Sunday, July 10, 2016

Marco Polo: Season 2

Marco Polo is a fictional series on Netflix that gives its own spin to the time the "Latin" Explorer Marco Polo spent in the courts of Kublai Khan.

Below I'll be discussing some of the finer and lower points of the series and there will be plenty of spoilers so if you're the type of person whose enjoyment of a series, episode, life itself, is ruined by spoilers, turn away now! You shall not pass.

For everyone else, read on.

Marco Polo's first season, finished off with Kublai Khan in a great victory, in the defeating of the Southern China faction. In the dreaded real world, it was the Mongols who actually managed to unite China which had been divided for hundreds of years prior to their take over.

So what remains to be done?

In many ways, the second season of Marco Polo does smaller character work. Oh, there are still external threats but for the most part, the threats are brought on by internal strife. Some of these are well done and well rounded by others seem painfully obvious.

Above all though, the show engages the viewer through the characters. While the scenery and the costumes and the mix of high action and sex do help the sell, if the characters were not worth watching, the whole thing becomes an exercise in futility.

One of the things I enjoyed about a different cable series, Spartacus, was the character interactions. If you could draw out a flow chart of how the characters reacted to each other, you can almost instantly generate stories just by pulling on those connections.

Marco Polo, is much the same.

Kublai Khan: It all starts with the Khan of Khans. He's the centerpoint of the series in many ways. Don't let the view point of the series being named after Marco Polo divert you from who has the power in the series.

The actions of Kublai, reflect out from the center, creating ripples around the world. Sometimes these are not actions that would make a man proud.

For example, at the behest of his adopted son Ahmed, he kills the Southern Chinese Prince. This results in an uprising. He does this with no pleasure. He does this with no illusion as to what he is doing.

But he does it nonetheless.

His adopted son is known to have taken a concubine, Mei Lin. The Khan, to put it mildly, does not like her and ill uses her. The punishment to Mei Lin however, reflects poorly on Ahmed who is powerless before his Khan's actions and acknowledges that when the Khan makes mention of his deeds.

And there is the continued interaction with Marco himself. Despite Marco saving the Khan's life directly and uncovering vast conspiracies against the Khan, when delicate information makes its way to the Khan the the Khan knows Marco also shares? Well, the Khan decides perhaps (again) it's time that "the latin" and his usefulness have ended.

The Khan is a complex character and serving in his court is both boon and bane. His actions shake the land.

Chabi: The wife of Kublai Khan. While she does not wield a sword, she is capable of committing acts that others would consider monstrous. She is capable of making "the hard decisions."

Prince Jingim: The flesh and blood son of the great Khan. Due to the growing influence of China on the lifestyle and culture of the Mongols who live closer to China than Mongolia, Prince Jingim is often called "The Chinese Prince" and it's not a honorific meant to flatter. Rather, it's an insult. Jingim yields little apparent power and is almost too bland or normal. He loves his wife, he pays homage to his father. Initially in the first season, jealous of the attention his father lavished on Marco, he grows to treat Marco as a brother. His only flaw is that he's so honest he can't see the world about him in the negative and the webs that Chabi weaves around him in terms of politics, are not ones he would want himself.

Despite that though, he hints that he knows exactly what's going on when his fourth wife, the Blue Princess, becomes pregnant at just the right time. At a time when the legitimacy of the Khan is in question, the matter of heir becomes vital...

Kokachin, the Blue Princess: An imposter who lacks any power in the true sense of the word. She knows she is in a bad situation but even so, with a forced marriage to the son of the Khan, she strives to make peace with it. She strives to be a good wife.

It is not enough. One of the threads of the series is "the hard choice". Chabi decides that Kokachin will get pregnant and uses a man outside her husband to achieve this. Forced rape and carry of a child and it weights on Chabi.

It weighs more on Kokachin. There is a point in the series where it looks like the actual Blue Princess returns. Where this Blue Princess wants her life back.

But there is no real Blue Princess! It a hallucination and that the stress of rape, carrying an imposter's child, knowing that it's an imposter's child, and the potential consequences to come from that? Too much for her mind to handle.

And in looking at the links between characters, Chabi knows what must happen to keep the Blue Princess quite about the father. She also knows that Prince Jingim must never "officially" know no matter what he hints about.

Hundred Eyes: The mentor for all in the Khan's army in martial arts. He works for the Khan because Kublai put it bluntly. "Do my bidding or I'll destroy all of your art, history, and proof that your people ever existed." He falls into line and at some point even acknowledges the inevitability of serving the Khan because of the corruption of the old Chinese Emperor. He makes a reacquaintance in this second seasons and if you enjoy the old "Samurai Sundays" that included various Chinese Martial Art films, there are some great fight sequences that come out of these meetings.

Byamba: Bastard son of the Khan. He is married to a rival clan. He suffers quite a bit. He is much like Prince Jingim in that he's a relatively simple character to understand. He lives to live. He does not seek status or social improvement. He fights for his father because to him, it is the right thing to do.

Marco Polo: And the title character himself, Marco Polo. He seems to have a gift for stating the obvious and that may only be because he is the view point character and seeing things through his eyes gives us the advantage of sometimes seeing things as he sees them. For example, seeing that Ahmed is deliberately making bad decisions? That Ahmed is quickly reacting and threatening when those decisions are called out?

Macro is in a bit of a unique position. His training from the monk Hundred Eyes puts him well above a standard soldier, but he's not trained enough when facing individuals like Lotus, a former lover of Hundred Eyes who makes her introduction this seasons.

Marco is also in a bit of a dangerous position as when his father makes his way with an enemy army sent by the Pope, Marco goes out of his way to insure that his father survives the encounter. A fact that does not go unnoticed by the great Khan who adds it to the list of reasons to kill Marco.

If you enjoy shows like Vikings and have a Netflix account, Marco Polo is worth a watch. If you want to check it out on DVD, season 1 is available from retailers like Amazon for $19.96 right now.

Any fans of the series? Any favorite characters? Hopes for season 3?