Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 27-28
This episode proves that the recent improvements we’ve been seeing weren’t just a fluke, which is good news. Now that the main plot has started to move again, Sun must face the consequences of his lies as he battles against his greatest enemy. It’s an episode filled with plenty of action and emotion, though I can’t help but wish that this had happened sooner.
EPISODE 27 RECAP
Mae-chang confronts Ga-eun, asking if she really didn’t know that she would be chosen as a final candidate for queen, and Ga-eun explains that she was only supposed to stay until the second round. Confused, Ga-eun gets up to ask the queen dowager directly, but Mae-chang stops her.
She urges Ga-eun to reconsider her trust in the queen dowager, revealing the truth about her as the true culprit behind Sun’s attempted murder. Thus, Mae-chang advises Ga-eun to trust Sun and wait.
The queen dowager meets with Lee Sun and reminds him to return the favor, since she did as he wanted and chose Ga-eun as one of the finalists. Smiling, Lee Sun promises to help make her niece his queen.
Pyunsoohwe meets over the recent development in the queen selection process, and Dae-mok disdainfully notes that their candidate might lose because of Ga-eun. Meanwhile, the queen dowager reassures the Minister of War that the queen has basically been decided, adding that soon, he’ll be the king’s father-in-law.
Sun asks the Inspector General if they could invalidate the selection process, but the latter can only apologize. Woo Bo offers to persuade Lee Sun, but Sun tells him that it’s pointless since Lee Sun made up his mind the moment he broke his promise with him.
Later that night, Dae-mok meets with a mysterious person, and asks if it’s an urgent matter since the orders were to lie low. (Omo, is this who I think it is?) Elsewhere, Sun stares into a fire, and tells Chung-woon that he’ll take Ga-eun out.
As Lee Sun orders the head eunuch to make Ga-eun comfortable, Hyun-seok arrives, bearing a gift from the chief peddler. Lee Sun finds two pills and a letter from Sun that explains how he searched for an antidote to the poppy and finally found one.
Though initially excited, Lee Sun curbs his enthusiasm, and Hyun-seok fuels the flames of doubt by questioning how Sun could have found the antidote when only Dae-mok knows the formula. He then informs Lee Sun about the time that Sun glared at him and recommends that the king have the royal taster eat one of the two pills first.
Hence, the royal taster arrives, and after eating a pill, she tells Lee Sun that it’s safe. However, she suddenly clutches her throat and throws up blood before falling to the ground in convulsions. Hyun-seok knocks the pill from Lee Sun’s hand just as he’s about to eat it and checks on the royal taster to declare her death.
That night, Hyun-seok secretly disposes of the body, but the head eunuch watches from the shadows with a suspicious look. After completing the task, Hyun-seok reports to Lee Sun, who wearily talks about Sun and their friendship. His voice slowly rises with anger as he accuses Sun of being just like those who killed his father.
Convinced that Sun never intended to keep him alive, Lee Sun chucks the chest from Sun across the room before pulling Hyun-seok closer to him. With a crazed look, Lee Sun tells Hyun-seok that he trusts him, and asks if Hyun-seok sees him as his king. When Hyun-seok replies in the affirmative, Lee Sun reveals that the chief peddler is the true crown prince, leaving Hyun-seok completely shocked.
Fueled by his rage and jealousy, Lee Sun goes to Dae-mok and tells him that he wants to be a real king. Dae-mok reminds him that he is the king, but Lee Sun just says that he wishes to be a real king and not a fake. Irked by the implication, Dae-mok asks if he means to show his face to the people and stop being a puppet.
Realizing his mistake, Lee Sun clarifies what he meant: “The real one must die.” He tells Dae-mok that the crown prince is alive, and for the first time, Dae-mok sits up, taken aback.
As Hwa-goon searches the grounds for Gon, a servant tells her that Dae-mok is looking for her, and so she goes to her grandfather’s chambers only to find Gon lying on the floor, beaten and bloody. She accuses Dae-mok of overstepping his bounds by punishing her person, but Dae-mok simply states that he kept Gon alive precisely because he is her bodyguard. Handing her a knife, he gives her two options: take the punishment herself, or kill Gon.
Having finally uncovered the real reason behind Hwa-goon’s change of heart, Dae-mok explains how Hwa-goon must have saved the prince back then at the cliff, and Hwa-goon assumes Gon betrayed her. Exasperated, Dae-mok tells her that Gon didn’t say a word. Instead, Dae-mok claims he learned from one of his many informants that the chief peddler is the crown prince before he proceeds to shout at his granddaughter for saving the man who tried to kill him.
Right then, Hwa-goon’s father walks in, but the two proceed to ignore him as Dae-mok offers Hwa-goon another chance. With fire burning in her eyes, Hwa-goon rejects his attempts for reconciliation and tells Dae-mok that their deal still stands regardless of the true identity of the chief peddler.
Drawing the knife up to her neck, Hwa-goon threatens to kills herself in front of him if he breaks his promise, and Hwa-goon’s father jumps in to restrain her. He quickly sputters out excuses for Hwa-goon as he drags her away with the chief of the Water Bureau, and Dae-mok orders them to lock her in her room. While being dragged away, Hwa-goon screams at Dae-mok to spare Sun’s life, but her pleas only seem to infuriate him further.
Sun finds Mae-chang at the palace to ask for a favor, so Mae-chang delivers a letter to Ga-eun on his behalf. Ga-eun reads the letter and exchanges smiles with Mae-chang as she explains that Sun will come to take her away tonight.
Once night falls, Mae-chang escorts Ga-eun to the palace gates, but the guards stop and apprehend them. Brought before the king, Ga-eun apologizes and asks him to only punish her, and to her surprise, the king grants her wish. In a tired voice, he then asks her to follow him, and Ga-eun has no choice but to oblige.
The head eunuch scolds Mae-chang for helping Sun again, but this time she pushes back, asking why she can’t help. She says that a little girl named Yang (the one who died from the poison) moved her heart after years of living as a bystander, adding that she hopes her heart and desperation will be able to move him. Bowing her head, Mae-chang begs the head eunuch to help Sun, but he just huffs at her before leaving.
In the greenhouse, Lee Sun dejectedly asks if Ga-eun doesn’t recognize him before proceeding to take off his mask. Ga-eun drops to the floor, averting her gaze, but looks up once he reveals his identity as “Lee Sun.”
The sight of her childhood friend brings Ga-eun to tears as she tells him that she and his family have been waiting for him. Overcoming the initial shock, Ga-eun asks why he’s here, and Lee Sun says that the real prince made him wear his mask five years ago and then ran away.
Still confused, Ga-eun wonders why he didn’t tell her the truth from the beginning, and Lee Sun blames the prince. He tells her that the real crown prince is someone she knows… Sun.
Falling to the ground in shock, Ga-eun argues that there must be a misunderstanding, since Sun is the chief peddler, and she loves him. Lee Sun only expresses his regrets over not telling her sooner, and now with a hardened look, Ga-eun asks Lee Sun to confirm if Sun is the true crown prince.
Sun waits nervously for Ga-eun, but only Mae-chang arrives to let him know that they were caught. Desperate, he attempts to go in by himself to save her, but from the back, Ga-eun comes out to meet them. She explains that a friend helped her escape, and too happy to see her, Sun doesn’t question it.
He thanks Mae-chang for her help, but as he reaches out to take Ga-eun’s hand, she pulls away. Mae-chang interprets this as embarrassment, and quickly leaves to give them some privacy. However, once Mae-chang is gone, Ga-eun tells Sun that she forgot something as she asks him to accompany her.
She leads him to the greenhouse, which she opens with a key, and walks up to a desk with a letter on it. Realizing that something is wrong, Sun asks how Ga-eun obtained a key to the greenhouse, but she ignores his question as she explains the importance of this letter. She hands it to Sun to read, and his eyes widen as he realizes that it’s the order he once wrote to Ga-eun’s father.
She tells him that it’s the only proof of her father’s innocence, adding that she was able to continue living after his death because of Sun and her desire to avenge her father. Taking a step forward, she asks him if he is the owner of this greenhouse, which would make him the very same crown prince who killed her father.
EPISODE 28 RECAP
At his silence, Ga-eun grabs his arm and yells at him to tell her that he isn’t the prince. However, Sun confesses the truth, and Ga-eun stares at him with abhorrence. When she asks him why he deceived her, he only says that he was afraid of losing her, and begs for forgiveness.
She can’t believe his audacity as she berates herself for saving the man who killed her father and deceived her. Pulling out her dagger, she declares her intentions to kill him and avenge her father, but even as Ga-eun brings the knife to his neck, Sun remains motionless.
Unable to kill the man she loves/loved, Ga-eun cries and tells him that this doesn’t mean she forgives him — she’s only letting him live so that her father’s sacrifice was not in vain. Throwing the necklace Sun gave her at his feet, Ga-eun yells at him to leave, but once they’re both alone, they each fall to the ground, sobbing.
Hyun-seok reports to Lee Sun that Sun left the greenhouse alone, and as Sun returns to Chung-woon without Ga-eun, he explains that she found out the truth.
Lee Sun goes to the greenhouse, where Ga-eun has exhausted herself from crying. He tenderly reminds her of their teacher’s words about how fate is like a river that submerges, destroys, and passes everything when it gets angry. As a result, he says that nothing will happen now, adding that she shouldn’t worry. Holding her in his arms, Lee Sun promises to protect her.
Chung-woon informs Woo Bo about Ga-eun, but he can’t help but blame himself for being the one who killed her father. Woo Bo admonishes him as he says that Dae-mok is the true perpetrator, but Chung-woon is convinced that Ga-eun should resent him instead of Sun.
The mysterious person from before waits for Dae-mok in his chamber, and as Dae-mok walks in, the spy is revealed: it’s Hyun-seok. He informs Dae-mok that both Sun and Lee Sun love Ga-eun, and Dae-mok smiles at this news as he wonders if they can catch two rabbits with one trap.
Hyun-seok then returns the remaining antidote to Dae-mok, who explains that the pill only works on those addicted to the poppy — it would be lethal to everyone else.
Returning to the palace, Hyun-seok delivers a letter to Lee Sun from Dae-mok, easily playing the part of a concerned guard. Lee Sun informs Hyun-seok about the content of the letter, which contains Dae-mok’s offer to make him king if he kills Sun.
That evening, Lee Sun calls Sun for a meeting and admits to Sun that he told Ga-eun about his true identity. Sun doesn’t understand why Lee Sun disregarded his request, so Lee Sun explains that he no longer trusts him.
He tells Sun that his and Ga-eun’s fathers died because of him, all but daring Sun to come up with an excuse. Sun accepts the blame since he was ultimately responsible for their deaths, but Lee Sun coldly states, “It was this façade that fooled me.”
Lee Sun explains that he once believed that Sun would become a king for the people, but now, he’s realized that he was wrong. He accuses Sun of fearing Dae-mok and of running away while leaving him behind as bait that Dae-mok could kill anytime. Though Sun tries to interject, Lee Sun tells him to save his excuses, since today will be their last meeting.
Adding that he no longer plans to return the throne to him, Lee Sun even confesses to telling Dae-mok about Sun’s secret. With a smile, Lee Sun explains that he lured Sun into a trap, and as one last token of their friendship, he advises the prince to run while he still can.
Then as a final warning, Lee Sun warns the prince against coming back if he manages to escape tonight, because if he does, he’ll have to kill Sun himself.
Chung-woon enters the palace to fetch Sun, but guards are already crawling everywhere to find them. Recalling Lee Sun’s final advice, Sun hastily arrives at an unguarded gate, but even there, they’re soon surrounded. They manage to fight off the guards and escape, only to end up trapped in a hallway with nowhere to run.
Suddenly, the door behind them opens, and the head eunuch steps out.
Soon after, Hyun-seok arrives in the empty hall and pushes open the door to the eunuchs’ quarters. The head eunuch comes out of another room with a yawn, and when Hyun-seok asks if they saw anyone suspicious come in, two young eunuchs lie that someone jumped over the wall.
With the coast clear, the head eunuch returns to the room where Sun and Chung-woon are hiding. Bitterly, he notes how much Sun resembles the traitor who stole the throne, and then silently motions them out.
Hyun-seok reports his failure to Dae-mok, who’s surprised that Sun could have escaped from their elaborate trap. He reasons that there must still be pro-Sun people inside the palace he doesn’t know about.
Back in the palace, Lee Sun visits Ga-eun, who’s sleeping because Mae-chang gave her some medicine to help her rest. He caresses Ga-eun’s face and says that she is the most important person to him, and Mae-chang observes his actions with a cold expression.
As dawn approaches, Sun practices his swordsmanship in the woods alone, haunted by the memories of losing Ga-eun and Lee Sun’s trust. Remembering Lee Sun’s parting words, Sun strikes a practice dummy and then drops his sword, the hilt covered in blood.
Mae-chang continues to watch over Ga-eun until they’re suddenly interrupted by assassins entering the room. Mae-chang draws a small knife from her sleeve, but hides it again when the chief of the Water Bureau recognizes her from the Trade Bureau. He spares her life before ordering his men to take Ga-eun.
Mae-chang goes to Sun and passes along Dae-mok’s message about coming alone if he wants Ga-eun back. However, Mae-chang addresses him as “Crown Prince,” and Sun asks how she knows his true identity. She tells him that she knew since the Trade Bureau, but reminds him about the more urgent issue at hand.
She advises him not to go since he must live to become king, and Woo Bo agrees that they can’t trade his life for Ga-eun’s. No matter how precious Ga-eun may be to him as a student, Woo Bo says that he can’t sacrifice Sun, since the people of Joseon depend on him.
Ga-eun wakes up in an unfamiliar room before being escorted to meet Dae-mok. He introduces himself, but Ga-eun says that she already knows of him, considering that her father died while investigating him. Unafraid, Ga-eun says that life is unfair, since a righteous man like her father died while a man like Dae-mok still lives.
Dae-mok remains unfazed by her boldness and simply tells her that justice belongs to those with power. He calls her father foolish for chasing after justice while following the powerless prince, but Ga-eun shouts at him, expressing her pride in her father for refusing to join hands with a man like him.
A commotion outside interrupts their meeting, and Dae-mok notes with an amused grin that he must have really came to save her. Ga-eun turns around just as the doors slide open to reveal none other than Sun himself, flanked by two guards.
I didn’t realize I missed Dae-mok this much until this episode. While Hwa-goon is shaping up to be an interesting character, she’s definitely not a villain, and when the show had Dae-mok’s hands tied, the lack of an opponent for Sun was glaringly obvious. This episode was a much needed improvement from previous weeks, and I really credit Dae-mok’s return as the source. While it’s disappointing to think that Sun couldn’t fight against Dae-mok without first being provoked (and for all the dragging that occurred during that time), I’m actually pleasantly surprised at how easily won over I am with the show simply because my favorite character is back in action.
The thing that I like about Dae-mok is that once he starts to move, he means business. He’s willing to kill and send a strong message, which heightens the stakes. There’s real tension when Dae-mok is involved, because unlike the other “villains” or opponents in Sun’s path to the throne, he knows how to manipulate and intimidate people. Despite reusing Ga-eun as the “damsel in distress” at the end, I liked this development more than the previous ones because it was used as a test, and for once, Ga-eun didn’t act like a submissive observer in her situation.
Though it was reckless, she fought back against Dae-mok with her words, and I believed her, since it’s not like she has much to lose. She probably assumed that she would die, so rather than cower in fear, she acted brazenly and was willing to die with her head held high in front of the man who had a hand in her father’s murder. It was a glimpse of Ga-eun’s strong character, and I hope the show continues to develop this side of her further.
While the Hyun-seok reveal wasn’t too much of a shock, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this new tidbit and how much it added to the story. Lee Sun has become a rather despicable character who had mostly lost my sympathies, but knowing Hyun-seok was also a spy planted by Dae-mok made me feel a twinge of pity for Lee Sun. The one person he trusts in the palace is also his enemy, and the more Lee Sun thinks he’s taking control of his life, the more he’s actually entangling himself in Dae-mok’s elaborate web. Though he’s petty, obsessive, and probably a bit deranged, he’s a product of his circumstances and wasn’t able to avert the hand fate dealt him, and knowing that he truly was alone this entire time makes me a little sad for our poor fake king.
I doubt this development will be enough for those who have already dropped the show to pick it up again, but for those still sticking with it, I think there has been some satisfying progress that will make continuing to watch this show worth it — with some adjusted expectations, of course. However, the fast pace has returned and the characters are slowly coming into their own. There’s less wishy-washy behavior going on, and the writer seems to know where to take the characters. Now that most of the truths have been revealed and people finally know each other, I’m looking forward to see how the battle will unfold. There’s no more dancing around issues and recycling the same conflicts (*cough* like keeping Ga-eun in the dark), which means that we actually get to see reactions and consequences. Maybe it’s a low bar, but dang, I’ll take it!
It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally, a show will improve midway into its run. While Ruler was never a terrible show, it has definitely been faltering, but after this episode, I’m cautiously optimistic. I don’t know if it’s too late for it to be brilliant, but it’s been a while since I’ve been excited to watch the next episode for Ruler. I hope I don’t jinx it, but this might be one of those rare occasions where a show that starts to go downhill takes a surprise turn and impresses the viewers in its final act.
- 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