Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 31-32
Like a beautiful flower, a worthy opponent blooms after enduring hardships and overcoming them, and Sun has proven again what kind of flower he is. Despite all the forces working to put him six feet under, Sun perseveres through the help of an unlikely source and stumbles upon a golden opportunity. It seems like nothing can stop our hero as he sets out on his mission to free his country from the clutches of evil.
EPISODE 31 RECAP
Woo Bo and his group are stopped by the promoted Water Bureau chief—now Supply Office chief—who flaunts his new robes and mocks Woo Bo for his dismissal. He even takes out a booklet to use more sophisticated words to belittle Woo Bo, and then informs them of Sun’s demise while calling him the crown prince. Moo-ha grabs him in anger, but the Supply Office chief merely tosses him to the side.
Suddenly, Woo Bo yells at the supply office chief, warning him that he’ll have to pay for all the evil he’s committed, and Moo-ha gets up to confront the chief again. He warns the chief to expect retribution if Sun is truly dead, and surprised by the unexpected retaliation, the supply office chief promises to get back at them as he scurries away in fright. As soon as he leaves, Moo-ha falls to the ground, and the group mourns the loss of Sun.
Back in the empty field, the ink on Sun’s shoulder disappears, and he slowly regains enough consciousness to witness two guards dumping dead bodies nearby. One of the children is still alive, so a guard throws his flask, pitying the soon-to-be dead child.
At the palace, the head eunuch presents a new court lady to the queen dowager, and the queen dowager bitterly realizes that her hands and feet are bound. She turns to the head eunuch and demands to know where her people are. Unfortunately for her, they’re currently begging Dae-mok to let them join Pyunsoohwe, and the Minister of War is front and center.
The Supply Office chief leads a small squad of guards to catch Woo Bo and Moo-ha, but luckily for them, the Minister of Inspector General came to warn them. Having averted one crisis, Moo-ha asks Woo Bo for advice, but the elderly scholar is too drunk to be of any help. Trying to come up with ideas, the minister wonders what Sun would do in their situation, but his question only makes Woo Bo cry. Heh.
Back at the field, a little girl crawls to Sun and pours water into his mouth. It rejuvenates him, and in her final breath, she tells him to drink and live. Tears fall as Sun cradles the dead girl in his arms, and he rolls over to see the rest of the dead bodies lying in the field.
Hyun-seok escorts Lee Sun’s mother and Kko-mool to the king’s chamber, where Lee Sun anxiously awaits their arrival. They enter with their heads bowed, and then fall at Lee Sun’s feet. Bending down, Lee Sun takes off his mask and apologizes for making them wait. He calls the woman “Mother,” and she finally looks up and sees his face.
Stunned, she reaches out to touch him, and then pulls him into a teary embrace. They share a brief moment until Kko-mool interrupts, and Lee Sun is properly introduced to his younger sister for the first time. She remembers him from before, and can’t believe he’s really the king.
Lee Sun tells her that he truly is the king, but the head eunuch disturbs their meeting, reminding Lee Sun of his duties. In a stern and commanding voice, Lee Sun rebukes him for interfering, and his mother looks at him in shock.
Ga-eun stares at the necklace Sun gave her as she thinks back to his words about being by her side, but snaps out of her thoughts when Lee Sun’s mother and Kko-mool enter. Ga-eun quickly catches on that they must now know the truth, and Lee Sun’s mother asks Ga-eun if she knows why her son is the king. She says that she asked him about it, but Lee Sun simply told her not to worry. However, she’s afraid of Lee Sun being caught, and admits to Ga-eun that she wishes to leave the palace with Lee Sun at once.
Ga-eun guides Lee Sun’s mother and Kko-mool to the courtyard, but they cross paths with the Supply Office chief. Ga-eun motions for the others to leave and faces the chief alone as he taunts her. From the corner, Lee Sun witnesses their exchange and makes his presence known.
He dismisses the Supply Office chief, and then relocates Ga-eun and himself to the greenhouse. She tells him that his mother is worried, and she asks if he prefers living as a puppet over his old life. He says that he isn’t a puppet and promises to clear her father’s name.
Her surprised reaction confuses him, and he grows frantic while asking if she doubts his ability. She tells him to stop and think of his family, but that only angers Lee Sun since he thinks she would have never told Sun to stop. In a hardened voice, Lee Sun tells Ga-eun to just stay and watch.
Elsewhere, Hyun-seok reports to Dae-mok about Lee Sun’s recent actions, and says that he’s been acting like a real king as of late. In response, Dae-mok merely laughs, looking amused and untroubled by the news.
The royal court discusses the need to fill the two open positions from the latest dismissals, and as the chief state councilor offers to find replacements, Lee Sun suggests the second state councilor for the task. Lee Sun then sends menacing glares to the clueless Office Supply chief.
After the meeting, Lee Sun invites the second state councilor for a private meeting, and the councilor acts tough in the beginning. Lee Sun assures him that he’s only showing kindness to his possible father-in-law, but the councilor thinks Lee Sun is lying, since his queen has already been chosen.
Calmly, Lee Sun explains that there’s still something only a king can do, no matter how powerless, and reveals his plan about asking Dae-mok for permission to choose the queen. At that, the second state councilor changes his attitude and sits properly, so Lee Sun finally admits that he has a favor.
The second state councilor calls the Supply Office chief for a private meeting, but it’s a trap since the chief is gagged, blinded, and then dragged away by Hyun-seok. He’s brought to a dungeon where Lee Sun begins to torture him, and in the end, Lee Sun carries a bloody whip while the chief cowers in fear.
He asks Lee Sun what he did wrong, so Lee Sun takes off his mask and reveals his face. The chief doesn’t recognize him, and instead, futilely argues that Dae-mok won’t like this. Lee Sun shoves his face closer to the chief, and with a manic grin, he explains that they both work for Dae-mok. But as a puppet king, he holds more value as a servant.
Lee Sun tells the chief that he killed his father for stealing water, which helps the chief finally grasp his situation. Throwing himself to the floor, the chief begs Lee Sun to spare his life, and in exchange, he promises to serve him as his new master. Stepping on the chief’s head, Lee Sun reconfirms his new loyalty, and Hyun-seok watches Lee Sun with a grim expression.
Dae-mok discusses Lee Sun’s recent movements with the chief state councilor, who advises Dae-mok to get rid of the ambitious king. Contrary to the wary councilor, Dae-mok finds Lee Sun’s actions funny since he doesn’t feel threatened by him in the least.
He explains that those who show their ambition are easy to control, but those like the crown prince who endure hardship and learn how to win are difficult opponents. As Dae-mok narrates, Sun rises from the field, steals a guard’s uniform, and discovers the poppy pill plantation—proving Dae-mok’s words to be true.
Hwa-goon’s father visits her, concerned since she’s been unconscious for three days. He sincerely apologizes for Sun’s death, but she tells him that she’s fine and excuses herself to go meet Dae-mok despite her father’s protests.
During their meeting, Hwa-goon tells Dae-mok that they’ll soon run out of pills because of their recent influx of new members, and recommends obtaining more labor. However, Dae-mok seems more concerned about their relationship and asks if she still resents him.
Instead of answering, Hwa-goon asks if Dae-mok ever lost a beloved, and if so, what did he do? Dae-mok tells her that he expanded his power and stole the perpetrator’s loved one, and Hwa-goon states that she must resemble her grandfather, then. Understanding the implications, Dae-mok calls for his servant after Hwa-goon leaves and places spies to watch her.
Sun infiltrates the base of the poppy field and easily enters the main building, where he finds a door that leads to an underground vault. Making his way through the tunnels, Sun finds a room filled with children making pills, and notices them touching the poison with their bare hands, their fingers already stained by the pills.
Suddenly, a child drops to the ground dead, and a mere straw mat is quickly placed over the body while the children are forced to continue working. The woman in charge hands a nearby child a tray and orders her to deliver it to the man in the cell, which perks Sun’s interest.
EPISODE 32 RECAP
Mae-chang pleads with the head eunuch to help her find the poppy field and save the children, but he asks who will save them now that Sun is dead. Mae-chang says that she will save the children, and reminds the head eunuch that by being bystanders, they allowed Dae-mok to take over. She wonders if they’ll just pitifully hold onto their lives, which earns her a stern look from the head eunuch.
While in hiding, Woo Bo examines the map of the poppy field with the Minister of Inspector General as they narrow down on possible locations. Frustrated with their lack of progress, Moo-ha complains that it would take years to find the field, but Woo Bo argues that this is what Sun would have done.
An unannounced guest stops their conversation, and Moo-ha hides under the covers, thinking it’s a guard. Instead, it’s Mae-chang who walks through the door, and she explains that she was looking for Woo Bo in order to offer her help. She admits that she drew the map and tells them she once worked in the poppy field.
Back at the poppy field vault, Sun stumbles across a supply room filled with vials, and finds the queen dowager’s name written on one of them. However, as Sun continues his escapade, the guards notice him, and the news of an intruder quickly reaches Dae-mok’s ears.
Given the importance of the vault, Dae-mok orders Hwa-goon to go and guard it herself, and she readily accepts the task. As Hwa-goon leaves, Gon approaches her—despite her command for him to disappear—and tells her that he will help.
She questions his resolve, asking if he’s willing to betray Dae-mok, and Gon admits that he wasn’t able to figure out the best way to help Hwa-goon, so he’s decided to obey her instead. Satisfied with his answer, Hwa-goon tells him to prepare to leave for the poppy field.
Hwa-goon’s father prepares for the pill distribution with the Supply Office chief, since it’s the first of the month. He then goes to greet his daughter and assures her that the intruder is not a big deal. He promises to come back after the deliveries, leaving Hwa-goon free to roam around.
Standing in the watchtower, Hwa-goon shares her plan to burn the poppy field with Gon, explaining that she’s decided to steal Dae-mok’s most valuable thing. She orders Gon to check the vault to see if Chung-woon is held captive, and once alone, Hwa-goon promises Sun that she will end this fight as her final act for him.
The head eunuch delivers servants and gifts to Ga-eun since she’ll soon be announced as the king’s concubine. Though Ga-eun tries to protest, the head eunuch reminds her that the servants will be punished if she refuses the gifts, leaving her no choice but to accept.
Ga-eun allows herself to be dressed by her new court ladies, and in the evening, Lee Sun finds her standing by the river. He comments on the floating lanterns since they used to make wishes on them in the past. While Ga-eun says she doesn’t remember her wish, Lee Sun silently tells her that he wished to become a man who could stand before her because, even before then, he loved her.
Lee Sun assures Ga-eun that she won’t become a concubine since this is all a ruse to keep her safe, and Ga-eun thanks him. However, her attention wanders as fireflies soon surround them, and Ga-eun cries as she remembers Sun.
Noticing her tears, Lee Sun asks if it’s because of the prince, and Ga-eun says that Sun died because of her. After a pause, Lee Sun admits that Sun died because of him, but Ga-eun tells him that he’s not at fault, since Dae-mok would have used another fake king. Preoccupied with her use of the word “fake,” Lee Sun looks at Ga-eun and tells her that though he may be a fake king, his feelings for her are true.
Gon reports back to Hwa-goon, and with everything prepared, they enter the vault to save Chung-woon. As Hwa-goon turns a corner, she suddenly finds herself faced with a sword, and Sun demands to know who’s inside the cell. Ever the dutiful bodyguard, Gon strikes and pushes Sun towards the light, revealing his face.
Seeing Sun alive, Hwa-goon yells at Gon to stop, and runs up to Sun, hugging him. He asks what she’s doing here, but Hwa-goon already knows why he’s here: to save Chung-woon.
They enter the cell together, and Sun releases Chung-woon from his shackles. He apologizes for coming late, but Chung-woon simply says that he knew Sun was still alive. Sun asks if he can walk, and despite his haggard appearance, Chung-woon jokes that even after losing an eye, he’s still a better fighter than Sun.
Hwa-goon urges Sun to quickly escape before the guards arrive, but Sun refuses to leave the children behind. He knows the children are dying from handling the poison and that they’re being discarded of afterward, since he was abandoned in the same field where the bodies were thrown away. He tells them that a young girl saved him, which is why he can’t leave them behind.
Hwa-goon tells Sun to save the children and offers to be a distraction to help them escape. As Sun and Chung-woon hurry off, Hwa-goon informs Gon of her intentions to use the whip, and Gon desperately tries to dissuade her. Undeterred, Hwa-goon asks if he’s her person, and Gon solemnly states, “Yes.”
Sun and Chung-woon take down the guards and enter the room where the children are held. Immediately, the girls back away from Sun since he’s dressed as a guard, and Sun cautiously approaches them by asking if they know Yang.
One girl raises her hand, so Sun addresses her as he explains that Yang sent him to save the other children. She asks what happened to Yang, and though Chung-woon lies that she’s back home, Sun tells them the truth: Yang died.
However, the children already knew that, and therefore, they see no point in escaping if all that awaits them is death. Thus, Sun tells them that he doesn’t want them to die and vows to find a way to save them. It’s enough to convince the little girl, and she tells the rest to trust Sun and run.
Morning has arrived as Sun ushers out the children from the vault, and without the cover of the dark, they are quickly spotted. The guards sound the alarm, and the group barely reaches the edge of the field before the guards surround them.
Though Sun and Chung-woon fight back, they’re severely outnumbered, but luckily, Hwa-goon arrives in time to stop them. Holding out the whip, she orders the guards to let the group go, and the men comply begrudgingly.
As they continue their escape, the Supply Office chief returns and yells at his men to chase after them. Gon notices the guards closing in on them, so Hwa-goon tells Sun to go without her. Knowing that Hwa-goon has essentially betrayed Pyunsoohwe for him, Sun tells her it’s dangerous, but she assures him that she’ll be all right. Before she leaves, Hwa-goon tells Sun her name again, and then, for the first time, Sun uses it: “Be safe, Hwa-goon.”
With that, Hwa-goon pushes Sun away and says to herself that she was happy to have met him. As the group splits, Hwa-goon orders Gon to help Sun escape and then return to her. Though he wants to stay by her side, he won’t disobey her again and follows her command.
Hwa-goon marches past the Supply Office chief and his guards, and they let her pass, since their goal is to capture Sun and his group. Hwa-goon’s father reaches the poppy field where Hwa-goon is standing, but as he calls her name, she grabs a burning stick and throws it into the field.
Her father frantically orders everyone to put out the fire, but the flames quickly engulf the flowers. Hwa-goon stands calmly in the middle of the field, and her father drops to the ground, knowing that there’s no way to stop it.
From below, Sun and his group look up after hearing the ruckus, and as they see the smoke billowing off in the distance, they realize what Hwa-goon has done.
Though this episode showed the return of Sun, it wasn’t really about our hero this time around. While Sun discovered the field and managed to save the children (with some help), I thought the second and tertiary characters were the ones with the shining moments this episode. For example, we saw a new side to Moo-ha in the beginning when he refused to cower in front of the Supply Office chief, and he brought such an unexpected intensity to the screen that it made me wish his character wasn’t only used as comedic fodder. In addition, the torture scene between Lee Sun and the Supply Office chief showed a very dark aspect of Lee Sun’s character, and you could see how power was corrupting him. It was also interesting to see him interact with his mother because we saw the old Lee Sun, but even in that moment, flashes of the corrupt Lee Sun showed.
However, it was really Hwa-goon who stole this episode. She was brilliant and surprisingly touching. While the show had a misstep with her character in the beginning by making her fall in “love” with Sun without knowing anything about him and then making her obsessive to the point of coming across as insane, this episode fleshed out her character more and grounded her love for Sun, making their relationship bittersweet.
If you ignore the crazy moments from the first half and pretend she had a normal arc up to this point, Hwa-goon has shown steadfast love and unwavering devotion. She’s caught in an interesting dilemma between choosing her love and her family, but what I liked about this setup is that you can kind of see in this episode how Hwa-goon has slowly come to realize how evil her family is. I wouldn’t say she’s a good person, but I want to believe she was actually moved and felt guilty when Sun pointed out the cruelty of killing young girls to make poison. She’s coming to understand Sun’s true nature, and in that process, she’s truly falling in love with the actual person rather than the ideal she created.
Furthermore, Hwa-goon continues to save Sun, but she never really expects anything in return simply because seeing him alive is enough for her. This episode, Hwa-goon displayed her selflessness in multiple ways, and the most obvious one was when she willingly returned to the enemy in order to save Sun and his group. Not only did she save him by using her whip to stop the guards, she then went back to the field to make sure he could actually escape. Unlike the previous times where you could argue that Hwa-goon saved Sun because she wanted to marry him, this time, she risked her life knowing that she may never see him again.
Besides the end, I also thought Hwa-goon’s plan to burn the field was an interesting choice that was more nuanced than it first appeared. On the surface, it’s Hwa-goon’s revenge towards Dae-mok for taking her beloved, but it’s also much more than that. When Hwa-goon thought Sun was dead, she told him that she would finish the fight as her final act to show her heart. In a sense, she’s taken a different trajectory from Ga-eun, who has shared the same dream with Sun from the beginning. This scene hints at the possibility that Hwa-goon, who basically had no dream (or a very selfish one that revolved around her), is beginning to share in Sun’s dream. And that’s why I really liked Hwa-goon in this episode, because we got to see her growth.
Unfortunately, the writers haven’t really done this for Ga-eun or Sun, and it has become even more apparent when comparing them to Hwa-goon. The flaws are obvious concerning Ga-eun, and it’s sad that she barely had any scenes, because at this point in the show, she’s really been given nothing to do. Though less obvious, Sun has also been a rather static character. He hasn’t really changed that much since the beginning, but it’s not too bad because at least Sun has some interesting qualities, such as his unwavering moral compass and his need to help those immediately in front of him. While not all characters need big developments, it makes me feel like Sun keeps repeating his mistakes and falling into similar situations.
Along that line, I was also curious if Sun pocketed some samples from the vault, because I get the impression that he usually lives in the moment and doesn’t always think things through. While it’s noble for him to save the children, he really needs to find an antidote (there’s only fifteen days left until his royal court dies from the poison), and if Hwa-goon has truly burned all the poppy flowers, then it’s going to be extra difficult to create an antidote without knowing any of the poison’s properties.
I really hope he used this golden opportunity to learn more about the poison, which could explain why he had no concrete plan concerning how he would free the children. That was also a bit frustrating, because if Hwa-goon wasn’t there, Sun would have been dead in a matter of minutes. Not his best moment. Also, where is that crock? Is it hidden? How come no one knows about it, and will Ga-eun ever remember it? Better yet, will the writers remember it? Regardless, though the flaws are still there, Ruler is definitely improving, and I’m enjoying the pace of the recent episodes immensely.
- 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
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- Character stills and extended descriptions for MBC’s Ruler–Master of the Mask