Marco begins a dangerous relationship with the beautiful Blue Princess as tensions grow between Kublai and Xiangyang’s cunning chancellor Jia Sidao.
In lieu of actually watching the show, I’ve been looking at other reviews for Marco Polo. Critics have been skewering this; it’s currently at 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, described as “boring,” “boring,” “dull,” and “binge-proof,” the latter being the worst insult possible for a Netflix show. There are so many swimming pool game references I’ve made my own drinking game out of it.
Oddly enough I remain, for the most part, ambivalent. Don’t get me wrong, this show still kinda sucks, I’m still bored by anything that isn’t Benedict Wong, and all the issues I had with the first episode persist through the second one, but somehow I can’t bring myself to call this Terrible With A Capital T. Perhaps it’s the compelling brother vs. brother battle in the last episode. More than likely it’s me subconsciously comparing it to Hemlock Grove (which I’ve complained about profusely) and shuddering that at least Roman Godfrey isn’t angsting on my screen anymore.
“Feast” more or less starts with another one of Marco’s training sessions while Hundred Eyes says vaguely meaningful things in the background. I had a running bet with myself on how long this show would take before it whipped out the “crane” and “tiger” and “dragon” stuff. I thought they’d do it in the second episode if not right away, but here it is in episode three, so I guess I underestimated Marco Polo‘s restraint. Sorry, Marco Polo!
Over in Xiangyang, Jia Sidao is basking in the power he’s gained after the Emperor died. Remembering what his sister said about his soldiers making fun of his cricket obsession, he resolves to show them all what’s what by defeating the greatest warrior among them with the patience he learned from poking at bugs with sticks. Surprise badass! I don’t like him, but I kinda like him, if ya know what I mean. Still, it was kinda dumb of him to go and kill their best warrior, right before a war breaks out, just to prove a point.
Kublai Khan’s brother might be dead, but the war effort goes on – Kublai assigns his brother’s lands, people, and armies to his cousin Kaidu, and in return Kaidu adds his own army to Kublai’s forces. That makes three armies marching on the Walled City. Kaidu also invites Kublai to a feast, which, considering Ariq’s recent betrayal and the fact that that’s the title of the episode, makes me a little suspicious of Kaidu. A “gift” from Jia Sidao arrives: the heads of Kublai’s soldiers that were taken prisoner at Wuchang. A bit of an overused intimidation tactic, but it gets the job done.
Mei Lin arrives at the city along with a group of other women, and is made to compete for a position as a Royal Concubine in Kublai’s Hall of Five Desires. Is anyone going to explain to me what the five desires are? Did I miss it in a previous episode while I was snoring?
Ahmad, Kublai’s Minister of Finance, and Empress Chabi calmly discuss what to do with Jia Sidao while potential concubines writhe and moan nearby (they’re judging which women are fit to join Kublai’s harem) and as luck would have it, Mei Lin happens to be one of the ones writhing and moaning and she overhears everything. However, she ends up not being chosen for the harem, and in her desperation she goes to bed the Khan anyway, despite Empress Chabi turning her away.
Marco stalks the Blue Princess, Kokachin, to the tree where they met once before and observes her taking off her necklace and tying a ribbon on a branch to mark it. Shortly after she leaves a hooded individual recovers the necklace, unties the ribbon, and runs off. Marco follows, but is unable to stop the man before he sells the necklace and escapes. Later on we discover that the man isn’t a thief after all – he’s named Tulga, Kokachin has a past with him, and she’s been leaving him jewels in order to keep him silent on some sordid secret.
When Marco arrives at the feast, he sees that Kublai has elected not to go to the feast after all and has sent Prince Jingim in his stead. Kaidu’s not too happy about that. (We get a scene of Empress Chabi massaging Kublai’s feet to relieve the gout that prevented him from partying it up, and giving him excellent advice on what to do with the Walled City. I like her. I am now watching this show only for Joan Chen and Benedict Wong.) Marco’s attention is caught by a woman named Khutulun, who happens to be Kaidu’s warrior daughter and, I’m assuming, equally as unattainable as Kokachin. I’m sensing this is a theme with Marco, wanting people and things he can’t have – like his father’s love. I really don’t care. What I do care about is how adorable and spirited and clever Khutulun is. The banter between her and Marco almost makes me like him.
Later on at the feast, Kaidu continues to bait Jingim, insulting his worth as a warrior, and speculating that the battle at Wuchang might have been won if a better man had been in charge. Marco leaps to Jingim’s defense by volunteering to wrestle.
Jingim returns home shamed by having to attend a feast alone with his bastard brother and a foreigner. He blames his father for raising him Chinese instead of Mongolian, believing that to be the reason people like Kaidu mock him. Kublai gives him a fatherly pep talk: “then act Mongol or I will kill you.” I take it back, this is not a happy father/son relationship at ALL.
Afterward, Kublai asks Marco how his people treated Jingim at the feast. When Marco says Jingim was treated with respect, Kublai punishes him by killing a nearby servant – both to silence the servant from gossiping about Kublai being lied to, and to make sure Marco never lies again. The episode ends with Marco retuning to Kokachin’s tree and looking in the package she hid there. A snake slithers out to bite him.
Kublai: I loved him as a brother, but I killed him as a traitor.
Chabi: I will not choose my husband’s concubines based upon Shria’s judgment. I’ve seen her faint when a puppy licked her face.
Ahmad: Well, that’s no puppy.
Kublai: You counseled me to kill my brother.
Chabi: I did. And I did it well.
Hundred Eyes: It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.
Kublai: You’re a drunken fool.