After eighteen months of waiting (give or take), Marco Polo has returned. It’s made several alterations from season one. One of the most important being, Marco taking a back seat. Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy) is a strong character but is constantly overshadowed by the high quality cast, that doesn’t make his character any less intriguing. In the second season, there’s been a paradigm shift from Polo to the drama and scandal at the court of the Khan Of Khans, Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong). It should be common knowledge by now that the Khan puts a great deal of responsibility on Marco, this outlander. A foreigner is in the favour of the Khan and this irks a lot of people, including his true-born son in the last season. But in this season, Marco and Prince Jingim (Remy Hii) seem to be very chummy.
Kublai has surrounded himself with allies, acquaintances, followers, sons and even outlanders or even foreigners. He’s stacking them up like poker chips and is collecting them like trophies. Is this show really called Marco Polo? Judging by this season, it should be called Khan or simply Kublai as it centres around him and his family more than the famed explorer Marco Polo. Marco is more of a side character this time around. He’s been demoted but I’m not in any way, shape or form saying that he’s not important because he is. We are still witness to his constantly changing relationship with the Khan as well as his weird attachment to Kokachin and the destructive relationship with his father, Niccolò Polo (Pierfrancesco Favino).
Kublai Khan (Wong) drives the season this year with a mighty force. Benedict Wong is a formidable actor and was born to this role. The Khan is full of paranoia and doubt. He doesn’t know who to trust. Everyone seems to have ulterior motives and he feels his empire is crumbling from within his own ranks. Is he wrong? No he’s not. His cousin Kaidu (Rick Yune) challenges Kublai for the khanship through an official vote named the Kurultai and thus he finds himself betrayed by his own son Ahmad (Mahesh Jadu), a bastard no less. In these types of shows it’s always those who are born at a disadvantage who believe they have something to prove. So, it’s either women or illegitimate children. Children who can’t inherit lands or titles when there’s true-born heirs in the way and women who are supposed to look pretty and smile.
One of the great things about season two is that we can watch Marco Polo without events being constantly judged through his perceptions. We not subjected to that bias. For example, we see more of Prince Jingim (Hii), Byamba (Uli Latukefu), and the lovely Khutulun (Claudia Kim). Khutulun remains as one of my favourite characters. We get different perspectives of situations from various characters and we aren’t subjected to Polo’s annoying moral judgements. We also see more of Rick Yune as Kaidu. He challenges Kublai’s leadership and forms a backbone somewhat, well until he starts getting manipulated by his snake of a mother (Jaqueline Chan) who influences him and hence his soul turns black and morals crumble into dust. His honour is beyond repair.
Kublai’s pragmatic wife puts all her energy into acquiring an heir for the house of Khan. She does this by any means necessary, again souls blackening and so on. I won’t spoil that arc since it’s one of the most interesting as it compromises the truthfulness of this great house. Furthermore, this season introduces flashback scenes and there’s one with the infamous Genghis Khan choosing Kaidu over Kublai. Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is a force to be reckoned with. She’s a marvel. She plays Lotus, a loyal yet badass lackey of the Song Dynasty and is part of the blind history of Hundred Eyes (Tom Wu). Yeoh takes on everyone, and watching it is cinematic genius as the fight choreography is groundbreaking; many thanks to Brett Chan and his team who put so much effort into the stunts of this series and I’m psyched that he’s working on Marvel’s Iron Fist.
Another newbie is Nayan (Ron Yuan). He’s Kublai’s Christian uncle who has as many Christian morals and ethics as Pope Rodrigo Borgia. And for those of you who don’t know who that is, let’s just say that Borgia used the power of the popedom like a mobster, waging war on those who challenged him. While he was Pope, Christianity in Rome was basically the mafia and he was Don Vito Corleone. Nayan’s religious story arc may feature into next season as religion is basically politics’ righthand. Politics leads and the law follows with religion telling politics to give the law a bone to gnaw on. Nayan joins the bastard of Khan’s band of merry men as the Vice Regent attempts a coup to take all power away from Kublai Khan. Ahmad is a bastard in more ways than one and we see his motivations in wanting to seize all power for himself.
I believe season one flowed better from episode-to-episode, as season two was more of a slow-burn. That being said, I enjoyed season two more. Marco Polo retains the quality that season one provided and I think season three will only improve upon that.
Netflix are on a roll with their masterclass television series. The second season of Marco Polo was worth the eighteen month wait. I enjoyed the fact that we relied less on Marco as a narrator and he was more of a spectator this season. Like last season, everything was on top form; from fight choreography, to production design, to hair and makeup to acting performances to the musical score and direction.
Netflix, with Marco Polo, have given the martial arts genre an upgrade that even the Ip Man would approve of