I knew from last cliffhanger that the final stretch “Ruler: Master of the Mask” was going to be irredeemably stupid. So when Prince Seon and the other Seon have to go into this really complicated stretch of rules lawyering to suss out who the real king is supposed to be I wasn’t surprised. Nor was I particularly angry. Mostly I just felt sort of downtrodden, that a political culture complicated enough to require several dozen ministers has no legal culture to determine royal legitimacy.
With all the discussion we’ve had about how Prince Seon isn’t really legitimate either, since Dae-mok put his father on the throne, it’s a wonder “Ruler: Master of the Mask” doesn’t just state the obvious. That the entire construct of royalty is completely arbitrary and imaginary. The king is whoever the ministers collectively choose to believe the king is. Well no, technically the king is whoever the army collectively chooses to believe the king is, but no one seems interested in their opinion for some reason.
So Prince Seon becomes King again. Dae-mok’s political powers that we’ve seen have included tacit threats, control of local infrastructure, and his massive criminal enterprise. Yet apparently, upon taking power, the only real problem Prince Seon has with Dae-mok involves the poison. I’m not sure whether the poison everyone has is a chronic condition that requires regular treatment, or just something Dae-mok gave them recently to insure their cooperation in the royal succession.
It’s not that I particularly care about what kind of poison it is, it’s more that the unnecessary vagueness on this question leads to the most chronic problem “Ruler: Master of the Mask”- how the obstacles the characters run into are never clearly defined. They practically have to solve them before we can figure out what they were. It’s one of the reasons why the resolutions in this drama are so unsatisfying. There’s no tension.
Well, there is the recurring point of how Hwa-goon is the only character competent enough to solve these problems, but Prince Seon doesn’t even know she’s on his side, so Hwa-goon has to give improbable secret aid every time. But wait, you’re thinking, how can Hwa-goon possibly solve the poison problem when she’s dead? At least, that’s what I was thinking, watching Prince Seon and his allies stumble about trying to make the antidote themselves. Of course, “Ruler: Master of the Mask” has always been quite adept at finding new, stupid ways to surprise me.
Review by William Schwartz
“Ruler: Master of the Mask” is directed by Noh Do-cheol Park Won-gook, written by Jeong Hae-ri Park Hye-jin-II, and features Yoo Seung-ho, Kim So-hyun, L, Yoon So-hee, Heo Joon-ho and Park Chul-min.
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“[HanCinema’s Drama Review] “Ruler: Master of the Mask” 37-38″
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Ruler: Master of the Mask