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Series / Marco Polo

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Marco Polo is an action-adventure series produced by The Weinstein Company and aired on Netflix. It represented Netflix's biggest charge yet into original programming, the first season costing $90 million to produce over its 10 episodes. It starred Lorenzo Richelmy as the title character, Benedict Wong as Kublai Khan and was created by John Fusco, writer of the films Hidalgo and The Forbidden Kingdom, among others.

It is a fictionalization of Marco Polo's early years, while in the service of Kublai Khan.

While not a hit with critics, it was still a hit with audiences and successful enough for Netflix that a second season was greenlit in January, 2015, to stream on July 1, 2016. Unfortunately, viewing numbers still fell far short of the show's expense and it was cancelled, giving it the dubious distinction of the first Netflix series to not make it to a third season.

Do not confuse this series with the Shaw Brothers movie from 1975.


Contains Examples Of:

  • Abusive Parents: Marco's father only met him for the first time in Marco's teens, had no idea his mother had died, and intends to abandon him again within days of their meeting. When Marco sneaks aboard his father's ship, his father decides to sell him off to Kublai.
  • Action Girl: Mei Lin, Empress Chabi, and Khutulun.
  • Adaptational Badass: Jia Sidao, from what we can glean from surviving accounts, seems to have been a largely weak and incompetent leader (though in fairness, it's hard to look like anything else when your enemy is the Mongol Horde). Certainly a far cry from the martial-arts master depicted here.
  • Adaptational Dye-Job: The historical Genghis Khan was a redhead, when shown in a flashback he is depicted with black hair.
  • Adult Fear: Kublai's horror to learn that Jingim fell in battle. Fortunately, Jingim turns out to be alive still thanks to Byamba.
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  • Agony of the Feet: Played for drama. Foot binding is practiced by the Song dynasty and it's not pleasant at all. The fact that Jia Sidao does it to his niece is used to show that he doesn't give a damn about her well-being.
  • Animal Motif: Praying mantis is Jia Sidao's, from the fact that his martial arts style of choice is mantis to his hobby of mantis fighting.
  • Armor Is Useless: Exceptionally egregious in the duel between Kublai and Ariq in episode two. Despite both combatants wearing heavy armor, they both have no trouble slashing or stabbing through it with Mongolian Sabers to leave horrid bloody wounds through the armor.
    • Not entirely unrealistic as even heavy Mongol armour of the time was light compared to European armour and designed primarily as defense against arrows.
    • Averted, when a character takes on a Crusader in season 2 and finds that their slashes just spark uselessly against the knight's chainmail. Chainmail was indeed designed to protect primarily against cuts and slashes and a medieval knight would have worn a gambeson underneath that would have aborbed the impact of the blows.
  • Arranged Marriage: Chabi arranges for Kokachin to become another wife for Jingim.
  • Artistic License – History: Oh so much.
    • Firstly, Ariq Boke was never Khaan of the Golden Horde. At this time, that was Berke Khan, who did support Ariq's claim to the Mongol throne. However, this was because Helaghu, another Chinggisid Prince, had already associated himself with Khubilai's camp, and Berke was more interested in kicking Helaghu's teeth in for massacring Muslims during the infamous Siege of Baghdad - an event that went beyond the pale of Mongol harshness and also insulted the religious sensibilities of not only Berke himself but also of the entirety of the Northwestern wing of the Mongol Empire - than out of any sense of obligation to Ariq. As a son of Tolui, Ariq Buke would have simply been considered a Toluid prince at this point with absolutely no authority over the Ulus of Jochi.
    • For that matter, Kaidu was never the Khaan of Altan Orda (the Golden Horde), but was rather the de-facto leader of the Ulus Tsagadaai, or the Chaghatayid Khanate, which was incidentally split between Muslims and pagans for most of its existence.
    • The Toluid Civil War did not end with personal combat between Kublai and Ariq, as the latter actually surrendered to him in the end and later died in imprisonment.
    • Likewise, Hulagu and Berke's are strangely absent from the events of the civil war. Despite their rivalry over Hulagu's sacking of Baghdad (Berke and the rest of the Golden Horde were staunch Muslims) having been a massive conflict in its own right.
    • Karakoram was not the capital of the Golden Horde, but of the Northern Yuan Dynasty (it was actually originally built by Ogedei Khaan in the Orkhon Valley on the foundations left by the Gokturks, and Uyghurs). The actual Golden Horde capital was Sarai Batu (Palace of Batu). Though at this time it was called Sarai al-Jadid, since the Golden Horde was an Islamicate and Persianate civilisation (Sarai is the Iranian word for 'inn').
    • Kublai is portrayed as being a Tengriist, i.e.: a follower of Mongol traditional religion, but in real life he had converted to Tibetan Buddhism around this time. Mongol approach to religion in general was quite syncretic, irregardless of whether they converted to Buddhism, Christianity or Islam, and incorporated many elements of Tengriism, but his conversion and accompanying adoption of Chinese values was cited by Ariq Boke as evidence of the decline in traditional manly virtues of the empire.
    • The after-effects of the Toluid Civil War on the Mongol Empire are glossed over, as a result of Berke and Helaghu's absence from the storyline. In the show, it's just treated as a simple rebellion by Ariq-Boke and is apparently wrapped up in Kublai's favour with a single battle and a few weeks. In reality, the civil war lasted for four full years from 1260 - 1264 AD, involved various other conflicts such as the Golden Horde-Ilkhanate war, and eventually led to the effective fragmentation of the Mongol Khaganate as a whole. In other words, this was probably the single biggest thing to ever happen in the history of the empire.
    • Being rolled over in a carpet and trampled to death isn't an honourable death in Mongol culture per se, but is rather a fate reserved for nobles for religious reasons. Mongols and related nomads believed that their chieftains were descended from a god (sometimes Tengri, other times a wolf spirit called Ashina), and it was considered sacrilegious to allow divine blood to be muddied by the earth. They believed that this was true the world over and simply extended foreign nobles the same courtesy, but wouldn't have reserved it for corrupt tax officials.
    • The way Uighuristan is described implies that the Uighurs are Tengriist nomads. In actuality, they had been urbane and cultured for quite a long time prior to the rise of the Mongol Empire.
    • Kublai refers to his Muslim subjects as "Saracens" at one point when in truth that term was never used by the Mongols. Most of the Muslims they tended to encounter were Turks who largely resembled them in culture and habits. In fact, a fair proportion of Mongols in the Golden Horde were already being converted to Islam by the Mameluke Sultan Baybars (himself a Turkic Muslim of the Kypchak tribes and a well-respected figure in the former territories of the Mongol Khaganate to this day) around this time and the Mongol Empire actually had seen a number of Muslim Khaans such as Berke Khaan and Mubarak Shah Khaan. The actual Mongol word for a Muslim at this point would have simply been 'Turk', and vice versa, the Muslim or Turkic word for a Mongol who was still pagan would have been... well, Mongol. Another more accurate Mongol term for Muslims (both Turkic and Mongolic) could have been Sartuul, which means 'city-dweller', given that Islam, along with China, was associated by Mongols with settled, non-migratory civilisation.
    • As far as we know, the Bayan described in Marco Polo's account wasn't a blind Kung-Fu monk, but rather a Mongol general and a Tengriist. His sobriquet, "Hundred Eyes" is also fictitious, and it merely a mistranslation of his name by Marco. What Bayan really means in Mongol is "Wealthy", and is a cognate to the Turkic word 'Bey' and the Russian word 'Boyar'.
    • There is no hard c sound in Mongol, so "Khan" should be pronounced "Haan" and "Kublai" should be pronounced "Hublai". Meanwhile, "Khutuluun" should be pronounced "Hutuluun", "Kaidu" "Haidu", "Khurultai" "Hurultai" and "Kokachin" "Hohchin".
    • The backstory of the Mongol Khesig - apparently a fraternity of warriors led by the Mongol Khaan, similar to knightly orders in Europe. In actual fact, they were more like the Mongol equivalent of Huskarls than anything else, a Praetorian Guard of retainers and an institution who long predated the Mongol empire in fact. All Mongol Khaans had a personal guard, such as Toghruul Khaan, Temujin's adoptive father.
    • Mongolian archery techniques are misrepresented; characters draw their bows with their forefingers rather than with their thumbs for a stronger draw. No one wears thumb rings (which could range from bone and horn for normal people to silver for the warrior aristocracy) either. In season two however, the thumb draw is used, but there are still no protective rings.
    • The first kill in the first episode can be forgiven as a mistake, but there is no way Mongol soldiers would kill any member of an embassy, whether hired guard or not. Mongol soldiers were extremely disciplined, and the Mongol Khans practised absolute diplomatic immunity; in fact, it may be the reason why it exists in the modern world through their interactions with the west.
    • In season 2, there is a subplot where the Pope launches a secret Crusade against Kublai, using Nayan as his agent. Kublai Khan's empire never came into direct warfare against what was considered Western Christendom at the time, and as mentioned in the Christianity Is Catholic example Nayan wasn't even a Catholic and would have been unlikely as a papal vassal. The Mongols had recently invaded the Kievan Rus, splitting it into a patchwork of vassal duchies, but the Rus wasn't Catholic (and thus not something the Pope was likely to care about), and the invasion was carried out by the Golden Horde, who answered not to Kublai but instead to his cousin Batu.
    • Nayan's Catholicism. While Christian Mongols were indeed a thing (though a minority and Christianity never achieved the same distinction in the Mongol Empire as Islam did among the Borjigids and other tribes), with the Naimans and Keraits (the later actually a Turkic tribe which married into Chinggis Khaan's family), their denomination was Nestorian, an off-shoot of the Syriac Orthodox Christian Church which was regarded as heresy by Latin Christendom. Their own particular flavour of Nestorianism was also far more influenced by their Mongol paganism, with Jesus being re-imagined as a Kam, or Shamanic figure.
    • Though the purpose of such Crusade in the show was to later make an new one towards the Holy Land, there was actually an proposed Crusader-Mongol alliance against Muslims and both sides exchanged ambassadors in an attempt to bring it into fruition, but it never came to being because of religious differences and both sides unable to agree with each other demands - the Crusaders wanted the Mongols to convert to Catholicism, while the Mongols wanted the Crusaders to submit to their control. Pope Gregory did in fact support one, but he most likely would not have sanctioned it against Kublai in specific (Batu's Golden Horde were the ones who actually threatened Europe) and Nayan most definitely had nothing to do with it.
      • Any Crusader army seeking to challenge Kublai would have to march hundreds of miles through lands controlled either by Muslims or Slavic Orthodox Christians just to reach Mongol territory, neither of whom would be inclined to let them pass without a fight (or at least a very substantial bribe).
    • The facemasks that the Khesig wear. While such helmets were indeed worn by Mongols, they are actually an adaptation from the Turkic Qipchak and Cuman tribes of the upper Volga and European steppe who later joined the Golden Horde of Batu and Berke. In other words, they wouldn't have been worn in the Yuan Dynasty. That being said though, Khubilai's personal bodyguard was made up of Qipchaks from the Golden Horde, due to their reputation for ferocity and reliability.
    • Khublai Khan didn't actually live in a Chinese palace, rather he lived in the Borjigid Royal Ger like his cousins and later descendants.
    • During season 2, Jingim is invited to compete in Bokh - Mongol Wrestling - one of the three manly skills along with horsemanship and archery that Chinggis Khaan told us creates a real man. He starts out the fight facing the Hurts Arslaan (though he's not called that in the series, of course) of... some part of the Empire, it's not made clear where exactly, and gets thrown down repeatedly before winning using Chinese martial arts. Now, different Mongolic and Turkic people have different rules regarding what constitutes a loss in traditional wrestling, but generally speaking, if any body part above the knee hits the ground, you've lost. Jingim gets thrown on the ground full body several times and is still allowed to keep fighting.
    • In the third episode, the Bayauts, the tribe of Mongols Kokochin is from, is said to have been wiped out for 'refusing to bend to the Khaan'. In real life, not only are the Bayauts today the third largest ethnic group in Mongolia today, they were among the first Mongol groups to join with Chinggis Khaan's confederation and ended playing a very large role in the history of the Empire, and even were among the founders of the later Four Oirat Confederation. They were so influential not only in the Yuan Dynasty, but also in the Golden Horde and Chaghatai Khaanate that there's even an Bayaut minority and district named after them in modern Uzbekistan.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking:
    • Jia Sidao, the chancellor of the Song Dynasty, also turns out to be the nation's most powerful martial artist.
    • Kublai Khan is a fat, middle-aged man, but he's still a powerful warrior, as evidenced by his duel against Ariq. Mind you, while he's fat, he's also powerfully built and tall, which lends well to Mongol fighting styles.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: For all his insistence that he's not Marco's friend, Hundred Eyes sure goes to great lengths to protect him.
  • Badass Beard: Kublai Khan, and many of the Mongols.
  • Badass Boast: The Mongols make a lot of oaths about how they'll crush their enemies, see them driven before them, and hear the lamentations of their women.
    Kublai Khan: I will be Emperor of all the World.
  • Bare-Fisted Monk: Hundred Eyes is a Taoist monk and martial arts master who prefers to fight with his fists.
  • Berserk Button: Jingim despises parents who treat their kids like garbage. Even though he personally detests Marco (partially because Marco made him lose face and partially because Marco has earned the Khan's respect very quickly) he's actually angry on Marco's behalf when he sees just how much of a self serving Jerkass Marco's father is.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Khutulun's hand in marriage is promised to whoever can beat her in a wrestling match. She sleeps with Marco even though she beat him. She eventually allows Byamba to best her because she wants to marry him.
  • Big Brother Instinct: During the season 1 finale Byamba sees a Chinese soldier about to kill Jingim and immediately rushes to protect his half-brother.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: In season one. Kublai and the Mongols are a horde of pillaging barbarians who butcher entire villages for consorting with the Song, but have rough-hewn codes of honour, meritocracy and tolerance that keeps them from becoming too dark. Jia Sidao, the main antagonist of the first season, is a sociopathic asshole who murders people for speaking out of turn and who tortures his own niece simply to make a point. The only person in this show in any way even slightly morally clean is Marco himself, who mostly just wants to get the hell out of the East altogether. By season two, the show has progressed to more of a Morality Kitchen Sink.
  • Bling of War: Kublai and Jingim both wear elaborate golden armor into battle. Completely inaccurate, but nice if you're into that sort of thing.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: Ling Ling gets hit with a little blood when her mother finishes off a Chinese loyalist who had tried to kill them.
  • Brutal Honesty: It's implied early on that this is what Kublai expects of Marco. Since Marco is independent of his court and thus has no political ties or agenda, he can speak freely and thus report on things as they actually are. However, he makes the mistake of forcing Marco to give his thoughts in front of the entire court, where he'd have to call them liars to their faces. Consequently, Marco demures, which angers Kublai. In later episodes, Kublai has private audiences with Marco, where he can speak his mind more freely.
  • The Cameo: Dinmukhamet Akhimov, one of Kazakhstan's most beloved and celebrated actors, appears in various scenes of the first episode as... 'turban guide', according to the credits, before being unceremoniously disposed of by Mongol warriors. With the exception of Baljinnyamyn Amarsaikhan, Akhimov is the only member of the cast who actually is descended from the Mongols in addition to having a storied acting career, making his inclusion in the show a veritable waste of his talents.
  • Cain and Abel: Kublai's younger brother Ariq-Boke feels he should rightfully be the Khan of Khans, seeking to keep the Mongol Empire contained to Mongolia. He challenges Kublai and ends up getting beheaded, invoking this trope hard. Kublai asks Marco about the trope namers themselves in the third episode, trying to understand how it is Ariq could ever betray him.
    • Mei Lin and Jia Sidao have this dynamic, seeing that he resents her for being a whore and treats her terribly, but she's not the one who kills him.
  • The Chains of Commanding: A frequent theme. Kublai does not enjoy being Khan, but feels he must do it regardless.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Marco's defining trait is his observation. He first attracts the attention of Kublai by his artful descriptions of the steppes. His official role in court becomes reporting his observations to Kublai. Throughout his stay in Asia, he records his observations and drawings in a notebook. While waiting in a cell, he draws the ship he travelled in from memory on the floor. Later, he records his observations of the walled city. Still later, he's able to draw a trebuchet from memory with such accuracy that he helps build working models.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: The Song emperor dies early on and his young son is crowned afterwards.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: In season 2, Nayan is portrayed as a Catholic who agrees to be the Pope's agent to stem Mongol expansion toward Christian lands. In real life, Nayan was actually a Nestorian Christian, who would've been counted as a heretic by the Pope and who in turn would not feel any special regard for the Pope himself.
  • Composite Character: Several by necessity given the need to streamline the story for television. Marco himself is shown doing alone what was actually done jointly with his father and uncle, and is given credit for introducing trebuchets to the Mongols, which in real life was done by two Persian engineers.
  • Cultured Badass: How China is portrayed, and embodied by Kublai's son, Jingim. That Kublai seems to have such a major appeal for Chinese culture is a concern for much of his court.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Jia Sidao effortlessly beats up the strongest man in the Chinese army to show his strength. When Marco fights him in the last episode Jia effortlessly beats the shit out of him.
  • Daddy's Girl: Kaidu clearly adores Khutulun and is very proud of her achievements. Truth in Television; in Real Life Khutulun was her father's favorite child. Or perhaps not, since all we have to go on for that is Marco Polo's very questionable accounts anyway.
  • Death by Irony: Yusuf is executed in the same manner as the tax collector he executed: rolled up in a carpet and trampled by horses.
  • Decadent Court: It is clear that many of the subfactions under Kublai Khan have their own agendas, and are constantly plotting to their own benefit—at times to the lethal detriment of those in their way. The same applies to the Song court, with Jia Sidao often butting heads with the Empress Dowager.
  • Defiled Forever: Subverted. When the virginity test on Kokachin fails, Chabi blatantly fixes the results and with one look commands the examiners to proclaim her a virgin anyway.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Both cultural between Western and Asian cultures as well as between modern and 13th century cultures:
    • Kublai's harem is an official state-run organization, and his own wife selects his concubines.
    • Powerful men have multiple wives in the East.
    • Jia Sidao explains and demonstrates the practice of foot binding. By contrast, Empress Chabi is clearly appalled by the practice, and takes it as another sign of the Chinese as barbarians.
    • Marco explains masquerades, something the audience is probably familiar with, but which intrigues the Mongolians.
    • A virginity test is required before a Mongolian princess is to be betrothed.
    • Characters will often insult non-natives by referencing their race. Marco himself has been called "round eye" and "white devil" multiple times by the many Asian characters, though he is certainly not the only victim of this.
    • Many of the Christians see absolutely no problem in murdering non-believers.
  • Disappeared Dad: Marco doesn't meet his father until he's sixteen.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Jia Sidao is merely the chancellor, and thus the dying Emperor, surviving Empress and the new child Emperor all outrank him. Nonetheless, Sidao is the primary antagonist, and the only Chinese actively pursuing war against the Mongols. After the Dowager Empress dies, leaving the boy Emperor in his care, Sidao rules completely unopposed.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Jing Fei, after Sidao learns that the assassination attempt on Empress Chabi has failed.
    • Kokachin tries to kill herself twice:
      • When she is betrothed to the prince, she tries to kill herself with a knife in the bathtub, but she can't bring herself to plunge the blade into her stomach.
      • After being driven mad by the guilt of her stolen life and the knowledge that her children do not belong to her husband, she tries to drown herself. Once again, she can't bring herself to finish the job. Empress Chabi, knowing that the princess is probably incurably insane and wanting to protect her son, helps her and holds her under the water.
    • The real Kokachin, who considered capture A Fate Worse Than Death, committed ritual suicide when capture by the Monguls was unavoidable. Nergüi then put on her clothes and pretended to be the princess herself to avoid being raped and murdered by the soldiers.
  • Emergency Impersonation: The real Kokachin committed suicide before she could be captured. Nergüi, her servant, knew she would be raped and murdered as a common woman. She put on the princess's clothes so her royal blood would protect her and was taken captive.
  • Engagement Challenge: Any man who wants to marry Khutulun first has to beat her in a wrestling match - and if he loses, has to give her a hundred horses. Unsurprisingly, Kaidu remarks that his herds have multiplied considerably.
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Establishing Character Moment: Several in the first episode:
    • Marco speaks poetically and is willing to dance dangerously around the rules, even around emperors, as seen in his first couple of conversations with Kublai.
    • Jia Sidao describes his pet mantis, which allows itself to appear vulnerable in order to position itself perfectly to strike at the right moment and gain dominance, in a way that clearly refers to himself.
    • Hundred Eyes demonstrates that blindness is no barrier to him by throwing the piece of fruit he's eating into the air, slicing it with is sword on both the way up and the way down, and then flooring Marco by kicking his legs out from under him.
    • Kublai is introduced when the Polo family crawl toward his massive golden throne as Tuvan throat singing drones and the khan himself sits cloaked in shadows, establishing the scope of Kublai's personal and political power. Later scenes in the throne room are not so elaborate, as Kublai has been sufficiently established.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While he's not really evil, Jingim is a massive jerk to Marco. Nevertheless, even he is appalled at just how much of a crappy father Marco's dad is.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: You might have thought this was an HBO production. In just the first episode we see Kublai's pleasure tent and are introduced to a Chinese concubine, Mei Lin, who uses sex to broker deals.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Marco Polo is almost exclusively referred to as "the Latin".
  • Evil All Along: In the first season finale, Ahmad is revealed to have designs to assassinate and overthrow Kublai.
  • Evil Chancellor: Jia Sidao, by far the most evil Chinese character.
  • Evil Uncle: Jia Sidao holds his own niece hostage to get Mei Lin to spy on Kublai Khan's court. The little girl is too young to see through his Bitch in Sheep's Clothing routine.
  • Eye Scream: The fate of the white horse that Kublai is gifted by one of his chieftains.
  • Fake Nationality: With the sole exception of Ariq Boke, all the Mongols are portrayed by people of Chinese and Korean background (and in some cases, by people from Australia and New Zealand). Ahmad Fanakati, who in real life was a Tazhik (a Central Asian Iranian person), is portrayed by an Indian.
  • Fanservice: Plenty of it.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: After a whole season of hating Marco's guts, Prince Jingim finally comes around when Marco helps the Mongols take down the Song empire. Marco and Byamba become this over the course of the Hashasin hunt.
  • Fish out of Water: Marco Polo is this in Kublai's court.
  • Five-Token Band: Kublai's court is considered this in-universe because he has so many foreigners in his service: Marco Polo is Italian, Yusuf is a Muslim played by an Egyptian actor, and Ahmad is from what is now Central Asia though the actor is of Indian descent.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Historically, Kublai Khan is famous as the Mongol Emperor of China, making it a given that the Song rebels ultimately lose the war. Likewise, Marco Polo survives to return to Europe fifteen years later and tell his story, limiting the drama of any life-threatening situations he finds himself in.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Marco kisses the crucifix his father gave him right before the Mongols' failed attack on the Chinese. Jingim later uses the quote inscribed on the crucifix ("May all kings bow down to [God] and all nations serve [God].") to implicate Marco in treason.
    • The child emperor is given a mantis as a pet by Sidao. When Marco and Mei Lin find him in hiding, his mantis cage is empty. Marco asks what happened to the mantis and the boy sadly says that it died, foreshadowing the boys own fate.
    • Early on, Michelle Yeoh makes an appearance in Hundred Eyes' prequel as a fellow guard. She shows up in season 2 as a recurring antagonist.
  • Freudian Excuse: Jia Sidao's distrust of women stems from being forced to rely on his younger sister whoring herself out to older men. When he finds out that Jing Fei lied to him he admits that he actually did try to overcome his distaste for her and was genuinely heartbroken to see she lied to him.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Mei Lin attacks a trio of soldiers who seek to rape her fully nude.
  • Gilded Cage: Princess Kokachin, as a "guest" of the Khan, lives in one.
  • Going Native:
    • A rare enforced version, done to Marco by Kublai. When his father sees him for a second time, he remarks that Marco "looks like an Oriental" now.
    • One of the biggest points of contention among the more traditionalist Mongols is that Kublai, and even moreso his son Jingim, have become too culturally Chinese and softened by luxury.
  • Handicapped Badass: Hundred Eyes, who doesn't let being blind stop him from beating Marco senseless at every opportunity he gets. In the origin special, Hundred Eyes, we see him training himself to rely on his other senses after the loss of his vision.
  • Happily Adopted: Ahmad was taken into Kublai's court as young boy after the Mongols invaded his homeland. He sees the khan as a father figure and considers Jingim his brother. Subverted when its revealed that Ahmad is secretly planning to overthrow and kill Kublai.
  • Happily Married: Kublai and Chabi have their ups and downs, but he speaks of her as his "beloved," takes her council to heart, and flies into a murderous rage when Mei Lin tries to assassinate her.
  • Held Gaze: Byamba and Khutulun during their wrestling match towards the end. Also, Marco with the Blue Princess they first time they see each other.
  • Heroic Bastard: Byamba is Kublai's bastard son.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Yusuf offers himself up as a scapegoat to stop Marco's execution and allow the building of trebuchets.
  • Historical Badass Upgrade:
    • Marco Polo is depicted in historic accounts as a merchant traveller. In this series, he undergoes training in kung fu, swordfighting and archery while in Mongolia.
    • Jia Sidao is also portrayed as an extremely proficient martial artist that can fight Hundred Eyes to a standstill.
  • Hope Spot: Marco befriends a captive Chinese prisoner who hopes that he can, like Marco, get a job within the Imperial City. He's sliced to pieces with the rest of the prisoners; Marco can do nothing, and Hundred Eyes stops him suicidally trying.
  • Inter-Class Romance: Marco has Belligerent Sexual Tension with Princess Kokachin. Subverted when she confesses to being a fake, then she and Marco make love.
  • Intrepid Merchant: True to form, the Polos are one of Venice's great traveling merchant families.
  • Irony: For all the talk about "power has a price", it's Marco's showing Mei Lin genuine kindness and honesty (freeing her daughter when she asks) that ultimately saves the day.
  • Jerkass: Petty Asshole is about the nicest phrase that can sum up Jia Sidao.
  • Jerk Ass Has A Point: And yet, not only does he competently defend Xiangyang when the time comes, but given that the Mongols have never been particularly shy about their desire to conquer the Song, his War Hawk position ends up looking a lot saner than the Empress Dowager who seems to think it is possible to have peace with people who want to turn your country into a grazing pasture.
  • Kick the Dog: If Jia Sidao is talking to or about his sister, he's probably doing this. He considers her a worthless whore and shows no respect for her whatsoever.
  • Kissing Cousins: Byamba and Khutulun are second cousins.
  • Kiss of Death: Mei Lin, posing as a concubine, tried to assassinate Chabi by mixing poison with her lipstick. She knew Kublai was into that kind of thing, but Chabi declined the kiss and made Mei Lin kiss another concubine instead.
  • Master Swordsman: Hundred Eyes, who is just as good with his hands. And blind.
  • Mêlée à Trois: The episode "White Moon" features one of these between Hundred Eyes, Jia Sidao and Fang Zhen of the Red Lotus Society. Notably this serves as a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!, since it gives Jia Sidao the excuse to kill Fang Zhen without incriminating himself.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: This becomes the status quo in season two. The season's conflict is largely within the Mongol Empire, between Kublai (who wants to preserve his empire), Kaidu (who wants to preserve his way of life), Kaidu's mother Shabkana (who believes Kublai stole his position), the Song loyalists (who don't want Mongol conquerers in their land), the Westerners (who also don't want Mongol conquerers in their land), and Ahmad (who hates the Khan for personal reasons), among others. Amid all this, Marco does his utmost to maintain his moral standards, but it's not easy when everyone's willing to compromise to protect what's theirs.
    • The morality of the show is well exemplified by this exchange from the season finale:
    Marco: You did a terrible thing.
    Chabi: And now welcome to the fellowship of almost all of us.
  • My Kung Fu Is Stronger Than Yours: Hundred Eyes uses a different style of kung fu against Jia Sidao's Praying Mantis style and finds him difficult to defeat. It isn't until he demonstrates his own proficiency in Praying Mantis in their final duel that he is able to best him.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Marco sees the fake construction and passes it on to Kublai, resulting in a humiliating defeat and Jia Sidao almost gaining the army needed to take Cambulac. Their failed attempt to assassinate Jia Sidao also gives him the political credibility to murder his rival in the melee and seize control.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Marco delivers a passoniate speech about the wrath of the great khan to one of his enemies, the "Old Man" leader of The Hashshashin. After he finishes, the Old Man says Marco is exactly the type of Hot-Blooded young man he recruits.
  • Odd Friendship: Marco and Byamba
  • Off with His Head!: How Ariq and Jia Sidao ultimately meet their ends after losing their final duels.
  • Oh, My Gods!: The Mongols tend to swear either by Tengri or by Chinggis Haan himself.
    Ariq Boke: By the blood of Chinggis!
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: Used all over the place, but especially the scenes in Cambulac.
  • Pet the Dog: Marco's father, despite being generally disdainful towards Marco, nonetheless treats him when he falls ill during a climb through a wintery mountain pass. He even goes so far as to expel Marco's uncle - his own brother - from the tent for insisting Marco be left to die for threatening everything the traders have been working for.
  • Pressure Point: Hundred Eyes and Jia Sidao are both prone to this.
  • Prolonged Prologue: In season 2, episode 9, the opening credits don't appear until almost halfway through.
  • Proud Merchant Race: Venetians, though we see little of them beyond the Polo merchant family.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Mongols, to the point that the civilizing force of Chinese culture is a concern to many. Because of the show cutting out the Golden Horde, Chaghatayid Uls and Ilkhanate, it's never indicated what characters think of the similarly (yet far more historically long reaching) civilising effect of Islamic and Persian culture on Mongol destiny.
  • Race Lift: The historical counterpart of Hundred Eyes, Bayan of the Baarin, was a Mongol not Chinese.
  • Rags to Riches:
    • Jia Sidao and Mei Lin moved from living in the slums to having having powerful positions in the Song court.
    • Nergüi goes from a hand maiden to a princess when she assumes Kokachin's identity.
    • Ahmad was a normal child in a small town until the Mongols killed his parents and the Khan himself adopted him.
  • The Rival:
    • Prince Jingim considers Marco this, since he earned the trust and respect of Jingim's father oddly quickly.
    • The Song Empress struggles for power against Jia Sidao.
  • Royal Harem: Kublai has one, which Mei Lin infiltrates. Chabi, in an aversion of Clingy Jealous Girl, personally picks out girls for the harem.
  • Savage Wolves: An important mythological and cultural symbol to the Mongol people, who traditionally believed they were the descended from wolves. Kublai mentions this when making a Badass Boast on behalf of his grandfather, Chinggis Haan.
    Kublai Khan: Know this; Christianity is welcome in my kingdom. As is Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and the Eternal Blue Sky of my grandfather Chinggis Haan, descendant of the wolf.
  • Sequel Hook: At the end of the first season, it is revealed that Ahmad is planning treason.
    • At the end of the second season, Prestor John's forces have wasted Karakoram, with only Marco's quick thinking ensuring Kublai's escape.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Jia Sidao has some serious sexual hangups because he used to hide under the floorboards while his sister whored in their room. Might veer into Freudian Excuse.
  • Shown Their Work: While it is true that the show takes some liberties when it comes to certain historical events, it's very clear that the writers did their research. The costumes are accurate, they choose the eastern pronunciations of many names, and Marco and the Middle Eastern members of Kublai's court are just about the only non-East Asian members of the main cast. That being said, they still pronounce the title of Khan as 'Kaan' instead of 'Haan', which is glaring due to the fact that there is no hard c sound in Mongolian.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: The colors are on the whole desaturated to evoke "gritty and realistic." Even the more colorful and elaborate court costumes are nowhere near as bright as they would have been in real life (to signify the wealth and/or status of the wearers).
  • Spanner in the Works: Marco's plan is the only reason Jia Sidao's plans go crashing into ruin. He also ruins Ahmad's plans, Pope Gregory's plans, and Kaidu's plans (Ahmad by getting Jingim to connect the dots, Gregory by allowing Kublai to find out before he's ready, and Kaidu by running him through with a sword.)
  • Stout Strength: Kublai's a fat man, but he still kicks a shitload of ass on the battlefield. Mongols in general are pretty bulky too.
  • Stupid Evil: Ahmad literally paints his planned treason onto the wall of his chambers. This can serve no purpose but to potentially expose him.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Marco and Mei Lin in the first episodes of Season 2. However, Marco does vouch for Mei Lin, which ultimately causes her to trust Marco with helping to free Ling Ling.
  • Tension-Cutting Laughter: A handy way out of awkward social situations among the nobility. Notably, when Zhao Xian (without understanding the significance) curiously sits on the throne in front of Kublai's entire court, Chabi starts this in order to spare everyone the otherwise disastrous consequences.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Ahmad clearly has this reaction when General Kasar asks him to justify his actions by producing orders from Kublai, which Kublai never gave.
  • Token White: Apart from his father and uncle, who don't appear very much, Marco is the only white character on the show.
  • Training from Hell: A realistic take, Marco has to become a warrior before he can integrate with the Mongols, so it's miserable for him. Hundred Eyes is a harsh teacher, but he is thorough and not malicious.
  • Translation Convention: Dialogue is almost completely in English except lyrics in songs and a brief scene in the beginning where Marco learns a local language. Because the show also averts Just a Stupid Accent, it's often unclear what language the characters are supposed to be speaking. Everyone speaks English with their actor's natural accent no matter who they're talking to.
  • Truth in Television: Action Girls were not uncommon in Mongolia, as they were allowed to fight on the battlefield and given near equal rights to men. In fact, legend has it that the only person Genghis Khan ever feared was his mother.
  • War Hawk: Jia Sidao wants war between the Chinese and the Mongols in order to consolidate his own power within the Song court.
  • Warrior Prince: Jingim
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: A major part of the show's themes for the three male leads is that of sons trying to meet their forefathers' expectations and acceptance, whilst simultaneously venturing out of their shadows.
    • Defied with Marco. He wants his father's love, but ultimately decides after Calling the Old Man Out that he doesn't need his father's approval. Played a bit straighter with his relationship with the Great Khan, as he slowly settles into a sort of surrogate son role, and due to circumstances in the later half of the series is constantly trying to gain acceptance amongst the Mongol culture as a whole.
    • Played straight with Jingim, Kublai's son and heir apparent. Part of his hatred of Marco comes from the fact that Marco earned Kublai's respect very quickly, whereas he still doubts whether his father truly approves of him.
    • Kublai himself more than once has himself compared to that of the great Genghis Khan, his grandfather. A major scene between himself and Marco has him discussing his relationship with the great conqueror as an old man, and also the relationship he shared with his own drunkard father Tolui, where he notes that fathers are always destined to disappoint their sons.
  • White Male Lead: Marco Polo, the protagonist, is an Italian in the court of Kublai Khan. The show's creator's have said that they wanted to use Marco Polo as the lure to get more Asian characters into living rooms.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Jia Sidao breaks his niece's feet while binding them in order to punish his sister.


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