Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 33-34
As this show winds down to its conclusion, Sun gears up to meet the final obstacles between himself and the throne. I have to say, this episode is just filled with plot developments and reawakened subplots that I never expected – and while I can’t say I’m thrilled with how they actually played out, props to the show for surprising me so hard, and even for adding some well-done emotional moments as well. All in all, I’m glad that we’re at least left with some inkling of closure in the near future – because at this point, what more can you ask for?
EPISODE 33 RECAP
Accompanied by Gon, Sun and Chung-woon hurriedly help the children escape from the poppy fields and raise their swords to confront the chief of the Water Bureau, who’s hot on their trail. The chief starts to attack when he gasps in shock to see Sun, who is supposed to be dead.
Before the chief can ask any questions, however, they notice the fire burning in the fields behind them. With no choice, the chief orders his men to go help put out the fire, giving Sun, Chung-woon, and Gon a chance to escape.
Meanwhile in the poppy fields, Mae-chang and Moo-ha dig up poppy flowers, hoping to gather enough to figure out how to make an antidote. When they notice the fire, they swiftly gather what they have and escape.
Hearing news of the burning fields, an infuriated Dae-mok mounts his horse and races to the scene. At the fields, meanwhile, Hwa-goon’s poor father stares at the ruined fields in despair, imploring Hwa-goon to think of a solution or even escape by herself to avoid Dae-mok’s inevitable wrath.
Hwa-goon, however, only apologizes to her father, telling him emptily that she does not regret her actions. To his shock, she informs him that the crown prince is alive, and thus, she can’t run away: “I must stay and protect him.”
Dae-mok storms into the fields at that moment, screaming at the Water Bureau chief to explain what happened. Terrified by Dae-mok’s rage, the chief pushes forth a random guard to answer in his stead, who shakily explains that an intruder escaped with Chung-woon and all of the children.
Before anyone can stop him, Dae-mok takes the chief’s sword and cuts down the innocent guard. Next, Dae-mok turns to target Hwa-goon’s father, screaming that he has failed once again despite the numerous chances he’s been afforded.
Just as he lifts his sword to cut down his own son, however, Hwa-goon inserts herself between them to protect her father, shouting that she was the one behind the fire. Dae-mok stares at her in disbelieving fury, preparing to unleash his wrath.
But this time, the chief of the Water Bureau steps forward, telling Dae-mok that the culprit wasn’t Hwa-goon, but the crown prince. The chief tells him he saw the crown prince escape with Hwa-goon. When Hwa-goon screams that it isn’t true, Dae-mok turns to her, fury deep in his eyes.
Sun and Chung-woon hurry to escape through the fields with the children when suddenly, Moo-ha and Mae-chang stumble into their paths while making their own escape. They all draw their weapons before recognizing each other in elated disbelief, sharing teary embraces at their reunion.
Chung-woon reminds them that Pyunsoohwe will find them soon and urges them to get the children to safety as soon as possible. They hurry away.
Standing on a tower overlooking the fields, Dae-mok asks Hwa-goon what she thinks Pyunsoohwe is to him. Hwa-goon responds: “An entity more important than life itself… just as the crown prince is to me.” Her words only anger him further, however, and he reminds her that he won’t forgive anyone who betrays Pyunsoohwe – even if that person is his own granddaughter. Hwa-goon only tells him that she’s glad she lived without regrets, and asks him to tell her father that she’s sorry.
With those words, Dae-mok ruthlessly orders the chief of the Water Bureau to kill her. The horrified chief draws his sword, but when he hesitates for too long, Dae-mok grabs the sword from him and cuts her down himself. Damn.
Hwa-goon falls from the tower and drops down to the ground. As her father rushes forth to gather her body in his arms, Hwa-goon flashes back to her first moments in the greenhouse with Sun, and whispers his name with her dying breath.
As Dae-mok approaches with the chief, Hwa-goon’s father screams: “Are you even human? How could you kill your own blood?!” Without a word, Dae-mok simply plunges the bloody sword into the soil and storms away. He orders the chief to find and kill the crown prince at all costs.
Meanwhile in the village, Sun returns the children to their families, who embrace their long-lost children with tears of gratitude. Sun brings the last four children to a temple, promising that he’ll be back to see them soon.
When Sun asks Chung-woon if he might see Ga-eun, however, Chung-woon advises him otherwise, telling him that there are many people waiting for them. Instead, they go to meet Woo Bo and the chief of the Supply Office, who greet them with tears of joy.
Woo Bo brings Sun to his house to explain what he knows about the poison. He tells Sun that as his body reacts to the poison, the character for his name appears on his back and cures him, which is how he’s survived three poppy pills.
Chung-woon suggests that the character on Sun’s body and Woo Bo’s testimony should be sufficient proof of Sun’s royal identity, but Woo Bo tells him that they need more evidence – specifically, a pot hidden by the late king, which contains his written testament as to Sun’s bodily reaction to the poison. All he knows is that the pot is hidden somewhere in the palace.
At that moment, a villager hurries to warn them that the Water Bureau is on their way to find and kill Sun. Thankfully, by the time the Water Bureau arrives, Sun and his friends manage to clear out.
Gon spies on the Water Bureau’s actions in hiding before hurrying to report to Hwa-goon. When he arrives at Hwa-goon’s room, however, he finds Hwa-goon’s father grieving over her dead body. Gon falls to his knees in shock, and Hwa-goon’s father dryly notes that he doesn’t even know how to cry.
When he leaves the room, however, Gon begins to tear up, reaching for her motionless hand. Remembering what she’d told him – that protecting the crown prince is the same as protecting her – he vows to follow her command until his death.
Dae-mok meets with a Pyunsoohwe member, who swears to keep the ruined poppy fields a secret for now, but notes that they must find a solution before their victims need another dose of the antidote.
At that moment, Hwa-goon’s father interrupts them in a grief-stricken daze. He screams at Dae-mok that Pyunsoohwe shouldn’t be more important than his family: “You’d said that the point of Pyunsoohwe to protect those precious to you!”
Insisting that Dae-mok will soon lose everything that he treasures and die a lonely and tragic death, Hwa-goon’s father tells him that this is the end of their relationship. To Dae-mok’s shock, Hwa-goon’s father gives him one final bow before parting ways with his father, leaving Dae-mok alone in the dark.
At the palace, Ga-eun visits Lee Sun to confront him about his promotion of the Water Bureau chief. She angrily reminds him that the chief is his father’s murderer and the cause of the suffering of many citizens, but he refuses to budge. Telling her that times have changed, Lee Sun insists that teaming up with the chief is the only way to protect people like his father: “I will become a king for the subjects,” he declares. “My priority is to gain enough strength to fight Dae-mok.”
At that, Ga-eun dryly tells him that all of his subjects will be dead by then. When an annoyed Lee Sun orders an end to the conversation, Ga-eun then tells him that she wishes to visit the temple by herself to pay respects to her father. He starts to cite concerns about her safety, but finally grants her permission as long as she goes with his mother. Ga-eun suggests taking Kko-mool with her as well, but Lee Sun tells her that Kko-mool will stay with him.
Sun meets with his loyal advisors that night to discuss their strategy. They note that the village is crawling with Dae-mok’s men, making it impossible for Sun to move around freely. Instead, Woo Bo declares, they must change their strategy: “Fight Pyunsoohwe from inside the palace!” Everyone but Moo-ha agrees, urging Sun to return to the throne and take control of the nation.
But unexpectedly, Sun refuses: “I do not have the right to return to the throne.” He recounts to them what Dae-mok told him about the late king, who assassinated the former king and joined forces with Pyunsoohwe.
Shaken, everyone starts to deny the possibility – but this time, Mae-chang speaks up to confirm the truth. Sun hangs his head in dismay.
Later that night, Sun sits outside the house, deep in thought. When Woo Bo approaches, Sun tells him that he has just as little right to the throne as Lee Sun does for lying and forcing his way to the throne: “Who is the real king, and who is fake?” Woo Bo sighs, unable to respond.
Ga-eun and Lee Sun’s mother head to the temple the next morning to pray. Teary-eyed, Ga-eun confesses to Lee Sun’s mother that she doesn’t want to return to the palace and that Lee Sun has changed too much. Lee Sun’s mother understands, worried for Lee Sun, who is sure to be in danger if the true king returns.
To her shock, however, Ga-eun tells her that the true king cannot return, and that the true king is actually the chief peddler. Ga-eun then gets up to visit her father’s grave. When Lee Sun’s mother starts to go with her, Ga-eun asks to let her go alone, insisting that she won’t leave her and Kko-mool alone.
Lee Sun’s mother relents, and Ga-eun walks through the mountain path to her father’s grave, looking at the flowers and reminiscing about her time here with Sun. She pays her respects to her father.
The four girls from the poppy fields play together at the temple, cheery and healthy. Woo Bo drops by to ask them about the spots on their skin from the poison, but they shy away from him in fear. Noting their reservations, Woo Bo makes goofy faces at them until they laugh, promising that he’ll make an antidote for their sicknesses soon.
As Ga-eun returns from her father’s grave, holding Sun’s pendant, she stops to see Sun in the distance. They turn and stare at each other in shock.
EPISODE 34 RECAP
Overjoyed to see each other again, Ga-eun and Sun run into each other’s arms. Eyes brimming with tears, Ga-eun tells him that’s been waiting to say something: “I love you.”
Sun pulls her into an embrace, and they share a kiss among the flowers.
Meanwhile at the palace, the disgraced queen dowager attempts to fight her way to Lee Sun’s room, where the guards prevent her from entering without his permission. Hearing her pathetic struggle, Lee Sun grants her entry, and she finally walks in to see Lee Sun hard at work at his desk, studying his royal line of ancestry.
The queen dowager snorts at his efforts: “Do you think you can become royalty simply by memorizing those names?!” She wonders how long he can keep up the act as the fake prince, swearing to return the true prince to the throne. Lee Sun just laughs at her and tells her that the true prince is dead.
Despite her rage, Lee Sun overpowers her, pinpointing the real reason she came to see him: She needs the poppy antidote, but is too proud to beg Dae-mok for it, and now needs his help. Lee Sun entreats her to remember that he’s the real king now, reminding her that she’s powerless, and orders the guards to take her away. The Minister of War watches her leave, and she glares at him in fury before storming back to her place of forced isolation.
Lee Sun visits Kko-mool in the greenhouse to give her some snacks, but finds her hiding from him in fear. Lee Sun smiles gently at her, telling her that he wants them to be friends, and baits her with a sweet slice of watermelon. When Lee Sun asks if she doesn’t like it here, Kko-mool tells him that she prefers living in the village and asks him to come there with her. He can only smile sadly back.
Ga-eun and Sun pay respects to her father before heading back to the village, hand in hand. As they walk, Ga-eun suggests that she start properly calling him “Your Highness,” but his face falls. He tells her that he may not have the right to return to the throne, reminding her that he caused her father’s death and the suffering of the people.
But in return, Ga-eun reminds him of all the times he saved the people from their suffering, protecting them from the Water Bureau. She insists that Sun has the right to the throne not because of his bloodline, but because of the love he has for his subjects. Sun listens, swayed.
At that moment, Chung-woon catches up to them to inform them that a search has begun for the pot. At Ga-eun’s confusion, Sun explains that the pot contains proof of his identity, and Ga-eun (FINALLY) recalls the late Consort Lee’s words that the pot is hidden in the greenhouse.
Ga-eun explains this to Sun and Chung-woon before telling them that she’ll look for it, since she’s the only one who can go in naturally. As they speak, Lee Sun’s mother walks by, newly noting the Sun as the king. Uh-oh.
At Pyunsoohwe, Dae-mok informs his advisor that they have only fifty antidotes left, and will use those to choose who will live and die. They begin to make a hit list.
As Ga-eun and Lee Sun’s mother are escorted back to the palace in sedan chairs, Sun sees her off in hiding, fearing for Ga-eun’s safety.
That night, Lee Sun’s mother goes to visit him at the palace, informing him that the crown prince is alive. Shocked by this information, Lee Sun hurries to see Dae-mok to discuss a way to keep the crown prince from returning to the throne. He asks Dae-mok to make a deal with him to prevent Sun’s return: “I will take everything away from him.”
The next morning, Lee Sun holds a meeting of his ministers, declaring that he will now name his new wife and queen since the last selection was made void. He names Ga-eun as his bride, of course, and the palace wastes no time in making the declaration to her.
At Pyunsoohwe, the second state councilor comes to complain to Dae-mok about Ga-eun’s selection as queen, insisting that someone from Pyunsoohwe should be on the throne. But Dae-mok informs them that this is all according to plan, and they can always change the queen later.
Sun and Chung-woon run into Gon in the marketplace that day. Sun stops Chung-woon from drawing his sword to hear him out, and is shocked to find out that Hwa-goon has been killed by Dae-mok to protect him. When Sun wonders what he can do to repay her, Gon urges him to become king, since it’s what Hwa-goon wanted.
Dae-mok meets with the Pyunsoohwe elders, who are furious that Dae-mok’s own granddaughter could have destroyed the poppy fields. When they demand to know how he plans to resolve this, Dae-mok informs them that this is the perfect way to transform Pyunsoohwe for the better: “We will destroy anyone who isn’t absolutely loyal to Pyunsoohwe.”
Meanwhile, Chung-woon presents Sun with a copy of Dae-mok’s hit list that he made in secret, telling him that he plans to save only his most loyal followers with the limited number of remaining antidotes. Sun reads through the list to find the names of the queen dowager and her followers, but is surprised to see other loyal Pyunsoohwe members like the second state councilor. Gon tells him that around seventy-five Pyunsoohwe members will be killed despite their membership.
Shaking in fury, Sun orders them to gather his people to make a declaration. When his loyal followers are gathered, Sun announces his decision: “Although my father joined with Pyunsoohwe to become king, I will become king to destroy Pyunsoohwe.”
He presents the hit list to them, telling them that though they might be Pyunsoohwe members now, they are still his subjects. Declaring that he will return to the throne, he swears to create an antidote, save his subjects, and punish Dae-mok and Pyunsoohwe for their actions.
Sun then turns to his friends, asking if they will support him. Everyone stands, swearing to accept his command.
First of all, a moment of silence for our dear, beloved Hwa-goon! It’s startling how much my opinion of her has changed since the first episodes of the show – particularly because it’s not really that her character got better, but everyone else just got way worse. While I’m certainly frustrated and upset that such a fun character was wasted on a love for a man that made no sense, I truly didn’t expect the writers to kill her off, and I’m at least glad that the show surprised me. Of course, I’m absolutely appalled that the writers could even think to do such a thing, considering that she’s one of the more likable characters, but at this point, I’m in it for the ride, and a ride is what it gave me.
In a similar vein, it never occurred to me that Dae-mok’s character arc would be… losing the people precious to him. Sure, that’s a common arc for villains, but it wasn’t at all apparent to me that it was important enough to be the final strike to Dae-mok’s character, especially since he never seemed to like his son (at all) and loved Hwa-goon more for her strategic brilliance than for her bloodline. Still, I was happy to see that he had an arc at all, especially in the scene where his son declared his departure from him, and Dae-mok was shown to be emotionally affected by it, since it added some dimension to what little we had before. In a sense, I’m satisfied, but also very dissatisfied, because the moral narrative did seem to come out of nowhere.
Finally, I do think this episode only went to prove lovepark’s point about how much more interesting the secondary and tertiary characters are than their main counterparts. While I wasn’t thrilled with many parts of the episode, I have to say that I enjoyed it overall due to many of the unexpected character moments. Hwa-goon’s father has always demonstrated a clear love for his daughter, which made his arc in this episode tragically satisfying to see, and Mae-chang and Woo Bo’s relationship with the children was another nice thing to revisit, even in small doses. It would especially be remiss not to mention the lovely note of the loyalty between friends and servants that has constantly been represented in this show – Chung-woon and Sun, Hyun-seok and Lee Sun, and Gon and (sniff) Hwa-goon.
Meanwhile, I found that the current main conflict of whether Sun deserves to be on the throne was actually pretty interesting, especially touching upon the idea that neither Sun nor Lee Sun technically have the “divine-given” right to be king, per se. But like almost every issue or subplot in this show – romantic subplots, power struggles with the queen dowager, and so on – it didn’t go on long enough to carry any weight. It’s touch and go, in that it sets up the issue but doesn’t escalate it, until it falls flat and deflates. But I guess to flip the issue on its head, you could say that Ruler—Master of the Mask doesn’t linger in the past, so I won’t linger in past episodes, either. Here’s to a strong end, Show.
- 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