Previously on Marco Polo, ‘The Scholar’s Pen’
Jia Sidao, having just (miraculously) survived two simultaneous attempts upon his life, stands triumphant over the Song Court. He has imprisoned the Dowager Empress claiming that it is for her own protection. It is a lie obviously. He wants to ensure that the she can no longer undermine his power as he prepares Xinjiang’s defenses against the Khan’s army that will soon arrive at their doorstep.
Cousin Kaidu arrives at Kublai’s camp after having successfully taken Wuchen where Jingim failed earlier in the season. I’ve literally lost count of how many times the Crown Prince’s pride has been wounded throughout the course of this show. What difference does another notch on the tally do at this point? Kaidu is reunited with his daughter Khutulun who reveals that Byamba has bested her at wrestling and won her hand in marriage. She reassures her father that the budding romance with Byamba has remained true to the spirit of her mission to infiltrate the Khan’s inner circle. It appears that the rifts within the Mongol clans were not easily mended by Ariq’s defeat earlier this season. Kaidu continues to harbor his own doubts regarding Kublai’s crusade to annex all of China into the Mongol Empire.
Before I continue with the lead-up to the Battle of Xinjiang, which is arguably the meat of this episode, let’s take a moment to visit with the people back in Cambulac.
In the chambers of the Blue Princess, Fake Kokachin’s ex-fiancé enters unannounced and demands that they run off together into the sunset. Yet Kokachin has grown to love her new identity as the Blue Princess and refuses to leave it all behind. Can you blame her? Raving that if he can’t have her then nobody will, he attempts to kill her but is thwarted by Za Bing. Kokachin’s faithful eunuch body guard and perhaps her only friend dies protecting her life. As his murderer attempts to flee the scene,
Kokachin fires an arrow into his heart and avenges Za Bing’s murder.
Empress Chabi consults with a healer regarding Ling Ling’s bound feet. The healer claims that he will have to break all the bones in the girl’s feet in order for the damage to be undone. While this scene illustrates another example of how barbaric Sidao is, Chabi’s charity is not without any ulterior motive. She and Ahmed hope to leverage the girl’s safety to ensure Mei Ling’s continued service to the Khan.
Ahmed himself appears to be developing a fondness for his prisoner. They discuss their painful childhoods where Ahmed reveals that his parents were killed by the Khan when their lands were annexed into the empire and he was raised as a ward in the Mongol court as a result.Though Mei Ling tries to emotionally manipulate her captor, Ahmed reminds her that Ling Ling is now his hostage and that he can hurt her daughter any time.
Now back to the battle preparations outside Xianjiang.
Kublai and Sidao finally meet each other at a parlay before the battle. The dynamic between Benedict Wong and Chin Han was quite entertaining to behold, which brings me back to what I had said earlier about how they appear to be the true focus of the show instead of Marco Polo who simply serves as the audiences’ proxy. At the end of their attempted negotiations, Kublai reveals that his wife is still very much alive and knocks the smug expression off of the Cricket Minister’s face. Having learned of Jing Fei’s treachery, Sidao marches back into.
Xinjiang to fortify the city’s defenses. Jing Fei is summoned to his private chambers where he confronts her with her lies and, beautifully choreographed dance with a sword, takes her own life. Though Sidao is genuinely disappointed over Jing Fei’s betrayal, he resumes his duties to prepare the city for the impending Mongol siege.
Marco’s intel regarding the walled city’s defenses fires up the Khan’s war council and they prepare to strike at the wall’s weakest spot. Despite misgivings from Jingim, Khan trusts Marco and deploys his army to break through the wall’s weak point. Despite their efforts, the perceived weakness in Xinjiang’s wall was actually a trap and Sidao’s men come rushing to attack the Khan’s army and push them back. Realizing that the Venetian’s information was a lie, Khan orders his men to retreat with their tail tucked between their legs. When the slaughter is over, a wounded and battered Marco is presented before the Khan. Accused of treason for leading the Kublai’s army right into a trap, Marco begs for mercy and his fate rests into the hands of The Great Khan.