It’s the second cancellation that the streaming giant has made ever, after Bloodline. It is also one that’s sure to leave fans looking forward to seeing the series’ third season. Everyone is desperate to see everybody’s favorite explorer and Mongol warlord Kublai Khan face off against the crusading forces of the mythical Prestor John.
One of Netflix’s earliest original series, Marco Polo was originally pitched as an Asia-tinted Game of Thrones that dealt with the power and political struggles of the real life Mongol empire. In practice, it was a more historical-melodrama than fantasy and more kung-fu than cutthroat. It came at a time when every network was trying to cash in on HBO’s success and push their own sword-slinging efforts. Unfortunately, the choice to pursue a multi-ethnic mostly-historical drama over one of the countless big fantasy series ripe for adaption didn’t quite pay off.
For better or worse, the series never handled smaller power plays and larger battles quite as elegantly as Game of Thrones did and the source material often comes off as much drier (unless you’re a history buff).
The series often settled for neat episodic narratives, when it should have gone for season-long arcs, and stuck with less-satisfying stories far longer than it should have. In short, the series hedged the wrong narrative bets and Netflix eventually decided to cash in its chips.
Sure, Marco Polo had its fair share of dud characters (who it desperately tried to play off as edgy) as things went on. However, it’s hard to fault the unique relationship that was at the core of the show. The dynamic between Marco (played by Lorenzo Richelmy) and Kublai (played by Benedict Wong) may have oscillated between loyal friend and abusive regent on a regular basis, and the show was all the better for it. A friendship between the ruler of one of history’s greatest empires and a stranger in an unknown land can’t have been one without political and emotional turbulence – and the series never shies away from that.
Refreshingly, the series often went out of its way to subvert the White Savior trope that dogged it’s premise. During the first season’s finale we see a fully-trained Marco face off against the dastardly Jin Sidao (Chin Han), only to be taken apart in seconds. It’s a turn as satisfying as it is authentic, and it made the real final showdown between Sidao and Thousand Eyes all the more epic.
It’s easy to see and understand the reasons why Marco Polo has been cancelled. It’s even easier to overlook the hole it will leave in Netflix’s roster.
Farewell Marco Polo, you tried real hard.