Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 19-20
Sun faces a new challenge this episode, one that pushes him to question what exactly he wants and how he’ll get it. While our hero struggles about what move to make next, our heroine charges into action, ready to fight for the truth as she knows it. However, friends and foes are everywhere as all the different factions continue to scheme and fight for control of the throne.
EPISODE 19 RECAP
As two court ladies prepare Ga-eun for her initiation, she narrates how she finally understands why her father chose justice over life. Remembering the death of the little girl, Yang, Ga-eun claims to have also found something she wants more than life: to dethrone the king.
All dressed and ready, Ga-eun steps out of her home to join the court ladies, but suddenly stops when she finds Kko-mool standing behind her, tugging on her skirt. Kko-mool gives her a wistful look, and Ga-eun wraps her in a silent embrace before departing.
Ga-eun arrives at the palace entrance, but before she passes through the gates, Sun calls out her name. He runs towards her, but Ga-eun explains in voiceover that she will also fight against Pyunsoohwe. She turns away, and the guards block Sun from entering as the gates close between them.
Back at the house, Lee Sun’s mother passes along Ga-eun’s vague message about having something to do, and Sun asks if she left anything in particular to him. Lee Sun’s mother says that Ga-eun apologized to Sun, and then continues to cry, since she knows that court ladies can only leave the palace once they’re dead.
Sun marches out of the house determined to bring Ga-eun back, but Chung-woon stops him, reminding him that Ga-eun left voluntarily. However, Sun remains undeterred by Chung-woon’s pleas since he’s fixated on rescuing Ga-eun. He only pauses when Woo Bo comes out to scold him for being foolish.
Woo Bo asks how Sun will bring Ga-eun back, or if she’ll die if he doesn’t go to her right now. Angered, Sun wonders if Woo Bo is suggesting that they leave Ga-eun there, but he warns Sun that Ga-eun’s life may be endangered if he acts in haste. Instead, Woo Bo advises Sun to meet Lee Sun first and ask him for help.
The queen dowager introduces Ga-eun to Lee Sun as his new court lady, and Lee Sun fails to hide his amazement and love as he stares at Ga-eun throughout the whole meeting. The queen dismisses Ga-eun, and once outside, the queen’s court lady leads her away.
Now alone, the queen says that she kept her promise and tells him that she’ll soon make Ga-eun his concubine after she serves as his court lady. Lee Sun thanks the queen, and she asks him if he now knows who to join hands with.
However, Lee Sun remembers Dae-mok’s “gift” of seeing his family (aka threatening him with his mother and sister) and avoids answering the queen’s question. Noting his silence, the queen quickly broaches a new topic: General Choi Heon is returning.
In front of all the members of Pyunsoohwe, Dae-mok introduces Hwa-goon as their new leader, and she marches to the front to take her spot. Immediately, Dae-mok gives Hwa-goon her first task, which is to address a request from the assistant head (aka her demoted father).
Hwa-goon’s father asks for permission to manage the poppy field, but Hwa-goon resists at first, deeming the position beneath him. Swallowing his pride, her father politely argues that managing the fields is not insignificant, and Dae-mok agrees with his son for once, though he continues to belittle him as he mockingly asks if he’ll fail at this task, too.
In private, the chief state councilor expresses his doubts about Hwa-goon to Dae-mok, especially since his recent actions have been uncharacteristic of him. Dae-mok calmly explains how Hwa-goon ran away from him five years ago, saying that she hated her grandfather, only to return all of a sudden to be his successor. Thus, Dae-mok is allowing her to proceed in order to find out what she’s planning.
Elsewhere, Sun sets his plans in motion as he uses the peddlers’ networks to figure out where the mountains named on the map might be located. Once they’re alone, Chung-woon tells Sun that it’s the first of the month, which means that he’ll be going to the palace today. He then asks what he’ll do if he meets Ga-eun, but learns that she chose to enter the palace by her own will. Unable to respond, Sun looks away.
Ga-eun attends to the king, helping him get ready, and Lee Sun gazes at her all the while. Once she finishes, Lee Sun asks if her new job is not too tiring, but before he can say much more, the head eunuch interrupts him.
As Ga-eun leaves, she runs into Sun, but quickly averts her eyes as she tries to pass him. Sun stops her by grabbing her wrist, but Ga-eun breaks free of his grip, reminding him that she’s a court lady and, therefore, cannot be touched by a man in the palace.
Sun is left speechless, and Ga-eun is called away by the queen’s court lady for a meeting. Soon after, the head eunuch arrives to escort Sun, and the eunuch’s words to prepare his body and mind stir Sun’s memories of when he was the prince.
Sun walks into the hall and bows before the king. He introduces himself as the Chief Peddler Park Chun-soo, but both men recognize the other and know the truth. Holding back his emotions, Lee Sun cryptically tells a tale about his old eunuch named Chun-soo who he wished were still alive, and Sun replies back with his own story about how he almost died and woke up with all his loved ones taken from him.
Lee Sun asks how Sun became the chief peddler, and he says that he was following his teacher’s advice about looking for an answer. When Sun tells him that he found what he was looking for, Lee Sun admits that he’s envious of him, since he hasn’t been at peace inside the palace.
Sun apologizes, but Lee Sun brushes it aside since he isn’t at fault, and instead wishes to meet him again in a less formal setting. Sun agrees, and then asks one final question to the king about a rainbow that has entered the palace. Decoding his words, Lee Sun’s eyes widen as he realizes that Sun is asking about Ga-eun.
Meanwhile, Ga-eun sits with other court ladies waiting for their lesson, and it’s Mae-chang who enters as their instructor.
Back in the hall, Lee Sun recalls the queen’s promise to make Ga-eun his concubine, and so he lies to Sun, pretending to not know what he’s asking. Their meeting ends, and Lee Sun looks at the dejected Sun with a steely gaze.
Ga-eun’s lessons have also finished, and once everyone leaves, she approaches Mae-chang to ask about the map. She knows Yang didn’t know how to write and reasoned that the detailed map must have come from Mae-chang.
Mae-chang admits the truth and tells Ga-eun that she meant no harm to Sun, though she can’t promise the map will not bring any. When Ga-eun asks why she gave the map, Mae-chang explains that she had no choice, but stops talking after noticing a window slightly ajar. She suddenly acts aloof, but passes a note to Ga-eun as she leaves.
Mae-chang meets in secret with her “father,” who asks her if she knew Yang. Mae-chang tells him that the little girl merely reminded her of when she was young and almost died from poison if “father” had not saved her. She then thanks him, but he knows Mae-chang has something else to say.
She asks him if they could help the real crown prince, and her father swings open the door in anger, revealing his identity as the head eunuch. He warns her to not side with anyone since, for their security, no king exists to them.
Sun leaves the palace, bothered by Lee Sun’s word about his lack of peace, but before he leaves, Ga-eun meets him and leads him to a secluded area. She tells him the province of the map—something she learned from Mae-chang’s note—and turns to leave.
Sun holds Ga-eun back and asks her a barrage of questions. She doesn’t answer, so Sun wonders if this means they’re not meant to be together. She tells him that she’s a court lady and cannot turn back to undo their cut tie. However, Sun steps in front of her and says that he’ll turn it back. All he needs is for her to tell him that there is still a place for him in her heart, but Ga-eun just walks away.
From a few feet away, Lee Sun watches their exchange in disbelief, and once alone in his chambers, his anger swells. He finally bursts, shouting for the head eunuch, and makes plans to visit the queen dowager right now.
EPISODE 20 RECAP
Lee Sun meets with the queen dowager in the middle of the night and desperately asks her to make Ga-eun his concubine. She tells him to wait since the law dictates that Ga-eun be trained first, but Lee Sun yells at the queen for stalling.
Realizing his outburst, Lee Sun apologizes, and though taken aback, the queen dowager regains her composure. She poses a question to Lee Sun, asking which should come first: making Ga-eun his concubine or restoring her father’s honor.
Lee Sun admits that the latter should be prioritized, so the queen dowager asks who would likely oppose it. Under his breath, Lee Sun utters, “Dae-mok,” and then goes onto his knees. He knows the queen dowager thinks he’s pathetic, but he begs her to keep her promise to make Ga-eun his concubine.
In a different meeting, Dae-mok asks Hwa-goon why the chief peddler met the king, and she shares her thoughts about the chief peddler being the queen’s person. Dae-mok questions her reasoning since it doesn’t make sense that his granddaughter would become his successor just to protect a lackey of the queen.
He cautions Hwa-goon about secrets, since even the most capable person becomes a fool when hiding something. Laughing, he leaves the room as Hwa-goon grasps just how much she underestimated her grandfather.
Meanwhile, Sun shares what he learned from his trip to the palace, and Moo-ha carelessly asks him what Ga-eun said to him. Woo Bo slaps him in the face, but Moo-ha argues that Ga-eun will become Sun’s woman once he reclaims the throne. In response, Chung-woon calls him tactless, and even Woo Bo says that he wishes Moo-ha wasn’t here.
The next day, General Choi arrives and meets with the king. Lee Sun gifts him with twenty horses, but the general only wishes for a glass of wine from the king tonight. Surprised, Lee Sun explains that he’s busy tonight and promises to have the banquet in two days.
The chief state councilor interjects to explain how they planned his banquet later, but the general barks at the minister for interfering. Suddenly, Woo Bo starts to laugh, and offers to host the general for tonight.
The Minister of War informs the queen dowager of the general’s arrival, but she wants to know why the general suddenly appeared. The queen dowager worries about the sudden appearance since the general avoided the capital in the past because of his hate for Pyunsoohwe, but unlike the queen dowager, the minister believes this to be an opportunity to make a strong ally.
That evening, General Choi meets with the former Minister of War (who’s been reinstated to lead the Office of Inspector General), and asks why he called for him. Cutting to the chase, the minister tells him the shocking news: The current king is a puppet placed on the throne by Pyunsoohwe.
Lee Sun crosses paths with Woo Bo in the palace, and asks to speak with him. He tells Woo Bo how happy he was to see him walk into the hall that day, and restrains himself from acting too familiar with his old teacher.
Woo Bo asks if the king would allow him to speak comfortably for a moment and tells Lee Sun to ignore anyone who tells him to be a good king. He advises Lee Sun to take control and care of himself before trying to rule the country, and Lee Sun agrees to heed his words. In return, Lee Sun also gives some advice to Woo Bo: Don’t move, and stay quiet.
The queen dowager calls for Ga-eun, and assigns her with a difficult task. She orders her to find out what Pyunsoohwe delivers to the king every fifteen days, so Ga-eun spies on the head eunuch as he receives a chest from members of Pyunsoohwe.
Once the chest is delivered to the king’s chamber, Ga-eun sneaks in and opens it to reveal a vase and bamboo vial. She hears a door opening and quickly gets up to escape. However, she has nowhere to turn, but just as the head eunuch enters, Lee Sun grabs Ga-eun and shields her from view.
The head eunuch notices the opened chest, but he doesn’t press Lee Sun for an explanation. Once he leaves, Ga-eun notices the mask on the bed, and realizes the king is the one behind her. She immediately throws herself to the ground, and admits her crimes should warrant death.
To her surprise, the king has no plans to punish her, but before she goes, he asks her why she continues to do dangerous things. Ga-eun turns around to see the shrouded figure of the king, but doesn’t answer as she walks away.
Reporting back to the queen dowager, Ga-eun explains how the chest only had a vase and a bamboo decoration—unaware of the true nature of the vial—and the queen is stumped by the contents since the king is only obsessed with one thing. She thanks Ga-eun for her service, and as Ga-eun leaves, she wonders to herself why the king keeps helping her.
The queen dowager meets with General Choi, who asks her if she’s aware of the fake prince. Feigning ignorance, the queen dowager tells him that she had her suspicions, and the general shares his plans with the queen: He will bring his army to the capital and kill Dae-mok.
The general’s meeting with the queen dowager quickly reaches Dae-mok’s ears, and he orders Hwa-goon to figure out what they discussed at all cost. Handing over his whip, he permits Hwa-goon to use all their assassins and reminds her that the future of their group lies in her hands.
Woo Bo meets with the Minister of the Office of Inspector General, who passes along General Choi’s request to meet with Sun. Woo Bo agrees to deliver the message but asks why the general suddenly appeared. The minister tells him that he called the general here, but that he will explain everything later.
In the evening, a seemingly drunk General Choi wobbles down the street as assassins from Pyunsoohwe tail him. However, the general swiftly jumps over a wall and successfully escapes from the assassins.
Elsewhere, Sun and Chung-woon make their way to the minister’s house, and once they arrive, Sun is immediately greeted by General Choi, who falls on one knee and addresses him by his true title.
Inside, the general urges Sun to attack Pyunsoohwe since now is the opportune moment for him to move his army and help the crown prince. Before Sun can respond, Woo Bo interrupts from outside. Sun steps out to see his teacher, and Woo Bo goes on his knees to beg Sun to avoid war.
The general calls Woo Bo a coward and falls to his knees beside him to persuade Sun otherwise. Tired of waiting, Sun asks Woo Bo when this battle will end, but Woo Bo tells him that it will take Sun’s entire life to save his people and destroy Pyunsoohwe.
Remaining silent, Sun looks back and forth between Woo Bo and General Choi, debating which hand to choose.
The show continues to go through all the motions, yet I can’t quite connect with the characters and their motivations. I said this before, but the writers have too many plates spinning at once. In this episode alone, we’re introduced to a new character and another faction inside the palace. However, the writing hasn’t found a way to be intricate and detailed. Most of the characters feel one-dimensional, and when most of the action is contained within meetings (so many meetings!), I feel like I’m forced to just accept character motivations and development as the writers tell me through words rather than action.
For example, I like the idea of the “eunuch faction” led by the head eunuch because it’s an interesting third party group that could potentially shake things up. Since they’re neutral yet hold so much power as gatekeepers and middle managers, they could turn the tide of a battle from one group to another. However, I don’t know the reasons behind their actions (besides the fact that the head eunuch conveniently explained his motivation aloud to Mae-chang) nor do I find them that interesting on screen as I do in my head. I don’t understand why Mae-chang helped Sun, and I don’t quite understand how they’ll fit into the bigger picture.
Likewise, General Choi isn’t a bad character since he serves as a nice foil to Woo Bo. But like my reservations with the head eunuch, I’m just not that interested in him as a character. He suddenly appears out of nowhere with all this power, and feels more like a plot device than anything else. He’s there to offer another option to Sun, but at this moment, I also wonder what the other option Woo Bo is talking about actually entails. It’s disappointing when a random character suddenly appears and stirs more action in an episode than the hero.
Besides the general, Ga-eun did the most this episode, but that was also frustrating, because she seemed to play a messenger role than anything else. In addition, in the grand scheme of things, Ga-eun didn’t really do much to push the plot forward herself and it was more about her presence that motivated different characters. The writers continue to fail in developing her character, and by now, I want more from Ga-eun if I’m to believe she raised an entire market from nothing in the span of five years and has been taught from a scholar even though she’s a girl in a patriarchal society. She should be more than a love interest, but so far, the writing hasn’t delivered.
Now that the copper arc has ended, the next one seems to be about the poppy field, but this episode was in an odd limbo. We haven’t really seen Sun taking initiative when it comes to taking down Pyunsoohwe. For the copper, it was more like Sun reacting to Dae-mok’s plan (which was five years in the making) and thwarting him. However, once that was over, we should have seen more development in Sun and in his battle against Dae-mok.
He had five years to prepare, but besides being the Chief Peddler, I get the impression that Sun hasn’t really thought of a plan to take down Dae-mok. This also makes me shake my head at the writers’ choice to introduce the general, because if General Choi didn’t miraculously appear, what was Sun even planning to do? He obviously wasn’t planning on starting a war, but when Woo Bo told him to fight his entire life, I feel a disconnect between his words and what we’ve seen so far. Granted, I’m with Woo Bo that war is bad, but since that’s the case, I want something else to happen besides all these meetings.
- 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