Black Dog: Episode 5
Black Dog is truly a drama about teachers and schools. Rather than focus on a single classroom and a few students’ lives, it’s a tale of a social institution and its shortcomings. Though the story follows the journey of one beginning teacher, it dives into the troubles and tribulations of a school and follows the lives of the players that inhabit it.
EPISODE 5 RECAP
The people at Daechi High watch a news report on college admissions and the recent increase of acceptance based on student records. As Teacher Sohn and Cha walk by the empty College Advisory Department, Teacher Sohn explains that the team went on a “sales” trip, and Teacher Cha wonders how Sung-soon is able to get universities to share their admissions information.
Cut to Sung-soon and her two-method plan. She shows the team a couple of student records, but before she can explain, Yeon-woo recognizes the students despite the redacted pictures. He recites specific details about the students as well as his own analysis and impresses everyone.
When the café pager buzzes, Sung-soon grabs it, but Haneul places her hand on top of hers and offers to get the drinks. Having noticed Hanuel constantly staring at Sung-soon, Myung-soo asks if something happened between them, but Sung-soon denies it. However, when Haneul returns with the drinks, she carefully places Sung-soon’s cup on a napkin, which only supports Myung-soo’s speculations.
Yeon-woo asks Sung-soon how the student records will help since colleges don’t offer specific evaluations of students. Her plan is to ask the admissions officer to “compare” the records, and hopefully, following that trail of questions will get them some pertinent information.
As for the second method, Sung-soon takes out her phone and tells the others that it’s the fastest option but requires luck. Right then, she receives a call from a TA, and after her call, Sung-soon says with a smile that everything is set in place.
Principal Byun calls Sung-soon, and she tells him that she’s friends with the head admissions officer of Hankuk University, who’s also the one scheduled to meet them today. Principal Byun loudly praises Sung-soon for all the other teachers to hear, but his blatant display of adulation ruffles some feathers among the staff.
Once the principal leaves, a teacher calls Sung-soon’s methods beneath their status, believing that “the brats” have to find their own way into college, but his callous remarks are met with incredulous stares from the others–even by Teacher Song. The rude teacher continues watching his variety show until Teacher Moon drops a pointed remark: “Some of us are dying from busyness, while some are dying from idleness.”
After witnessing Teacher Moon silence the rude teacher with a single comment, Teacher Song and Ha quietly exit the office and marvel at Teacher Moon’s authoritative power. They agree with each other that Teacher Moon is clearly on the fast track for promotions.
Sung-soon cheerily tells the others about her close relationship with the head admissions officer–a cool, middle-aged man–but when they arrive at their meeting, they find a cold-faced woman sitting there instead. She explains to the group that she’ll answer their questions since she knows about their school.
Sung-soon and the others quickly ask about the admissions process at the university, but the admissions officer simply says that she’s not at liberty to share the university’s evaluation standards. While the officer dodges all their questions, Haneul finds the hostile atmosphere odd, especially when universities should be more cooperative with high schools.
Haneul interrupts the meeting, asking for a short break so that her side can change the pace, but with only ten minutes left, prospects look grim. Frustrated with the lack of progress, Sung-soon takes a sip of coffee but spills on her bouse. As Haneul leaves to grab tissues, Yeon-woo packs up his things since there’s no hope. To Myung-soo’s surprise, both Yeon-woo and Sung-soon recognize the admissions officer.
In the bathroom, Haneul overhears the admissions officer talking with a colleague about the time she worked as a short-term teacher at Daechi High. She stayed in the position for over three years on the promise for a permanent position, but in the end, she was betrayed.
Back in the meeting room, Myung-soo sighs over the news and asks how they recognized her. Yeon-woo explains that they took the permanent teacher exam together four years ago. While many of the teachers assumed that the admissions officer would be hired, it was actually Yeon-woo who got the position, even though it was his first year as a short-term teacher.
Having learned the admission officer’s past, Haneul stares at her in a new light, and her image overlaps with the memory of Ji-sun’s abrupt departure. As Ji-sun left the school, Haneul looked for her, but was a moment too late.
After hearing Yeon-woo’s explanation, Myung-soo still doesn’t understand why the admissions officer is taking it out on them when the higherups are the ones to blame. Sung-soon tells him that it’s because they didn’t remember her, and to that, Myung-soo has nothing to say.
A crisis hits Daechi High as teachers fend off worried students and angry phone calls: someone complained about a problem from last year’s final exam. The principal asks the teachers for an explanation, and Teacher Moon tells him that one of the questions technically had two correct answers. As a result, they’ll need to regrade, which will change student rankings.
The principal angrily asks who’s behind all this trouble, and it turns out to be the workings of a private academy and the father of student GU JAE-HYUN. Once the grades are fixed, Jae-hyun’s level will move up, and it’s clear from the father’s attitude that he holds the school in contempt.
The teachers leave the meeting with a heavy heart since revising the grades will mean some of the top students will fall down a level. If that’s the case, then their only hope will be record-based admissions. With the school thrown into utter chaos, Teacher Sohn texts Sung-soon about the worrying state of events and urges her to come back with good news.
The meeting resumes, but unsurprisingly, no twist occurs. The admissions officer remains aloof, and when time ends, Sung-soon hands her some informational booklets to share with the other admissions officers. She takes them reluctantly and leaves the group without even a proper goodbye.
In order to avoid the admissions officer on their way out, the college advisory team takes the stairs, except for Haneul. She joins the admissions officer in the elevator and asks if she knows them. The admissions officer admits to recognizing the others besides her, and Haneul tells her that she’s a short-term teacher.
The admissions officer says that she doesn’t have any hard feelings toward Hanaeul, and since it’s just the two of them, she shares a little more insight: The problem lies in the structure of the school, not the students. Haneul asks how they can fix these issues, but the admissions officer flatly tells her that these problems require years of work to mend. Though informative, Haneul wonders what they’ll tell the students, but the officer’s advice is demoralizing: “[They] should have gone to a good school.”
On her way home, Sung-soon stops by a convenience store for some ramyun and beer. After her quick meal, she plays a claw machine, feeding it bills after bills, until she finally wins a prize. She stumbles home tipsy and showers her son in kisses while her husband reprimands her for drinking again.
Sung-soon proudly gifts her son the prize she won, but he deflates at the sight of the knock-off Pikachu. Hearing that she spent roughly fifty dollars on the doll, her husband complains under his breath and tells her to quit the College Advisory Department since it causes her so much stress.
During breakfast, Haneul mulls over the admissions officer’s words when Mom hands her a new outfit to wear. Haneul complains about her old fashion sense, but Mom wants her to make a good impression on the higherups. She explains that a family friend’s daughter is also a short-term teacher, and when she recently went to a matchmaking service, her occupation was unranked (aka, undesirable). Recalling recent events, Haneul agrees to wear the clothes.
At school, Principal Byun yells at Sung-soon for not keeping her promise to bring back results. Teacher Yoon walks past the department and motions for the other college advisors to come out. She gives Yeon-woo and Myung-soo a few words of encouragement, and does the same for Sung-soon once the principal’s rant is over. However, Sung-soon looks unfazed by the scolding and takes out the ear plugs she was wearing the whole time.
Teacher Yoon comments on how hardworking Sung-soon is, and Yeon-woo points out another hard-worker: Hae-won. They watch Hae-won mop the floor–a task usually reserved for students–and clearly see the intention behind his overeager actions. Despite how he may look to others, Hae-won is thrilled when the principal notices him mopping and continues his task with renewed vigor.
Sung-soon walks up to Hae-won on her way to the department heads meeting and asks why he is cleaning. She jokingly calls it voluntary servitude before gently reminding Hae-won that he belongs in the classroom, not in the halls with a mop. As they talk, Haneul enters the school, and Hae-won stares at her with a concerned look.
The department heads meeting is another rehashing of the same problems as the principal asks what they’ll do about the upcoming college admissions conference. Sung-soon suggests leaving out Hankuk University from the presentation, but Teacher Song mocks her idea since that’s the top college in the nation. Instead, he offers a different solution.
Meanwhile, Haneul walks into the office and her outfit immediately draws attention from the others for being a classic “teacher-look.” When another teacher from the Third Years Department mentions the advisors recent failed meeting with the admissions officer, Haneul remembers the critiques from that day and asks the others for data regarding student record applications.
While the department has the students’ files, they don’t have letters of recommendations since those are confidential. Myung-soo offers to tell Haneul who wrote letters for successful applicants if she explains what she’s doing first, but Yeon-woo ruins his plans and tells Haneul that it’s Teacher Yoon.
Though the bell rang for class, the department heads are still in their meeting, arguing over Teacher Song’s proposal. He wants to reinstate the advanced class to help their top students, but Sung-soon vehemently opposes the idea since it’s blatant discrimination. Unfortunately, many of the other teachers are in favor of the idea, including Teacher Moon, so the principal leaves the decision up to a vote.
At lunch, Teacher Ha wonders how they’ll revive a banned class, and Teacher Han points out the fact that everyone will try to avoid taking charge. Teacher Song thinks that the class could actually be an opportunity for a teacher to prove their worth, and his words catch Hae-won’s interest. As they return to their office, Hae-won approaches Teacher Song to ask about the advanced class, but Teacher Song already has someone else in mind.
Teacher Yoon finds Haneul waiting outside her office and invites her in to give her the letters of recommendation. She correctly guesses what the admissions officer must have told Haneul and is sympathetic to her predicament: “It’s a bit awkward for a teacher to criticize a fellow teacher.”
After hearing Haneul’s name, Teacher Yoon hands her a note from Ji-sun. It’s a short message taken from a poem, and it reads, “If you look with hatred, every grass is a weed. If you look with kindness, every person is a flower.”
Before Ji-sun left, she asked Teacher Yoon to be chat buddies with Haneul, and she tells the new teacher to stop by anytime. Haneul looks down at the note and a single tear falls down her cheek.
Hae-won thinks back to what Teacher Song told him when he receives a call from the Information Systems Department. Apparently, Teacher Moon asked them for Hae-won’s IP address, but since it’s illegal to disclose such information, they refused. Worried about Hae-won, the other teacher asks if something happened, but Hae-won says that it’s alright.
Haneul and Teacher Yoon return to the College Advisory Department to look over documents together, but stop in their tracks when they hear Myung-soo complain about the advanced class. Teacher Yoon explains the details to Haneul and advises her to stay out of this power struggle.
With the entire Third Years Department in tow, Teacher Song saunters into the College Advisory Department to tell them who they want in charge. He calls out to Haneul, offering her the opportunity, but before she has to answer, the bell saves her. Haneul promises to think it over, and the confrontation ends for today.
Afterwards, Teacher Ha asks why he chose Haneul, and Teacher Song looks towards Teacher Moon’s direction before answering, “She’s Teacher Moon’s niece.” He thinks this is the perfect chance for him to show his loyalty to Teacher Moon, but whether or not Haneul takes the chance is up to her.
Before she leaves, Teacher Yoon pats Haneul on the back and tells her not to stress over it too much since teachers only need to think about the students first. Despite her words, Haneul remains conflicted over what to do, so Sung-soon tells the other to go home as she steps out to take a break.
Teacher Moon gets ready to leave when he receives a call from Information Systems, telling him that he can’t have Hae-won’s information. He then gets a call from the vice principal and opens his messages to see a request to investigate hiring corruption at “D” high school. It’s obviously about their school, but luckily for Teacher Moon, the Office of Education talked it over and let this one slide.
Before Teacher Song leaves, Hae-won stops him and asks for the advance class position again. He thinks the class will be too difficult for a new teacher, but Teacher Song tells him that he can have it only if Haneul rejects the offer.
On their way out, the new short-term teachers talk about Hae-won’s desperate attempts to earn points with the advanced class, and Yi-boon overhears them gossiping in the halls. She marches to the College Advisory Department where only Haneul remains and tells her to take the class. Outside, Sung-soon arrives from her coffee break and stands quietly by the door.
Yi-boon tells Haneul that this is a good opportunity for her, and if she doesn’t take it, Hae-won will. She asks if Haneul is hesitating because of the students or her department, and Haneul truthfully answers that both are on her mind. However, Haneul has decided to think about herself first, and staring at a class photo with Young-ha, she confesses that she wants to succeed.
As Hae-won leaves school, Teacher Moon catches the elevator with him. Both of them look forward when Teacher Moon tells Hae-won to come talk to him directly if he has any problems. His remark leaves Hae-won speechless, and he clenches his fist while watching Teacher Moon leave.
Haneul packs up her things to leave, placing Ji-sun’s note in a drawer, but outside the office, she finds Sung-soon waiting for her. Sung-soon tells her to take the advanced class, and says that no one can criticize her decision to think of her future. She advises Haneul not to succumb to voluntary servitude since a teacher who does things to be acknowledged by others is no good as a teacher. Sung-soon tells her again to take the class, and Haneul finally agrees to do it.
Haneul is caught in a power struggle not of her own choosing, and none of the choices given to her seem desirable. If she gives up on the advanced class, then someone else will take the opportunity and possibly the permanent position. However, if she takes charge of the class, then she’s turning her back on the College Advisory Department and consenting to the discriminatory practices of the school. People who have her interest in mind are giving her opposing advice, but in the end, it’s Sung-soon’s words that help Haneul finally come to a decision. Though she’s against the idea, Sung-soon understands the merit of accepting the job and allows Haneul to choose it without fault. Her advice means a lot because unlike with Teacher Yoon or Yi-boon, Haneul’s action will directly affect Sung-soon and her department. Furthermore, Haneul has grown to admire Sung-soon more and more, so choosing the job would have felt like betraying the team. The only way for Haneul to stay with her department would have been if they let her do it, which Sung-soon probably realized as she listened from outside.
While I’m unfamiliar with the South Korean education system, the advance class proposal reminded me of school tracking (but on steroids). Tracking in the US is a controversial policy because of racial and social discrimination, and the debate on the subject remains heated on both sides. Like the department heads argued, grouping high-ability students together gives them an advantage which leads to increased educational achievements, but consequently, those not in the top suffer as a direct result. The show makes it clear that the advanced class is a discriminatory practice, but the situation is complicated. The problem goes back to the structure of the school, which is exactly what the admissions officer criticized. Student achievement and educational attainment become the sole measure of a school’s success, and consequently, schools are indirectly incentivized to increase these markers. As a result, people like Teacher Song are supported by their colleagues and administration. Supporting the top percent of students at Daechi High makes the school look better, and in the end, the school no longer cares about the student body but of the top few. In my opinion, Teacher Song’s idea is a cheap method that deals with the symptoms of the problems rather than the cause. For real change to happen, there needs to be an agreement from those in charge to invest years of work on dealing with this problem, but those types of solutions don’t produce immediate results. The teachers and administration know that structural problems exist, but acknowledging such would mean fixing themselves which they won’t want to admit. I foresee an uphill battle for our College Advisors, but if it’s for their students, I trust that they’ll do the right thing even if it means making enemies with a lot of different departments.
As Selena mentioned in the last recap, the show isn’t very subtle when it comes to Hae-won. He’s constantly throwing glances at people and acting on edge. However, as we learn a bit more about him this episode, I get the feeling that his lack of finesse is part of his character. Having worked as a short-term teacher for six years, he’s desperate for attention and seeks the approval of others to validate his status as a teacher. Years of worrying about his job security has severely hurt Hae-won’s self-esteem, and his desperateness can be sensed by everyone around him. In some ways, he’s very similar to Haneul and her need for attention in the beginning of the show, but a crucial difference in their end goals makes one succeed while the other flails helplessly. Unlike Haneul, Hae-won’s overeager actions aren’t for the benefit of the students but for the higherups to notice him. As a result, Haneul slowly but surely amasses a supportive team of teachers to rally besides her while Hae-won finds himself isolated. Unfortunately, I get the impression that Hae-won doesn’t understand why Haneul’s experience is so different from his own, and will only see her success as a result of nepotism. While it’s true that Haneul has some benefits (as well as backlash) from her connection, it’s not the reason why the other teachers help her. Sung-soon’s advice to Hae-won was exactly what he needed to hear, and hopefully, he finally realizes his mistake and learns what it means to be a good teacher. Otherwise, he might end up like the admissions officer and leave the school with bitter resentment.
Acting as a mirror to Haneul and Hae-won’s situation, we learn of the admissions officer’s past with Yeon-woo. In both situations, there’s a short-term teacher who devotes years of work into the school only to be challenged by the brilliant newcomer. In the end, it’s not about who’s more deserving but a sad tale about the fate of short-term teachers who aren’t accepted for a permanent position: they’re forgotten. After hearing her story, Haneul feels sympathy for the admissions officer, and when the officer learns that Haneul is also a short-term teacher, she seems to open up a bit as well. Her insights in the elevator were helpful but offered little hope for Haneul. As for her parting comment, she tells Haneul that “they” should have chose better schools, and in that context, I think she meant everyone–the students as well as Haneul and herself. In a way, I think the officer was giving Haneul advice to cut ties with school early rather than devote years of work because from her experience, it’s futile. It’s a somber outlook to have, but nevertheless, it’s one seeped in experience. However, the admissions officer isn’t the only one giving Haneul advice, and hopefully with the proper guidance, Haneul can avoid her fate and make her own path within Daechi High.
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