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‘Marco Polo’ Recap: Season 1, Episode 2, “The Wolf And The Deer”

Marco Polo is Netflix‘s new sprawling historical adventure series. Click here for all of Decider’s coverage and here for a handy guide to who’s who in Marco Polo’s world.

When we last saw Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy), he was trying to make his way through Kublai Khan’s (Benedict Wong) pleasure dome without touching one of his seductive concubines. Now, he’s practicing calligraphy and hoarding food in secret. So, I guess he didn’t get any nookie.

Prince Jingim (Remy Hii)returns to court shamed. He lost his battle, and he needs his mother, Empress Chabi (Joan Chen), to defend him against the anger of his father. However, the big question is why didn’t Kublai Khan’s brother arrive with reinforcements? Dun-dun-duuun!

Marco Polo is following a tax collector around the city and like a good, eager intern, he is lugging stuff and absorbing wisdom. He learns that the tax collector lets people pay him in linens if they don’t have coins, and he meets the tax collector’s group of cute, but annoying, kids. The little ones climb all over him and the pretty teen daughter quietly sketches Marco’s exotic face. You get flashbacks to when Indiana Jones hung out with Salla’s kids in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s cute.

Marco notices a piece of paper on a shrine in the house, which he’s told are “words of love” for the tax collector’s wife. And then, Marco presses his new boss about traveling the Silk Road. He acts all interested in finances, but you can tell he’s trying to figure out an escape route. So, the tax collector is all like, “Hold up, intern. That’s not your job. Shut up. Stay in the city and stay safe.”

Within the Walled City, Mei Lin (Olivia Cheng) tries to explain to her daughter, Ling Ling, that her father, the emperor is dying. She uses a really beautiful metaphor about Noble Tiger growing tired and old, and falling asleep, and dreaming that he became young again forever.  Jia Sidao (Chin Han), Mei Lin’s brother, interlopes on the scene and the two politely argue about whether or not the Emperor’s death is a blessing for the monarch (who now won’t witness his dynasty falling to the Mongols) or if it’s one for Jia Sidao.

We return to Marco. He is riding out of the city, presumably to try to escape. However, he spies his crush, Kokachin (Zhu Zhu), hiding something under a tree and he just has to talk to her. He finds out that she is “The Blue Princess,” and she is not here for his shit. Marco points out that they are both prisoners of the court, but she explains that while he is a pet, she is a princess. They flirt and they race on horseback back to the city. Her bodyguard is not happy. Kublai Khan isn’t happy either.

Marco is sent to accompany Prince Jingim on a trip to visit Kublai Khan’s brother, Ariq. The Khan wants Marco to report back what he sees. I’m guessing it has to be in pretty, flowing language, too. Ariq talks up Prince Jingim and so the prince totally buys his uncle’s lame excuse for why he was abandoned in battle. However, while this is going on, Marco explores the camp. He looks at the horses and the grain supplies. He looks like a dumb tourist, but there’s a method to his madness.

When they return, Prince Jingim announces that his uncle is ready to join them in battle against the Chinese. Marco counters they don’t have the grain supply for that kind of campaign. He suggests that Ariq’s army is preparing to take on Kublai Khan’s forces. The Khan dispatches a rider to confirm these reports and Jingim threatens Marco.

So, Marco grabs his food stash and prepares to leave. Of course, that doesn’t work out because Hundred Eyes (Tom Wu) appears and explains that he’s a dumdum. He convinces Marco to stay and to learn how to be a badass fighter.  And lo, we get another training montage. And another threat from Prince Jingim. Why? Because Marco was right and Jimgim was wrong.

Kublai Khan is all torn up because on the one hand, his brother is planning to murder him and take his throne, and on the other, he loves his brother. His wife, the luminous Empress Chabi, insults Ariq and compares him to a “dog who would eat its own afterbirth.” Yikes. She then calmly tells him that she would be turned on by seeing Ariq trembled to death by horses. I’m assuming Kublai Khan is turned on by this.

Jia Sidao is hanging out with a bro and their praying mantises. They discuss how Ariq is taking on Kublai Khan, and that’s cool, but what’s more important is that we find out that the old Emperor has died and left a dumb toddler as his heir. So, Jia Sidao and his praying mantis are in charge.

Back in Marco’s world, he has a meeting with Ahmad (Mahesh Jadu), the Khan’s adopted son and royal treasurer. He wants to know why the tax collector has been stiffing the crown. Namely, why hasn’t the tax collector given the crown the linen that he’s collected in lieu of coin. Marco is immediately like, “Uh…what? Huh…that can’t be true. Must be a mistake.” Ahmed knows Marco is bluffing. Later, Marco meets Prince Jingim on the plains. Some poor soul has been wrapped in a carpet and is being trampled to death by horses. It’s Marco’s tax collector buddy. Kublai Khan’s court is as brutal as it is beautiful.

Then, Jia Sidao sends three guards to rape his sister, Mei Lin. That’s the kind of loving brother he is. Meaning, he isn’t one. Mei Lin responds by seductively taking off her robe and then she murders the shit out of the three guys. While naked.  This doesn’t make Jia Sidao happy.

As punishment, Jia Sidao casts Mei Lin off and sells her into Kublai Khan’s harem. Her task is to infiltrate the ranks and spy on him. Jia Sidao will hold her daughter, Ling Ling, as currency. Before she’s sent off, she tells her brother that his generals mock him by calling him “the Cricket Minister.”

Kublai Khan sends his brother Ariq a broken arrow: a declaration of war. The Mongols ride to war against each other. The night before the battle, Kublai Khan and his brother meet in a tent. They play games and reminisce about their childhood. They tell each other they love each other. It’s not enough, though. Ariq’s ambition demands they meet in battle.

Back at camp, Kublai Khan and Marco Polo talk about his disappointing daddy. The great Khan says, “I was about your age when I knew.” “Knew what, sir?” Marco asks. “That I had to become the man I wish my father was.” It’s a powerful line that finally explains what Kublai Khan really sees in the young Venetian: a kindred spirit. Both are ambitious, both want their family’s love, and neither will get it. Kublai Khan’s father was never Khan of Khans, and Marco Polo’s father is not the great adventurer he dreams him to be.

The next day, the two warring Mongol tribes line up to face each other in battle. However, instead of going all Braveheart on us, the two brothers decide to fight one-on-one to the death. What follows is a gripping battle of the wills. Kublai Khan is not the warrior he used to be and it seems that Ariq will get the upper hand. But then, Kublai Khan finds the strength to kill his own brother.

A wild hawk cries. I love it when hawks cry.

And just like that, Kublai Khan reunites the Mongols and declares they will take the Walled City. [Watch “The Wolf And The Deer“]

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