Black Dog: Episode 11
It seems that not a day goes by without a new problem brewing in the background. With limited resources, people battle to claim what’s theirs. Students, parents, and teachers alike fight to protect what they have, but whenever there are winners, there must be losers as well. Our beginning teacher refuses to give up, but sometimes, one’s best efforts aren’t always enough.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
At home, Haneul thinks back to Jae-hyun’s comment about visiting her next year, and a smile spreads across her face as she quietly gushes about her adorable kids. She suddenly remembers the job openings at her school and checks the online forum for updates. After seeing the open permanent position for her subject, Haneul sighs, knowing that competition will be fierce, but with determination, she tells her mom that she’ll get the job.
Elsewhere, Sung-soon shares a silent meal with Teacher Moon and steals the last shot of soju from him. Frustrated with the awkward tension, Teacher Moon asks why she’s behaving so uncooperatively, but she shoots back, “Are we supposed to be bonding as colleagues right now?”
They both know that they’re only here to exchange favors—she needs him as a buffer between her team and the vice principal, and he needs her to give him a good review for his upcoming promotion. Teacher Moon asks if she’s still upset about the incident years ago, but Sung-soon just stares back and cocks her head to the side.
Flashing back, a younger Sung-soon walked to school and found a couple of reporters asking for an interview. However, when Sung-soon pretended to notify the principal, they scurried away. Once Sung-soon entered the school, she took the stairs to avoid the other teachers who talked behind her back within earshot.
They blamed her for causing their school problems and making two teachers quit, then scoffed at her audacity for accepting the head advisor role. Sung-soon glared at the rude teachers who quickly averted their gaze, but she looked equally hurt at the sight of Teacher Song who stood nearby and remained quiet.
Back in the present, Sung-soon asks Teacher Moon if he’s talking about the time he and Teacher Song betrayed her. When he lets out a sigh, she assures him that her evaluation will be fair. She knows that he’s competent enough for the position, but if he does lack something, then it’s loyalty. He asks if she knows why he wants to become the vice principal, and Sung-soon guesses that it’s because he’s getting older and teaching is becoming more difficult.
Sung-soon pays for dinner, and as they leave, she comments on how Teacher Moon always seems to get the better end of the deal. Before he can respond, she tells him that their talk went well and reminds him that it’s a give-and-take situation.
Hae-won walks back to school since he forgot something, but stops in his tracks when he spots Teacher Jang get into Administrator Yoo’s car and call him “uncle.” As it turns out, Administrator Yoo isn’t just any school employee but a powerhouse, himself, since he’s the nephew of the school’s chairman.
At school, the principal and vice principal catch Administrator Yoo trying to smoke on school grounds and scold him for breaking the rules. There’s a tense air between them as Administrator Yoo goes back inside, and once he’s gone, the vice principal calls him the “real authority” at their school. His comment irks the principal, but in end, he also agrees that it’s nice not having the chairman around the school as often as before.
While Hae-won drifts down the school hallway, the sight of Teacher Jang reminds him of the day he first suspected nepotism at their school. He greeted Teacher Moon who just exited the administration office, and from inside, he overheard Administrator Yoo asking for a niece to be hired as a short-term teacher.
In the College Advisory Department, Haneul wonders if she should ask Yeon-woo about the upcoming permanent teacher exam but decides against it since he took it years ago. Meanwhile, Sung-soon meets with two concerned mothers who ask her about school recommendations to Hankuk University.
As per the university’s policy, schools can only make two student recommendations a year, and the high schools have sole discretion over who to choose. Despite Sung-soon’s attempts to keep the process private, the mothers ask if Daechi High will split the recommendations between the sciences and liberal arts like they do every year.
Since only one science student will receive a recommendation, Jae-hyun will get it over Yoo-ra since he placed first. Myung-soo asks how all the top science students ended up in Haneul’s class, and she jokes, “It’s because they take after me.”
She tells the others that both Jae-hyun and Yoo-ra want to apply to Hankuk University’s medical program, and unbeknownst to them, the principal overhears their conversation. He beams at the thought of their school sending two students into the most prestigious program, and looks determined to make this future happen.
Of the short-term teachers, only Teacher Jang submitted an application since her department is hiring, and the other two decide to study for the teacher certification exam, instead. As they ride the elevator, they gossip about who the school will choose: Hae-won or Haneul?
All the available department heads meet in the principal’s office to discuss the hiring process. This year the department heads will also provide input on the candidates since many short-term teachers will apply, and of those applicants, the chairman specifically asked about Hae-won’s progress.
Contrary to his initial praises of Hae-won, Teacher Moon firmly states the need to choose the most qualified teacher, not the longest employed. He mentions the importance of character, and the other teachers look confused by his puzzling remarks.
After the meeting, Teacher Sohn wonders what caused Teacher Moon to experience a sudden change in heart, and he cautiously asks if it’s because of Haneul. Sung-soon reminds him that the nepotism rumors were false, but he argues that a permanent position is on a whole different level.
Back when Teacher Moon was the head of the Research Department, Sung-soon barged into his office and asked why she was wrong for pointing out two teachers who accepted bribes when choosing textbooks. Teacher Moon shouted back at Sung-soon, telling her that her mistake was sharing school matters with outside personnel. As a result of this scandal, the school’s effort to become an autonomous private high school were thwarted.
Remembering this past confrontation, Sung-soon tells Teacher Sohn that Teacher Moon would never do anything to harm the school—including, hiring his niece based off nepotism.
The principal follows through with his plans on changing the Hankuk University school recommendations, and the college advisors discuss the ramifications of giving both recommendations to science students. While the decision is technically legal, Myung-soo predicts that the liberal arts homeroom teachers won’t be happy with this choice.
During dinner with the Third Years Department, Teacher Ha expresses his disapproval of the recommendations to Principal Byun, but the principal explains how the top science students in Haneul’s class are both applying to Hankuk University’s medical program. Of the teachers in attendance, Hae-won looks especially glum since the top liberal arts student is in his class, and from down the table, Teacher Jang secretly smirks at him.
Teacher Moon sits at his desk thinking about the earlier meeting, and convinced that Hae-won is the forum poster, he vows to stop the school from hiring him. On his way out, he runs into Teacher Yoon, and they briefly talk about the hiring process. Though she’s also a department head, Teacher Yoon doubts her input will hold much weight since she’s retiring next year, but all the same, she wishes the best for Hae-won. Before they leave, Teacher Moon asks if she has some free time tomorrow night.
At the Third Years Department dinner, Hae-won bumps into Teacher Ha while going to the restroom, and the latter pulls him aside to talk. Unsurprisingly, Teacher Ha’s main concern is himself since the second-place liberal arts student is in his class. He needs Hae-won’s student to get the recommendation so his student won’t be pushed back (i.e., apply to a lower ranked college). While they might not have enough power, Teacher Ha trusts the parents will come through and cause a fuss.
As projected, the teachers at Daechi High fend off angry phone calls from parents complaining about the favoritism towards the sciences. From the offices to the classrooms, the mood in the school sours, except for Haneul’s class since now Jae-hyun and Yoo-ra will receive school recommendations.
Myung-soo suggests to the other advisors that they hang out in Haneul’s neighborhood, but as they discuss afterschool plans, a horde of students march into the Third Years Department. They demand an explanation about the recommendations, so Teacher Ha directs their complaints to Teacher Song.
Adding fuel to the fire, Teacher Song tells them that science classes are harder than liberal arts classes (Korean teachers Haneul and Sung-soon both gawk at him from outside). When voices escalate, Principal Byun steps in and silences everyone.
In the Icarus study hall, a classmate asks Yoo-ra if she’s taking the advanced science exam and wonders if applying to Hankuk University is too much of a gamble. Yoo-ra mulls over her words since her scores on the mock test for the advanced subject barely make the cut.
To fix the current unrest at their school, Principal Byun asks the teachers for their opinions on the situation, and the liberal arts homeroom teachers voice their dissent. Since Haneul’s class is directly affected, the principal asks for her thoughts, and choosing her words carefully, Haneul says that Yoo-ra will apply to the medical program no matter what happens. Given the standstill, the principal turns to Sung-soon for a solution.
Teacher Moon shares drinks after work with Teacher Yoon, and tells her that Hae-won spread rumors about the school. Back in the office, Hae-won packs up his things to leave when Teacher Jang’s phone rings on her desk. Since she just left, the others ask him to return it to her, and he complies.
He manages to spot Teacher Jang in the hall, but when he sees the caller is Administrator Yoo, he decides to secretly follow her. He watches her go inside the administration office, and listens to Administrator Yoo wish her good luck on the exam. Worried that someone might overhear, Teacher Jang goes to close the door, but by then, Hae-won has already left.
Having been the forum poster all along, Hae-won finally realizes his grave mistake. Meanwhile, Teacher Yoon ponders over the same issue, having heard Teacher Moon’s speculations. During their talk, she asked him to keep this information a secret from the others until she spoke with Hae-won directly. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Teacher Yoon calls Hae-won to meet tonight.
Haneul chaperones the Icarus study hall where only Yoo-ra and Jae-hyun remain. She silently hopes things work out for them, especially since the school decided to give both recommendations to the science students.
Teacher Sohn hears of the decision from Sung-soon and is rather bummed by the show of favoritism. Sung-soon agrees with his assessment, which is why she added a condition: the school will give both recommendations to the top science students only if they meet the requirements for the advanced science exam on the upcoming mock test.
Haneul stops Myung-soo while on his way out and asks if he could help Yoo-ra and Jae-hyun study for the advanced science exam. Meanwhile, Yoo-ra struggles with her studies and starts to doubt her decision to apply to Hankuk University. She looks over at Jae-hyun who also looks frustrated, and asks if he’s studying for the advanced science exam as well.
The two students bond over their mutual exam woes and share their fears of not passing. Just as Yoo-ra wonders if she should give up on Hankuk University, Yeon-woo walks by and overhears their worries. Jae-hyun asks Yoo-ra what they’ll do if one of them doesn’t get the recommendation, but she avoids answering and replies, “Isn’t Korea’s college admissions system the worst?”
Jae-hyun cracks a small smile at that and offers Yoo-ra some snacks. As they complain some more about the ridiculously high standards to get into college, Yoo-ra apologizes for hitting Jae-hyun and looking at his book. He apologizes for swearing at her, too, and they both laugh.
Teacher Yoon buys Hae-won dinner, and in her usual, tender manner, she wonders if he has anything to confess to her concerning Haneul. Hae-won seems to realize what she’s talking about, and looks down at the table as she asks him to tell her everything.
At school, Teacher Yoon finds Hae-won staring at Haneul and gives him an encouraging word. During dinner, she advised him to confess to Haneul about his deeds and seek her forgiveness. Taking her advice to heart, Hae-won gathers up his courage and approaches Haneul’s desk.
They move outside to talk, and Hae-won bows deeply. He apologizes for posting the rumor about her, but Haneul tells him it’s alright since she already heard about it from Teacher Moon. She thinks it’s all in the past, but Hae-won tells her that someone did get hired through nepotism.
In the cafeteria, Haneul and Hae-won sit at the table next to the other short-term teachers. No longer afraid of their judgement, Haneul turns to the others and asks Teacher Jang the same question that was thrown at her: Did she always know her uncle worked here?
Teacher Jang feigns ignorance, but Hae-won admits to seeing them together in the administration office. Haneul addresses Teacher Jang once more and tells her that even though she really wants to stay at this school too, what Teacher Jang did to her was wrong.
Feeling betrayed, the other short-term teachers leave Teacher Jang behind, and when she chases after them to explain, they accuse her of framing Haneul. Teacher Jang points out that the other two were the ones who always badmouthed Haneul, which only makes the other teachers more defensive. They threaten to file a complaint, and Teacher Jang scoffs at the idea.
Myung-soo gives extra lessons to Yoo-ra and Jae-hyun, but Yoo-ra hangs her head when she messes up her test. After class, Myung-soo returns to the office and finds Sung-soon giving one-on-one guidance to Haneul, which annoys the two male advisors. Heh.
Interrupting Haneul and Sung-soon’s discussion, Myung-soo asks Haneul if Yoo-ra really wants to go to Hankuk University since she looks like she’s wavering to him. Just as Myung-soo pointed out, Yoo-ra continues struggling with the exam topic and leaves the study hall in frustration.
While Sung-soon is out of the office, Myung-soo invites the others to dinner without their head advisor since tonight’s menu is seafood—something Sung-soon hates. Sung-soon returns before they settle on what to do, so the others silently discuss dinner plans.
In voiceover, the college advisors agree to eat dinner without Sung-soon, but right on cue, Sung-soon asks if they’re meeting outside of school without her. She correctly guesses that Myung-soo is the mastermind, and the others try to stifle their surprise.
Haneul’s face drops when she turns around and finds Yoo-ra at the door. She wants to forfeit her school recommendation for Hankuk University and apply to an easier medical school. Haneul recalls their previous conversation when Yoo-ra shared her financial situation, so she reminds Yoo-ra of her goal for a permanent-position life.
Yeon-woo watches stone-faced as Haneul asks Yoo-ra to give it her best, and when Yoo-ra leaves, Yeon-woo hesitantly voices his opinion. He thinks Yoo-ra’s choice to pick an easier program is realistic and tells Haneul that their roles are just to advise, not choose or push students in certain directions. If a student fails, then they’ll resent the advisors, which is what makes their job so tough.
Despite Yeon-woo’s good intentions, Haneul defends her decision and tells him that Yoo-ra is like her. Therefore, she knows that Yoo-ra will eventually come to the same conclusion and not give up. Pausing between her words, Haneul explains that she really wants to become a permanent teacher, too.
She hopes to teach the students while at peace someday, and her words bring Yeon-woo back to when he was a short-term teacher. Just like how she’ll try harder, Haneul wants Yoo-ra to do the same. After their conversation, Yeon-woo steps out and watches Yoo-ra in the study hall, still trying her best despite the setbacks.
After the mock exams are taken and graded, Teacher Ha bursts into the office and congratulates Hae-won since his student will get the recommendation. One of the science students didn’t meet the requirements, and Haneul looks at Yoo-ra’s grade with a heavy heart.
Myung-soo and Sung-soon try to encourage Haneul that Yoo-ra could still get in with a regular application, but Yeon-woo just sighs before leaving the office. In the Icarus study hall, Yoo-ra looks at the notes on her desk—messages to herself to get into Hankuk University—and holds back her tears.
Yoo-ra ends up outside Haneul’s office, but while she hesitates to go in, Haneul spots her and meets her in the hall. She apologizes to Yoo-ra, and the latter is taken aback by the display of vulnerability. She tells her teacher that it’s not her fault, and the two return to Haneul’s desk to start a regular application for Hankuk University.
Daechi High holds a prayer ceremony for the upcoming CSAT and college application season, and later at home, Haneul prepares for her exams. With only three days left until the big test, Yeon-woo and Myung-soo wrap gifts as they complain about having proctoring duty. Since today is the last day of classes, they imagine what Haneul’s and Sung-soon’s class are like, predicting that Haneul will cry and that Sung-soon will… well, be Sung-soon.
Sung-soon’s class complains about the CSAT and how the required pencil changed at the last minute, completely ignoring their teacher’s attempts to try and foster a final bonding moment. In the end, Sung-soon barks at her class to get their heads on straight and stop complaining because two years ago, the CSAT date even changed.
In Haneul’s class, Haneul hands all her students a handwritten letter and snacks from the parents committee when Yoo-ra starts to cry. It sets off a chain reaction until all the girls become teary-eyed, including Haneul.
Yeon-woo and Myung-soo happen to pass by just then, and gape at the classroom, shocked that they were right about Haneul crying. Sung-soon joins them, so they ask how her class went: “Got to raise them tough.” Heh.
Myung-soo comments on the busy upcoming weeks for Haneul, and they discuss her chances of getting hired. Sung-soon mentions Hae-won who will be competing as well, and they all decide to congratulate their youngest member no matter where she ends up. They even got her chocolates, which they plan on gifting her today.
Teacher Yoon finds the college advisors in the hall and takes Sung-soon away for a private word. After debating on whether or not to tell Sung-soon, Teacher Yoon ultimately decides that the issue is too important to keep secret from her.
Haneul returns to her desk after class and finds chocolates and a letter waiting for her. It’s a note from Myung-soo, encouraging her to do well on her tests, and regardless of where she chooses to go, they’ll always root for her. Signed Myung-soo, Yeon-woo, and Sung-soon. Haneul is moved to tears by the present, and after composing herself, she makes a phone call and asks someone to meet later today.
As Sung-soon goes to her car, she sees Hae-won leave the school as well. She thinks back to what Teacher Yoon told her about the forum post Hae-won wrote online. Since he confessed, they guessed that he was trying to tell them not to pick him for the permanent position, but there was even more upsetting news. While the rumors about Teacher Moon and Haneul were fake, there still seemed to be a case of nepotism at work.
Haneul meets with Teacher Moon at school and asks him if he wants her to pass or fail. Either options aren’t ideal for him since people will always assume the worst, so Haneul asks him for a favor. She wants him to be as fair as possible in the upcoming hiring process.
As Teacher Moon leaves the room, he sees Administrator Yoo on one side of the hall and Teacher Jang on the other. Watching these two in a new light, he remembers Haneul’s final words: “Even if there really is a parachute, please be fair and make sure that person can’t push their way in.”
I have to agree with Yoo-ra; the Korean college admissions system stinks. The show does an excellent job highlighting how difficult it is for students to apply to good colleges, and though I knew absolutely nothing about the process before this show, now I feel ignorant and overwhelmed. It’s no wonder students and their families devote years to preparing for these applications and why so many private academies exist to help people through these hurdles. Overall, I really like the show’s approach to schooling and teachers. It’s a slice-of-life drama through and through with very little histrionics. The situations always feel realistic and the way people respond to their circumstances seems real to life. Rather than zoom in on one problem, the show looks at events from almost a bird’s eye view and spends time fleshing out the perspectives of various characters. In addition, most school issues are dealt with relatively quickly (solved within the span of an episode) mainly because there’s no time to let it simmer. There are deadlines to meet (CSAT, applications, etc), and in most cases, the teachers have no control over how long they get to stew over a problem and suggest solutions.
As a result, problems like the school recommendations are “solved” in a matter of days and weeks because time is running out. However, through this, the show indirectly points out the difficultly of addressing systematic ills within schools. Everyday a new trouble arises, and with the hustle and bustle required to get students through the doors and into colleges, it becomes obvious that the same problems will continue to plague schools like Daechi High; not because the teachers are lazy or corrupt but because change requires immense effort and sacrifice from people who are already worked to the bone. Again and again, we see how people make compromises when doing their job, and while I admire Haneul’s energy and optimism, I sometimes find myself siding with her seniors who try to gently ease her into the normal ways of things. There’s always some truth behind their advice, no matter how much Haneul might not want to believe it.
Like last episode with the student records, Haneul learns that her role as an advisor can only do so much for her students. As Yeon-woo told her, she can’t push her goals onto the students because if they fail, the students will be the ones most hurt by the results. In the case with Yoo-ra, Haneul seemed to project herself onto her student, hoping that Yoo-ra’s success would mirror her own. However, Haneul understands her mistake when Yoo-ra fails her mock exam, and apologizes to her. It’s another sweet moment in the show, revealing what an amazing teacher Haneul is to her students. She doesn’t simply teach them exam content but also sets an example for them. In a society that’s often callous and pushes students to strive for “perfection,” Haneul shows the students compassion. With the permanent position now open, I really hope Haneul can stay and be a shining example for future generations as well, but if she doesn’t make it, I hope the relationships she built with the other advisors will continue because the thought of them separating breaks my heart.
I doubt anyone who’s been watching the show was surprised to find out that Hae-won was the poster. However, I was taken aback by the Teacher Jang and Administrator Yoo relationship and subsequent nepotism. Looking back at these two characters with this new information in mind, the questions I had about Teacher Jang were answered. I could never quite place her as easily as the other two short-term teachers, because as she said, she rarely badmouthed Haneul out loud. She was also the one who invited everyone to lunch on the first day, and so I always wondered if maybe she wasn’t as bad as the others. However, it’s clear that she’s as bad or even worse. I think she’s a terrifying teacher because she seems to relish her power and the pain she causes others. She deliberately pits Hae-won against Haneul whenever the short-term teachers discuss the topic of permanent employment, and I’m sure in the back of her head, she was thinking that she would get the job anyways. All those glances she shot at Haneul or Hae-won were never out of concern, and now I realize that she was always belittling them. Thus, I was proud of Haneul for confronting Teacher Jang in the cafeteria, and I’m glad she got to throw their question right back at them. That scene in the first episode really angered me, so when Haneul used their words to attack them, it felt cathartic.
While Black Dog is a show mostly about teachers, we also do get the stories of some students, and I was absolutely thrilled to see how Yoo-ra and Jae-hyun’s relationship has developed. It was a slow process that lacked major turning points, but that’s what I loved about it. They bond over their mutual struggles with studying, and though they’re still competing against each other, they seem to realize that the enemy is the application process and not other students. I loved the way Yoo-ra apologized first and then Jae-hyun returned the sentiment without much fanfare. It wasn’t a grand moment the show plays out to show the innocence of childhood or how enemies can become buddies, but a simple and quick exchange. In the same way, the show sweeps past a lot of big moments without much hullabaloo. While the buildup to the exam was filled with tension and troubles, the actual day goes by in a blink of the eye, and the show is off to its next plot point. However, there’s still plenty of problems in the horizon as the CSAT and hiring process for the permanent position draws closer. Whether or not Haneul gets the position, I’m sure her story won’t end there because she still needs to find the answer to her question and figure out what makes great teachers go to such lengths for their students.
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