This time around the genre roulette falls on palace intrigue. Unfortunately this is a bad genre to focus on temporarily, because palace intrigues are only interesting as a slow burn, watching various characters come up with complicated plots to humiliate each other. Here, no character has a clearly enough defined goal for their role in the palace intrigue to be terribly interesting. At one point derisive laughter substitutes for the far more satisfying subtle humiliation that really makes a palace intrigue stand out.
Even though Ga-eun is now working inside the palace as part of Queen Mother Jungjeon's scheme, it's still not terribly clear what Queen Mother Jungjeon's scheme actually is, or how it could possibly survive Dae-mok's inevitable countermove. Although Dae-mok's network of spies has been pretty inconsistent lately. You'd think he'd have someone in the room anytime anyone goes to see the false King, but apparently not.
Which brings us to Prince Seon. We're halfway through "Ruler: Master of the Mask", and he still isn't really doing anything. Prince Seon has been trying to deal with Ga-eun's town debt, and he's still looking for the child slavery camp, but both of these are just symptoms of Dae-mok's villainy. Prince Seon isn't going after Dae-mok directly, and has to be begged to do so at the end of episode twenty by two senior government officials with better vocal recognition skills than Ga-eun.
There's a sort of grotesque incompetence at play with all the characters at all times. Except Hwa-goon, who doesn't really do anything here except clarify what her current position under Dae-mok is. I feel like the production team used up all of their ideas way too fast and now they're struggling to find a way to fill screen time until they get to the actual plan that's going to be used to take Dae-mok down.
But any such plan will feel inherently implausible because Dae-mok's powers have been exposited in such a way that it's not clear how Prince Seon can stand against him. The new political allies Prince Seon gains at the end might be helpful, but what exactly are they going to do? Prince Seon has consistently extended more effort trying to recover Ga-eun than he has his throne. In these two episodes anyway, which weirdly give the impression that Prince Seon contrived the errand to speak in front of the false King mostly so he could run into Ga-eun at the palace.
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.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Ruler: Master of the Mask" Episodes 19-20"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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