Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 15-16
Sun continues his fight against Pyunsoohwe, and gets one step closer to his goal. However, he’s not the only one after the throne, and old alliances are tested while new ones form. Though hero strives to regain control and bring peace, it’s those around Sun that remind him what exactly it is he fights to protect.
EPISODE 15 RECAP
Lee Sun pushes everything off of his desk as he remembers his meeting with Ga-eun. He wanted to help her, but she asked him to reinstate her father which was something he couldn’t do. Hyun-seok rushes in after hearing the crash, and Lee Sun rebukes himself for hurting Ga-eun.
Overwhelmed after meeting the king, Ga-eun walks slowly out of the palace where Sun waits for her just around the corner. Surprised to see him, she wipes away her tears and asks him why he’s here. Sun explains that he heard she was taken to meet the king, and Ga-eun wonders if he was worried. Sun admits that he was, but then sheepishly tries to hide his feelings by returning to his aloof persona.
Sun offers to escort Ga-eun home, and the two walk side by side as flower petals float around them. He asks her how the king seemed, and she bitterly says that the king is doing well. When Sun fails to ask about anything else, she takes a step closer to him, and asks if that’s all he wanted to know. Before Sun can answer, Kko-mool interrupts them by asking if this is Chun-soo, as she stares at them from down the street.
They arrive at the house safely, and Sun stays for a while as Kko-mool interrogates him, making sure he’s fit to marry Ga-eun. In the back, Lee Sun’s mother agrees with Ga-eun that Sun looks remarkably like Chun-soo but doesn’t see why he would lie to Ga-eun about his identity.
A court lady reports to the queen about Lee Sun’s meeting with Ga-eun inside his greenhouse, and the queen orders her court lady to look into Ga-eun’s background. Elsewhere, Dae-mok receives the same report, and also orders for more information. Just then, Dae-mok’s son arrives, back from the Trade Bureau, and Dae-mok holds an emergency Pyunsoohwe meeting.
Since his son lost all the copper, Dae-mok decides to rush his plans and get the authority to mint coins before the copper arrives to the city. He orders a minister to the task, and then commands his son to get back the copper or step down from his position.
The queen hears about Pyunsoohwe’s loss from the Minister of War, and orders the minister to help Moo-ha safely transport the copper. The minister hesitates, afraid of what Dae-mok might do, but the queen tells him that the nation’s fate is in his hands (i.e., sacrifice yourself for the greater good).
That night, the minister frets at home, unsure if he should side with Dae-mok or the queen, when Sun suddenly appears uninvited. He offers to deliver all the stolen copper to the palace since he’s the one transporting it. In return, Sun wants the position of Minister of Personnel, but the minister exclaims that the queen would never allow it.
Sun wonders aloud if Dae-mok would say the same, bluffing about taking his offer elsewhere, and the minister takes the bait. He delivers Sun’s proposal to the queen, and naturally, the queen is wary of handing over the position. However, the minister advises her to join hands with Sun since he’s purported to be a man of his word, and the queen agrees for now.
Woo Bo hears of Sun’s latest plan about obtaining the Minister of Personnel position, and beams with pride at his pupil. However, his face falls when Sun asks him to take the title, and he vehemently refuses. He promised himself to live for the people and not for a title, and refuses to break his oath for Sun.
As Ga-eun prepares medicinal herbs to take to the palace, Kko-mool wonders if this means their family will soon be rich since she doesn’t want her mother or Ga-eun to suffer anymore. They playfully tell Kko-mool to take care of herself first, and Hyun-seok arrives to pick up Ga-eun.
He treats them respectfully, even holding Ga-eun’s things for her, and as they leave, Kko-mool tries to hand Ga-eun a little handmade pouch as a gift for the king. Lee Sun’s mother quickly stops her, but Hyun-seok takes the pouch, offering to pass it along for her.
In the greenhouse, Ga-eun keeps Lee Sun at a distance, refusing his help concerning the Water Bureau chief, and instead, asks him why he can’t fix his mistake and restore her father’s honor. Lee Sun can’t answer her, and when he stumbles out of the greenhouse, he whispers aloud his desire to become the real king, even for just a moment.
As Ga-eun leaves the greenhouse, the queen’s court lady stops her and brings her before the queen. The queen asks Ga-eun for her father’s name, and with her head bowed, Ga-eun says that her father was Deputy Magistrate Han, the traitor who died five years ago.
After a brief pause, the queen orders for the king, and soon, Lee Sun sits with them, bewildered that Ga-eun is here. The queen tells Lee Sun to listen carefully to what she’s about to say and then announces that she will restore Magistrate Han’s honor.
The queen informs Ga-eun that some prisoners will be released for her birthday celebration, so during that time, she will also clear her father’s name. Ga-eun thanks the queen profusely, and as she leaves, Ga-eun notes how different the queen dowager is compared to the king.
Alone with Lee Sun, the queen suggests bringing Ga-eun in as his court lady, which would mean her father’s name would need to be cleared first. The queen uses this opportunity to display her loyalty to the king, and asks why he continues to hold Dae-mok’s hand instead of hers.
Lee Sun stammers out an excuse—saying that it’s a misunderstanding—so the queen tells Lee Sun to side with her then. She orders him to stop Dae-mok’s plans to take control of the nation’s currency, and all he has to do is stall for four days.
That evening, Lee Sun shares his worries with Hyun-seok, and the faithful bodyguard promises to protect Lee Sun with his life. Staring off into space, Lee Sun asks if it’s all right for him to be greedy since he can’t bear the thought of never seeing Ga-eun again.
The next day Lee Sun cancels the assembly, pretending to be sick, and a minister reports to Dae-mok about Lee Sun’s recent behavior and his meeting with the queen. Dae-mok orders the minister to find out about the queen’s plans, and then sends a message to Lee Sun during the night through the head eunuch: Unless he gives the Water Bureau the right to mint coins, there will be no more poppy wine.
The Water Bureau chief tells Dae-mok’s son that the ship carrying the copper will arrive at a dock tomorrow, and the next day, they go to reclaim their goods. Outnumbered, Chung-woon grabs Moo-ha, and they escape, leaving behind their chests.
At the palace, Lee Sun paces back and forth as Hyun-seok urges him to do as Dae-mok wishes. He refuses at first, but after feeling a sharp pain in his chest, Lee Sun ends up attending the assembly.
The ministers who are part of Pyunsoohwe advise the king to quickly hand over the right to print money to the Water Bureau since they have copper, but right before Lee Sun can pass the new edict, the doors swing open to reveal Woo Bo.
In a flashback to an earlier meeting, Sun asked his teacher Woo Bo to become the Minister of Personnel to keep his oath rather than break it. He needed someone to fight against Pyunsoohwe inside the palace, and convinced Woo Bo to risk his life for the people as the new minister.
In the present, Woo Bo kneels before Lee Sun and announces that the copper has been found. He explains how evil men disguised as pirates stole the copper, and fighting to keep conscious, Lee Sun asks if he retrieved the copper.
Dae-mok’s son and the chief of the Water Bureau proudly ride with their reclaimed copper, but one of the chests falls to the ground after a bump in the road. Rocks tumble out of the box, and Dae-mok’s son grows furious as he realizes all the chests are filled with rocks.
Woo Bo says that he does indeed have the copper, which should be arriving at the Ministry of Finance right now. On the king’s order, the Minister of Finance runs to check and sees Sun delivering the copper. He reports back to the king, and Lee Sun orders the minister to quickly mint new coins.
The assembly ends with Dae-mok’s plans completely thwarted, and Lee Sun barely manages to walk out. In his delirium, he thinks back to Ga-eun when they were in the field with fireflies. And just in time, a minister bitterly hands the poppy pill to Lee Sun, letting him live.
The queen celebrates with the Minister of War, while Dae-mok slowly grasps the fact that he lost this round. He dismisses his son from Pyunsoohwe, stripping him of his title, and orders one of his men to bring the chief peddler before him, now.
Meanwhile, Sun meets with the queen, and as he walks into her room confidently, the queen is unnerved by him. Thinking to herself, the queen notes how similar Sun looks to the previous king during his youth.
EPISODE 16 RECAP
The queen thanks Sun for his help, and when he talks, the queen is again startled by his voice—though it seems she hasn’t made the connection yet. She asks him why he wants the Minister of Personnel position, and Sun explains that he actually wants Woo Bo to have the title.
The Minister of Personnel holds the power to appoint officials, and Sun wishes to fill the royal court with ministers who’ll strengthen the king and fight against Pyunsoohwe. When the queen questions Sun’s motives, he informs the queen that it’s how he’ll destroy them—not why—that matters.
After his meeting, Sun meets with Woo Bo and Moo-ha, and Moo-ha is peeved about Woo Bo’s promotion. In response, Woo Bo smacks Moo-ha with a scroll, and tells him that he’s been promoted to Deputy of Personnel. Instantly, Moo-ha’s mood lifts, and as they turn to leave, Sun stays behind to take a look around his old home.
His first stop is the old greenhouse which he looks at fondly from afar. However, when Sun sees the king’s quarters, he’s brought back to that fateful night when Dae-mok brutally killed his father. Sun leaves the palace soon after, and misses seeing Ga-eun as she’s coming in.
Ga-eun meets the queen and promises to repay her no matter how long it takes. The queen reminds her that her father’s name has yet to been cleared, but Ga-eun is thankful that the queen even remembered him.
Suddenly, the queen taps her fingers and tells Ga-eun to come closer. The queen says that her father died because of a foolish king, and goes on to explain all of the Water Bureau’s recent plans and blames the king for taking the bureau’s side.
The queen asks Ga-eun to become a court lady who’ll become her eyes and ears and watch over the king. Motioning for Ga-eun to come closer, the queen divulges her plans to dethrone the king, and allows Ga-eun to think about her proposal.
Celebrating their promotions, Moo-ha passes out drunk, and Woo Bo smacks Sun in the head. He scolds Sun for his behavior concerning Ga-eun and asks what he’ll do. Sun says that he doesn’t deserve her, so Woo Bo yells at him to let her go. He wobbles out of the room, drunkenly mumbling how he’ll find someone handsome like him for Ga-eun to marry. Heh.
Once Woo Bo leaves, Chung-woon brings up the fact that he beheaded Deputy Magistrate Han, but Sun reprimands his bodyguard, reminding him that it’s not his fault but Pyunsoohwe’s. Chung-woon advises Sun to listen to his own words, and asks if Sun will just blame Pyunsoohwe for all his misfortunes after he loses Ga-eun. Holding back his tears, Sun finally admits that he doesn’t want to lose her.
Standing on the hill where Sun made his promise to her years ago, Ga-eun thinks back to the queen’s request and then remembers her last moment with “Chun-soo.” Suddenly, Sun calls out to her and nervously asks how she’s been.
Ga-eun begins to cry, and tells Sun to leave since he’s not Chun-soo. Unable to comfort her, he turns to leave, but stops when he hears Ga-eun talking aloud. She calls herself a fool and cries, thinking that Chun-soo will never come back because he forgot about her. Sun watches silently as Ga-eun weeps.
Dae-mok learns of Sun’s meeting with the queen, and yells at one of his men to bring him here at all costs. Outside, Gon eavesdrops on Dae-mok’s plan to capture Sun while he travels to the merchants’ meeting, and quickly slips into the shadows.
Elsewhere, Mae-chang dresses as a court lady and gets past a guard by brandishing an emblem. She reports through a door that the man was the true crown prince, and the mysterious man orders Mae-chang to simply watch over him for the time being.
Ga-eun tucks in a sleeping Kko-mool, and is shocked to recognize one of her paintings as the necklace Chun-soo gave her. She wakes Kko-mool up, and the little girl tells her that Sun was looking at the necklace as if it were his treasure.
Meanwhile, the merchants’ meeting is about to begin, and Hwa-goon anxiously waits for Sun’s arrival. She perks up after hearing footsteps, but it’s Mae-chang who arrives. She’s here to meet Sun, and Hwa-goon assures her that Sun will come.
When Hwa-goon is alone, Gon appears beside her and informs her that Dae-mok plans to capture Sun tonight. Immediately, Hwa-goon runs to warn Sun and protect him.
While Hwa-goon runs towards Sun, Ga-eun also chases after him, and though both ladies reach him at the same time, Ga-eun calls after him first. He turns around and is surprised to see her there. Ga-eun cuts to the chase, and asks him for the last time if he’s Chun-soo.
Before he can answer, Dae-mok’s men jump down from the rooftops and attack them. Hwa-goon watches with mixed emotions as Sun protects Ga-eun, and just as one of the attackers strikes Ga-eun, Sun throws himself between them and gets slashed across the back.
Seeing Sun get hurt, Hwa-goon fires a flare into the air, and as soon as her men arrive, the attackers scatter. Hwa-goon can only watch as Chung-woon carries Sun away while Ga-eun goes along with them. They bring Sun to Woo Bo, and after treating Sun, Woo Bo reassures everyone that Sun will be fine.
Back at the merchants’ meeting, Ga-eun slaps one of Dae-mok’s men, and yells at them for attacking one of her guests. She orders them to leave, and once they’re gone, Ga-eun confirms with Gon that Sun’s true identity still remains a secret to her grandfather.
Ga-eun watches over Sun, who’s still unconscious, and finds Chun-soo’s necklace around his neck, tucked underneath his shirt. The truth dawns on her, and she confesses how she missed him. Stirring awake, Sun slowly reaches up and wipes away Ga-eun’s tears.
He apologizes for pretending not to know her, and admits how he thought keeping her at a distance would protect her. He tells Ga-eun that he never forgot her, and she cries into his shoulder. Sun holds onto her, and asks her to never leave him. However, Ga-eun remembers the queen’s request, and looks conflicted as she lies in the arms of her first love.
I feel like there’s something missing with the story ever since the time-skip. In first few episodes, characters were dying left and right, and there was this natural tension because the show was unafraid to kill its characters. Pyunsoohwe actually seemed like a legitimate threat that could destroy the king, and in the end, Dae-mok actually kept his promise and killed him. In comparison, the current show feels much more tame. Lee Sun should have died multiple times already if this were still the first act, but the fact that nothing has really happened to him, besides threats to not supply him the poppy pills, makes Pyunsoohwe seem weak. It’s not that I want Lee Sun to die, but it feels like sloppy writing when the same threats and resolutions are repeated.
In addition, despite having a puppet king, I don’t see how, storywise, Pyunsoohwe has gained more control over the nation. I would have assumed that creating a puppet king would make Pyunsoohwe even more formidable, but there haven’t been any substantial changes. In fact, much of the way Pyunsoohwe operates and controls the country is pretty much the same as during the old king’s reign, which makes me wonder what Dae-mok did during the five years besides collect copper. It’s almost silly how easily his plans were ruined by Sun given how much trouble Dae-mok gave the previous king. I know Sun was able to win partly due to Hwa-goon’s father’s failure, but ever since the time-skip, it seems like Dae-mok has been confined to his room where he barks orders at incompetent underlings. While the five years were a good way for Sun to build his reputation and gain some skills, I feel like the show sacrificed a worthy adversary in the process.
On the other hand, I’m glad the queen isn’t a straightforward “good” person. I always thought she had her own hidden agenda, and I think she wants to dethrone the king to take control herself. She’s currently aligned with Sun, since they share a common enemy, but I do hope there’s more conflict in the near future as multiple parties fight for the throne. It does make things more complicated, which is worrisome since the writer already seems to be faltering, but if executed well, it could make for an interesting story that isn’t black and white.
Granted, there are already so many components to this show, and I’m not too confident that the writer will be able to utilize everything to its potential. There are a lot of good characters that should be developed, but it seems like part of the problem is that there are too many puzzle pieces for the writer to handle. The show still has to flesh out Ga-eun and Lee Sun more, but there are also other side characters like Hwa-goon, Woo Bo, Dae-mok, Chung-woon, and now Mae-chang, who could be interesting given more screen time. In a way, Ruler feels like it should be an epic sageuk with fifty episodes that introduces these characters in their own arcs rather than all at once, giving them time to develop and not just be used as tools to move the plot.
One thing I am not looking forward to is this new twist concerning Ga-eun becoming a court lady, simply because it feels like another mechanism to keep the two leads apart just when they confessed their feelings and reunited. I like the thought of Ga-eun being a spy inside the palace, but I would much prefer it if she were honest with Sun and worked as a double agent. That would give Ga-eun some agency over her actions and motives since she’s constantly being pushed around by the different lies (Sun’s identity, Lee Sun’s identity, her father’s death) surrounding her. This is where my frustration with the character comes from, because she’s often treated as a pawn and a source for reactions. It’s definitely not the performance that’s at fault, but the way the writer is handling the character that makes me wish Ga-eun had something more to do.
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