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Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 1-2

We had dual premieres this Wednesday, with MBC launching its romantic historical melodrama Ruler–Master of the Mask against SBS’s brand-new Suspicious Partner and KBS’s mid-series Mystery Queen. It was Ruler that emerged the winner of the initial ratings clash, bumping Mystery Queen into second, with Suspicious Partner in third.

What was unusual about the premieres was that the broadcasters put into motion something they’ve been talking about for a while, which is mid-episode commercial breaks (which cable stations have already been doing for a while). You wouldn’t think it would be such a big deal to interrupt a show halfway through to play a minute or two of commercials, but MBC and SBS actually did the odd thing of making the commercial break particularly conspicuous, and divided their premiere episodes into “Part 1” and “Part 2” and even reported ratings separately for each half. So Ruler took first place with 9.7% ratings for Episode 1’s Part 1, and 11.6% for Part 2. KBS continued reporting a single number for Mystery Queen (8.7%), but SBS joined the party by reporting Suspicious Partner as two parts, with Episode 1’s Part 1 netting 6.3% and Part 2 drawing a 6.8%.

For that reason, we’re updating our recap titles to reflect the numbering change. Note that this doesn’t actually change the content we’re getting, or how much of it will air; it’s just that now we’ll be getting 40 half-hour “episodes” rather than 20 that are hourlong. For the record, I think subdividing episodes into multiple parts is needlessly complicated and silly. But hey, I don’t call the shots. Moreover, I cite these numbers out of interest, but don’t really place too much stock on them as signifiers of a drama’s value, since I do hear good things about both rival shows and intend to catch them at some point.

 
FIRST EPISODE RECAP

The opening chryon describes the secret organization called Pyunsoohwe, which pre-existed the Joseon Dynasty and was composed of the architects and engineers of society, who have been wielding power from behind the scenes.

It’s Pyunsoohwe’s leader, DAE-MOK (Heo Joon-ho), whose voice explains the process for treating a flower with venom. The petals absorb poison, and are rolled into pills—and once a person starts to eat them, they must continue to be eaten once a month, to prevent the poison from being let loose in the body.

Dae-mok explains this all at an initiation ceremony held in a dimly lit cave. Holding out a dish containing one poisonous pill, he asks the new member whether he will join Pyunsoohwe. Well, that’s one way of ensuring that your top-secret members of your top-secret organization don’t step a toe out of line.

The new member looks unnerved to hear of the heart-stabbing pain that will strike if he misses taking his monthly dose, but he grabs the dish and demands a promise first: “That once the hunt is over, you will not kill the hunting dog.”

The man takes the pill, and immediately starts to choke and gasp while his vision blurs. Dae-mok asks the man to identify himself: He is Lee Yoon, also known as Prince Geumnyeong.

Through Prince Geumnyeong’s hallucinatory eyes, we see the masked and hooded members of the group, who ask for his vow of secrecy. The prince swears, and then a hooded man jabs him in the neck three times with a small dagger, drawing blood.

As Prince Geumnyeong swears his loyalty to keep Pyunsoohwe’s secrets, the palace is infiltrated by men in black, who storm inside and make their way to the defenseless king. The descend upon him, swords drawn.

At the same time, Dae-mok holds out a blade and informs the prince that from now on, Pyunsoohwe will be his shield and weapon. Dae-mok adds one grave reminder: “One day, you will have to pay a price for that.”

In the palace, the king is stabbed through the chest. In the cave, Prince Geumnyeong vows to pay whatever price is necessary. He roars, “I must become the ruler of Joseon!”

Ten years later.

Dae-mok presides over a Pyunsoohwe gathering, and is handed a letter. It’s the same letter that is also being presented to the king (formerly Prince Geumnyeong), which conveys the reading of the new prince’s fate.

The “dragon” (prince) is fated to meet “water,” and if he is able to ascend the throne, he will be a good king. However, his heroic disposition also invites danger, and if he does not take the throne at the right time, the “water may dry up” and the dragon will be buried in dirt. In short, although his future could hold greatness, if the prince is unable to overcome this bad fortune, he is fated to die young.

This ominous reading has the king upset, and we see that his pregnant royal consort is currently in the early stages of labor. An advisor hurriedly reassures the king that the hour of the prince’s birth is the most critical part of the fortune. If the prince is born between 9 and 11 in the evening, he will become water to his people and be a ruler who will save them. But if he misses that window, he will die young.

The consort struggles to withhold delivery until the evening hours, and everyone in the palace is on tenterhooks as they monitor the passing time. Dae-mok smirks to his followers that it would be quite the sad fate for a prince to die young just because he was born at the wrong time.

The minutes tick down, and the king finally sighs in relief when the gong sounds the hour. A nurse rushes in to announce the birth of a prince, and an advisor starts to say that the fortune is open to interpretation (I presume because the birth cut it so close to the hour). The king cuts him off, however, announcing that his son will be a good ruler.

Dae-mok receives word that the prince was born at the fated hour, and his followers sigh in disappointment. Dae-mok remains calm, though, and says merely that he will use the prince as collateral in order to secure water.

The king cradles his infant son and tells him that he’ll make sure that the boy will be different from himself: “Not a scarecrow, not a puppet, but a true king. I will make it so you will be a true ruler of this nation.”

He thanks the baby’s mother, Royal Consort Lee, for birthing a pillar of the nation, and decides to raise her status with a renamed one.

When the king reads a message from Pyunsoohwe demanding control over the nation’s water supply, he shakes with rage at Dae-mok’s audacity. However, he’s advised that fighting could put the prince in danger.

The king’s ire is cut short by sharp chest pains, and his aide hurries to take out the poisonous pill included in the message and feed it to the king. His pains subside, and the king orders security increased around the prince.

The king’s reaction is reported back to Dae-mok, who orders that a gift be sent to the newborn prince.

Royal Consort Lee is visited by the queen, who thanks her for birthing the heir that she couldn’t provide. The queen informs her of the upcoming rite where the king will write the prince’s name in tiger’s blood—and then, we see a shifty-looking court lady swap out a blood-stained jar for another.

That swapped blood is used to make ink that is then applied to the baby’s skin when the king christens him with his name: Sun, which signifies comfort for the nation’s people and a ray of hope in their darkness.

Moments later, the baby starts to cry in distress, and the ink on his back reddens his skin before fading. The royal physician is called, and regretfully informs the king and consort that the baby appears to have been poisoned.

A leading intellectual is called from Sungkyunkwan, WOO BO (Park Chul-min), who informs them that they must hurry to find the antidote. The poisoners will likely have it, and they must administer the antidote quickly before the baby dies.

A seething king seeks out Dae-mok, knowing that this is related to Pyunsoohwe’s demand to control the water. The king attempts to strike a compromise to allow the organization some control in exchange for the antidote. But Dae-mok wants full control, and says he wishes no harm to the prince, who will have a place with them in the future.

Dae-mok holds out a vial containing the antidote, but first demands full control over a bureau that will soon be created that manages the water supply—and also that the young prince join Pyunsoohwe.

So at court, when one of Dae-mok’s cronies proposes the idea to establish the Water Bureau and entrust it to Pyunsoohwe, the king reluctantly gives his approval. Immediately afterward, he rushes to the baby with the antidote, only to be told that it’s too late. The baby’s mother sobs holding the body, and Woo Bo thinks it futile when the king forces the antidote down the baby’s throat.

But after a few moments, the baby stirs, and breath returns to his body. And curiously enough, the letters that had faded from the baby’s back now return, which Woo Bo explains as a reaction of the poison to the antidote. The prince has developed an immune response to the poison, and in the future if he comes into contact with it again, the letters will flash. This is no science I know, but I’m not a top Joseon thinker, so let’s roll with it.

The king rejoices, believing that the heavens have protected his son.

Meanwhile, Dae-mok announces triumphantly to his followers that Pyunsoohwe now controls the Water Bureau, and that they will establish many branches throughout the nation, each of which will be headed by a Pyunsoohwe member.

The king decides to shut down the prince’s separate palace to strengthen security around him, knowing that Pyunsoohwe will attempt to force the prince to join them. And once that happens, it won’t matter if the prince wants to be a good king, because he will be nothing more than a puppet. The king vows to find a way to save him from that fate.

To that end, the king decides that nobody can know the prince’s true face outside of three people: the king, Royal Consort Lee, and the king’s faithful aide, Commander Lee. If anyone else sees the prince’s face, they will be killed.

The Water Bureau quickly establishes itself as a convenient source of water, hiring peasants to deliver directly to customers at a cheap price. Moreover, they buy out wells that don’t dry up during droughts, which means that soon, they will be the only source of water for the people. The king fumes at how thoroughly Pyunsoohwe has claimed a monopoly.

As for young Crown Prince Sun, rumors have been carefully spread suggesting that his face was ravaged by disease, and more importantly, Pyunsoohwe believes that story, thinking it a side effect of the poison. So for now, Sun’s identity is safe.

On one occasion, a eunuch is spotted sneaking a peek at the young prince as he is bathed, and Commander Lee cuts him down. They can’t risk anybody getting away knowing the truth.

The king voices his hope of Prince Sun one day being able to throw off Pyunsoohwe’s shackles to be a good king. He places a metal mask over the boy’s face…

…and that mask eventually becomes synonymous with the prince, as we see fourteen years later, as a comedy troupe parodies the situation in the village. The performers make all sorts of speculations as to what the prince really looks like, and why.

Meanwhile, young court ladies gossip about the secret room in a palace building that nobody is allowed to enter. It reportedly contains the prince’s greenhouse, and rumor has it that nobody who entered it was allowed to live.

At that, the prince’s eunuch chides the girls, who scatter quickly. Prince Sun appears then and instructs the eunuch to let them go, reminding the eunuch that he had a more important task to perform.

The eunuch looks around shiftily, sidles up close to Sun, and shows him a glimpse of the books stashed in his robes. Sun smiles.

It’s only when he’s safe within his secret greenhouse that Sun goes without his mask, and as he reads through the books, he confirms that there’s no account of his ailment in the royal medical records. There is, however, mention of a physician, Woo Shim, who tried to make a name for himself and let a non-physician examine the prince, which got him dismissed.

Back in his royal garb and mask, Sun takes a walk with the king, who informs him of his plans to hold a princess selection to find Sun’s future bride. Sun asks with an edge to his voice, “Will the crown princess be allowed to see my face? Or must she live a solitary life forever, never knowing her own husband’s face?”

Sun pleads with his father for the real explanation of why he is forced to wear the mask, and asks him not to blame it on an illness. He declares that he’s sick of lies and grabs the mask, ready to pull it off.

The king gasps in shock, but before Sun can do anything, every single person in the vicinity drops to the ground and bows their head low. Commander Lee draws his sword in warning, but it seems unnecessary—people have long since learned that seeing the prince’s face equals death.

Sun looks around in defeat and asks, “If I take off this mask, will another person die?” The king sticks to his old line: “I told you that you have an illness. When your illness is cured, then I will let you remove that mask.” It’s as unsatisfying an answer as ever, and Sun chokes back angry tears.

He retreats to his greenhouse, and perks up when his eunuch drops by with another book delivery. Sun flips through to find the entry describing the physician Woo Shim, as well as the Sungkyunkwan intellectual Woo Bo, who both visited the prince when his illness grew critical.

Prince Sun seeks out his old teacher, disguising it as a friendly visit while fishing for information about Woo Bo. His teacher had studied under the man at Sungkyunkwan, and Sun prods for information, confirming that Woo Bo had expertise in many fields, including medicine.

A young woman arrives in a sedan chair at the palace, joining her father in a visit with the queen. She’s KIM HWA-GOON (Yoon So-hee), and she seems to find the meeting boring and sits back idly as the others discuss the upcoming princess selection. The men are eager to have a girl from their clan selected, to solidify their own power base within the palace, but the queen just says that it will be up to the king.

The queen smiles upon Hwa-goon despite her sullen demeanor, asking how she’d feel about being selected as princess. Hwa-goon retorts that she has no interest in nonsense like being crown princess, speaking rather rudely. The queen takes it well, calling Hwa-goon honest rather than the bratty I’d use, and offers her a tour of the palace. (Hwa-goon’s father tries to warn her with laser-eyes to behave herself, though she doesn’t seem to heed him.)

As she’s shown around, Hwa-goon pauses to look at the prince’s off-limits building, and asks what would happen if she went inside. The court lady gasps that she ought not entertain those thoughts, so Hwa-goon just invents an excuse to send the lady off in search of her purse.

Hwa-goon slips inside the gate easily, which frankly seems like awful security for such a vulnerable location. She enters the greenhouse and sees the prince’s robes hanging on a stand—and then freezes at Sun’s voice, which asks, “What do you think?”

But Sun sits with his back to her, not having seen her at all—he’s talking to his mask like it’s a buddy, which is terribly sad in a funny sort of way. Sun mulls over Woo Bo’s place in this mystery, sure that the man knows the truth of his supposed illness.

Sun decides that Woo Bo may be persuaded into telling him the truth, and gets up like a man on a mission… and comes face to face with Hwa-goon.

Sun freezes in shock to have someone see his bare face, but Hwa-goon just points to some flowers and orders him to move them into a pot for her. You’re awfully bossy for a guest who’s trespassing, missy. When Sun doesn’t respond, she talks down to him like he’s a lowly servant, and if I’m supposed to like this girl, they’re doing a terrible job of making that happen.

Just then, Sun’s eunuch calls from outside the door and starts to enter the greenhouse. Panicking, Sun grabs Hwa-goon and darts around the corner, where he hides from his eunuch and claps a hand over her mouth.

Hwa-goon reaches into her sleeve for the tiny dagger tucked there, and pricks Sun’s neck with the tip. He flinches as a drop of blood appears, but doesn’t let go of his grasp, staring with such intensity that Hwa-goon finds it unnerving.

Seeing no sign of Sun, the eunuch heads back out to look for him. Sun relaxes, and Hwa-goon shoves him back and hurries out of the building. Immediately, the two guards standing outside the door turn their swords on her, demanding to know who she is.

Sun, now masked, rounds the corner as though he’s just arrived, and demands to know if this girl was in his greenhouse. He holds a sword to her neck, telling her that anybody who goes inside without his permission will have to face death.

The queen arrives with her entourage in tow, and steps in to smooth things over, saying that Hwa-goon came to the palace as her guest and simply lost her way. Sun tells Hwa-goon that he’ll let this go for the queen’s sake, but warns her in a hard voice to not go talking about what she saw in his building.

The queen ushers Hwa-goon away, and Sun breathes a sigh of relief. But he doesn’t see that Hwa-goon catches a glimpse of the drop of blood on his neck and realizes that he was the unmasked man inside the greenhouse.

Moreover, the memory of their intense encounter has her blushing giddily later that night. Thinking of the small injury she inflicted, she takes out her small dagger and holds it up to her own neck, marking the same spot with a dot of blood. Okay, she has a strange idea of what constitutes romantic. Should we be worried?

Hwa-goon is called in to speak with her grandfather, who turns out to be Dae-mok. He asks about her visit with the queen, and when she mentions the queen’s interest in the princess selection, Dae-mok guesses that she expressed her utter lack of interest. But to his surprise, now Hwa-goon states that she does want to be the princess after all.

Turning stern, Dae-mok sets a teacup before her and reminds her of the lesson he’s always telling her: If the cup is the Joseon nation, the water represents the people, and the tea leaves are the king. “We must hold this cup in our hands,” Dae-mok says, “not become the leaves floating in it.”

She knows the lesson well, but asks if she can’t be princess anyway. Dae-mok wonders at her sudden interest in a mask-wearing prince, and she replies that it’s possible that he’s not really disfigured, and that those are just rumors. Dae-mok asks if she’s seen the prince’s face, but Hwa-goon denies it, saying that she was merely curious.

Dae-mok accepts Hwa-goon’s answer, but after she leaves, he sends for his personal bodyguard, Gon. It’s Gon who watches carefully from a rooftop as Commander Lee arrives at a house, seemingly on secret assignment.

Commander Lee meets with a young, well-dressed young man and asks for his name. The young man declares, “I am this nation’s crown prince, Lee Sun.”

That night, Commander Lee reports back to the king that the young man has been prepped to stand in for the crown prince. The king advises Commander Lee to be alert for movement from Pyunsoohwe.

Gon reports to Dae-mok that the king’s commander is hiding a young man, and is told to find out who that young man is.

Sun pokes around in the library late that night until he finds the book he’s looking for—a one-of-a-kind book only housed here in the palace. He’s taking a leaf out of his old teacher’s book, having heard the story about Woo Bo loving to read about medicine, and how Sun’s teacher could get him to answer any question if he first presented him with an interesting book.

As Sun leaves, he notices a small cylinder tucked into a flowerpot—the kind of canisters used by Pyunsoohwe to deliver messages and poison pills. Sun starts to open the container, only to have the king march in angrily and scold him for being here without permission. The king snatches the cylinder out of Sun’s hand and blusters at him, not giving Sun a chance to explain himself.

The next day, a royal entourage sets out to participate in a ritual praying for rain, with peasants bowing on the sidelines as they pass. But the king can hear the murmurings of the people as the procession passes, and their comments on the prince’s disfigurement.

Sun is keenly aware of the stares and whispers pointed his way, some even blaming him for the extended drought, saying that it’s a punishment from the heavens. Sun grits his teeth through it all.

Sun maintains his composure as he and his father arrive at the royal ancestral shrine where they’ll be staying, but the minute he’s alone with his eunuch, he orders him to swap clothing. The eunuch cowers fearfully as Sun pulls off his mask and hands it to him, desperate to avoid catching a glimpse of the prince’s face. Sun just tells the eunuch to keep his eyes closed to avoid being killed, and puts the mask over his face for him.

Dae-mok gathers his Pyunsoohwe followers and informs him that the king is hiding a young man named Lee Sun. They wonder if the king has kept the prince’s face a secret all these years as a tactic against them, and decide that they must recruit Prince Sun to their organization as soon as possible.

Dae-mok starts strategizing, ordering one crony to ensure that the prince can’t escape from the ancestral shrine. Others are ordered to watch the king closely and find out what his plan is. The goal is to bring the prince to Dae-mok by any means necessary.

Wearing his eunuch’s robes, Sun slips outside and maneuvers his way around the palace guards milling around. Sun manages to jump the wall at a less-guarded point, where he discards the eunuch’s robe, having dressed in a plainer set of clothes underneath. Off he goes in search of Woo Bo and, presumably, answers about his own mysterious illness.

The king returns to his quarters to find a new note from Pyunsoohwe declaring their intent to initiate the prince soon. He’s stricken with fear, worrying that Pyunsoohwe has caught wind of his plans. Commander Lee assures him that it’s unlikely, given how few people know, but the king suggests hastening their own plans.

The king drops by to see Sun, only to find the scared eunuch dressed in the prince’s robes, trembling and muttering nonstop, “I did not see. I did not see. I did not see the prince’s face.”

Snatching off the mask, the king sees that it’s not Sun. The eunuch can only cry that he knows nothing and saw nothing.

The next morning, Sun sets out into the bustling marketplace, and his first instinct is to hide his face from sight. But he’s treated like any other normal commoner, with no fingers or whispers pointed his way.

Outside of town, a young lady gathers flowers on a hillside. A peasant woman comes to her in a panic, asking for her help in tending to a sick boy. The young woman is HAN GA-EUN (Kim So-hyun), and she appears to know a thing or two about healing, pinpointing the cause as eating a poisonous plant. Ga-eun assures the mother that the boy will be fine with some medicine and even offers to buy it, knowing the poor woman can’t.

Sun cautiously makes his way through the crowded village, unused to this freedom but learning to enjoy it. He browses the wares, pets puppies, and even attracts the notice of flirtatious gisaengs. At one point, he crosses paths with Ga-eun, though neither takes notice of the other.

At one of the local Water Bureaus, an angry boss lectures his water deliverers on the graveness of stealing his water, and offers a reward for the capture of thieves. And if people cause trouble because they think water prices are too high, he instructs his men to simply kill them.

Throughout this speech, one of the water bearers grits his teeth, and afterward his father pulls him aside to tell him to bite his tongue and not cause trouble, no matter what he feels. The young man is named Lee Sun (L), and he tells his father to worry about himself first.

Prince Sun’s good mood takes a nosedive when he turns a corner into the slummy part of town, and he sees starving and sick commoners huddled in the streets. The miserable sight fills him with shock.

Peasant Sun takes up his post at a heavily guarded well and starts doling out water buckets to the customers. Prince Sun approaches carrying a sick boy on his back, and before anybody can stop him, the boy grabs a bowl and gulps down the water.

Peasant Sun demands payment, and Prince Sun is surprised to hear that water is even for sale, not to mention its exorbitant price. Peasant Sun just tells him to pay up or go elsewhere, but that sparks tempers in an already disgruntled crowd, who start cursing Peasant Sun as “butcher bastard” and blaming him for the high prices. (Butchers were looked down on as the lowest of the low.)

One man grabs Peasant Sun and throws him to the ground, and others join in on kicking him while he’s down. The prince tries to intervene, but can’t do much to stop the brewing melee.

Peasant Sun calls his attackers cowards for taking out their anger on him, which provokes them even more. The situation escalates until finally a crowd of men charges the well to fill their buckets freely.

Prince Sun yells ineffectually for them to stop, and wonders to himself how people could fight over “just water.” Hearing that, Peasant Sun shoots him a sharp look.

That’s when the Water Bureau boss comes riding in with backup, and people scatter. The boss lines up his bow and arrow, and lets loose—hitting Prince Sun squarely in the chest with his arrow.

Or at least, it lands in the bundle slung around Sun’s neck, which stops the arrow from piercing skin. Getting up, Sun runs from the scene, and the boss chases on foot.

Ga-eun buys medicine for the sick boy and sends it back with his mother, just as shouts sound down the street. She sees Prince Sun racing through the crowd in her direction, with men hot in pursuit screaming to shoot him.

As he races by, Sun stumbles into a bystander, then falls backward right into Ga-eun’s arms.

 
COMMENTS

Historical note: This drama is presenting itself as historical fiction, but appears to be very loosely incorporating facts and personages around the time of Crown Prince Sado and King Yeongjo. (Projects involving these figures include Yi San, Sado, and Secret Door.) The drama is taking care not to make this an official connection, changing key facts to remain in the realm of fiction, but there are clear parallels, and not purely out of coincidence.

Such as: Yoo Seung-ho’s character is named Lee Sun, as Sado was named. His mother is Yeongbin Consort Lee, as was Sado’s mother. The character’s father is portrayed as a king desperate to cast off the political strings to which he is beholden, and is complicit in the murder of his older brother, the previous king—this reflects the life of King Yeongjo, who was hamstrung by the Noron political faction and who ascended to the throne after the untimely death of his brother, Gyeongjong, whom he was suspected to have killed. On the other hand, this drama’s king is named Lee Yoon, which was not Yeongjo’s name, and I don’t expect him to rule for fifty years. It appears this drama’s Sun will take the throne, which Sado never did.

So I take that we are meant to understand the rough time period and political climate, without seeing Ruler as a representation of real history. (Which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned, because I’m not sure I could stand that tragic, grisly fate for Yoo Seung-ho; it was bad enough to inflict it on Lee Je-hoon and Yoo Ah-in!) I find it a smart move, too, because it avoids the pitfalls of basing a story on a real character and then ignoring key facts (ahem, Moonlight Drawn By Clouds), while still being able to transfer some of the gravitas of the real history into this fictional setup. For instance, Yoo Seung-ho is not playing Crown Prince Sado, but there’s enough of an association that it evokes a pang of wistfulness and fear of tragedy striking him (without also having to work around making him married, or a murderer). I like this kind of ambiguity, because they’re not going all willy-nilly with history, but they’re not tying their hands from the outset, either.

I also like that the drama plays with an open interpretation regarding Sun’s birth—the characters have accepted that Sun was born into a fortunate fate, but the show has absolutely left open the possibility that he was born early, which keeps us guessing as to what kind of ending is in store for him.

As a premiere episode, I thought Ruler quick-paced in a good way, not least because keeping plot moving keeps you engrossed in the story without having enough time to think, “Wait a minute… but…” And there were definitely a few moments in this episode where I had those thoughts, but brushed them aside because Yoo Seung-ho is so damn compelling and I just wanted more of his plaintive emotions and expressive eyes. He really sells the lonely, sheltered prince character well, and I totally buy into every aspect of his emotions. There are characters I’m not quite as sold on, but where our hero is concerned, I’m fully onboard, and I have a feeling that is going to carry us a long way.

I’m not so sure the poison addiction thing makes sense to me (you poison someone… and they have to keep taking poison… so that they don’t get poisoned… but the moment they stop taking poison they’ll succumb to poison?) and the burning tattoo made me think of a less-carefully-plotted Mirror of the Witch, but in the big picture they’re minor points that don’t alter the overall arc for me. I sort of hate the Hwa-goon character right off the bat, largely because she seems snotty, and it made me angry that she got to be the first person to see the prince’s face and live. But I (1) anticipate major character change for her down the line, and (2) don’t have to like her because I have Kim So-hyun, so that concern is taken care of.

I don’t think this will be a seamless sageuk experience given that I can kind of see little cracks already, but I think it still has potential to be fast-moving, compelling, and addictive. Mostly, I see this as a drama that will be carried by the performances and character development, with Prince Sun’s aching isolation at the heart of the show, bolstered by his growth as his eyes are opened to the suffering around him, as well as Peasant Sun’s frustration at being branded with his low birth. We’ve barely gotten to know Ga-eun, but with a major transformation and revenge arc headed her way, I think I can expect this conflicted romance to twist me up in a really good way.

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omg it was so good. Can't wait to see more of out OTP:)

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Thanks for explaining the commercial situation. I was worried I'd have to wait another week to see CP and Ga-eun together!

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Maybe Subway can just advertise during the commercial break and lay off the PPL.

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I kept holding my breath while reading. It's been a long time watching something like this after Empress ki. They look kind of similar plus it's so thrilling and the suspence...i think i'm going to go crazy?

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that's so cute, about Snotty Hwa-goon -- how you said "i don't have to like her, because i have Kim So-hyun"! i was thinking the same thing...
; )

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Actually im a big fan of infinite. Im so glad to see L on ghe small screen.

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KSH is a beauty in historical garb.

And JB is back at recapping!

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Well the question I asked on the Suspicious Partner thread, got answered on this thread! Now I know why they are dividing the epis. However I agree that they could've done this in a less conspicuous way. I feel the cut makes the flow of the epis a bit odd. Anyways, I still haven't started this drama.

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I'm a little late. Whoops. I just finished watching Suspicious Partner and this was next on my list. Another good first impression as So Hyun is looking great as always. Seung Ho pulled us in once again. Here's hoping to a happy and light beginning before the tragedy strikes.

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The first episode was good and I like the pacing of the story.

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Omo!! What a drama!! I think my poor heart can't resist crown prince magnetism..let's pray it will good until the end...

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(2) don’t have to like her because I have Kim So-hyun, so that concern is taken care of.

I lauhged out on this part!!! lol... and yes I badly wanted Kim So Hyun to be the one who first saw the prince face, but then "logically" speaking I don't think there would be any chance of her going to the palace and doing anything reckless as the other one.

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the long wait is over, finally........... the are back.... omo i have never waited for a show this long oh........ the 2 episodes ended 2 much fast.... i was and am seriously crying

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The recap version of the prophecy made more sense (less nonsense?) than the subs in the version I saw. Going by the subs (because they're an easier target)...
He'll encounter difficulties. He'll be a good king if he overcomes them and he's screwed if he doesn't. Well, duh. When has a king not run into obstacles, in Joseon or in a kdrama? Isn't overcoming them what makes him a good king? And doesn't failing pretty much mean he's a failure?
Then the 9 to 11 business.... sounds like prime time = good, daytime drama = bad :)

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I think the (ultimate) difficulty the prophecy talking about is the secret organization. If he overcome it, he'll be a great king who will be able to surpass any obstacles that will come his way but if he unfortunately succumb to to their power then it means his reign is a failure.

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Oh PHEW! So glad there will be another 'episode' out. I thought Ep1-2 was two standard episodes but it felt WAY WAY short like it was over before I took my second breath. So it was just part1-part2 of Ep 1. I see now.

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Thanks for the recap, JB! Now I get why there were two ep's of 1/2 hour each while watching last night. Didn't realize there's a new format.

I love YSH and KSH already. Definitely captivating to watch Prince Sun dealing with his supposed illness, his sheltered life, curiosity about the outside world and tasting freedom, being shocked by the sick and hungry citizens, etc. I can already see how this paves the way for the prince to develop into a great king who cares for his people and will fight against Pyunsoohwe.

The character on the baby's back and the whole killing those who see the prince's face thing as well as the mask brought back Mirror of the Witch and Hwarang vibes. I'm anticipating the relationship and angst between the prince and GE.

Peasant Sun also seems interesting and looks like he'd given anything to change his lowly status. I don't like HG at all, acting all high and mighty in the palace.

So happy to see PCM as Woo Bo! Anyway, off to watch the next parts!

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It's finally here after waiting for like a year, i wants all the cutes before everything goes dark. I might the weird one here but i actually didn't see any problem with the second female lead seeing his face first because i know that ksh's place is un disputed hahaha.
Lol @the second last paragraph of jb comments, this is not my first time of seeing this in a sageuk before, there was this drama where one of the characters got poisoned and the solution or the antidote for it was to use poison to treat poison, that same poison. so it's not really new for me, maybe it's because i'm sageuk lover..

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With all the little blood spots on peoples necks, you'd think Korea was infested with vampires with a odd number of teeth :)

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Hahaha so true..

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Then we'd have Ruler Master Who Walks the Night lol.

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I miss you javabeans doing recap ? Yes, Yoo Seung-ho has everything down pat, he got the cheerfulness, the buoyant young prince who is eager to see the world, at the same time carries on the frustation that I know it will turn to some heavy sadness down the story line, I know he can do it with all the gravitas.

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Hwa goon's rudeness annoyed me for some moments..

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Okay they should introduce the Prince's bodyguard too. I remember he was in age of youth..

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JB, many thanks for the wonderful recap. Must confess I started watching Ruler only after reading the news item that Hwang Chi Yeul was part of the OST line-up. I have only watched (and liked) Yoo Seung Ho in "Imaginary Cat" and never watched Kim So Hyun in anything but after watching the first two episodes (yet to watch Ep 2 with subs, I don't understand Korean at all) I must say YSH and KSH are awesome actors!

So excited to hear a bit of HCY's OST at the end of both episodes and hoping that his OST will be released soon :)

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To be honest, this is my first Yoo Seung Ho drama, so i don't know what to expect. The first 2 episodes were okay for me and i'm excited that i have no clue what's going to happen! ^^

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I was thoroughly confused when I saw two episodes uploaded; I thought I had lost a day. I agree with @javabeans that the premiere watched fast even with its short thirty-minute episodes. Yoo Seung Ho is amazing. I welcome him back to my screen. It is so sad how Sun has to talk to his mask as his only friend. He looked like a little boy fascinated by everything in the marketplace, reminding me of Ariel in The Little Mermaid. A Puppy petting puppies! At first, I thought the books his eunuch slipped him were smutty books. (Sorry, wrong drama.)

I wondered if we were supposed to hate Hwa Goon because I hated her as soon as she trespassed in his greenhouse (Get out of his room!), and then she freaking pricks him! WTF!? I knew that was going to be how Hwa Goon would recognize the crown prince. But then she covered for Sun in front of Dae Mok, which made me hate her less. I have to admit they had chemistry, though, when Sun hid Hwa Goon with his hand over her mouth. When Hwa Goon said, "I'm not interested in being a mere crown princess," did she mean she wants to be queen? As for Hwa Goon pricking her own neck, she totally looks like the pain-and-pleasure type.

I suspect the consort gave birth before 9 (How does one hold in a baby for hours?), and the bad fortune will come true. I could not believe the king actually presided over court before giving the baby the antidote. When Woo Bo said, "The crown prince has fought off the poison" like fighting off a cold, wasn't it the antidote that saved him? The king must accept the consequences of making a deal with the devil. Pyunsoohwe is literally a cult. I feel scared for the eunuch dressed as Sun and the young man pretending to be Sun. From what we've learned from sageuks, palaces have terrible security with both Hwa Goon getting in and Sun getting out.

Ruler is like a cross between The Man in the Iron Mask and The Prince and the Pauper. Thanks a bunch for the recap, @javabeans!

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I've been waiting for this since casting was announced!! I was not disappointed! Excited for what's to come

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Its finally here! I am glad I liked the first episode. Off watvhing the next episode now.
Need to see more CP Lee Sun and Ga Eun scenes!

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Oops.. *watching

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I think am already in love with it can't wait for the next episode..... also can't wait for the two Suns to meet again...

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This drama kept giving me Hwarang vibes all the way through.

Couldn't these people think of a better way to hide the prince than "any one who sees hi face dies?"

And I am really not looking forward to the love triangle/unrequited love story line. I am so tired of that plot device.

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im watching this because of YSH. Period. ???

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Kim So-hyun is born for sageuk. She looks like a perfect crown princess.

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Yoo Seung-ho is doing great so far. Yoon So-hee...not so much. She's rather stiff and it doesn't help that they are trying to make her into a arrogant lady who thinks everything is within her grasp...

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It's GOOD!!! It's GOOD!!! It's GOOD!!!
try to watch it first before judging that it's copying moonlight or moon heart...
besides the leads are yoo seung ho and kim soo hyun they are both child actors.. no disappointment in acting... just the story flow...

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"I sort of hate the Hwa-goon character right off the bat, but I don’t have to like her because I have Kim So-hyun, so that concern is taken care of."

Can't agree more!

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I am absolutely LOVING this!!!

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I am in love with this drama already! I can just feel the angst coming but I say bring it on! My feels are ready to be sucker punched in the gut by Yoo Seung-ho's soulful eyes! *whimpers* hurts so goooood!

Drama put me in the mood for romance Segueks after watching this. Any romantic seguek recommendations with (hopefully) happy endings?

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Kim So Hyun just shines.

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I think I'm in love with Yoo Seungho.

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I've heard people kept kept talking about L's bad acting, but from what I saw, he's not bad at all ! I find his acting is very compeling. The king, the queen, and concubine Young Bin, all of them are good, too.

IMHO, the most compeling characters are Dae Mok which Heo Jun Ho portraits. I love the way how he adds tiny gestures to his character (tapping his finger etc). The way how he grins scares me to death. What a talented actor!

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SBS and MBC, why you gotta be confusing and splitting your episodes like this???

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yoo seungho and kim sohyun for sure can carry the melodrama so well. i keep remember their painful scene in drama I Miss You, their eyes tell the story.
it going to be heavy plot later on. i wonder how han gaeun can accept back crown prince, if it is true he is the one that killed her father

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Why do I get the impression already that Yoon so hee is in for a kicking in this drama. Already comments in another place are dissing her. Is this the character being confused with the actor, or what? MLDBC was good but also had some significant flaws. Why it got more acclaim than SHR I will never understand.

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Why do I get the impression already that Yoon so hee is in for a kicking in this drama? Allready comments in another place are dissing her. Is this the character being confused with the actor, or what? MLDBC was good but also had some significant flaws. Why it got more acclaim than SHR I will never understand.

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am i the only one wondering why it's a problem for the prince to join the pyunsoohwe when he somehow became immune to poison when he was poisoned as a baby?
did i miss something

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I am in two minds about this drama as for me it has both good and bad points. I don't like the references, comparisons to MLDBC. I understand the same historical period is covered but neither of them is meant to be accurate historical portrayal. I want to criticise @javabeans for confusing dislike of the character of Hwa goon and Yoon so-hee as an actor. Your personal prejudices are showing and it is fueling a degree of deliberately negative comment towards that person.

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Somebody probably already said this but the poison thing should be easy to understand. It's supposed to be opium (even though I'm pretty sure you can't get that out of the flowers, not sure you're supposed to drink it either), so it causes hallucinations and causes one to become addicted, since the water ppl seem to be the only ones producing opium, those who are addicted are dependent on them to not fall into withdrawal.

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I want to watch this becouse this is very interesting but the problem is in youtube thier is no complete episode...

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I just started watching this drama, the moment Hwa Goon sees the prince face, I was like questioning myself, will it be her? the romantic partner of the prince? coz, I dont know why, but I dont like her. I was thinking to stop watching this drama because of her, however i end up pausing the episode, get hold of my phone and search about this drama, fortunately i found the other girl, so in short, i will not deal with Hwa Goon that much haha.. so I continue watching...

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