Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 23-24
Truths are revealed, new discoveries are made, and the battles begin! The plot takes a leap forward this episode as Sun gets one step closer to destroying Pyunsoohwe, but with so many different players interfering with his plans, some unforeseen events happen to our hero. Sun must face these new challenges as he continues to struggle to save his country and his loved ones.
EPISODE 23 RECAP
The queen dowager lies ill in her room suffering from sudden dizziness while Ga-eun waits anxiously outside with the rest of the palace staff. Though she asks the head court lady about the queen dowager’s health, Ga-eun is merely told to wait, and Lee Sun watches her the entire time.
Later that evening as Ga-eun helps the king undress, Lee Sun mentions how disappointed she must be since the queen dowager became ill before restoring her father’s honor. He promises to talk to the queen dowager about it, but Ga-eun doesn’t understand why he keeps helping her.
Lee Sun tells her that he isn’t her foe, and when Ga-eun tells him that she saw the prince kill her father with her own eyes, he asks if she saw the face behind the mask. His question stuns her, and Lee Sun tells her to keep this a secret until he reveals the whole truth to her later. As Ga-eun leaves, she wonders who could have killed her father, if it wasn’t the king.
The head court lady apologizes to the queen dowager since she was unable to uncover the mastermind behind the puppet show, and as she scurries out of the room, the queen dowager directs her anger at the Minister of War for failing to kill Sun. He offers to try again, but the queen dowager tells him to forget it since she has a new enemy she must fight first: Dae-mok.
Like the queen dowager, Moo-ha thinks that Dae-mok planned the puppet show, but Woo Bo points out that Dae-mok has no reason to reveal the secret in front of so many people. Regardless of who orchestrated the show, Moo-ha asks if they’ll attack the queen dowager or Dae-mok first.
The queen dowager meets with the Minister of War to discuss their plans to defeat Dae-mok. Thinking back to Dae-mok’s “gifts” for her birthday, she guesses his next course of action will be choosing a queen for the king. She orders the minister to stop Pyunsoohwe from doing so, but he stammers out an excuse, which only infuriates the queen dowager.
However, their meeting is interrupted by Sun’s unexpected appearance, and as the queen dowager lets him in, she silently calls him by his true identity. Once Sun enters, he goes on his knees and tells the queen dowager that Dae-mok tried to kill him. He expresses his wish for revenge and offers his knowledge to the queen dowager in order to bring down Dae-mok.
Seeming to test Sun, the queen dowager asks Sun if he can guess Dae-mok’s next move, and Sun confidently says that Dae-mok will try to pick a queen for the king. The queen dowager is shocked that he knows, but is further surprised when Sun suggests that the queen dowager take the lead.
Sun argues that the process for choosing a queen cannot be averted, so instead, he believes that the queen dowager should declare it first, which would then put her in charge of choosing the next queen. The queen dowager agrees with Sun and decides to keep him alive for now.
Outside, Sun also reveals his true colors as he looks back at the queen dowager’s place with a hardened look.
Hwa-goon discusses the plans of choosing the next queen with the members of Pyunsoohwe when suddenly, a guard barges in. He begs Hwa-goon’s father for a poppy pill, but he denies the man a pill since he lost a girl from the poppy fields.
Though talking to the guard, Hwa-goon’s father addresses the members of Pyunsoohwe as he indirectly reminds everyone how important his current position is. Seeing all their terrified faces, Hwa-goon’s father takes out a pill, but stops when Dae-mok arrives.
Seeing the writhing guard on the floor, Dae-mok quickly grasps the situation and puts out his hand towards his son. Dae-mok asks his son when they distribute the pills before reminding him that they don’t give out pills outside of the schedule—not even for the king.
Realizing his mistake, Hwa-goon’s father begs for mercy, and Dae-mok tells him that he’s lucky that he arrived before an irrevocable crime occurred. Then, to everyone’s horror, Dae-mok stomps on the pill—obliterating it—and the guard dies. As a final warning, Dae-mok asks him if he now understands how to manage the poppy pills, and Hwa-goon’s father lets out a meek, “Yes.”
The queen dowager meets with Ga-eun to apologize for breaking her promise to restore her father’s honor. She asks if Ga-eun can still trust her, and after a pause, Ga-eun says that she does. Assured that Ga-eun is still on her side, the queen dowager gives her a new mission: steal the bamboo case Pyunsoohwe gave the king.
Elsewhere, Hwa-goon excitedly walks up to Sun, who thanks her for helping him stop General Choi, but it’s Hwa-goon who secretly thanks him for saving her family. However, Sun didn’t call her to simply give his thanks, but to ask for a favor. Holding out a pill, he asks her if she’s seen this before, and when Hwa-goon feigns ignorance, he explains that it’s a poison.
In the palace, Ga-eun delivers tea to the king, and though she arouses the head eunuch’s suspicions, Lee Sun unquestioningly takes the drink. He asks her to stay with him until he finishes—the same thing Sun asked her before—and Ga-eun sits as Lee Sun drinks the tea.
Sun tells Hwa-goon everything he knows about the pill, including the fact that it’s a poison from Pyunsoohwe, and she offers to take the pill and ask the Japanese merchants if they might now of its properties. Grateful for her help, Sun hands over the pill without a second thought.
Having drugged the tea, Ga-eun starts searching for the bamboo case after Lee Sun falls asleep, and finds it tucked inside his book. She swipes the vial, but recalling the king’s question about seeing his true face, she hesitantly reaches out to unmask him. However, she jumps in surprise when he stirs, and she decides to leave before getting caught.
As Ga-eun hurries to meet the queen dowager, Mae-chang stops her and convinces Ga-eun to meet with her first (after mentioning that she knows where Ga-eun is headed). Thus, Mae-chang pours Ga-eun a cup of tea in her room, and then cryptically tells Ga-eun to be careful of what she drinks in the palace.
She asks Ga-eun if she’ll continue to risk her life for the queen dowager and warns her to not move carelessly if she doesn’t want to lose her life. Unnerved, Ga-eun wonders who she is, but Mae-chang only reveals herself as someone grateful to the chief peddler.
Ga-eun hands the bamboo case to the queen dowager, but it’s empty—Mae-chang switched out the real one for a fake during their meeting. Mae-chang hands over the real vial to the head eunuch, and when she tries to defend Ga-eun as innocent, the head eunuch rebukes her by saying that ignorance can kill people.
Meanwhile, Hyun-seok wakes Lee Sun from his sleep, and after noticing the spots starting to appear, he tells Lee Sun to take his pill. Groggily, Lee Sun reaches for the vial, but realizing it’s gone, he starts to panic. Hyun-seok suggests meeting Dae-mok, but Lee Sun knows it’ll be useless.
Sun arrives at the palace to meet with Lee Sun, but he realizes something must be wrong when Hyun-seok takes him to the greenhouse. Inside, Lee Sun thrashes around in pain and anger, and Sun rushes in to comfort his friend.
He recognizes Lee Sun’s symptoms, and Lee Sun admits that Dae-mok poisoned him. Finally releasing his frustrations, Lee Sun blames Sun for leaving him and causing him to suffer. Sun apologizes for failing to realize Lee Sun’s struggles sooner, and he promises to bring him a pill even if he has to go the underworld to get it.
Before Sun leaves, Lee Sun grabs onto the prince and tells him to take the mask and return to the throne if he dies. With a new mission, Sun runs to catch Hwa-goon before she leaves with the pill.
Ga-eun enters the king’s chamber and is startled to see him sick in bed. When she tries to get the royal physician, Hyun-seok tells her to simply stay by the king’s side, so she obliges.
Meanwhile, Sun and Chung-woon infiltrate Pyunsoohwe’s headquarters, but are discovered the moment they step in. The alarm rings, so Sun and Chung-woon quickly run into a nearby building, where they’re cornered by Gon. Hearing the ruckus, Hwa-goon comes out and comes face to face with Sun.
In the king’s chamber, Ga-eun recognizes the spots on Lee Sun’s arms as the same symptoms of a little girl she met. He asks what happened to her, and Ga-eun sadly tells him that she died. Bitterly, Lee Sun surmises that the same fate awaits him, so he wants to tell her something before he dies: “I love you.”
Back at Pyunsoohwe, Sun is confused by Hwa-goon’s presence and asks why she’s here. Before she can answer, Dae-mok calls out to her, and Hwa-goon quickly asks him for a moment, instinctively calling Dae-mok “Grandfather.” Finally understanding the connection, Sun stares at Hwa-goon in disbelief.
EPISODE 24 RECAP
Dae-mok visits Hwa-goon to make sure she’s safe, since an intruder alert was made. She reassures him that Gon is here, and Dae-mok tells the bodyguard to protect the head of Pyunsoohwe—which is even more shocking news to Sun, who’s listening from his hiding spot.
As Dae-mok starts to leave, he suddenly turns around and stares at the divider where Sun and Chung-woon are hiding, causing everyone to hold their breath. Dae-mok notes how bold the chief peddler is for breaking into his home, and with a smirk, he leaves without investigating further.
With the coast clear, Sun steps out from hiding, and Hwa-goon asks why he’s here. Holding back his emotions, Sun explains that he needs a pill, so Hwa-goon returns the one he gave her earlier today. She promises to explain things later and urges Sun to flee.
With the help of Gon, Sun and Chung-woon manage to successfully escape Dae-mok’s home, but before he goes, Gon reminds them that he only helped because Hwa-goon commanded him. If something like this happens again, he won’t forgive them a second time.
In the palace, Ga-eun rejects Lee Sun’s feelings, and he asks if it’s because she is in love with the chief peddler. When she doesn’t answer, he wonders why she would choose a peddler over a king, so Ga-eun explains that it’s because they share the same dream.
Lee Sun can’t believe that’s all there is to it and wistfully says that he had a dream once, too. Remembering back to when Ga-eun first gave him a name, Lee Sun admits that his dream was to live differently from what fate dictated.
As Lee Sun gets closer and closer to death, he regrets not confessing his feelings sooner, and slowly pulls open the curtain to see Ga-eun’s face. Just as the curtains are pulled apart enough for Ga-eun to see him, Sun arrives and rushes to the king’s side. Sun gives him the pill, and Lee Sun’s life is extended for another fifteen days.
Outside, Ga-eun shows the bamboo case to Sun, and he instantly recognizes it as the same one his father had, too. He realizes the purpose of the poppy pills, but is surprised when Ga-eun tells him that the case was empty.
He asks if she stole the vial, and it dawns on Ga-eun that she almost killed the king. Worried, Sun yells at her since she was nearly caught in a trap, finally asking why she became a court lady. Ga-eun finally admits the truth, and tells him that someone promised to restore her father’s honor and destroy Pyunsoohwe. But before he can hear who gave her that promise, the head eunuch interrupts and sends them away.
Meeting with Mae-chang, the head eunuch expresses his surprise about the real one saving the fake one. She wonders if he was going to just watch the king die, and the head eunuch coldly states that Pyunsoohwe would have just installed another fake king.
When Woo Bo hears of Sun’s reckless break-in, he scolds the prince for risking his life, even if it was for Lee Sun. However, Sun has no time to argue and tells Woo Bo to sit since he has important information to share.
He informs his teacher about the poppy pills, and takes out the map to explain how Pyunsoohwe is manufacturing these pills to manipulate the king and the court officials. Thus, while the peddlers continue to search for the field, Woo Bo must find an antidote.
During a court meeting, the queen dowager announces to all the officials about starting the queen selection process, declaring Woo Bo as the one in charge of selecting the candidates. Afterward, she meets with Sun, and the queen dowager offers to grant him a position so that he can freely enter the palace. He asks to be made a guard in order to avoid unwanted attention, and the queen dowager agrees.
In the king’s chamber, Ga-eun pours a cup of tea for Lee Sun, but as he drinks, her guilt overtakes her and she admits her sin. To her surprise, Lee Sun says that she’s innocent and adds that he’ll continue to drink whatever she pours him in the future.
Pyunsoohwe prepares for the queen selection process as two of the highest members’ daughters are presented to Dae-mok. He warmly greets the two candidates and tells them to pass the selection, promising to make one of them queen and the other the highest ranked concubine.
Unlike Dae-mok, the queen dowager faces an unforeseen roadblock, since the Minister of War’s daughter is afraid to become queen. To make matters worse, he argues against entering his daughter, but the queen dowager reminds him that more than the queen’s position is at stake.
The queen dowager suddenly gets an idea and meets with Lee Sun to tell him about entering Ga-eun into the queen selection process. He’s taken aback by the proposal, but the queen dowager threatens Lee Sun with kicking Ga-eun out of the palace instead.
She warns him to side with her when choosing the queen, and reminds Lee Sun that Ga-eun’s fate lies in his hands. Smiling, the queen dowager mentions how Ga-eun is still a daughter of a traitor, and could easily become a slave according to the law.
As Sun reads over the list of candidates, he notices another daughter listed under the queen dowager’s family. He’s unfamiliar with the name, and even Moo-ha is stumped by this mysterious addition.
Of course, the new entry is Ga-eun, who gets prepared for the selection process alongside the Minister of War’s daughter. Soon, the various candidates arrive at the palace gates where Woo Bo, Moo-ha, and Sun stand to check identifications.
When Ga-eun arrives with the minister’s daughter, Sun is stunned to see her. Ga-eun is also shocked to see Sun as a guard, but they can only share surprised glances before she silently passes through the gates.
The first test is a tea ceremony, and the candidates go up one by one to prepare tea for the queen dowager and three other judges. When it’s the Minister of War’s daughter’s turn, she is a nervous mess and spills tea everywhere, much to the queen dowager’s disapproval.
Following that horrible performance, Ga-eun is the last one to go and astounds everyone with her abilities. As the judges drink her tea, they nod in satisfaction, and Ga-eun brings the cup up to drink. However, Mae-chang’s warning about drinking tea in the palace rings in her ears as she sniffs the cup.
Ga-eun realizes the tea has been poisoned, but it’s too late—the queen dowager drops her cup and falls to the floor. Soon, everyone else succumbs to the poison, and only Ga-eun and Mae-chang (who only served the tea) are unharmed.
Before Ga-eun can call for help, Mae-chang grabs her and holds out a cup. Ga-eun will become the number one suspect if she isn’t poisoned like the rest, so Mae-chang offers her two options: drink, or become the culprit.
Thus, it’s Mae-chang who runs out of the room and tells Sun that the tea was poisoned. He rushes inside and quickly makes his way to an unconscious Ga-eun, desperately calling out her name as he cradles her in his arms.
This episode was a marked improvement from last week in terms of progression of the plot. Sun finds out Hwa-goon’s true identity, discovers the poppy pill and how Dae-mok controls the court, and sets a new plan in motion by starting the queen selection process. One of the issues I had with moving the plot forward this episode was that everything felt slightly disjointed. Rather than build momentum and use the various subplots as building blocks, the poppy pill and Hwa-goon felt like a separate piece of the story in relation to the queen selection process. I liked how the first half (Episode 23) built up to the climax, but then I was disappointed in Episode 24 with how they brushed aside Sun’s reaction.
I’m assuming that the show is saving it for another time when Sun meets with Hwa-goon again to talk, but given the content of the discovery and the betrayal Sun probably felt, I thought it was a wasted opportunity for the show. They should have capitalized on the momentum and kept building the tension instead of suddenly switching gears. Or better yet, they could have intertwined the arcs together instead of compartmentalizing the two storylines. Regardless, I’m just glad that things are actually happening even if I’m not quite sure where all these different threads are heading.
Hanshimi has given some awesome commentary about Lee Sun’s character, and I completely agree that it’s hard to understand what direction the show is taking him. He’s pretty ineffectual as a villain or a friend, and rather than being an interesting character who straddles the line between good and evil, he’s become a wet blanket. I don’t understand his “love” for Ga-eun, and what he actually plans to do by keeping her by his side. For the most part, I think he’s acting impulsively and not considering the consequences of his obsessive and petty behavior—especially since he’s in such a precarious situation.
In general, Ruler isn’t necessarily a bad show, but it definitely isn’t anything amazing. I think part of the problem I’m having is that the show feels too juvenile lately. Instead of the epic stare downs and verbal sparring I was expecting from the beginning of the show’s run, Ruler fizzled out and became too much a love story cloaked in sageuk garb with a lackluster tale about a prince becoming a worthy king and reclaiming the throne. It’s not that love stories are inherently worse or inferior (The Princess’s Man and Ja Myung Go are both good examples of sageuks where the love lines were the heart of the show and were done well), but Ruler and its love story feels much more childish in comparison.
For the most part, I feel like the writers have gotten lazy and created one-dimensional characters. Just when I start to think a character could be interesting, the writers will either make them do something dumb or not give them anything to do. There definitely are potentially interesting characters, but the show doesn’t develop them enough. For example, I really liked Dae-mok in the beginning since he seemed like a smart, calm, and menacing villain, but he’s been pretty much discarded after the time skip. In addition, Mae-chang intrigued me for a while, but now she just feels like a convenient plot device, partly because I don’t really know her as a character. As for the leads, there hasn’t been a lot of development, and in some cases, I feel like the character development is actually going backwards.
In this episode, Ga-eun explains that she loves Sun because they share a dream, which is a nice reason and could be really poetic, but it seems forced because we haven’t actually seen them talk about their dreams. In addition, if Ga-eun supposedly loves Sun because of their shared dream, you would think they would communicate and work together for said dream. However, I don’t think Ga-eun is the only problem with this love story—I’m also not quite sold on Sun’s part, either. Why is he willing to risk almost everything for Ga-eun? And like Lee Sun, I think Sun occasionally falls into the trap of denying Ga-eun any agency and of treating her like an object that needs his protection or saving. Again, it’s the writing that is missing the mark, and it really goes to show how important solid writing is for a good show. But here’s hoping that things may still turn around while there’s still time.
- 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