambulac in shame, Marco and his father exchange one last lingering look before Marco rejoins Kublai’s side. This is where he belongs and the bond with these foreigners who’ve taken him in and treated him with more respect than his own father is now stronger than ever.