As Kublai Khan battles his warmonger brother for rule over Mongolia, Marco learns that justice in Khan’s Imperial City is as swift as it is deadly.
Yep, I’m going straight from reviewing/recapping the first episode of Marco Polo, right into the second episode. Might as well get it over with as quickly as possible. “The Wolf and the Deer” starts off with Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy) squirreling away salt cakes, probably preparing to make his escape from the palace. He witnesses Prince Jingim (Remy Hii) and a few of his men riding through the gates, bloodied and traumatized.
Jingim reports what happened at the Walled City to his disappointed and furious father – a massacre, obviously. Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong) orders Jingim to discover why Kublai’s brother, Ariq Boke (Amarsaikhan Baljinnyam), didn’t show up to fight when he was supposed to.
Meanwhile, Marco spends some time with the family of Senga, the tax collector buddy Kublai partnered him up with. He’s again told he isn’t permitted outside of the city, but like Marco’s gonna listen to that. He steals a horse, rides out the gates, and heads towards a tree in a clearing where he and Kokachin (Zhu Zhu), the Blue Princess of the Bayaut tribe, trade barbs. I foresee this tree becoming a meeting place for the inevitable Marco/Kokachin courtship, a forbidden relationship that I already could not give a fig about.
The day after, Kublai sends Marco along with Jingim to Karakorum, the city where his potential traitor brother Ariq rules. Ariq explains to Jingim that when he was unable to get to the Walled City, he sent a message with one of his riders, but the rider was captured before he could deliver it to Jingim and his army. Do you believe him, folks?
Ariq goes on to disparage his brother’s trust in outsiders, planting seeds of distrust in Kublai’s newest puppet, Marco. Jingim’s animosity toward Marco grows when they arrive back at Kublai Khan’s court, and Marco undermines his report, saying that Ariq’s men do not have enough resources to make the trip to fight at the Walled City, and that Ariq may have held his men back on purpose.
Marco, sensing the danger his words have opened him up to, grabs the stash of salt cakes he had hidden away and tries to escape the city again, but is stopped by Hundred Eyes, who drops some stereotypical fortune cookie wisdom on him yet again. Hundred Eyes urges Marco to stay, and he’ll “train you to survive in whatever world you choose to make your home.” Segue into a slow motion training sequence as Marco gets his ass kicked. Gosh this show is pretty. At least Marco Polo has that going for it.
Jingim interrupts the training sesh to toss another threat Marco’s way before grudgingly admitting that he was right – Ariq betrayed them after all. Empress Chabi (Joan Chen), Jingim’s mother, expresses a bloodthirsty desire to see Ariq “trampled by 1000 horses and left on a steppe to rot” for endangering her son.
Over in the Walled City, Mei Lin is spending quality time with her daughter when Jia Sidao shows up to tell her the emperor is officially dying, like right now. He’s excited because he thinks he’ll be great at being the de facto emperor, but his sister’s half of the conversation is really icy, so we’re supposed to gather that Jia actually wouldn’t be that great of a leader. I’m getting Littlefinger vibes out of this guy, only with less subtlety, which is funny because I hear HBO Littlefinger is a watered down version of book Littlefinger as well.
We discover that Ariq’s betrayal goes further than just wanting to keep his army unharmed by a trip across the desert; he’s been working with Jia Sidao to overthrow his brother and become Khan, and in return he will open the Silk Road to the Songs. Jia himself reveals more of his treachery when he allows three of his soldiers to sleep with his sister despite promising will retain her status and remain safe. Mei Lin slaughters them all, and when she’s caught Jia sends her to Cambulac to seduce Kublai Khan.
During one of Sanga and Marco’s deliveries of the taxes they’ve been collecting, Marco accidentally reveals that Sanga has been keeping some of the taxes for himself. Sanga is executed for his crime, rolled up in a carpet and trampled upon by horses, and Marco is forced to watch it happen.
Kublai and his army ride into Karakorum once again, this time with Hundred Eyes and Marco Polo in tow. Kublai meets with his brother Ariq, and Kublai sentences his own brother to a duel to the death come sunrise.
Jia Sidao: Men will one day sing songs about me, sister. Jia Sidao, the prime minister who vanquished the demon and saved the Song.
Mei Lin: I will bring my daughter to say goodbye to her father… and to the Empire.
Jingim: You will not be gaining favors from your charming stories anymore. Not without a tongue.
Kublai Khan: It was [our mother] that taught us a true ruler must not lose the loyalty of his allies and subjects. The Chinese, Saracen, Christian, or Hindi. A wise leader allows his people their ways.
Ariq: Our father, son of Genghis, did not agree with such open gates.
Kublai: He drank himself to death behind closed doors.
Ariq: I do not want to be Emperor of China. I do not want to be Ruler of the Face of the Earth. I want to be Khan of Mongolia.
Kublai: They are one and the same, brother.
Kublai: I was about your age when I knew I had to become the man I wished my father was.