Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 39-40 (Final)
Many lives have been sacrificed for our hero, but the burden only makes him stronger as he faces his final foe and overcomes the obstacles that come his way. Sun’s journey from masked prince to rightful king comes to an end, and though this may be where we leave our hero, Sun’s quest to become a true leader is only just beginning.
EPISODE 39 RECAP
Ga-eun and Woo Bo struggle to make the antidote for the poppy pill when a voice suddenly tells them to use the root of the flower. Hwa-goon’s father appears, much to their surprise—and even more astonishingly, he hands over the instructions for making the antidote.
Woo Bo reads the instructions and deems them to be real, but Ga-eun questions Hwa-goon’s father, confused as to why he would help them. He tells her that it’s none of her business since he made a deal with the king.
The chief of the Water Bureau addresses the water deliverers, telling them of Dae-mok’s persecution. He riles up the crowd, reminding them that Dae-mok gave them jobs while the king did nothing for them, and the water deliverers roar in agreement.
Adding fuel to the flames, the Water Bureau chief adds the fact that the Water Bureau will be disbanded, and the people worry about their livelihood. They ask the chief what they should do to survive, and he instructs them to protest at the palace gates.
Moo-ha reports to Sun about the protesting water deliverers and the false rumors Dae-mok has been spreading about Sun. Grimly, Sun recalls Dae-mok’s threat about the people turning on him. Though his advisors warn Sun to stop the brewing rebellion, Sun is sympathetic towards the protestors and understands the people’s worries.
In the courtyard, the ministers gossip about the rebellion and express their concern for the antidote—their anxiety increasing with every passing moment. Meanwhile, the chief state councilor informs Dae-mok that his message has been sent to the ministers, and Dae-mok confidently says that they’ll come crawling back to him. Then he’ll have the masses burn the palace and murder the king, which will be the perfect opportunity for him to recreate the world again.
Armed with new knowledge, Woo Bo begins to make the antidote and adds the final ingredient to the solution. As everyone waits with bated breath, the liquid turns white, and the group erupts in cheers.
Sun orders Moo-ha to use the peddlers to spread the truth about Dae-mok and Pyunsoohwe. He wants the water deliverers to know that they won’t be fired, and instead, will all be hired to work on restoring the palace walls. Suddenly, Woo Bo interrupts their meeting and shares the good news with them: They created the antidote.
Ga-eun presents the antidote to the sick, but an unforeseen obstacle appears: no one wants to take it. Despite Woo Bo’s arguments that he made the antidote, they all know Woo Bo received instructions from Hwa-goon’s father, and believe this is all a ploy by Dae-mok to kill them.
Woo Bo shares the discouraging news with Sun, telling him of the prisoners’ requests to go to Dae-mok. To make matters worse, the court officials gather at Sun’s door, and when Sun comes out to ask them what’s wrong, they beg him to send them to Dae-mok.
Moo-ha lashes out at them, disgusted by their display of cowardice and doubt, but Sun looks at them sorrowfully. He explains how he became king to save them, but if they don’t trust him and wish to find help elsewhere, he won’t stop them.
The ministers begin to stir, still distrusting the king, and Woo Bo calls them worthless fools. Despite the protests, the ministers shuffle out of the courtyard, choosing Dae-mok over Sun.
However, before they can leave, Ga-eun blocks their path and declares her intentions to make them believe. She holds out two poppy pills for all to see and then proceeds to swallow them. She topples over from the effects of the poison, and Sun rushes to her side.
Now that she’s poisoned, Ga-eun takes the antidote, but then faints. The ministers gasp, convinced now that the antidote was a fake, and Sun cradles Ga-eun in his arms as the court officials scramble passed him.
Checking her pulse, Woo Bo says that Ga-eun is still alive, and Moo-ha comes to report that all the prisoners have escaped, too. Chung-woon advises Sun to stop the ministers from leaving, but Sun refuses to block their path since he thinks it’s fine as long as Dae-mok saves them.
The court ministers march towards Dae-mok’s place, and Dae-mok waits for them outside, having already predicted this turn of events. He looks down at the ministers who have gathered and tells them that he can only save a few. Thus, the first to come and beg will get an antidote.
Dae-mok smiles smugly as he waits for the madness to ensue, but to his disbelief, the ministers only glare up at him. Dae-mok and his group finally notice that the ministers have no spots, and the truth dawns on them. Right then, a guard announces Sun’s presence, and the ministers part ways to allow their king to march forward.
Flashing back to the palace, we see that Sun did stop the ministers from leaving, but only to reveal Ga-eun, alive and cured. In the present, Sun informs Dae-mok that they made the antidote, which means he can no longer threaten people with the pill.
Despite his loss, Dae-mok refuses to admit defeat, saying that he’ll find another way—Pyunsoohwe won’t be uprooted by a light breeze. Sun says that a breeze becomes a typhoon, which will pull out Pyunsoohwe from its roots.
Dae-mok asks if Sun is ready for the final fight, but Sun says that he won’t shed any more blood. Stating Dae-mok’s crimes, Sun declares what Pyunsoohwe’s punishment will be, but he says that for those who surrender in the next hour, he will forgive them and spare their lives.
Sitting in his chair, Dae-mok realizes that all his plans have been thwarted, and only after fifteen minutes, a slew of his men escape and yield to Sun. By the halfway mark, the Water Bureau chief reports that nearly all the swordsmen left, and the chief state councilor suggests that they leave, too.
Once the hour is up, the guards out front all surrender, and Sun walks onto the grounds with ease. However, the Water Bureau chief remains loyal, and prepares to die protecting the man who allowed him to live like a human.
Both sides charge at each other, swords drawn, and Sun parries and strikes the enemies around him. In the midst of the battle, Chung-woon spots the chief, and then cuts him down in one stroke. The chief falls to the ground with a thud, signaling the end of the fight.
Sun approaches the main room where Dae-mok waits for him upon his throne. Standing in front of Dae-mok, Sun tells him to surrender. But with bloodshot eyes, Dae-mok laughs. He wonders if Sun is trying to save him, but Sun tells him that he’s only trying to keep faith: The one condition Hwa-goon’s father placed in exchange for the antidote was for Sun to spare his father’s life.
Though Sun can never forgive him, he acknowledges Dae-mok’s role in molding him to become a king who stands with his people. Dae-mok asks if he’s thanking him, but Sun explains that he’s apologizing since the nation and the king pushed him into the depths of despair, forcing him to become a monster to survive.
Dae-mok questions what Sun will do when the people are suffering, asking if he will spew about morals and give advice from his throne. Sun says that he’ll jump into the depth of despair and give the people his shoulder to lean on in order to not make any more monsters like Dae-mok. His response stirs the jaded man, making him reply, “If I met a king like you sooner…”
Spitting up blood, Dae-mok shares his last thoughts with Sun before dying: Water flows from the top to the bottom, and though he tried to fight against it and failed, he doesn’t regret anything. Staring at Sun, he tells him that he’ll watch how he changes the nation from the afterlife, and draws his final breath.
Sun and his group return to the palace, where Ga-eun and the rest have been anxiously waiting for him. Chung-woon announces the deaths of Dae-mok and the Water Bureau chief, but Sun ignores everyone and walks straight to Ga-eun. He embraces her, and everyone in the courtyard turns away—though Woo Bo and the Minister of Justice sneak a peek at the lovebirds.
Sun thanks her for saving many lives today, and then suggests that they go together and save their friend. That evening, Chung-woon brings Lee Sun out of jail and in front of Sun. With a smile, Sun offers the antidote, but Lee Sun just glares at him in response.
EPISODE 40 RECAP
Seeing his hesitation, Sun tells him to trust Ga-eun, so Lee Sun swallows the pill, willing to even take poison if Ga-eun gave it to him. Gasping, Lee Sun falls to the floor, but watches in amazement as his spots disappear.
Crouching down to meet his eyes, Sun apologizes to Lee Sun for not realizing how dangerous his idea was, but Lee Sun tells him not to ask for forgiveness, since he won’t either for trying to steal the crown. Sun accepts this for now, believing that their misunderstanding will resolve itself one day, and tells Lee Sun that he’ll always be his first friend.
As Lee Sun leaves, Ga-eun stops him, pleading with him to return to their old lives as friends and family. Unfortunately, like an overturned bucket or a fallen petal, things cannot be restored as they once were, and Lee Sun prays for Ga-eun to be well. They watch Lee Sun leave, and Sun says that they’ll wait together until he returns.
News of Lee Sun’s release causes the ministers to beseech the king to reconsider his actions. However, Sun informs them that Lee Sun was still a king and deserves to be treated as one. While they concede to this, they bring up the issue of Ga-eun and beg him to dispose of her. Just outside, Ga-eun listens to their pleas.
Lee Sun trudges down the city streets, lost in thought, as he wonders why Sun gave him the real antidote. He recalls when he first started to distrust Sun, and then realizes that Hyun-seok planted the first seeds of doubt.
Elsewhere, the chief state councilor is escorted in his jail cart, when Hyun-seok stealthy appears next to him from the shadows. He asks the minister if he should assassinate the king, but the minister orders him to attack someone else.
Ga-eun returns to her old home (which has been destroyed), and the place stirs memories of Sun. She narrates her letter to him, telling him of his great duty to the people and her worry of becoming a hindrance. Thus, she asks to be let go so that she can watch him from afar.
In his room, Sun clutches the letter as he learns of Ga-eun’s departure. Soon after, Sun calls for a meeting where he declares himself unfit to be king to all his ministers. He reminds everyone that the sacrifice of one woman saved them all, but now they’re asking him to ignore her. When the ministers continue to beg Sun to heed their advice, he finally takes off his crown and tells them to find someone more virtuous and wiser to take the throne, since he completed his duty to save the people from Pyunsoohwe.
Ga-eun watches as the wells are opened, and the people celebrate as they reclaim the water. She wonders if Sun can see everyone laughing, and tells herself that Sun is for everyone, so she reaffirms that her choice to leave was the right one.
Out of nowhere, Sun calls that preposterous as he walks up to Ga-eun. He reminds her of how she always treated him sincerely regardless of his changing identities, and asks why him being the king should be any different.
Ga-eun tries to convince him that she’ll cause him harm since she was selected as the fake king’s queen, but Sun tells her that the real harm would come from losing her. He recounts the time when Ga-eun was captured and everyone told him to protect himself. However, Sun says that if he had chose his life over hers, he would have truly lost himself.
Sun understands how easily the throne can corrupt a person and implores Ga-eun to stay by his side to keep him from becoming another Dae-mok. Bringing out the old necklace, Sun says that he wishes to be with her forever like the sun and moon: “As deep as my soul can reach, as wide as it can be, I love you.”
He asks Ga-eun to be his wife and the mother of the country, protecting the people with him. With tears pooling in her eyes, Ga-eun accepts, and Sun places the necklace around her neck before hugging her. From the streets, the people recognize Sun and bow to him.
Lee Sun questions a farmer about Hyun-seok, but when he learns that Hyun-seok lied about his father, he runs off in a hurry. Back on the pavilion, Sun reluctantly separates with Ga-eun, who wishes to say farewell to everyone before returning to the palace.
Lee Sun runs through the woods and serendipitously meets Woo Bo. He quickly informs him of Hyun-seok’s true identity, and worries about the king’s safety. However, Woo Bo grimly notes that Hyun-seok is currently with someone else.
As Ga-eun says goodbye, Hyun-seok watches her as the head guard, and once Ga-eun boards the palanquin sent by Sun, he leads the procession through the woods. Away from prying eyes, Hyun-seok stops the group and orders the guards to open the palanquin.
Stepping out, Ga-eun wonders what’s wrong, but right before her eyes, Hyun-seok kills all the guards in a matter of seconds. He turns to Ga-eun and explains that since she’s the king’s weak point, she must die.
Before Hyun-seok strikes, however, Lee Sun jumps in and stops his old bodyguard. Hyun-seok orders Lee Sun to move aside since he doesn’t want to kill his old master, but Lee Sun takes up a sword in a feeble attempt to push him back.
Hyun-seok easily disarms him and pushes him to the ground. Facing Ga-eun, Hyun-seok brings down his sword, but Lee Sun hurls himself between the blade and Ga-eun at the last moment. He tells her to run before falling to the ground, but it’s too late. Hyun-seok raises his sword again.
Before he can kill Ga-eun, Sun arrives with his loyal guards, and Gon throws a small dagger while Chung-woon chucks his sword. Hyun-seok deflects both and proceeds to strike Ga-eun before they can stop him.
Accepting her fate, Ga-eun closes her eyes as the sword comes down, but once again, her life is spared—this time with Sun standing in between, his hand stopping the blade. In one fluid stroke, Sun slashes Hyun-seok, instantly killing him.
No longer in danger, Ga-eun drops to the ground and holds Lee Sun, apologizing through her tears. He tells her not to cry and thanks her for giving him a name and a dream, saying that he was happy.
Then, addressing Sun, Lee Sun asks for forgiveness for resenting him, and admits that Sun was also his first and last friend.
With his dying breath, he tells Sun to live happily with Ga-eun and to become a true king of this nation. As Lee Sun closes his eyes, the scene switches to the night the three friends stared at the field of fireflies, happy and carefree. Returning to the present, Ga-eun and Sun mourn the loss of Lee Sun as he leaves them behind.
One year later.
Sun stands with Ga-eun on a bridge and tells her that he’s still searching for the answer as to what a true king is. He believes that this is the only thing he can do for all those who sacrificed their lives for him, and Ga-eun promises to be with him forever.
In the palace courtyard, Sun crowns Ga-eun the queen of Joseon, and the two unite as king and queen before all the ministers. In the crowd, the late Deputy Magistrate Han appears and watches them. Sun silently promises to make Ga-eun happy, and he tells Sun to become a king loved by his people.
From the back, the late Hwa-goon walks in, and Sun wonders how he’ll ever repay his debt to her. With a smile, she tells him to be happy, since that’s enough for her. Then from another corner where Kko-mool and her mother stand, the late Lee Sun appears. Sun calls him his “friend,” and Lee Sun tells him to become a true king.
Standing side by side, Sun and Ga-eun face their nation as the crowd chants, “Long live the king and queen!”
It’s finally over. It’s been a bumpy ride with some ups and downs, but the show pulled off a satisfactory end that left me content. The last few episodes have been fast-paced, and while I appreciated the quick plot movement, I felt that the ending seemed a bit rushed as a consequence. There were a lot of hasty revelations like Lee Sun discovering Hyun-seok’s identity and finding Woo Bo, but the overall ending was quite emotional and made up for it.
I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the final scenes of Dae-mok and Lee Sun—especially the latter. I found Dae-mok’s last moments to be quite poignant, and thought the acting, writing, and cinematography were all amazing in that scene. It’s a fitting end for a prideful man, so unwilling to admit defeat that he chose death over surrendering. Though it’s also a moment of triumph for our hero, it was mostly a forlorn farewell since Dae-mok died in his chair like a lonesome king on his throne. The way the camera panned away as light streamed in from behind was beautiful and accentuated his solitude.
Dae-mok’s final message suggests that he may have finally recognized Sun as a worthy king, and it reminded me that though Dae-mok became an indisputable monster who sacrificed innocent lives for his own gain, he may have started off as a soul thrown into the pits of despair when he truly wanted to bring about change, much like Sun. In the end, he only brought more pain and suffering to his family—the very reason he turned into a monster for in the beginning—and though he claims to have no regrets, I sincerely doubt it.
The other memorable end to this episode was Lee Sun’s. Much like Dae-mok’s, it was a fitting swan song for the fake king who wallowed in self-pity and hurt those he most loved near the end of his life. Lee Sun died saving Ga-eun, which acted as a nice bookend to their relationship. He started off with undivided devotion and adoration for his lady, which then morphed into an obsession, and in the end, he gave his life for her, almost as if his final act was his way of atoning for his sins. From beginning to end, Lee Sun was about Ga-eun, for better or for worse, and his ending brought some resolution to the character and his relationship with Sun and Ga-eun.
The tiny “noble idiocy” arc that occurred at the last minute wasn’t the most exciting or thoughtful plot device (especially since it happened before in the show), but it did serve its purpose nicely, which was to unite the lovers once and for all. It acted as a catalyst for Sun to share his true feelings with Ga-eun, and it also forced Ga-eun to truly ask herself if she’s happy living apart from Sun. I enjoyed Sun’s profession about needing Ga-eun to keep him on the right path, but I wish more of that was actually shown through action, rather than words. It would have been nice to see their relationship actually grow, but for most of the time, the two of them have been kept apart and there weren’t too many interactions between them that showed how they needed each other. However, like Lee Sun said, the petal has fallen, and what’s done is done. While Ruler will probably disappear into the chronicles of dramaland as time passes, for now, I say farewell and thank you.
- 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