Season 2, Episode 3 – Measure Against the Linchpin
Nothing that this series has shown so far seems to be worth telling. Every time the plot is further advanced, the less interesting it becomes. The more time I spend with these characters, the less interesting they become. There is something inherently broken in Marco Polo that seems to prevent it from improving regardless of what they attempt to do with it. I talked before about how the lead characters are too poorly written to be interesting, but apparently the entire concept and foundation of the series is just too flawed to allow anything noteworthy to come out of it. Forget about having interesting characters to follow. Marco Polo doesn’t even have characters that I’m rooting for at this point.
I can talk about the plot progression in this episode, but I honestly don’t know if I should bother. This episode reinforces every flaw that has overshadowed this series since day one. The writers can throw intrigue and introduce villains into the mix but it’s not going to change the fact that the main ingredient is just… wrong. I was excited when this show was announced two years ago because I’m a huge fan of period pieces. Marco Polo had the added benefit of being set in Asia, which is not a setting that most big-budget Hollywood productions even consider of making. Unfortunately Marco Polo doesn’t seem capable of fulfilling whatever promise it had from the start.
I’m truly struggling to find anything memorable about this series. The show is neither getting worse nor is it getting better. It’s simply following a trajectory that keeps failing to capture my interest. I suppose this is the inevitable result of any TV series that doesn’t begin to show any improvement even towards the end of its first season (regardless of how many episodes there are). High production values are a nice distraction, which is something that Marco Polo has always succeeded at, but that’s just what it is: a distraction.
Once again, Marco Polo is reacting to situations that are out of his control. He spends the whole episode literally following Kublai Khan on a mountain hike without any idea of their purpose or destination until the end. This is the most screentime that both characters have spent together since last season, and the ultimate purpose is to show that Kublai trusts Marco Polo enough to conscript him into the Order of the Mongol Knights, which is a position that Marco Polo doesn’t seem aware of until it was mentioned to him. Despite the show taking an unusually long time to achieve this development, it does show some promise since it allows the writers to keep Marco Polo involved in the main plot of the show.
The episode ends on a disturbing note as the Empress has Princess Kokachin raped by a stable boy in order for her to conceive a child for Prince Jingim. The Empress claims that the child will have no royal blood at all, since Princess Kokachin isn’t actually a princess. I was honestly more confused at this seemingly pivotal moment because I’ve completely forgotten the fact that Princess Kokachin isn’t who she claims to be. Her character wasn’t relevant enough throughout the first season so it’s a bit surprising that her true identity is suddenly becoming this huge plot point in the second season.
I truly can’t help but feel that Marco Polo would’ve made for a fantastic feature-length film instead, or even an event miniseries. There’s simply not enough story to fill up a whole season of episodes, much less two of them. The concept of a Western outsider becoming a trusted adviser to a ruler in the East sounds like a great idea for a grand period film, but stretching it to a series simply isn’t working all that well so far. It’s still not too late for the second season to turn things around, but based on this show’s short track record, I’m not too confident with whatever comes next.