Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 5-6
As our villains step up to remind the king of his place, our prince finally learns the truth about his past. When it turns out that the king’s throne is nothing more than a decorative chair, however, Prince Sun is forced to make a choice: obey the villains like his father, or defy them and fight for a better future. But when his attempt to fix things only seems to make things worse, is Sun prepared to be more than just a mask?
EPISODE 5 RECAP
Led by Gon, Pyunsoohwe surrounds our heroes to collect the crown prince. When they refuse to comply, Gon commands his archers to shoot. Chung-woon holds off the attackers as best as he can, but it’s clear from the tide of battle that their best bet is to run and wait for the palace guards to arrive.
Following the path cleared by Chung-woon, Prince Sun picks up an abandoned sword from the ground and protects a frightened Lee Sun with his body. Noting their escape, Gon leaps into their path to stop them, forcing Prince Sun to draw his sword. Sun is good, but Gon is better, as each thrusts and parries. Thankfully, Chung-woon blocks a potentially fatal blow aimed at the prince at the last moment.
Gon and Chung-woon face off, and they’re evenly matched until Gon manages to cut Chung-woon’s arm and knock him to his feet. This time, it’s Prince Sun who leaps to the rescue. Protecting Chung-woon and Lee Sun, Sun swears to go with Gon if it will end this battle. Behind him, Chung-woon grimaces in fury.
But instead, Gon catches sight of the prince’s jade identification emblem, which is still in Lee Sun’s hands as he trembles on the ground. Gon declares to his men that Lee Sun must be the real prince and orders them to capture him.
Before they can, however, a new force comes thundering in on horseback to save our prince: the palace guards. As Gon and his men retreat, Prince Sun and his companions take the chance to escape.
Meanwhile at Pyunsoohwe, Hwa-goon’s father overhears Hwa-goon’s attempts to convince Dae-mok not to kill the crown prince. When Dae-mok asks for her reasoning, Hwa-goon tells him that it’s because Prince Sun will surely become a mighty king. Picking up the cup of tea he used as an analogy before regarding their relationship to the king, she turns his words on him: “We can’t make good tea out of rotten leaves.”
Chuckling fondly at his granddaughter’s wise words, Dae-mok starts to agree that it’s more rewarding to raise a tiger than to kill it — but Hwa-goon disagrees once again. “A true master will gain the tiger’s affection,” she says. “Only then will it stay by our side, even if we don’t feed it.”
Dae-mok finally agrees to give her the crown prince if she can manage to gain the prince’s heart. Behind them, Hwa-goon’s father watches with a discomfited expression. Me too, buddy.
Meanwhile, the nervous officer assisting Deputy Magistrate Han, whose name is PARK MOO-HA, shares a drink with an elderly villager and the deputy magistrate as part of their water supply investigation. The villager, who once built the irrigation system, admits that he changed the flow of the water (to only benefit the Water Bureau) when he built it, but he refuses to testify since it would put his family in danger.
When Deputy Magistrate Han promises to find a way to secure his family’s safety, the villager finally relents, agreeing to share what he knows. Unbeknownst to them, however, a Pyunsoohwe member listens in on the conversation before sneaking away.
As they catch their breath in an alleyway, Prince Sun notes the bloody wound on Chung-woon’s arm. Overwhelmed by guilt, Sun blurts out an apology for interjecting himself into the fray. Chung-woon, however, is unforgiving: “There are fates worse than death,” he hisses. “I am your bodyguard! Do not try to save me again.”
Undeterred by Chung-woon’s anger, Sun just perks up at Chung-woon’s promise to be his bodyguard. Brushing off the touching moment, Chung-woon tells them that he’ll go on ahead to scope out the situation. Noting the wound in Sun’s own arm, he grimly orders Lee Sun to keep the prince from doing anything reckless.
As soon as he leaves, Sun tells Lee Sun not to be intimidated by Chung-woon’s strict demeanor. Still shaking, Lee Sun can only ask why Prince Sun is being so kind to someone as lowly as he is. Prince Sun: “Because you’re the first friend I’ve ever made. Because you gave up your revenge and trusted me.” Aw.
Back at the office, Moo-ha and Deputy Magistrate Han finish mapping the water supply lines to find that the Water Bureau is indeed redirecting the water to fill their own wells. In addition, they now know that Pyunsoohwe is behind the Water Bureau’s activities.
In the village that night, Lee Sun’s poor mother weeps over her late husband’s corpse. A group of villagers barge in, telling Woo Bo that they’re prepared to storm the Water Bureau and protest the injustice, but Woo Bo shouts at them not to do anything worthless — the bureau would never budge. Knowing he’s right, Ga-eun and the villagers sit helplessly by.
At that night’s Pyunsoohwe meeting, Gon reports to Dae-mok that he failed to capture the prince, but he was able to get a look at his face. Though the prince was disguised as a peasant, he was holding the prince’s emblem and was being protected by his other two companions.
The Central District Bureau representative then notes that the crown prince has ordered an investigation of the water supply. Though the investigation hasn’t gotten far, they have achieved good progress. In addition, another member reports, the king’s fake crown princes are still in place.
Hearing all this, Dae-mok tut-tuts at the prince’s rebelliousness, deciding that it would be best if the prince were punished… by the king’s orders. Only then, Dae-mok says, can they prove that even the king cannot protect him. He orders Pyunsoohwe to remove the palace guards, aiming to force Prince Sun come to Pyunsoohwe on his own.
Outside the palace, Chung-woon hides in the shadows, confused to see the guards leaving their stations. More worrisome, however, is the high magistrate making his way toward the king’s quarters.
The magistrate, who is also a Pyunsoohwe member, informs the king that Prince Sun has ordered an investigation into the Water Bureau. If the king allows this strike against Pyunsoohwe, the magistrate warns, they can no longer guarantee his safety. He asks the king to arrest the investigators for falsely using the prince’s name and to initiate the prince into Pyunsoohwe.
To make is meaning more clear, the magistrate informs him of some “unexpected” future tragedies: The elderly stonemason will “take his own life,” he says, and the king’s fake crown princes will “suffer terrible accidents.” As he speaks, we see these people ruthlessly murdered by Pyunsoohwe. The magistrate then “requests” the helpless king’s cooperation.
When Moo-ha and Deputy Magistrate Han return to the village, Woo Bo appears to tell them not to investigate too thoroughly — it will only put them in danger. This time, though, they bring out the crown prince’s royal decree naming them the chief investigators into the Water Bureau case: They might be too weak on their own, they argue, but the crown prince is on their side.
Immediately recognizing the implications, however, Woo Bo crumples the decree and orders them to stop their investigation immediately. Only then, he says, can both the prince and the village survive. Behind them, Ga-eun listens in shock.
Escorted by Chung-woon and Commander Lee, Prince Sun and Lee Sun arrive at the king’s quarters. Before they enter, Prince Sun urges Lee Sun to come inside with him so he can protest the injustice to the king himself.
As soon as they go in, however, the king erupts at Prince Sun for his reckless actions — specifically for investigating the Water Bureau. Sun is shocked that the king knows about the investigation, but he quickly recovers to inform him of all of the bureau’s injustices and murders, including Lee Sun’s father’s death. He begs the king to dissolve the bureau.
The king tries to tell him that he’s not powerful enough to fight yet, but when the prince refuses to listen, the king is forced to shout: “The Water Bureau was the price for your life!” Damn. Defeated, the king orders everyone out so he can have a private word with his son.
Alone with the prince, the king confesses the truth of Sun’s birth, and the reason he had to wear a mask since infancy: His life was not threatened by disease, but by poison. Only by making a deal with Pyunsoohwe was he able to save Sun’s life — but because he didn’t want Sun to become Pyunsoohwe’s puppet, the king explains that he masked him to protect his identity.
In shock and denial, Sun rejects the explanation: “The king is chosen by the gods to protect the people in their place. You taught me to become someone who always protects the people. But now you tell me that the unjust Water Bureau… was created because of me?” Argh.
That night, Hwa-goon meets her father at Pyunsoohwe, who dotes on her even more than Dae-mok does. When Hwa-goon tells him that she wants to become the crown princess, he fiercely refuses… because he can’t give away his cute daughter to a diseased leper. In addition, he says, Dae-mok would never allow it.
When Hwa-goon tries to insist that he could become more powerful than even Dae-mok if she became the crown princess, he finally smiles at her stubbornness and promises to try and convince the queen tomorrow.
Back at the king’s quarters, Commander Lee frantically brings in one the prince’s impersonators. The young man has been poisoned, but he has a dying message to deliver to the prince: arrest Deputy Magistrate Han and Officer Park Moo-ha, or the prince’s life will be in danger.
As the poisoned impersonator collapses to the ground, foaming at the mouth, the king orders their immediate arrest. Nooo! The guards storm into Ga-eun’s home, arresting Moo-ha and Deputy Magistrate Han for falsely using the prince’s royal name.
Prince Sun begs the king to withdraw his order, but the king angrily refuses: “If you resent me for being a puppet, then become a strong king who can oppose Pyunsoohwe!” With that, he orders that the guards lock the prince in his room so he can’t escape.
As the guards drag Deputy Magistrate Han away, Ga-eun sobs in protest, begging them to stop. Deputy Magistrate Han promises her that they’ll let him go as soon as the crown prince hears about it, but even he doesn’t look too convinced.
Now locked in his room, Prince Sun pounds against the doors, begging the king to withdraw his order, while outside the room, Lee Sun sits in a corner listening to the prince’s screams. The king and Commander Lee pass by at that moment, grimly trying to think of another potential prince impersonator with the name of Lee Sun. Not knowing Lee Sun’s name, the king just orders Commander Lee to send him home.
The next morning, the queen meets with Royal Consort Lee, handing her a list of the prince’s potential marriage partners for the crown prince. Consort Lee is flustered by the honor, but the queen tells her kindly that as the prince’s biological mother, she should have a say in whom he marries.
As Consort Lee leaves the palace, she runs into Hwa-goon, who’s now in formal attire since she’s come by to speak with the queen. Interestingly, Consort Lee looks at Hwa-goon with a less than enthused expression.
The queen meets with Hwa-goon and her father next, telling Hwa-goon that she likes her personally, but she can’t do anything about the fact that her grandfather opposes the marriage: “Has anyone in this country opposed Dae-mok and survived?” The queen expresses her regret at the turn of events, but Hwa-goon returns: “It is certainly regretful. But you will regret it much more ten years from now.” The queen’s smile falters.
Meanwhile, the king comes by Moo-ha and Deputy Magistrate Han’s prison cell. The king reminds Deputy Magistrate Han of his request the last time they’d met: to wait and become a loyal subject for the prince one day. “So how could you have accepted the crown prince’s decree? You should have told him that it was too soon!”
The king sadly informs him that he plans to obey Pyunsoohwe’s order to execute him. When Moo-ha leaps forward, begging for his life, Deputy Magistrate Han asks the king to find a way to save him, as he will surely become a pillar for Prince Sun in the future. The king agrees to save Moo-ha, and he agrees to protect Ga-eun as well. In return, the king has one final request to make of him.
Prince Sun sobs alone in his room, still begging that Deputy Magistrate Han be saved. “If he dies,” he cries, “how can I face Ga-eun again? How will I live with myself?”
EPISODE 6 RECAP
As Chung-woon and the prince’s eunuch, Chun-soo, listen to Sun sob from outside his room, they worry that he’ll collapse from depression. Just then, the king comes by to tell Chung-woon to release the prince and let him do as he must.
Sun hurries to the prison without his mask (but in his commoner disguise), and he unlocks Deputy Magistrate Han’s cell before telling him that the crown prince sent him to help him flee. But Deputy Magistrate Han shakes his head and simply asks Sun to tell the prince not to lose hope because of this. He asks Sun to deliver a handwritten letter to Ga-eun, asking him to take care of her.
But instead, Sun realizes that Deputy Magistrate Han must be refusing to flee for Ga-eun’s sake. Promising to bring Ga-eun to safety first, he swears to return to help him flee. Deputy Magistrate Han tries to stop him, but Sun just calls for Chung-woon to hurry. Recognizing the way he addresses his bodyguard, Deputy Magistrate Han realizes that Sun was the crown prince all along.
Arriving at Ga-eun’s house, Sun tells her that he met with her father, who promised to flee after she escaped safely first. When Ga-eun demands to know why he must flee when he did nothing wrong, Sun notes grimly that there is no way to prove her father’s innocence right now.
Ga-eun scoffs at the unjust situation, but Sun pulls out her father’s letter as proof. Taking her by the shoulders, he begs her to do as he says. She finally recognizes the truth and takes off on Sun’s horse, accompanied by a guard. In the shadows, Gon watches her escape.
Meanwhile, Hwa-goon sits in front of Dae-mok in protest, complaining that her father could have gotten her the seat of crown princess if only Dae-mok hadn’t intervened. But Dae-mok notes that that’s exactly why he opposed it: “If you want something, you cannot wait for someone to get it for you. Otherwise, it’s just as easy to take it away.”
Recognizing the wisdom of his words, Hwa-goon then asks Dae-mok for something else instead: Gon. Smiling, Dae-mok agrees — from today forward, Gon is hers to use as she pleases.
At the prison, Moo-ha kneels outside Deputy Magistrate Han’s cell as he sobs an apology for selfishly testifying against him and starting this whole investigation in the first place. But Deputy Magistrate Han only thanks him; if Moo-ha hadn’t let him know in the first place, he’d have been blind to Pyunsoohwe’s injustice forever.
Deputy Magistrate Han then makes a request of Moo-ha to support the crown prince. But Moo-ha refuses, still haunted by fear and dread. Understanding Moo-ha’s reluctance, Deputy Magistrate Han makes a different request: that he make sure Ga-eun does not see his execution.
As Moo-ha stumbles weakly out of the prison, Sun and Chung-woon hurry back to unlock his cell and help him flee now that Ga-eun is safe. However, now that he recognizes Sun as the crown prince, Deputy Magistrate Han kneels before him. Addressing Crown Prince Sun, he asks him to remember his death and become stronger for it, enough to face Pyunsoohwe one day.
Sun counters that they can fight together, begging Deputy Magistrate Han not to die because of him. But we flash back to see that the king’s request to Deputy Magistrate Han was for him to become Sun’s courage and motivation to prevent him from falling into a guilt-ridden depression.
So when Sun tells him that he doesn’t have the courage to live on if Deputy Magistrate Han dies, Deputy Magistrate Han tells the prince that he must endure the pain and continue to protect the people. “Do not think it would be better to have stayed silent,” he says. “If you do, Pyunsoohwe will only become stronger. I will think it as an honor that I was a stepping stone for you.”
Meanwhile, Gon reports to Dae-mok that the crown prince’s bodyguard helped Deputy Magistrate Han’s daughter escapes. Dae-mok smiles at this, knowing he’s found the prince’s weakness. Dae-mok tells Gon (who notices Hwa-goon listening from the shadows, though it’s unclear if Dae-mok does) that he will be Hwa-goon’s personal guard from now on, protecting and following her orders. But, he adds, Gon will continue to report to him.
Prince Sun returns to the king’s palace, begging the king not to kill an innocent subject. This time, however, they are interrupted by Sun’s eunuch, Chun-soo, who has a message from Pyunsoohwe: If Sun does not execute Deputy Magistrate Han himself by tomorrow, the people around him will die, one by one.
Sun is shocked by the message, but the situation worsens when Chun-soo collapses, foaming at the mouth from poison. Sun calls for a doctor, who manages to buy him a few last moments of lucidity. Weakly, Chun-soo croaks that if he knew he would die like this, he would have liked to have seen the prince’s face at least once.
At that, Sun removes his mask, and Chun-soo sighs that the prince is handsome. Sun does his best to crack a smile through his tears as he says, “Is that right? I knew you would say so,” before his eunuch breathes his last. Sun gathers his loyal servant in his arms and cries.
Above them, we see that Hwa-goon and Gon have snuck into the prince’s room, and they silently watch Sun mourn. As they leave, a sorrowful Hwa-goon turns to Gon and tells him that as her personal servant, he must protect her in every way. To that end, she says, he must protect the prince as well: “If you harm the prince, you are harming me. If he dies, I die as well. So protect the crown prince as you would protect me. That way, I shall live.” Gon nods.
The next morning, Sun is still sobbing over the loss of Chun-soo when the king enters. Instead of comforting him, however, the king coldly orders Sun to kill Deputy Magistrate Han himself — avoiding his responsibility will only cause more people to die. “Chun-soo is only the first of your servants to die because of you,” he says gravely. “As the king of Joseon, one word from you will save or kill your people. That’s who you are now.” Sun stares at him in shock.
Meanwhile, in a secluded village, Ga-eun reads her father’s letter, which beseeches her not to blame the prince for his death: “I have chosen justice over my life. I’m sorry, and I love you.” Horrified, Ga-eun mounts a horse and races back to the palace.
A devastated Prince Sun tells the king that he would rather die than kill an innocent subject. When the king yells that he must become stronger, Sun screams back that he never wished to be the crown prince or wear this mask. “Why should I live at the expense of my subject?! Why did you make a deal with Pyunsoohwe?! Why did you save me and create the Water Bureau?!” At Sun’s pained screams, the king falls into shocked silence.
Before long, Sun faints from exhaustion and sorrow. As Chung-woon hurries forward to catch him, the horrified king wonders what to do. In response, Chung-woon fiercely grits out: “The crown prince will kill Deputy Magistrate Han with his own two hands.”
In the village, Lee Sun makes a meager meal of leftover rice for his exhausted mother and sister, and suddenly, Woo Bo comes by with a bag of rice. As Lee Sun follows Woo Bo to Ga-eun’s house to deliver a bag to her as well, he demands to know how they can get rid of the Water Bureau. To Lee Sun’s shock, Woo Bo tells him that no one can get rid of it, not even the king. Why? Woo Bo: “Because even the king does not own Joseon.”
Suddenly, a panicked villager comes to find Woo Bo to tell him that Deputy Magistrate Han is about to be executed — by the crown prince himself. Ga-eun arrives at that moment, horrified.
Meanwhile, Sun wakes up alone in a locked cell. He pounds against the door, screaming for someone to let him out, when suddenly the door is opened… by Hwa-goon. He recognizes her as the girl from the greenhouse before pushing past her in a panic. Undeterred, Hwa-goon offers to lend him her horse.
And so, Hwa-goon and Sun race toward the execution site while Ga-eun and the villagers do the same.
When they arrive, the villagers hold back a sobbing Ga-eun. Sun leaps off his horse and pushes his way through the crowd, yelling that the proceedings be stopped immediately.
Meanwhile, Chung-woon — dressed in the prince’s robes and donning Sun’s mask — lifts his sword and squeezes his eyes shut as he prepares to swing.
Poor Sun! Poor Ga-eun! Poor all of our protagonists! I’m impressed by how well this show has managed to demonstrate the stakes without making it in-your-face tragic. In particular, the show isn’t afraid to make the worst happen to our characters, but it also likes to leave the smallest glimmer of hope with each crisis. This last cliffhanger, for example, was a particularly interesting move to me: Although we already know from the outset that Deputy Magistrate Han will die, by cutting off the episode before the deed, it still leaves the audience wondering that there could be an alternate fate in store.
Even apart from that hope, though, I found the conflicts in these episodes to be heart-wrenchingly well done. Even though the tragedies are sometimes dragged out too long, with strong emotional gravitas supported by Yoo Seung-ho’s excellent performance, we’re left feeling genuinely sorry for our heroes. Our current conflict is far from simple; no matter which direction they choose, the plot forces our characters to make bold, horrifying decisions about the value of human life, and in doing so, it even urges the viewers to confront their own moral codes.
Again, I do think that these conflicts are so much more magnetic because of our hero, Prince Sun. This show knows it and milks his character for all he’s worth, both in scenes of confrontation and in directing decisions. For example, I thought the contrast between Sun — who ran around frantically and helplessly all episode — and Dae-mok, who literally does not lift a finger but holds all the power — added a lot to the futility of the situation in these episodes. Knowing that our hero is an almost naively idealistic prince whose biggest fear is failing to protect his people, these episodes helped us realize how much Sun has to grow. Trying to protect Lee Sun in the beginning of Episode 5, for example, only serves to make Lee Sun a target of Pyunsoohwe; attempting to help the people by fixing the water supply only endangers them further. Even the prince’s very existence, as he finds out, is the reason that the Water Bureau exists and causes so much suffering. Though one can hardly blame Sun for the lack of water, it’s easy to see why even a small connection would be devastating for our emotionally vulnerable prince.
I unexpectedly really enjoyed the villain interactions in these episodes, particularly Hwa-goon and Dae-mok’s rapport. Though Pyunsoohwe might be straight-up evil, I love that they are competent at it, and I love even more that their ability to love each other does not detract from their competence at being the bad guys. In fact, in these episodes, Hwa-goon showed a much stronger capability for strategizing than she did last episode. Not only is she willing to listen to Dae-mok, who is chock to the brim with Machiavellian/Sun Tzu axioms, she also shows natural talent in persuasion and scheming. I’m not expressing satisfaction with Yoon So-hee’s acting yet, which I think could have been better executed by someone with more confidence or at least a deeper willingness to dive into the character, but I have to say that Hwa-goon herself is becoming a really interesting and terrifying person, especially now that we know she’s not brainless, either.
At the same time, I think Hwa-goon’s weird, obsessive love for the prince is a weak point for her character. From these episodes, I think Hwa-goon actually has a lot going for her: she’s intelligent, she’s cunning, she’s lovable and charming, and she loves her family. She’s especially great as a villain: She learns quickly and she’s receptive to Dae-mok’s teachings, giving her a lot of potential to grow in a short period of time. In fact, she’s almost relatable… until she goes crazy with the insta-love. After these episodes, I found myself wishing for less of the crazy and more of the brains, giving her more potential for a more interesting arc instead of having her character fated to jealousy and crazy obsession. As it stands, Hwa-goon’s affection for Sun essentially eliminates the viewers’ dread that she might be a danger to the prince’s life. I might be wrong by all of this, of course, but I almost feel that her character could be greatly improved by allowing her a more realistic emotional spectrum, rather than making her just plain volatile.
Finally, I just want to give a shout-out to the costuming department, which has put a lot of effort into tailoring the costumes to each character. Hwa-goon is always in deep purple, which is a confident and bold color. Prince Sun, meanwhile, wears a metal mask — intricate and beautiful, as I’ve mentioned before, but permanently inhuman. The plainly inhuman mask can never become his face; flesh and bone cannot mold to metal. No matter how much the king tries to protect his true identity, the prince cannot wear the mask forever, not when it is so different from his true face.
In the end, all of these minor decisions contribute to creating strong, willful characters with real goals and human personalities. Coolheaded and strong-willed Ga-eun will surely think of a solution, no matter how terrible the tragedy; idealistic and kind Prince Sun will never give up on his people; unconfident but intelligent Lee Sun has the potential to turn his anger into leadership; and volatile and dangerous Hwa-goon will do her best to guide the prince into her hands. I love being able to put my faith in characters to lead the show forward, and Ruler has already managed to make those characters worth watching.
- Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 1-2
- Premiere Watch: Individualist Ji-young, Ruler, Suspicious Partner
- The prince casts off his mask to fight for the people in Ruler–Master of the Mask
- Master of the Mask Yoo Seung-ho extends a hand to knife-wielding Kim So-hyun
- Vows made, virtues rejected in Ruler–Master of the Mask’s character posters
- Prince and pauper trade identities in Ruler–Master of the Mask
- A flirty prince and a tragic twist in Ruler–Master of the Mask
- Character stills and extended descriptions for MBC’s Ruler–Master of the Mask
- Headless paupers and princes for Ruler–Master of the Mask posters
- Yoo Seung-ho becomes Ruler–Master of the Mask in order to live
- Yoo Seung-ho becomes the prince behind the mask in new Ruler–Master of the Mask teaser