We begin the journey with Marco Polo and his family traveling into the war torn empire, belonging to that of Kublai Khan, King of the Mongols and ruler of the largest empire on earth. It is here that they stumble onto a gruesome scene of a burned and pillaged village, where the great Khan, had left his enemies hanging from spears as a warning to anyone else who dared challenge his reign.
“If one does not submit to the will of the gods this is what happens.”
From here the action actually picks up quite quickly for the Polo family.
I say family, though only 2 in the group are related to Marco, his father Niccolò Polo and his father’s brother Maffeo Polo. The others are hired hands or are members of the trade group trying to establish a trade route through Khan’s empire.
Anyway, not long after entering the village they are charged by Kahn’s army of horsemen. One poor soul decided to make a break for it, and paid the ultimate price.
Afterwards, by the threat of death, or drawn bows, Marco and his group are captured and brought into Kahn’s kingdom.
Now, the series was originally filmed in Italy, Kazkahstan and at Pinewood studios in Malaysia for Stars, who had picked up the series in 2012 but released it back to the Weinstein Company after they had failed in their attempts to film in China. From here the series was picked up by Netflix and was officially announced in 2014. And may I say the production values show!
In fact, I found myself in awe of the scenic shots, riddled throughout the show. You can tell they spared no expense in making each scene mesmerising.
Inside the court of Kahn, we find the Marco family brought to the throne, on their knees, knowing that their journey at this point could end abruptly if they were not careful with how they handled the situation.
Kublai Khan was the first to speak, asking “Where are the christian priests?” they were supposed to deliver.
Niccolò Polo, Marco’s father, responded on his knees that the priests didn’t make it as they “Could not bear the rigors of the journey” but that they had brought him holy oil.
The Khan wasn’t exactly pleased with this however as the holy oil came from a political enemy, the Pope. Which by this point the Latins were beginning to wish they had better thought this through, their body language saying everything as they looked at each other while the Khan continued to speak.
After a speech about accepting all cultures in his empire and how the Pope must bow before him and submit to him. He then asks Marco’s family what they think of his lands. Just by the look on his face you can tell this is a loaded question and that they would need to be careful how they went about answering it. Yet, Marco’s father and uncle miss this signal, the tension in the room growing with their every word.
This is when Marco steps in and tries to undo what they’ve done and tries to save all their lives.
Telling the Khan, poetically, what he thinks of his lands. The shifting sands, the songs they sing to lure travelers off their paths. Basically charming him and stroking the Khan’s ego.
He also takes the chance to show his genuine interest in the country by expressing his views in one of the empire’s native tongues, as well as speaking the Khan’s Mongolian language to top it off. This impresses Kublai a great deal and he let’s out a chuckle. Though it was not enough to get them out of trouble completely. At the end of Marco’s attempt, the Khan complements Marco on his clever mind but hands out his judgment that for failing to bring him the priests, the “Latins” were to be forever banished. This is where things take a twist for poor Marco.
In exchange for being allowed to continue securing trade routes through Asia, Marco’s Dad trades him to the Khan. Like seriously! His own flesh and blood! Needless to say Marco was not pleased with his father’s decision
At first he obviously protests it, but Kublai, interrupts and asks,
“You wish not the honor of service in the court of the Khan of Khans? What greater tribute can a man offer than his own flesh and blood?”
Yeah. Marco was screwed. The Khan accepted the offer and he was now the property of the great Khan.
Que standard imprisonment bath scene
All this and it’s just the intro!
From here the title credits roll, and we find ourselves 3 years into the past before Marco’s imprisonment. The opening scene showing a vibrant harbor, loaded with life and tradesmen bringing back their goods to be sold by the local merchants. A not that much younger but freer Marco walking among the local venetian tradesmen, looking over all the goods. Seeking to buy some merchandise he would then himself trade in hopes of a small profit.
Again, the creators go to great lengths to bring us as close as most of us will probably ever get to any of the places in this show.
After finishing his work, Marco sits on the roof of some buildings, drawing the boats that enter and exit the venetian harbor, where he notices his father’s boat about to dock.
In the scenes that follow, we watch as Marco meets his father for the first time in a church. His father, just getting the news that Marco’s mother had died when he was six years old. “Marco, she gave you a fine name.”
He hands his son a cross amulet he had obtained in Jerusalem and said it had kept him safe for 14 years.
I guess this was to make some sort of amends for not being there for him?
Marco slides it back over but his father insists he take it, where he then tries to explain why he’d been gone for so long. But Marco wasn’t having it and questioned him why he’d never sent word to his mother.
“It’s not simple.” he replied, “We had an arrangement… If I had any idea of the birth of a son.”
He gets up, but Marco cuts him off. “You have her eyes.” He tells Marco as they stand there in an awkward silence for a moment before he tells him that he must leave again with his uncle Maffeo after speaking with the bishop.
Like for real? You’ve been gone this whole time and this is all you’re gonna give poor Marco? Basically a “How’s life? Here’s some stuff, see you later?”
Marco pleads with his father to not leave him alone again, but his father refuses to hear him out, telling him he’s not ready for the rigors ahead.
Yup, that’s right. See ya later kiddo.
As the next scene opens, we see a dismayed Marco standing near a candle lit desk holding his father’s necklace, looking over all the drawings he had been working on while his father was away. One in particular being that of his father’s ship. From here the decision is made and Marco decides to defy his father and sneaks aboard the ship. Here we’re shown yet another gorgeous scene of the world that Marco is to explore
After storms and hiking through some deserts, we realise it is Marco’s fault that there weren’t any priests to present to the Khan. After a small fight, his father gives in but lets Marco free the priests, but tells him he must to go with them to the ship. Marco, again defies him and continues on. About a year later, we see him delirious in a tent, his father at his side trying to help calm the fever as he argues with his brother about how useless Marco is and eventually orders his brother out of the tent.
Smart move dad. Finally doing something right.
From here, we go through a sand storm where the flashback ends with his father giving him some advice. About “always being able to go back home.”
For real? You give him this advice and then abandon him in the mongolian empire?
We’re then transported back to the present with Marco waking up in his cell and the Khan going over battle strategies with his counsel. The topic? Whether to go to war with China and take it over, or to leave it as is. The Chinese already pay tribute to the Kahn and seemed like they were of no threat. After some debate, it’s decided. There would be war, the walls would fall.
Marco in his cell, pacing back and forth still completely and understandably frustrated, turns to one of his favorite hobbies as he discovers that a rock on the floor could be used to draw with. From here he falls asleep and this is where things begin to look up for him.. well kinda. When he wakes up, he is drug from his cell, neither him nor the audience knowing what about to happen. But after the curtains part we are introduced to Marco’s new master “Hundred Eyes” an odd Name for a blind man right?
Yes, he’s blind!
Marco discovers this the moment the, well I wanna call him a Samurai but this is China not Japan. His master teaches him more than just sword combat which is what most of your Samurai were known for. So he’s a blind multi talented martial arts instructor of some sort.
After some awesome fruit salad tutorials, Marco’s legs are swept out from under him, where Hundred Eyes then tells him he as no roots. After a lecture basically telling him “I am your teacher, and today’s lesson is roots,” Marco spends a lot of time on his back. No pun intended, just saying that Hundred Eyes likes that leg sweep move and Marco is a slow learner when it comes to combat.
However, as a training scene initiates, we discover that Hundred Eyes is kept in the Khan empire specifically to teach the Khan’s sons, nobles and “pets.” Basically Marco had found favor with the Khan and is taught everything from riding and archery, to the arts of the Khan kingdom.
Again, we’re shown a scene where Marco is awakened and drug from his cell. Though his destination this time, being the Khan throne room.
The guards at this point escorting him down the hall pushing servants out of the way and opening the chamber doors to the throne room. Something seemed a little different this time around.
After passing someone along the way to the throne who apparently had committed a crime worthy of death, Marco now stood before Kublai once more. The topic at first being his progress on what he was being taught.
Right? In a way, it seems like Marco has been adopted.
But after some small talk the Khan requests another story piece about his lands. This time however, Marco is a bit testy about the situation, and half heartily mumbles his opinions of his travels through the Khan Empire
He should know by now that the Khan isn’t one to be toyed with, but nope he pushes his luck and the Khan orders him away and to have his mouth stuffed with the, umm, Poop of Pigs. It’s at this point Marco changes his tune and goes into great detail about his land.
After a few more words the Khan gives Marco his freedom in exchange for some work, but tells him basically not to try and escape as his walls stretch far beyond the horizon.
There are some scenes that I’ll be skipping as I do not feel they are appropriate for this article, if you would like to view these scenes, please refer to your nearest netflix capable device.
Now, with his new found, kind of free not so free freedom, Marco hits the streets to explore the city and see what the buzz was. This is where he meets his new found love interest, well he wishes, this girl has a body guard, one bent on keeping Marco away from her.
From here, we basically begin wrapping up the episode with a scene where a guy who likes to play with bugs plots against his emperor to obtain the Chinese throne and Marco goes through another training session.
It’s not exactly a long training session however, as right in the middle of it, Marco is once again summoned by the Khan.
Inside the Brothel, the Khan tells Marco basically “he can look but not touch.” and that if he did he would lose his life. Needless to say the scenes here are a little too much for most of our readers, so please watch the show if these scenes are important to you.
I will say I laughed a lot during the scene, as it cut from the naughty stuff to Marco’s trainer fighting a cobra. Like, could they be any more obvious with the euphemism here?
Anyway, all in all I loved the first episode. I would say it’s probably one of Netflix’s better originals and if you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, get on it! Just make sure the kids are in bed or not at home when watching, as some of the scenes are a bit much.