Marco Polo: I approve, so far

I finally got around to watching Marco Polo. This is perhaps surprising news, as anyone who knows me could guess this would be right up my alley: almost superhuman martial arts (at least in the promo material), an eastern setting, and a clash of nations …

I’m on episode three, and I’m suprised to say that I’m not at all disappointed! I’m enjoying seeing the tensions building within his empire as Kublai Khan tries to preserve the Mongolian spirit of his empire while incorporating the disparate cultures and religions of his client states. In particular, Khan wants to incorporate the learning and wisdom of the Chinese, but his warlords are uneasy with the changes they see in his court and they think he is moving away from the Mongol ways. Jingim, Khan’s half-Chinese son and heir, is particularly affected by this cultural conflict: the warlords of the Empire see him as weak and not Mongol enough to be the next Khan, and he himself blames his father for not raising him to be more Chinese.

I haven’t yet decided how I feel about the portrayal of the women in this series. On the one hand, it’s completely believable that in the societies depicted at that time women had no path to influence other than through the bedroom. On the other, the sexual intrigue seems like an excuse to show a lot of writhing naked women.

Probably the aspect of the show that excites me the most is the casting. There’s only ONE white person on the cast, that being of course Marco Polo. He is an outsider in a vast world that does not involve white people at all… and he has no real power to influence events. He is, literally, an observer. It’s refreshing to see a big budget American production tackle a story from another culture and make authentic casting decisions. I really hope Marco Polo doesn’t end up being another Great White Savior.