Episode 8 of Marco Polo,“Rendering”, opens with Jia Sidao speaking with the now imprisoned Empress. Sidao survived the assassination attempt from the last episode, which only proves that life isn’t fair and sometimes the bad guy wins. However, he’s still not out of the woods. The Mongols are set to attack the Walled City, and their victory appears inevitable. Remarkably, Chancellor Sidao is still as cool as can be, though his city is about to be stormed and pillaged.
The theme for this episode is entrapment. The Empress is now trapped inside her room, because Sidao imprisoned her there after wresting control of the Song. The Blue Princess is trapped forever as Kokachin, never to regain her true identity ever again. Mei Lin is trapped in Ahmad’s room, pining for her beloved daughter. And Sidao is trapped inside the Walled City, plotting against the Mongol horde that awaits him outside.
Sidao is determined to survive behind his dense walls for as long as he can. Despite the Khan’s threat of “I will rip away his land as I would a weak heart from a coward’s chest,” Sidao does not back down in the midst of the mighty Khan and his horde. As the episode will reveal, Sidao will use every trick in his praying mantis playbook to survive within his cage of walls.
Marco is also trapped—in his way. Byamba warns Marco that Prince Jingim is gunning for him. If Marco doesn’t flee immediately, he could end up dead on the battlefield due to an “accident.” Byamba points out to Marco, “In battle, arrows fly from all directions.” However, even the possibility of dying from not so friendly fire isn’t enough to convince Marco that it’s time for him to leave China. It’s the Khan’s brutality towards his POWs that eventually disillusions the idealistic young man, convincing him to make a run for Italy. But, despite his misgivings, love shackles him to the Mongols and he is trapped once again with Kublai and his people.
A Romeo and Juliet theme has been emerging throughout the series, and this is the episode where the inevitable Marco/Blue Princess love affair finally blooms before the audiences eyes. Marco and the Blue Princess have a forbidden crush on one another, and she appears to be his primary reason (if not the reason) that he does not simply escape to Italy. There have been so many opportunities for Marco to smuggle himself out of China, and he passes on those opportunities every single time. In this episode we see the Blue Princess give up a golden ticket that will take her far from the Khan’s court–and it is because of her feelings for Marco. It will be interesting to see how things turn out for the star crossed lovers in the series finale. Will they remain trapped, or will they make their escape?
The entrapment theme is genius for this episode. I did not realize it on first viewing, but I understood later that the turmoil surrounding many of the major characters is meant to foreshadow that something isn’t quite right. Something unexpected is coming, and all of the characters will need to make sure that they don’t become trapped in their own webs.