Marco Polo season 2 recaps and study guide
Netflix dropped all 10 episodes of the second season of Marco Polo on July 1. So, like Kublai Khan expanding his empire one piece at a time, we binged and recapped every single episode from the season. There are two recaps per page, so feel free to dig in and read along while you watch.
EPISODE 1: “HUNTER AND THE SABLE WEAVER”
Much of the second season premiere is about getting reoriented in this world, establishing who these characters are and where they stand. After flashing back to a young Kublai Khan taking lessons from his grandfather, we see Kublai at home in his role, attending to trade issues while also preparing for his son’s wedding. Jingim is set to marry the Blue Princess, the former love interest of Marco Polo, securing more heirs to the throne.
It isn’t long before the day of celebrations is spoiled though. Khan’s bastard child Byamba shows up with a message from Kaidu, Kublai’s cousin. Kaidu is still angry about not being handed the lead during the sack of Xiangyang, and he’s prepared a form of retaliation. He’s going to challenge the Kublai’s rule as Khan in an attempt to secure the position for himself. Kublai, of course, does not accept such a ridiculous claim, but that’s not the news Byamba brings back to Kaidu. There’s a confrontation on the horizon this season, and it’s taking place within filial boundaries.
As for Marco Polo, his first storyline of the season is lacking. He, along with Mei Lin, is looking for the boy emperor, the last heir of the Song Dynasty that Jia Sidao defended last season. The journey leads them past an outpost after Mei Lin uses her ties with the Red Lotus to bargain for safe passage. That leads them to a small house in the middle of the jungle where they believe the emperor is. After encountering quite the fight with a woman there, they find the boy emperor stashed away under the floorboards.
The season premiere of Marco Polo is lacking in action and heavy on the setup, but the setup is promising. There’s a tense but necessary marriage between Jingim and the Blue Princess, Kublai Khan dealing with the tenuous nature of his rule, and Marco Polo and Mei Lin finding the boy emperor.
EPISODE 2: “HUG”
The second episode of the season picks up right where the premiere left off. Marco Polo and Mei Lin are traveling through the jungle with the boy emperor in their care. They’re delivering the boy to Kublai, as Marco has been instructed, but their travel isn’t so easy. The boy’s protector, who’s known only as The Handmaiden, is still chasing after them, somehow able to keep up with them despite traveling on foot.
Meanwhile, Kaidu is doing everything he can to secure support in his claim to Kublai’s throne. While on the one hand it’s not a difficult sell because many believe Kublai stole the election long ago, there are also those who see going against Kublai as a dangerous act. Back in the new capital of Cambulac, Kublai is taking advice from his wife. She says that he needs to accept the challenge to his throne because Kaidu is operating within the law and any other approach would suggest weakness or deceit.
Then, Marco and Mei Lin return with the boy emperor. The return sparks all kinds of intriguing relationships and power struggles. There’s Kublai asserting his power over Mei Lin, even as Marco asks for leniency. There’s Marco being “introduced” to the Blue Princess by Jingim, and the appropriate awkwardness that follows from the former secret romantic partners. Then there’s the issue of what to do with the boy emperor. While Jingim and Marco suggest letting the boy fade from the public’s memory by stashing him in a safe place, Ahmad suggests killing him and parading his head through the streets to send a message. Of course, this is the same man who’s working with Mei Lin to overthrow Kublai, even telling her that she could see her daughter in exchange for bringing the boy emperor to the capital. Note: Don’t trust this Ahmad dude.
WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.
The rest of the episode is filled with small subplots that could have implications later. The Blue Princess has a miscarriage, but Jingim is forgiving and understanding. Kaidu has his meeting with Nayan, who’s preaching Christianity to the Mongolian masses, but they can’t come to an agreement for him to back Kaidu’s claim to the throne. And of course there’s Marco telling Kublai of the many people in south China killing themselves, as they see the Mongolian presence not as liberation but as occupation.
The whole episode revolves around a single decision though: Will Kublai kill the boy emperor? As Ahmad brings the boy to Kublai, and leaves the two of them alone, it’s clear the emperor is conflicted. He first brandishes a dagger but then hugs the boy, consoles him for he knows he’s innocent. But, as he’s hugging him, he suffocates him, his limp body falling to the floor as Marco stumbles upon the scene, a look of disgust crossing his face before the credits roll.
NEXT: Episodes 3 and 4
EPISODE 3: “MEASURE AGAINST THE LINCHPIN”
As the boy emperor hangs from the capital, and the Handmaiden takes the sight in, Kublai awakes from another nightmare, his wife still lambasting him for his decision to kill a child. Marco isn’t too happy with him either, and with both in crisis, Kublai takes his Venetian friend on a hike in order to decide what to do about Kaidu’s claim to the throne.
Meanwhile, the Blue Princess is having one hell of a time. Not only does the Handmaiden confront her (though they both agree they have a common enemy), there’s also the pressure to produce an heir before Kaidu’s claim comes to pass. That pressure leads to a truly sadistic moment from the Empress. During the night, she holds the Blue Princess down and forces a stable boy to have sex with her since Jingim has yet to impregnate her. “The baby will have no royal blood,” she says, with pure menace.
While this is happening Jingim goes to Karakorum to help persuade people to side with his father. That means taking down a huge dude in a wrestling match and earning some respect, though that doesn’t stop Kaidu’s two children from attacking them on their way home. Furthermore, Kaidu makes a bold decision and insists that his daughter Khutulun, rather than his son, will be the next heir.
This episode is all about the hike though. Marco and Kublai discuss death, responsibility, and fate, and come face-to-face with a wolf several times. Kublai and Marco stare the wolf down and eventually shoot it when things get dangerous. Kublai sees it as a sign. He will stare down Kaidu’s claim until it becomes too dangerous.
EPISODE 4: “LET GOD’S WORK BEGIN”
Hey look, it’s Gabriel Byrne! That’s right, he’s the Pope and he starts the episode, as Nayan is in Northern Israel, along with Marco’s father, to talk about Kublai. The discussion is rather simple. The Pope sees Kublai’s rule as a threat, especially since he’s so accepting of many religions, and vows to confront his forces should they move West. Nayan is less enthused about this idea, but when he proves his religious value to the Pope and the two agree to work together, he’s swayed, washing away his sins and preparing for battle.
Meanwhile, the hunt is on for Jingim and Ahmad. Kaidu is pissed at his son because of his actions, which have brought Kublai to his doorstep. Together they all go out to search for the Khan’s missing sons. Along the way, Kaidu and Kublai connect with memories of their childhood but also remain divided on the prospects of the Mongol empire. Things get particularly heated when the insults start flying and Kaidu pulls his sword on Kublai. Ultimately, nothing comes of the moment, as Jingim and Ahmad are found, but certainly the challenge to the throne will not go so smoothly.
The other dangling plot thread is that of the Blue Princess and her potential pregnancy. Here she finds out that the stable boy who impregnated her has been killed, and when she goes to see the body for herself she stumbles upon his wife and spends the day with her and her baby. It almost seems as if she’ll abandon her position, especially if Jingim isn’t found. Alas, after some bonding with Ahmad, who almost reveals his plans to overthrow the Khan in his delirium, he is found, and she returns to greet him with the good news of her own pregnancy.
NEXT: Episodes 5 and 6
EPISODE 5: “LULLABY”
It was only a matter of time before the opposition to Kublai’s rule in China really started to take off. Sure enough, “Lullaby” begins with a set of bombings orchestrated by the Handmaiden. Five rebels execute five different attacks and kill 300 Mongolians, as Ahmad informs the Khan. Kublai states that while he’ll still travel to Xanadu to challenge Kaidu, he gives Ahmad control of his forces to strike back.
Meanwhile, Khutulun makes it clear to Kaidu that she’s not happy about being the heir because it would mean sacrificing her own goals, and Byamba, who she’s now separated from, is demoted to a foot solider by Ahmad, who’s still working on his own plans to dethrone Kublai.
Ahmad gains even more control when a guard tells him about the Empress leading a stableboy into Princess Kokachin’s chambers. That whole situation is about to get even more complicated because the real Princess Kokachin shows up, apparently not dead like we all believed, and wants her life back. At the same time, Marco continues to grow suspicious of Ahmad, especially as he decides to send nearly 60,000 troops to battle the uprising and only 7,000 with Kublai to Xanadu.
“Lullaby” also spends a bit of time filling in Ahmad’s backstory. He was once simply a tax collector for the Khan, wanting to travel and learn about the people in Kublai’s empire. Before long though he becomes jaded; a prostitute he shares a bed with, and ends up killing when she hums the same song his mother did when he was a child, signals his turn as he returns to Kublai and takes a position as his finance minister and begins to take control of his future.
The future for everyone is clearly about to get chaotic. The Handmaiden and Hundred Eyes have a strange fight/dance showdown, Kublai is leaving for Xanadu with little protection and an uncertain meeting wit Kaidu, and Ahmad is clearly gaining more power.
EPISODE 6: “SERPENT’S TERMS”
“Serpent’s Terms” is essentially divided into two separate stories, but their outcomes bear significant consequence on one another. First, as the episode opens, we see Kaidu and his mother secretly finding their way to Cambulac. They arrive in the middle of the night shrouded in hoods. The purpose of their meeting in the capital is to discuss the overthrow of the Khan with Ahmad. The Khan’s Vice Regent has made it clear that he wants Kublai gone, and he sees Kaidu as his own tool. Along with Kaidu he invites Nayan for the meeting, securing both in opposition to Kublai, the offer of Mei Lin’s daughter to the sinful Nayan helping to sway him.
Meanwhile, Kublai is in Xanadu petitioning for votes, bringing a vision of empirical expansion, complete with cool fireworks, to the people there. There are harbingers of death all around though. Horses that were gifted to Kublai are attacked, found with their eyes carved out. Marco and Jingim believe it’s the work of Kaidu, but Kublai doesn’t seem worried. Eventually, after a night of passion with an exotic dancer who’s traveled the world, the Blue Princess visits Marco and the mystery of the horses seems solved.
You see, the fake Blue Princess believes it was the real Blue Princess who attacked the horses, sending a message to Kublai and, more importantly the impostor Blue Princess, that she wanted her life back. When she goes to Marco with this theory though it’s revealed that she has blood all over her hands. The real Blue Princess seems to be a figment of her imagination, perhaps brought on by her guilt over her child and the dead stableboy.
“Serpent’s Terms” ends with Ahmad, Nayan, and Kaidu forming an alliance — one which Khutlulun isn’t happy about — while Kublai remains unaware, and Byamba is off on his own following barrels of black powder that he believes will reveal something corrupt.
NEXT: Episodes 7 and 8
EPISODE 7: “LOST CRANE”
“Lost Crane” opens with a series of attacks. The first is delivered in flashback. We see that Hundred Eyes and the Handmaiden, who he refers to as Lotus, were once friends and lovers, until the Mongolians attacked them, Hundred Eyes believing he watched Lotus die at the hands of an archer. That bit of backstory makes their reunion here that much sweeter, and their separation at the end of the episode all the more heartbreaking.
The second attack is undertaken by Khutulun and Orus on the order of Kaidu. He’s conducting murderous raids under the banner of Kublai, having his children and warriors wear masks to conceal their identities. Essentially he’s framing Kublai in the hopes of drumming up support for his ascension to the throne.
Meanwhile, the Blue Princess is truly losing it, and her visions threaten to reveal the true nature of the baby. Jingim is upset by his wife’s condition, but, after Kublai finds out about Kaidu’s attacks under his own banner, he’s ordered to ride East to engage in their own attacks. That’s all part of Ahmad’s grand scheme though: send Jingim East to die while Nayan and Kaidu amass troops in the West.
There’s a twist that Ahmad doesn’t expect though: Mei Lin turns on him after he fails to deliver on his promise for her to see her daughter. That sends her to Marco, who gives her time with her daughter, and in return she tells him everything. Marco goes to the Khan and asks for his permission to head West even though he can’t reveal why. He’s asking for trust and Kublai gives it.
A good thing he does, too, as Marco and Jingim ride West and, after Byamba saves them from two of Kaidu’s men, discover the gathering forces and one big surprise: Marco’s father, Niccolò Polo.
EPISODE 8: “WHITEHORSE”
It was inevitable that Ahmad’s lies would eventually be revealed to the Khan, but the drama comes in the form of wondering whether that reveal comes too late for the Khan to do anything about it. “Whitehorse” spends much of its running time unraveling Ahmad’s plans. First, Ahmad lies to Kublai about Jingim’s attacks in the East — remember, Marco and Jingim actually headed West — and when Mei Lin goes missing, Kublai questions his Vice Regent’s connection to her.
At the same time, Niccolò goes missing from Nayan’s camp near the Twin Rivers, captured by Marco and Byamba. They spend the entirety of “Whitehorse” hiding in the woods, Marco questioning his father about where they will attack the Khan, and his father returning fire by essentially calling him a traitor to his Christian people. For a while it looks like Marco has no choice but to kill his father, but a last-minute attack leaves the elder Polo’s fate hanging in the balance.
As for Mei Lin, she’s escaped her entrapment with Ahmad, daughter in tow, and when Mongols attack her on the road, Lotus comes to her aid. That forces Mei Lin to accept that the Mongols will keep coming after her and her daughter until she ends this feud, so she leaves her daughter in the care of Lotus, the same woman who couldn’t protect the boy emperor.
Essentially, “Whitehorse” is about bringing the conflicts to the forefront before the season’s climax. Kublai learns of Ahmad’s betrayal when Jingim arrives home safe, and he’s devastated, crying in his wife’s arms when he realizes Ahmad tricked him into killing the boy emperor. With Nayan and Kaidu set on destroying Kublai, and Kublai realizing it now that Ahmad’s been outed, the forces are set to collide in the final two episodes of the season. And of course, Marco’s caught in the middle.
NEXT: Episodes 9 and 10
EPISODE 9: “HEIRS”
The opening credits of Marco Polo don’t come until 20 minutes into “Heirs” because the show is too busy pulling off quite the battle scene. The episode opens with Kublai showing up at Nayan and Kaidu’s camp in the dead of night. He has quite the plan in store: He lights all of his white horses on fire and sends them running into the camp, where they light the tents ablaze and ignite the black powder, causing huge explosions.
That fiery backdrop is also the stage for a number of individual moments. Kaidu is sent to safety by Niccolò so as to keep the hope of dethroning the Khan alive. Byamba and Marco fight side by side. Hundred Eyes comes face to face with a huge man covered in chain mail, but destroys him with a quick jab to the neck. Then, there are the big moments. Khutulun saves Byamba, showing that her love trumps her allegiance to her father. Jingim bashes Orus’ skull in, which Khutulun witnesses. Then Marco lets his father escape as Kublai watches from a distance.
When the battle is over, Nayan is crucified and the Khan must reckon with the fact that not only has Ahmad betrayed him, holing up in Cambulac under the false pretense of the Khan’s orders, he also feels betrayed by Marco. The arrival of Jingim’s heir — or “Heirs,” as the Blue Princess gives birth to both a girl and a boy — should bring some joy to the lives of the Khan and his people, but it’s clear there’s more darkness on the horizon. Marco is banished from the tent, but only after the Blue Princess whispers her secret to him, and Kublai heads toward a vote that will impact his empire and legacy. A lot of dead bodies, revealed betrayals, and many more secrets lead us to the season finale.
EPISODE 10: “THE FELLOWSHIP”
For a season finale, “The Fellowship” is pretty slow moving. There’s a lot of sitting around, as Kublai and Kaidu await the outcome of the Kurultai, and Ahmad sits on the Khan’s throne in Cambulac, hoping that his plan unfolds in a timely fashion. Essentially, the episode is a lot of setup for a few moments that change the course of the show, and set up a number of stories for the third season.
There’s basically two stories that make up “The Fellowship.” First there’s Kaidu and Kublai giving speeches and hoping to be selected as the Khan of Khans. It looks as if the vote is all but settled, with the people siding with Kublai and protesting Kaidu’s aggressive tactics. Of course, the Kurultai doesn’t go down without a hitch. Ahmad, backed into a corner by the presence of Jingim, Byamba, and Hundred Eyes, sends word to Kaidu revealing the truth about Jingim’s son and Kublai’s heir.
Kaidu uses that knowledge to blackmail the Khan and the Empress, but they’re more determined than Kaidu gives them credit for. First, the Empress helps the Blue Princess drown herself, and Kublai attempts to poison Kaidu, hoping to stop the potential leak of the information. Kaidu gets the upper hand though and is moments away from killing Kublai when Marco saves him, coming back from his banishment to inform the Khan about an approaching Christian army, killing Kaidu and proving his loyalty to Kublai in the process.
Back at Cambulac, Jingim, Hundred Eyes, and Byamba expertly pull off a raid that sees them take back control of the capital as Ahmad runs and hides. Unfortunately for him, Mei Lin is waiting for him in his room. She kills him and, in return, Jingim allows her to leave the capital freely, with Hundred Eyes offering to escort her back to her daughter.
Thus, “The Fellowship” re-establishes Kublai as the Khan of Khans, and Ahmad, Kaidu, and the Blue Princess are dead. As Ahmad hangs from the entrance to Cambulac though, things aren’t exactly peaceful. In fact, as the episode cuts to black, Byamba and Jingim look out at the empty camp where the Kurultai was meant to be held. The camera focuses in on a cross. Kublai may be back in full control, but the Christians are moving East. We’ll have to wait for season 3 to see the clash.