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Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 35-36

It’s another fast-paced episode as the clock ticks down towards the ultimate showdown between who’s the rightful king, and who isn’t. As Sun makes his way back to the throne, he must outwit his opponents and avoid their traps, since one wrong move may lead to his demise. However, Sun’s learned from his experiences and won’t be as easy of a easy target for our villains.

 
EPISODE 35 RECAP

Dae-mok informs the elders of Pyunsoohwe of his death list, but the masked members warn Dae-mok that his name will be the first on the list if the real prince reclaims the throne. Unfazed, he loudly declares for all to hear that the prince will not return.

Sun stands in front of Hwa-goon’s grave and remembers their moments together. With tears pooling in his eyes, he tells her to be happy, and from afar, Hwa-goon’s father watches Sun at his daughter’s grave. He leaves silently, but Gon notices his presence and chases after him.

Catching up to Hwa-goon’s father, Gon tells him that they need the antidote to the poppy pill, but Hwa-goon’s father doesn’t understand why Gon is telling him this, nor does he comprehend why he’s with the crown prince. Solemnly, Gon says that this was Hwa-goon’s will, and her father wistfully calls her unfilial to the end.

Ga-eun barges into Lee Sun’s chamber and asks why she’s the queen. He reminds her that his promise was to not make her his concubine and changes the subject, bringing up the fact that he reinstated her father’s honor. Ga-eun thanks him for that, which makes him smile, but she firmly says that she won’t be queen.

Lee Sun questions the motive behind Ga-eun’s answer, asking if she would say the same to Sun. Ga-eun wonders if he’s really the Lee Sun she knows, but her question only riles him further. He calls the old him a lowlife who obeyed every command, and asks her if she knew what kind of person she was to such a boy. In response, Ga-eun asks if he knows what kind of king he is to her, and tells him that he’s a fake who sided with the enemy.

She turns to leave, but Lee Sun grabs Ga-eun, yelling at her to realize that the real king killed her father and only gave her pain. He menacingly says that he will do anything to have her, and threatens her to stay by his side.

In the greenhouse, Lee Sun meets with his mother, who reprimands him for making Ga-eun his queen. Though he reminds her of his new status as king, she tells him not to be greedy and begs him to return to their old lives. Her pleas only frustrate Lee Sun who simply wants acknowledgment from his two most precious people. However, even if she disapproves, Lee Sun declares his intentions to do as he pleases.

Mae-chang reports to Sun about the wedding, and Sun jumps up to his feet, anxious to get Ga-eun out of the palace. However, Woo Bo advises him to wait eleven days—the amount left before the next poppy pill distribution—and since everyone tells him to be patient, Sun relents. Mae-chang then informs Sun of her second message: there might be someone who could help him.

That evening, Ga-eun breaks into the greenhouse, but her secret mission is caught by Hyun-seok, who leaves to report to Lee Sun. Unbeknownst to him, the head eunuch and Mae-chang spy on both of them.

Ga-eun digs throughout the greenhouse, unable to find the hidden jar, when suddenly she realizes that the perfect hiding place isn’t underneath the ground but amongst other pots. As she approaches a table filled with potted plants, Lee Sun arrives to ask why she’s here.

He already knows she met Sun, which made him wonder why she would choose to return. Ga-eun tells him that it’s not too late, but to her surprise, Lee Sun asks if she would be his. He’s willing to return to his old life if Ga-eun promises to stay his side, but her silence is enough of an answer.

Remorsefully, Lee Sun wishes that she would see him, but then he thinks that it doesn’t matter since he will become the king soon. When that day comes, she will have no choice but to be his queen. Still believing in Lee Sun’s humanity, Ga-eun begs him to put down what’s not his, but Lee Sun bitterly laughs at her request.

He tells her that she gave him the name which made him king, but now she’s telling him to let go of his dreams. He says that he will never give her away, and drags her outside, ordering Hyun-seok to lock her in her room until the wedding day.

Sun anxiously waits for the head eunuch, and once he arrives, Sun thanks him for saving his and Chung-woon’s lives. Unimpressed, the head eunuch dryly notes how Sun is grasping at straws, and Sun agrees with his comment.

The head eunuch bluntly tells Sun that he only approved of this meeting to make Sun give up hope. He thinks Sun is no different from the others and will bring another bloodbath. Thus, the head eunuch would rather take no sides and avoid being manipulated by anyone.

Sun tells the head eunuch that he’s here not to take advantage of him but to give him a chance to choose. He promises to atone for his father’s wrongdoings by becoming a king for the people, but Sun also holds the head eunuch responsible and offers him a chance to repent and fight for the future of Joseon alongside him.

Before answering, the head eunuch brings up the fact that Sun risked his life at the poppy field to save a dozen children and asks if he would make the same decision again. Sun says that he would since a king cannot serve everyone if he considers the lives of a few children as petty. Then as a final question, the head eunuch asks if Sun will fight against Pyunsoohwe without giving up, and Sun silently nods. With that, the head eunuch asks how he can help.

The head eunuch forces a court lady to escort Sun to the queen dowager’s room, and when Sun arrives, the queen dowager is stunned, believing Sun to have died. Sun quickly drops all pretenses, and for once, they address each other by their true titles.

Sun informs her of the burnt poppy field which means no pills for her and her people come the next distribution date, but the queen dowager doesn’t trust his word. He tells her that he has no reason to lie, but she corrects him since he does have one: she tried to kill him.

Sun acknowledges the fact that he already knows she attempted to dispose of him twice, but the queen dowager spitefully says that even if he saved her, she would rather die than thank him. However, with tears in his eyes, Sun calls her “mother,” and asks what reason a child needs to save his parent.

Taken aback, she wonders why she would be his mother, and Sun tearfully asks who else would be his mother since she is the only parent he has left. The queen dowager yells in disbelief, accusing Sun of stripping her of her title and forcing her to endure all those years of agony because of his mere existence.

Despite her accusations, Sun reaches out to hold her hand and sincerely apologizes for not recognizing her suffering until now. In tears herself, the queen dowager doesn’t understand why he would do this for since after she already lost everything, but he reminds her that she’s the queen dowager and he needs her help.

In the great hall, Lee Sun addresses the court ministers and informs them that the Office of Astrology has declared that soon his childhood illness will be cured which means the mask can be removed. Lee Sun flashes back to his meeting with Dae-mok where he asked for permission to take off his mask in order to become the true king, and Dae-mok approved.

Back in the present, Lee Sun declares that in three days he will hold an exorcism ritual and will reveal his face to everyone. Soon, the ministers give their well wishes to Lee Sun, and the head eunuch leaves to report everything to Sun.

The news of Lee Sun’s impending face reveal worries everyone since this may mean Sun will never be able to return to the throne. However, Sun reassures the group and announces his plans: he will return to the palace that day and prove that he’s the real prince.

 
EPISODE 36 RECAP

The queen dowager’s court lady reports to Dae-mok, informing him of Sun’s meeting with the queen dowager, and then presents him a letter she stole. Dae-mok opens the letter which only says, “Eliminate the demons,” and orders the court lady to return the letter to the queen dowager, lest their prey change course.

Later that evening, Dae-mok stands on his pavilion, and from the shadows, Lee Sun steps out. Dae-mok tells him about Sun’s plans to return the day of the ritual, but neither is surprised since they originally planned the ritual as a measure to weed out Sun. Dae-mok warns Lee Sun that this will be his last chance, otherwise, he will lost the throne and the queen.

The next day, Lee Sun confronts the queen dowager about her late night meeting with Sun, and asks if she agreed to testify for him. He offers the queen dowager a chance to return to her old quarters if she promises to side with him instead, reminding the queen dowager that, to the people, they still are mother and son.

He then mentions how the queen dowager is still poisoned, and asks her if she wishes to die in these humble conditions. After a brief pause, the queen dowager asks if she would be released afterwards, and Lee Sun gives his word.

The head eunuch visits Ga-eun, carrying books from the “king,” and as he places them at her desk, he slowly gazes downward, giving a subtle hint as not to arouse the court ladies’ suspicions. Ga-eun understands, and opens one of the books to discover a letter informing her of Sun’s plan to enter the palace on the day of the ritual. Flipping the page, Ga-eun then sees a picture of the jar.

Meanwhile, Sun opens boxes with his loyal teammates, revealing oversized masks. Woo Bo notes the irony of Sun returning to the palace through the aid of a mask when he originally left to avoid it. Sun soberly says that he’s going back to forever rid himself of the mask.

As the ritual date approaches, Lee Sun informs the Minister of War and the Supply Office chief to watch for Sun since all their lives are on the line. Elsewhere, Kko-mool visits the imprisoned Ga-eun who uses her status as future queen to let Kko-mool into her room despite the ban Lee Sun placed on her. After dismissing her court ladies, Ga-eun asks Kko-mool for her help. Thus, Kko-mool steals two handfuls of herbs and brings them back to Ga-eun.

The night before the ritual, Lee Sun tells Hyun-seok that he will finally end his fated tie with Sun, and when morning arrives, guards stand by the gate with paintings of Sun’s face. Dae-mok receives a copy of one, and stares into the camera, daring Sun to enter the palace where all their traps await him.

Woo Bo tells the group to don their masks and leads them towards the gate. When they reach the front, the guard orders them to unmask, and though Woo Bo tries to protest, the guard won’t budge. They all take off their masks as told, but surprisingly, the guard lets them pass. As the group quickly walks inside, Mae-chang greets them, and they thank her for switching out the pictures.

However, as the group spies on the hall where the ritual is supposed to take place, the Minister of War spots them and gives chase. Woo Bo and the Minister of Inspector General are soon cornered, and the Minister of War recognizes them. Woo Bo explains that he needed to find a new job after his dismissal, but the minister sees through his flagrant lies.

As the two are taken away, the rest of the group watches from around the corner, but they are also soon spotted. While they run away from the guards, the head eunuch brings the queen dowager’s court lady to the eunuchs’ room where Sun waits for them dressed as a eunuch.

Sun had already entered the palace early in the morning before security tightened, and walked past all the guards, right under their noses. Thus, the fifth man behind the mask is Moo-ha, and he’s finally captured alongside Chung-woon—Gon having escaped elsewhere.

Sun thanks the head eunuch and the court lady for their help in getting in, but the head eunuch tells him to save his thanks for when he actually sits on the throne.

Trapped in her room, Ga-eun burns one of the herbs Kko-mool brought her while sipping on the other. As the smoke causes the court ladies to fall asleep, the tea keeps Ga-eun awake, and she uses this chance to escape.

Meanwhile, Kko-mool easily enters the greenhouse, having been given clearance by the king, and walks straight to the back door to try and open it. Outside, Mae-chang lies to the guards that an intruder ran past, allowing Ga-eun some time to enter the greenhouse before they come back. Though she struggled, Kko-mool finally opens the door, and Ga-eun immediately searches for the pot, realizing that its shape cannot be tampered.

Lee Sun gets ready for the ritual, but before his hat and belt are placed, the head eunuch interrupts, citing a crack in the jade belt. Lee Sun tells him to quickly fix it, and soon the head eunuch fastens a belt around the king—King Sun, to be more precise.

Dressed and ready, Sun walks to the hall for the ritual and runs into some palace guards. He orders them to bring the captors from this morning to the hall, and the guards obey. In the king’s chambers, Hyun-seok reports to Lee Sun that Sun wasn’t captured, and Lee Sun realizes his belt was never cracked before rushing out.

Sun reaches the hall first, and soon, the captors are dragged in as well. However, they sigh in relief when Sun smiles at them, and to everyone’s surprise, he releases them. The head eunuch tells Sun to take his seat on the throne, but before he can, Lee Sun barges in, calling him an imposter.

Lee Sun screams at everyone to take the fake away, but Sun gives him a steely gaze as he declares himself the real king. Outside, Hyun-seok sends a message to Dae-mok through a bird, and Dae-mok can’t believe the prince was able to enter despite their traps.

In the hall, the ministers gawk at the two kings, unable to differentiate between the two, until the chief state councilor orders both of them to prove themselves. Watching silently, Woo Bo narrates, “In this place, the fate of Joseon will be decided.”

 
COMMENTS

With only a week left, the show continues to maintain its fast pace, and hopefully it will keep this momentum until the end. This episode was mostly about building up to the final scene where Sun faces off against Lee Sun, which sets the stage for Sun to reclaim the throne and become the king. This way, the final episodes have time for Sun to fight Dae-mok and bring down Pyunsoohwe. For the most part, I thought the show did a good job building up to the face-off, as we got to see how the previous scenes were building blocks to Sun’s plans.

In addition, by introducing the element of time (only three days until the ritual, and eleven for the poison to kill people), it adds a natural element of tension to certain scenes because there are now consequences if people don’t fulfill their duty within a given timeframe. I thought it especially helped with Ga-eun’s subplot since it allowed her storyline to sync with the larger one concerning Sun, and brought some pressure to her task since she needs to find it in time for Sun to use it.

Though Ruler definitely leans more towards a drama than a comedy, I always thought the show did a decent job balancing out the serious moments with the funny ones, especially as of late. Most of the humor comes from Sun’s helpers (i.e. Woo Bo and Moo-ha), and in this episode, the chase scene within the palace was intentionally ridiculous, which I loved.

At first I rolled my eyes at how quickly the group was spotted and caught (since stealth hasn’t been Sun’s strongest trait in the past), but I soon realized that the campy atmosphere was on purpose. It cuts through the tension but also acts as a nice juxtaposition to Sun’s scenes, which helps give more weight to the scenes that need it. For the most part, my enjoyment comes from Park Chul-min’s hilarious one-liners and ad libs while playing Woo Bo. Sometimes his performances can be jarring in certain roles, but I think Park Chul-min is adding just the right amount of whimsy to his character that doesn’t take away from his gravitas.

As Sun gets closer to his goal, it seems that Lee Sun gets closer and closer to the dark side. Though his mother begged him to drop everything and go back to their old lives, I feel like Lee Sun has already crossed the proverbial line in the sand. Besides his death, it’s hard to imagine any other ending for the fake king, and though he’s also a victim of his circumstance, Lee Sun has reached a point where he must take responsibility for his misdeeds.

In some ways, it’s interesting how he responded to his situation because, essentially, Lee Sun threw away everything he believed in order to possess the woman he loves. However, once he realized that Ga-eun would never love him the way she loves Sun, Lee Sun twisted his motivations, believing that possession is better than loss. Like he’s done in the past, Lee Sun treats Ga-eun as an object, and I actually wonder if Ga-eun was ever truly a “person” to Lee Sun, even when he was a peasant.

It’s hard to remember, but Lee Sun initially entered the palace in order to help Sun, who he thought would become a good king. However, after years of agony and realizing in the end that Sun has everything Lee Sun secretly wanted, he joined the enemy and chose his own selfish desires over his lofty ideals. His longings consumed him, and Lee Sun can’t even recognize how far he’s strayed from his path. He’s no longer able to distinguish between love and obsession, and though he claims to seek the acknowledgement of those precious to him, Lee Sun is hurting those very same people with his actions.

In a way, it’s sad how Lee Sun is actually destroying his dream while convincing himself otherwise. He thinks he wants to be king and have Ga-eun because he no longer wants to live as the dog he was before, but it reminds me of Woo Bo’s old advice (yes, the advice he gave everyone): become the master. Lee Sun has turned into the thing he actually despises by misinterpreting power as ownership, and in the end, I’m beginning to wonder if Lee Sun is any different from the evildoers who once killed his father and made his life miserable.

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