When Kublai sets his sights – and his army – on the taking of the walled city of Xiangyang, Marco’s allegiance is tested.
In the wake of episode 7, Worst Person Ever Jia Sidao has trapped the poor Empress Dowager in her room, keeping her and her influence away from her freshly coronated Emperor son, and has taken control of the city. A neighboring farming village named Wuchang has fallen to Kublai’s troops, but apparently it’s all a part of Jia’s master plan. Good lord I cannot wait until this guy is inevitably killed.
Precious Warrior Angel Khutulun (apparently I’m giving multiple word nicknames to all the characters in this recap) greets her father in the camps as Kaidu returns from the siege on Wuchang. She tells him Byamba bested her in a wrestling match and basically asks for his blessing on the relationship… while also hinting that she’s doing a little spy work on the Khan, at her father’s request. And I am now terrified that Kaidu might be the one who arranged the assassination. Not him! For the sake of Khutulun, anyone but him!
Meanwhile Fake Princess Kokachin is in danger, as a crazed Tulga marches into her private rooms, demands she come with him, and pulls a sword on her when she refuses. A muffled Mariah Carey sings “Why You So Obsessed With Me” in the distance. Bodyguard With A Heart of Gold Za Bing protects her, and gets himself stabbed in the back by Tulga, who in turn is shot in the back by Kokachin as he tries to escape the building. YES. YOU GO, KOKACHIN. Sadly, Za Bing does not survive.
Empress Chabi and Ahmad plan to use Ling Ling’s arrival at Cambulac to control Mei Lin. Ahmad tries to bond with Mei Lin. It doesn’t quite work, but we do get Ahmad revealing that he was brought to Kublai’s service after the Khan conquered his people and killed his parents, and Mei Lin telling him more about her relationship with her brother.
Irrelevant White Boy Marco Polo has been invited to the inner circle of War Plan Making, which naturally gets Jingim’s hackles up – even more so when Kublai chooses Marco’s plan to attack Xiangyang right away over Jingim’s more cautious plan. Kublai also sends Yusuf to parley with Jia one last time, to show everyone what a great and diplomatic leader he is before he goes and slaughters half the city. Jia agrees to meet with Kublai, though not before getting some nasty insults in about Kublai’s choice of messenger. It’s okay, Yusuf, I don’t think you’re ugly.
Back at the camp, Jingim walks in on Khutulun and Byamba about to have sex. When Khutulun leaves, Jingim offers congratulations to Byamba on his pending engagement. Byamba says he wants to prove himself to Khutulun’s father “in the shadow of the wall,” to which my reaction is NO NO NO NO NO because I’ve seen enough television to know that when someone makes a statement like that, 9 times out of 10 that someone is going to die “in the shadow of the wall.” My Byamba/Khutulun shipping heart can’t take it. The conversation continues when Jingim tells Byamba his suspicions about Marco, and Byamba remains steadfastly loyal and defends all of Jingim’s claims about Marco.
The long awaited meeting between Kublai and Jia Sidao goes down in the parley tent, and it’s as fantastic a verbal showdown as I figured it would be. When they don’t come to an agreement, Kublai reveals to Jia that his wife, Empress Chabi, is alive and well – unknowingly signing Jing Fei’s death warrant. The scene where Jia wipes the makeup off Jing Fei’s face as her expression slowly breaks, and she dances for him knowing that she’s going to die, is haunting. Man, when Marco Polo manages to do a scene right, it really does it right. Too bad these moments are few and far between; the last time I felt this enraptured was way back in episode two, when Kublai and his brother Ariq dueled to the death.
Marco himself hasn’t been in much of this episode, but in some of the few scenes he does have, he’s seen bonding with one of Kublai’s Chinese prisoners of war. It’s a transparent set-up for Kublai to have the prisoners executed in a grisly scene later on, and for Marco to feel saddened, disgusted, and betrayed by a man who claimed to be (and whom that poor prisoner thought to be) better than that. Add to that Byamba’s sudden one-eighty – in which he tells Marco that maybe he doesn’t belong here after all, and he should go home to Italy – and Marco is racing off to pack his bags and skedaddle.
Naturally, Kokachin is waiting for him in his tent when he gets there, teary eyed over Za Bing’s death. They kiss, and she confesses the truth of her identity to Marco, who nobly states he will protect her anyway. And then they have sex. Good for them. They have absolutely zero chemistry and next to no buildup which makes for an uncompelling “epic” love story that will probably end up screwing all of my favorites over, but sure, good for them.
The next day is the assault on the Walled City. Marco hasn’t run after all, and he chooses fighting alongside the Mongols over staying at a safe vantage point with Kublai. Jingim narrates what happened in the battle: the “weak spot” Marco had reported was actually a trap for the Mongols. Jia Sidao trapped them in a dead end, and his army decimated Kublai’s forces. Kublai has no choice but to retreat.
Marco’s gonna have a lot of shit to answer for next episode. Definitely should’ve run when he had the chance.
Jia Sidao: I feel as if I may have sprained my wrist. That’s what your champion took out of me. The blind man was more agile, truth be told. Interesting choice for an assassin. I would have selected someone with… eyes. [Jia you smug, petty little fucker. He’s got high levels of sass in this episode]
Marco: Do I look blond to you?
Ahmad: Your brother made you into a whore for his ambition. Does that bother you?
Mei Lin: I made myself a whore. And I used him long before he learned to use me.
Mei Lin: How do you serve the monster who slew your brethren and call him father?
Chabi: But there is no good in anything until it is finished.
Jingim: He has brought us nothing but ruin. You can see it. You can all see it! … He is not one of us, brother. He is the rot within our bones.