Ruler–Master of the Mask: Episodes 7-8

While our heroes and villains fight for control, we see how powerlessness can destroy a person’s will, but too much power can also create a monster. As Prince Sun learns just how weak he is, he uses this newfound knowledge to forge on ahead and change himself rather than stay idle. However, the more Sun continues to struggle, the more his enemies wish for his demise.

 
EPISODE 7 RECAP

Dressed in the prince’s robe and mask, Chung-woon steps onto the platform where Deputy Magistrate Han awaits his execution. Ga-eun, Lee Sun, and Woo Bo push their way to the front of the crowd as Chung-woon loudly declares that he, the prince, will behead Deputy Magistrate Han for falsely using his name and make him an example for all to see.

Ga-eun breaks past the guards and throws herself to the ground, begging the prince to spare her father’s life. The guards drag her away, but now the crowd joins her in asking the prince to spare the magistrate’s life.

However, Deputy Magistrate Han explains to the crowd that he committed high treason, and so he must pay for his crimes. He turns to face his daughter for the last time and gives her a small nod.

Dae-mok stands in his pavilion, smirking as the beat of the drum off in the distance signals the impending death of Magistrate Han. Chung-woon hesitantly lifts his sword, and Woo Bo turns away, leaving with a stern look on his face.

Shaking, Chung-woon drops his sword, unable to kill the innocent man, so Magistrate Han calmly encourages him to overcome this ordeal. The real Prince Sun finally arrives at the execution site with Hwa-goon and desperately yells at them to stop. However, his protests fall on deaf ears as Chung-woon closes his eyes and lets his sword fall down.

Deputy Magistrate Han’s loyal officer Park Moo-ha turns Ga-eun away, and the deafening thump behind her proclaims her father’s death. She turns around and cries out for her father before collapsing from the shock. Lee Sun catches her fall, and when he looks up, he sees the real Prince Sun in the crowd.

Infuriated, Woo Bo confronts Dae-mok, who invites him in. Seated across a table, Woo Bo hands Dae-mok a cup and pours him a drink. However, once the cup is filled, Woo Bo continues to pour, and the alcohol flows out of a small hole in the bottom of the cup. Woo Bo explains that the cup will never overflow, and Dae-mok laughs, thanking Woo Bo for enlightening him once again.

He brings up the time when Woo Bo first enlightened him, and in flashback, we see a powerless Dae-mok begging Woo Bo for an answer. After his wife was murdered, Dae-mok realized that he had no power and asked Woo Bo how he could protect his loved ones. Woo Bo calmly told him that the day he realized his power, he would no longer be a dog but a master, and so he’d advised Dae-mok to become a master.

Dae-mok haughtily notes how he became a master they all fear, and Woo Bo yells at him for misinterpreting his words. He accuses Dae-mok of abusing his power and being no better than those he despised, but Dae-mok coldly states that he never said he would be different.

Smiling, he mocks Woo Bo, asking if he didn’t foresee the dog hunting the tiger (aka, the king), and Woo Bo overturns the table: “You have truly given up on being human and have become a dog!” Dae-mok’s guards apprehend Woo Bo, but Dae-mok forgives his outburst, though he warns the old scholar that a smart tongue can save or kill a person.

Woo Bo returns to the execution site where Prince Sun remains kneeling, racked by guilt. In a trembling voice, Sun asks Woo Bo how he can stop people from dying for him and confesses that he feels like a monster. He begs the old scholar to teach him how to defeat Pyunsoohwe, but Woo Bo admits that he doesn’t know. Instead, he advises the young prince to go elsewhere and see with new eyes: “That will be the answer.”

Having silently waited in the back, Hwa-goon rushes to Prince Sun when he stumbles to get up and asks him how she can help. He wonders if she knows who he is, and she carefully answers that he’s the man who saved her life. She tells him her name and requests that he call her by it the next time they meet.

Dae-mok decides the prince’s initiation will be held in three days, and Hwa-goon’s father wonders what Dae-mok will do with the prince. He argues that as the next leader of Pyunsoohwe, he should know the plans, but Dae-mok asks, “When did I make you my successor?”

Right then, Hwa-goon interrupts their meeting and runs up to her grandfather. She admits her defeat and asks what he’ll do to the prince. When she hears of the initiation, Hwa-goon begs for more time to win the prince’s heart, but Dae-mok makes it clear that the prince has only two options: join or die.

The king informs Commander Lee that the initiation will be held in three days and orders him to find another “Lee Sun.” Commander Lee believes there isn’t enough time to properly prepare a substitute, but the king is adamant about keeping the real prince away from Pyunsoohwe.

Meanwhile, Prince Sun walks to Ga-eun’s house, and when she sees him, Ga-eun frantically runs up to him, asking him to let her meet the prince. Growing more impassioned, Ga-eun wonders how the prince could kill her father and questions the prince’s sense of justice before collapsing to the floor.

Shaken, Prince Sun falls to his knees and stays motionless until Lee Sun joins him at nightfall. Knowing that the prince didn’t kill Ga-eun’s father, Lee Sun asks who ordered the execution, but Prince Sun just blames himself. He apologizes for breaking his promise with Lee Sun and for being the prince.

Lee Sun remembers the conversation he overheard in the palace and asks why the king is looking for someone named “Lee Sun.” The prince explains that the king is searching for a substitute, and Lee Sun offers to be that substitute.

The proposal breaks Prince Sun out of his stupor, and thinking back to Woo Bo’s words, Sun thinks of an idea and accepts Lee Sun’s service. Suddenly, Commander Lee appears and asks if the peasant’s name is indeed “Lee Sun.”

Kneeling in front of the king, Prince Sun explains his plan to switch places with the peasant Lee Sun, but the king disapproves of his idea to live among the commoners. Sun argues back that it was originally the king’s decision to raise him in a mask to create a substitute, and he states that he’s not running away, he’s leaving to find a solution.

Unconvinced, the king points out that he can’t have a mere peasant living in the castle, but Sun defends his friend, calling him smart and trustworthy. He explains that Lee Sun still offered to help even after hearing that all the substitutes died, but the king still orders Commander Lee to make sure that he’s not a spy.

Paranoid and inhumane, the king has Lee Sun stripped and tortured as he personally questions him about his intentions to help the prince. When Lee Sun first says that he thought the prince would become a king who’s for the people, the king roars at him for thinking despite his lowly status, and he has Lee Sun waterboarded.

The king asks again why Lee Sun is helping, and this time Lee Sun says that he wanted to give his loyalty to the prince. He desperately pleads with the king, asking if those of lowly birth can’t even give their loyalty, but this time, the king accuses him of belittling the prince.

Outside the torture chamber, a spy watches, but Commander Lee cuts him down before he can escape. He throws the dead body into the room, which terrifies Lee Sun, and when the king bellows at him for daring to think and have a will, Lee Sun finally wails, “I’m starving!” Throwing himself to the ground, Lee Sun cries that he just wanted food and to live without worries, and his degrading pleas satisfy the king. Ugh, this is horrible.

In private, the king orders Commander Lee to get the substitute ready and reminds the commander that the prince’s initiation will be the last chance they have to get rid of Dae-mok.

Prince Sun approaches the king, who’s praying outside, and he explains how he must visit two people before switching places with Lee Sun. The king announces his disapproval, but Sun remains undeterred, firmly believing in his ordained duty. The king scoffs at him, and staring at the bright sun, he promises to approve if it starts to rain.

Sun declares that he must bring water back to the people since it’s his fault that people are dying while he remained unaware of their plight. The king rebukes him for blaming himself, but Sun knows that he’s in no position to allow ignorance to shield him from responsibility. Sun vows to find a way to return the water, and as if it’s a sign from the heavens, rain starts to fall.

Pyunsoohwe holds a celebratory meeting, and the group members praise Dae-mok for capturing both the king and prince. They inform their leader that the prince is weak and laying idle in his room, and soon, he’ll come to beg for his life.

Suddenly, the doors swing open, and Prince Sun stands in the entrance. Chung-woon demands that the group show respect to the prince, and the members anxiously look towards their leader for guidance. After a moment, Dae-mok bows to the prince, and the rest of the group follows suit.

Sun walks into the middle of the room and sits himself at the table, waving away Dae-mok’s suggestion to sit at the head. Dae-mok insists on the law, but Sun abruptly states that if they were to go according to the law, they should all kneel in the courtyard before him.

The prince notes how formalities are irrelevant in this place, and Dae-mok relents as he sits across from the prince. Sun explains that he came for advice, and Dae-mok obliges by telling the prince to select someone trustworthy to steer his vessel.

Sun asks if that person is Dae-mok, but he laughs, claiming to be too old and inadequate for such a role. He advises the prince to pick a wise man and give him his unwavering trust in order to ascend to the throne peacefully.

To express his gratitude, Sun presents a potted plant as a gift and begins to explain how he saw these wild flowers two years ago. He moved them to his greenhouse afterward, but when the new year came, the flowers failed to bloom. He decided to wait another year, and learned that the flower only blossoms after enduring the cold.

Sun comments on how a true flower needs to endure the snow and wind, and Dae-mok praises the prince’s graciousness. Dae-mok states that his only desire is for the prince to become a king who loves his people, and meeting Dae-mok’s gaze, Sun declares that he shall.

Once the prince is gone, Dae-mok accuses his followers for providing him with false information about a weak-minded prince. Staring at the gift, Dae-mok sees the flowers for what they truly are: a declaration of war.

 
EPISODE 8 RECAP

Ga-eun stares towards the horizon, and her father places a garment over her shoulders. She turns to smile at him, but it’s actually Prince Sun standing there instead. She tells Sun that her father brought her here to see the moon, and Sun recalls a saying about how the sun and moon can never be with one another.

However, he tells her to look closely since one can see them together in the sky, and like them, her father will always be with her. He promises to always stay by her side and protect her no matter where she is or how she’s changed, and to prove it, he places a necklace of a sun and moon around her neck.

He reveals his plans to leave in order to keep his promise with Deputy Magistrate Han, but he wonders if Ga-eun will stay by his side and watch him keep that promise. He asks her to come here in three days to leave with him and tenderly kisses her on the forehead.

Prince Sun rides through the town with Lee Sun accompanying him by foot as a eunuch. The queen greets the king’s procession and praises him for bringing rain. She begins to bring up the matter of choosing the prince’s bride, but the king sharply quiets her.

In the king’s private chamber, Royal Consort Lee tries to stop Prince Sun from leaving, but the king has already given him his permission. Sun declares his intentions to leave but adds that he wishes to take Ga-eun with him.

As Ga-eun wraps her father’s robe, she discovers the prince’s letter, and realizes that the (fake) prince lied about her father’s crime. However, she remembers her father announcing his transgressions and begins to sob, confused about why he lied.

Through her tears, Ga-eun notices a sword nearby and walks with determination to the palace. Unsheathing the sword, she cuts down a flag, and the guards apprehend her. As she’s thrown to the ground, Ga-eun announces herself and yells that she’s here to kill the prince. That escalated quickly.

Commander Lee informs the king that Ga-eun is in jail, and the king remembers his promise to the late Deputy Magistrate Han to protect his daughter.

Elsewhere, Prince Sun brings Lee Sun to all his daily activities and teaches him how to talk and walk like him. The last place he takes Lee Sun is his greenhouse, where he explains that this is his favorite place in the palace because he’s free to cry here when things get too tough to handle.

Facing his friend, Prince Sun asks Lee Sun one last time if he’s truly all right with this task. After the initiation, Lee Sun will have to pretend to be the prince, and Sun understands more than anyone how difficult it is to live behind a mask, unable to trust or reveal your heart to anyone.

He warns Lee Sun that this life will more difficult than when he was a peasant, but Lee Sun replies, “As I trust you, trust me.” The only thing worrying Lee Sun is his family, but Prince Sun promises to take care of them in his stead.

Lee Sun is filled with gratitude, but he quickly lowers his head when his gaze meets the prince’s. However, Prince Sun reminds him that the mask makes him the prince, so he should never bow his head. Smiling at his friend, Prince Sun asks if he would be willing to be his loyal companion and servant when he comes back, and Lee Sun can’t believe someone like him could remain by the prince’s side.

Chung-won interrupts their conversation and informs them of Ga-eun’s predicament. Lee Sun quickly advises the prince to switch places with him and go see Ga-eun, and Prince Sun easily leaves the greenhouse dressed as a eunuch. As Lee Sun dons the mask, Commander Lee comes in to take him away.

Dressed as the prince, Lee Sun kneels before the king, who informs him that the initiation is actually today. He informs him of what will take place and orders him to endure the poison. The king asks for his name, and though Lee Sun stutters in the beginning, he confidently states that he’s Lee Sun, his gaze steady and firm.

Hearing that Ga-eun was released, Sun returns to the house to find her, but there’s only a pouch with a letter and the necklace he gave her. In the letter, Gae-eun asks for forgiveness for breaking the promise, and writes that she no longer wants to see him.

However, through her tears, she whispers: “If I come back alive, I will be with you.” Holding on to the necklace, Sun dares not to be greedy and only wishes for Ga-eun to come back safely.

The king passes his message to Commander Lee that Pyunsoohwe wishes to be their ally, but they will not join hands. Instead, they will finally get rid of them, and Commander Lee raises his sword as he leads his group of men toward the Pyunsoohwe hideout, reminding them that the future of Joseon lies in their hands.

Shaking, Lee Sun is delivered to Pyunsoohwe and dragged to the center of the circle to begin his initiation. Dae-mok rips off his mask and turns his face towards Gon’s direction, who only reveals part of the truth (though he knows the whole truth, since he saw the real Prince Sun) and states that the shaking initiate had the prince’s medallion.

Satisfied with the answer, Dae-mok hands Lee Sun a cup, and he drinks the poison in one gulp. Instantly, he feels the stabbing pain from the poison and clutches his heart. Dae-mok commands him to speak his name, and Lee Sun flashes back to when Ga-eun first gave him his name before announcing it aloud.

Outside the entrance, Commander Lee kills the two guards and signals his men to attack. However, it appears that they’ve been caught in their own trap as Dae-mok forces Lee Sun to swallow more poison, and Commander Lee’s army is met with a barrage of arrows.

Though Lee Sun fulfills his duty, loudly proclaiming himself as Crown Prince Lee Sun, Commander Lee and his men fail as the soldiers fall one by one. Spying from the woods, Hwa-goon surmises that the king sent a fake prince and orders Gon to save the real one.

A magistrate visits the queen and urges her to make a quick decision. Meanwhile, Prince Sun rides with Chung-woon, still believing that the initiation will start tomorrow. He returns to the palace, unaware of the mutiny brewing inside.

Ga-eun sits before Consort Lee, and the latter apologizes for the death of Deputy Magistrate Han. Ga-eun doesn’t want her apologies, but when Consort Lee explains that the prince isn’t at fault, Ga-eun brandishes the prince’s letter, demanding to know who else should be held responsible.

Consort Lee asks Ga-eun if she’s ever heard of Dae-mok, but Ga-eun believes this doesn’t dissolve the prince’s culpability for her father’s death. Just then, a commotion outside interrupts their conversation, and Consort Lee’s court lady opens the window to reveal a procession led by Dae-mok, who’s holding onto the fake prince.

Dragging Lee Sun, Dae-mok marches into the king’s chamber and throws the fake prince to the ground. He accuses the king of plotting to kill him, but laughs since the king has only stabbed himself instead. Dae-mok threatens to kill the real prince, and the king roars at him.

Consort Lee orders her court lady to lead Ga-eun out to safety while she goes to the king, but Consort Lee has already been poisoned. Ga-eun quickly tastes the water nearby, and after confirming that it’s safe, she orders Consort Lee to drink and throw up the poison.

While Consort Lee fights for her life, the king does the same as he draws his sword and attacks Dae-mok’s men. Commander Lee arrives and deftly jumps to the king’s side, pushing back the intruders.

Though Ga-eun carries Consort Lee to the door, the poison has already ravaged her body, so Consort Lee uses her last moments to tell Ga-eun the truth about her father’s death. She explains that those men outside were the ones responsible for killing Deputy Magistrate Han.

As the king and his chief commander continue to fight, Consort Lee bestows a final mission to Ga-eun: find the crock she planted from the greenhouse and deliver it to “Chun-soo” (aka, Prince Sun).

Prince Sun arrives at the palace, but seeing the empty courtyard, he hastens towards the king’s room. He stops at the entrance, temporarily paralyzed by the scene before him, and yells for his father. Dae-mok hears his cry and orders his men to change targets.

Prince Sun grabs a sword and joins the fight as Chung-woon also jumps into the fray. The king orders Commander Lee to go protect his son, and Dae-mok watches with unease as his men fail to kill the prince. He grabs the nearest sword and menacingly marches toward Sun, who’s pinned to the wall.

As Dae-mok raises his sword, the king shouts and rushes toward him, but Dae-mok easily parries the king’s attacks. Swiftly, Dae-mok pierces the king through the stomach, but even as he dies, the king looks toward his son and tells him to escape. Powerless, Sun watches the king die and can only scream for his father one last time.

 
COMMENTS

Part of this show’s merit is that this drama’s world is populated by interesting characters with dubious moral compasses. The king undeniably loves Prince Sun, but his actions show that he’s as much an unhinged king as he is a protective father. The way he treated Lee Sun was monstrous, and it broke my heart to see Lee Sun break down and grovel while the king watched in an almost satisfied manner. He treats others with such contempt that I’m surprised he’s even capable of such unwavering love and devotion to his son.

Granted, even his love for Prince Sun twisted into an overbearing protectiveness that over time would have been Sun’s undoing if he never escaped from his father’s mask. Despite that, his death still showed just how much he wanted to protect his son, and though I can’t honestly say that I was saddened by his death, watching Sun’s reaction and devastation was gut-wrenching. While it would be nice to protect our naïve and good-natured prince from further harm, the death of the king was inevitable, and I know Sun will rise from this occasion even stronger and more determined.

It’s interesting how the show decided to kill both leads’ fathers this episode (these episodes?) since it feels like an informal arc has closed. Both Prince Sun and Ga-eun have witnessed their father’s death, and it’s the aftermath of these events that will shape the rest of the story and their actions. We’ve seen a bit of Ga-eun’s future trajectory as she slowly deals with her grief and decided, recklessly (I’ll blame the grief for her moment of madness), to confront the perpetrator to find the truth behind her father’s death. She’s stubborn and unrelenting in her pursuit of truth and justice, and hopefully, Ga-eun will be able to put the pieces together and come together with Prince Sun in the end to fight against the true evil ruining the kingdom from within. Otherwise, it’ll be too sad to see their relationship crumble, because they make an adorable pair.

Speaking of evil, I’m really enjoying Pyunsoohwe and Dae-mok. Heo Jun-ho is putting in an excellent performance as Dae-mok, and I’m really enjoying his portrayal. He infuses the character with a sense of foreboding and danger that isn’t a result of posturing or yelling. He makes the slightest smile or glance meaningful, and conveys a menacing aura with such ease. While Yoo Seung-ho is clearly carrying the show and doing an amazing job as Prince Sun (those eyes! That smile!), Dae-mok is just the right villain who’s able to balance the prince and go up against him. The scene when the two first clashed was electric, and the verbal sparring and charged gazes were intense. Every good story needs a compelling and terrifying villain, and Ruler has got it in the form of Dae-mok.

This has been brought up before, but the colors of this show are beautiful. The director knows how to use colors and lighting to his advantage in order to create a certain atmosphere and send a message to the audience. For example, the colors suddenly become dull in the rain scene between the king and the prince, representing the chasm that has formed in their relationship and the prince’s realization of his father’s true nature. On the other hand, the colors were soft and abundant during the scene between Sun and Ga-eun when he first proposed that she stay by his side. To me, the colors represented the rose-colored nature of their love for one another that’s both a bit hazy and strong all at once. Overall, the show is doing a wonderful job so far in setting up its story, and at the very least, it’s beautiful to look at.

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