Black Dog: Episode 9
Life is filled with encounters, and while some are fleeting, others are unforgettable. The people we meet shape who we become, and though an experience might leave a deep impression on one person, it can also feel completely unmemorable to another. Actions have consequences, intentional or not, and our protagonist must decide what kind of person she’ll be remembered as in other people’s lives.
EPISODE 9 RECAP
Looking into the night sky, Haneul narrates, “Of the countless people you meet, some just pass through your life and some create resentment. However, at times, a person you thought was simply passing through does not.”
Admissions Officer Song Chan-hee stands in the rain and silently watches her old workplace, Daechi High. She calls Sung-soon, but the College Advisory team stares at the ringing phone with trepidation. Yeon-woo suggests looking for an alternative route, and Myung-soo agrees, proposing a collaboration with a prep school for their upcoming informational.
Sung-soon tells the group to not let their emotions cloud their judgement when choosing the best option. Against the others’ wishes, she answers the phone and tells Admissions Officer Song to meet in the principal’s office. Once Sung-soon leaves, the rest of the team ponders over what she said.
In the principal’s office, Principal Byun merrily asks the admissions officer for her help with their presentation, and Admissions Officer Song comments on how the school has changed a lot. None the wiser, Principal Byun asks if she’s familiar with their school, and before Sung-soon can explain, the admissions officer says that she heard about them from Professor Jang.
Sung-soon escorts the admissions officer out once the meeting is over, and the admissions officer accidently sprays Sung-soon with water as she opens her umbrella. Sung-soon brushes it off as no big deal, but the admissions officer asks if it’s really okay for them if she’s the one to attend their event.
Both sides avoid the elephant in the room, and Sung-soon slaps on a smile, assuring the admissions officer that they’re thankful she’s coming this Saturday. Sung-soon bids her farewell until then, but Admissions Officer Song cryptically replies back, “We’ll meet again if we can.”
Sung-soon returns to the principal’s office where Principal Byun warns Sung-soon to do well since the parents have been pushing for a restructuring of their school. Because of the low college acceptance rate, the Parents Committee wanted the College Advisory Department disbanded and reabsorbed back into the Third Years Department.
The news weighs heavily on Sung-soon as she returns to the office, and despite the late hour, the rest of the team waits for her. Though Myung-soo notices Sung-soon’s wet blouse, he doesn’t comment on it, and instead, he invites everyone out for drinks.
In the Icarus Study Hall, Yoo-ra reads a post that claims volunteering at a hospital doesn’t earn you points. She recalls the time Jae-hyun and his friends talked about his student record, but while she’s lost in thought, two other Icarus students come up to her.
Since she’s the club captain, they ask Yoo-ra to coordinate a field trip to add to their student records since the second semester exams don’t count for college admissions anyways. Though she doesn’t answer them, their concerns echo her own as she looks over the admissions qualifications for Hankuk University’s medical program.
Over drinks, Haneul asks Sung-soon why she met the admissions officer in the principal’s office, and Sung-soon explains that she was testing to see if the principal would recognize her. Much to her expectations, he didn’t.
With only four days left until their presentation, Sung-soon tells the team that they’ll need to make some changes, but before they do that, Yeon-woo wants to know why she thinks this option is better than working with a prep school. Sung-soon tells them that if they lose the admissions officer, then they lose an opportunity to appeal to Hankuk University.
Admissions officers don’t attend high school informationals out of goodwill, but rather, it’s a signal from the university that they’re interested in the school. Haneul explains in voiceover that this is the perfect chance for Daechi High to prove their worth to Hankuk University.
While all the neighboring high schools have sent students to the university’s medical program over the last four years, Daechi High had zero students admitted. At this informational, they can finally show Hankuk University that both the students and their school are improving.
Unfortunately, there’s only three days left, and Teacher Song vehemently opposes Sung-soon’s request to change the presentation since his department has parent counseling right after them. While they trade barbs, the vice principal asks why she wants to change a part of the informational.
Sung-soon tells them that Daechi High hasn’t experienced its prime yet, so her department wants to bring the school to its peak. She suddenly belts out the chorus of “Kilimanjaro’s Leopard” which earns her a shout from the principal: “Then do a good job!”
Teacher Song returns to his desk in a foul mood, but Teacher Ha is more curious than frustrated since it’s unlike Sung-soon to make last minute changes. As the two teachers talk about the new admissions officer, Hae-won sees her picture and recognizes her immediately. However, he keeps her identity a secret while the others discuss the possibility of having the admissions officer attend their counseling session as well.
Meanwhile, the College Advisory team struggles with editing their presentation since they can’t quite figure out their new angle. Yeon-woo mentions how the school did change a little after Sung-soon’s impassioned outburst, so Sung-soon orders Myung-soo to email all the departments and ask for updates on recent changes. The group sighs over the inevitable wave of complaints they’ll receive for this request, and everyone sits in silence as they hit another wall.
Haneul shares her idea about highlighting “growth” in their presentation since it’s a keyword for Hankuk University’s admittance evaluations. However, when it comes to actually adding it in, Haneul doesn’t have any ideas. With morale low, Sung-soon offers to buy the group ice-cream, and Haneul volunteers to go get it.
While cleaning the restroom, Yoo-ra’s classmate offers to save her seats in the front for the informational presentation, but Yoo-ra tells her not to, keeping silent about the fact that her parents aren’t coming. Angry with her circumstances, Yoo-ra takes it out on Jae-hyun who’s also on cleaning duty with her.
Yoo-ra turns off the music playing from his phone, but Jae-hyun ignores her and turns it back on. She retaliates by shutting off his phone, and he confronts her directly about her behavior. Yoo-ra calls his music distracting, and when she threatens to get the teacher, he steps back, mumbling that poor kids only have pride.
His words sting, so Yoo-ra attacks him back for being a loser whose dad creates his student record. Both of them start shoving each other, but before things get too violent, Teacher Ha spots them and stops their fight.
While Haneul picks up the ice-cream, she notices a flier commemorating the shop’s twentieth anniversary and gets an idea. She shows the flier to the rest of the College Advisory team and explains how the ice-cream company initially advertised using their current, successful shop as their image. When the company saw no improvements in sales, they decided to take a different approach.
They began advertising their roots from when they were a small shop attached to a gas station, and sales started going up. The rest of team stare at Haneul with blank faces, so she tells them that the definition of growth means first showing that they hit rock bottom. Though it’s a risky proposal, Sung-soon supports the idea.
To show their improvements, Sung-soon suggests adding the formation of the Icarus Club, but Yeon-woo wonders if that’ll help since it’s technically an advanced class rather than a “club,” meaning that there’s very little student-lead efforts. While Haneul mulls over his words, she’s needed elsewhere and leaves the office in a hurry.
Haneul arrives at the Third Years Department as Teacher Song scolds Yoo-ra and Jae-hyun for fighting. Jae-hyun asks him why he isn’t interested in learning the reason for their argument, but Teacher Song bluntly tells them that he doesn’t care about why they’re mad because all that matters are their grades.
Since Haneul is their homeroom teacher, she must decide their punishment, so she gives them two options: make up and go to the counselor’s office or continue fighting and have this reported to the violence committee and written on their student records. The threat of a blemish on their records has both students apologizing and promising to make up.
Before they’re dismissed, Yoo-ra uses this time to bring up the field trip idea and suggests a visit to a hospital lab. Haneul asks how they’ll do that, and Yoo-ra glances over at Jae-hyun. Oh, so sneaky!
Yeon-woo runs into Hae-won in the bathroom, and the latter waits for him in the hallway to bring up Admissions Officer Song. Hae-won comments on how the admissions officer probably won’t give her best effort because of her history, and Yeon-woo is clearly offended by his implications.
Back in the Third Years Department, Yoo-ra leaves the office beaming while the teachers comment on her quick-thinking. Her suggestion for the field trip was for Jae-hyun to use his family connection, and it’s evident to Teacher Song that Yoo-ra plans on taking advantage of the other kids’ parents to improve her student record. Remembering Yoo-ra’s circumstances and the effort she puts in, Haneul decides to go along with the idea if it means helping the students get into better colleges.
Sitting in the hall, Haneul reads a message from Jae-hyun’s father, which also includes a gift card. As she gets up to return to her desk, Teacher Ha praises Haneul for her decision to threaten the kids with their student record, and Haneul is baffled by his interpretation of her actions.
While the College Advisory team works on their presentation, Haneul is distracted by her earlier conversation with Teacher Ha. He asked if she could have the admissions officer stay for their portion as well, but Haneul explained that these requests should be made to Sung-soon directly. Apparently, Teacher Song already tried, but his gifts of food were swiftly rejected.
Teacher Ha reminded Haneul of her dual assignment to both departments and voiced his complaints about her favoritism towards the College Advisory group. Unable to deny it, Haneul promised to mention his request to the team.
During their meeting, Sung-soon asks Myung-soo if he heard back from the other teachers, and she’s surprised to hear that he received all their updates already. He tells the team that Teacher Moon told the others to act cooperatively with their department.
Both departments work diligently up to the day of the presentation which is a hectic affair with parents arriving in droves. To the teachers’ shock, parents of lower grades flood the auditorium as well, and Myung-soo updates his team on the situation. They split up the tasks, and Myung-soo takes charge of relocating the parents while Haneul and Yeon-woo wait for the admissions officer.
Haneul is glad to see Teacher Yoon when she pops into the College Advisory Department to assist them, but Yeon-woo receives some bad news: the admissions officer is running late. He orders Haneul to lie to Sung-soon about the admissions officer being here so they don’t stress her out even more, and though confused, Haneul complies.
Myung-soo attempts to direct the parents to the classroom, but the parents refuse to leave. Teacher Moon speaks up, firmly telling the lower-grade parents to watch from the classrooms, and though they grumble, they step out of the auditorium. The female Third Years teacher calls Myung-soo a “softie” and worries about how he’ll manage the College Advisory Department if Sung-soon ever leaves.
As the presentation starts, Yoo-ra desperately calls her mom to no avail, but still waits outside in hopes that she’ll come. Inside, Haneul lies to Sung-soon that the admissions officer arrived, and Principal Byun takes the stage to give a short introduction.
While they wait for the principal to finish, Haneul notices Sung-soon’s nervousness, so she fixes Sung-soon’s makeup to calm her. Sung-soon asks her to make her eyeliner longer while she’s at it, and Haneul happily obliges. As Haneul works on her makeup, Sung-soon casually asks where she wants to go after the informational, and Haneul suggests karaoke. Sung-soon likes the idea and mentions her old nickname: Ssangmun-dong Cheetah.
In the College Advisory Department, Teacher Yoon sees Yeon-woo waiting anxiously and asks if their guest is late. He recalls Sung-soon’s comment about how they didn’t remember the admissions officer even though she worked with them for three years, and he tells Teacher Yoon that the admissions officer probably won’t come.
Everyone in the audience yawns as Principal Byun drags out his speech, and Teacher Song motions to him to wrap things up. As soon as the principal exits the stage, Sung-soon enters, but as she looks out into the crowd, she remembers the principal’s warning that her department will be disbanded if things go awry.
In a moment of panic, she drops the microphone, but quickly regains her composure and picks it up. As if nothing happened, Sung-soon gives the presentation with her usual energy, and Haneul breathes a sigh of relief. Taking a seat, Haneul notices Myung-soo’s haggard look, but he waves aside her concern and points out Jae-hyun’s father for her.
With Admissions Officer Song still missing, Haneul goes back to the office to check up on Yeon-woo, and arrives just as he asks Teacher Yoon if it’s bad for him to not remember everyone at the school. Teacher Yoon tells him that it’s only natural to forget, but she does admit that for teachers like her, it would hurt a little if no one recognized her as soon as she retired.
Right then, the office phone rings, and Yeon-woo sprints to the gate to verify Admissions Officer Song’s identity. She looks annoyed by the situation, but her expression immediately softens when she sees Teacher Yoon coming towards her.
Teacher Yoon instantly recognizes the old teacher and grabs her hands, asking how she’s been all these years. As Haneul watches the two teachers reconnect, she narrates the same thoughts from the beginning of the episode, but this time, she adds, “Resentment can surprisingly be resolved in a simple way.”
They escort the admissions officer to the auditorium and are just in time for the crux of the presentation. Outside, Yoo-ra still waits for her mother, leaving a voicemail that today is important, and having stepped out for a drink, Jae-hyun overhears her pleas.
Both students enter the auditorium, but as Jae-hyun takes his seat next to his father, Yoo-ra has nowhere to go and ends up standing to the side with a teacher. Haneul notices Yoo-ra and watches with a concerned expression, and Jae-hyun briefly stares at her as well.
Once Sung-soon ends her part of the presentation, Jae-hyun’s father is the first to pose a question. He prefaces it with statements about the school’s low college acceptance rate, and asks how the teachers plan on guiding the students. Though his comments are harsh, Sung-soon doesn’t even bat an eye since she came prepared.
She begins by admitting their school’s lower prestige and then plays off the gasps from the audience—everyone knows that Daechi High isn’t a first-choice school. She lists off all the problems at their school which contributed to last year’s dismal college acceptance rate, their lowest yet.
After revealing their rock bottom, Sung-soon changes the tide and informs the audience of all the recent changes their school made. One of those is the Icarus Club, and Haneul gets up to describe the club to the crowd, pointedly directing her comment to the admissions officer.
The plan to show “growth” works as the audience sways over to Sung-soon’s side, and when she introduces the admissions officer to the stage, the crowd’s enthusiasm reaches an all-time high. The rest of the informational goes over well, as does the parent counseling session which Admissions Officer Song attended.
After the day’s events, Haneul meets with Jae-hyun’s father privately to return the self-written student record and the gift card. Subverting Haneul’s expectations, Jae-hyun’s father quietly takes back everything, and then asks about how he could help the Icarus students as she mentioned during the informational.
Yeon-woo runs up to Admissions Officer Song in the hall to personally thank her for today, and addressing her as a fellow teacher, he says it was nice to meet her again. The admissions officer tells him that back then, she thought he lived life as if it was a playground while she treated it like a marathon, but now she realizes that she was wrong. She asks him to pass along her card to Teacher Yoon and leaves.
Jae-hyun goes home with his father who hands back the student record he received from Haneul. As they drive towards the gate, Jae-hyun spots Yoo-ra standing alone on the road and asks his father to stop the car. After a brief moment of hesitation, he excuses himself from the car to go back to his classroom.
The College Advisory team returns to their desk and finds energy drinks with heart-shaped notes from Haneul. Myung-soo thanks her first, and though the others remain quiet, he tells Haneul that they’re also silently expressing their gratitude. Heh.
Haneul checks over the attendance sheet and notices that Yoo-ra’s parents didn’t show up. As the team wraps things up, Sung-soon leaves first and pushes back their celebratory dinner to next week—Haneul gets to choose. As Myung-soo teases her about where to eat, Jae-hyun comes in and tells Haneul about Yoo-ra standing at the school entrance. While Haneul rushes out, Jae-hyun wonders to himself if he was overstepping.
Yoo-ra checks her phone call log, and seeing no missing calls, she crouches down and cries. Haneul finds her by the gate and sits down next to her. She asks Yoo-ra if she ate anything and tenderly pats her as she weeps.
With each passing episode, I love the characters more than I thought possible. Haneul is so sweet, but in a genuine way that doesn’t feel manufactured. She’s thoughtful and perceptive, which allows her to pay attention to other people’s needs and distress. She is also deeply empathetic, and it’s all these characteristics combined that make Haneul such a winsome character. The scene where Haneul calms Sung-soon really showed how much their relationship evolved since fixing another person’s makeup requires a degree of intimacy and physical closeness. Not only was Haneul comfortable enough to touch Sung-soon without asking, but Sung-soon also trusted Haneul and was willing to let her help her without second-guessing her method. Whether or not it was a PPL scene, it was brilliantly woven into the story and served a purpose. Besides Sung-soon, Haneul also noticed Myung-soo looking tired during the presentation, showing again that it’s simply her natural tendency to care for others. Thus, when she hears that Yoo-ra is out at the gate, she doesn’t think twice about what to do. Haneul rushes to Yoo-ra’s side, and her response is beautiful. Rather than take over the moment, Haneul simply asks if she ate (a common question in Korean that’s equivalent to asking how they are) and allows Yoo-ra to express her emotions freely. Haneul understands that Yoo-ra needs to cry, and doesn’t pressure her to hold it in or compose herself. She’s merely there, and I’m sure her presence is enough for Yoo-ra in that moment to realize that she isn’t alone and that it’s okay to be sad.
Just when I’m starting to form an opinion about a character, the show makes me reconsider my own judgments and biases. In this case, it happened with Jae-hyun. While I think Yoo-ra’s actions towards him are harsh and sometimes unwarranted, I never thought his responses were appropriate, either, since he resorts to degrading comments which reveal his classism. However, Jae-hyun isn’t completely unfeeling, and when he sees Yoo-ra standing alone, he realizes that something is wrong and gets a teacher to help her. He doesn’t understand why he did it, which shows the importance of teachers and parents in shaping a child. Jae-hyun has grown up in a home where every aspect of his life is dictated by his father in order to get into a good college, and at school, he hears comments from people like Teacher Song, telling him to forget about friends if it gets in the way of good grades. The environment in which he learns pushes Jae-hyun to only think about himself, so it makes sense that Jae-hyun feels confused when he instinctively reaches out to help another student. The system is clearly failing its students when kids like Jae-hyun and Yoo-ra feel trapped and suffocated. Rather than help the students find their path and guide them into becoming decent adults, the school reinforces the toxic competition taking hold of the education system and makes me worried for the future of society. Luckily there’s Haneul and the College Advisory team in this story to bring some semblance of hope.
Watching this episode, I realized why I love the College Advisory group so much. Though each of them have different personalities, all of them seem to care more about others than look out for their own benefit. Unlike the Third Years Department where Teacher Song and Ha clearly hope to gain from every situation, the college advisors think of the group and students—which is probably why Haneul naturally gravitates towards them. Sung-soon doesn’t let her pride get in the way of choosing the best option for the students, and even her nervousness before the presentation stemmed from the worry that her group would be disbanded. Yeon-woo is also a reflective teacher who tries to understand others from their perspective. He’s the first and only one from the group who directly acknowledges Admissions Officer Song’s prior history with their school, and I’m sure it took him a lot of courage to address it. He could have just let it slide, but he realized that maybe the old teacher wasn’t just bitter about losing the job to him but being forgotten as well. By acknowledging Admissions Officer Song, he gave her the opportunity to seek closure, and it seems that she finally saw him for who he was, as well: just another teacher who was trying his best under difficult circumstances. As for Myung-soo, he may complain and voice his opinions with gusto; but he doesn’t blame others, and for personal matters, he seems to endure his stress by himself. When Haneul notices his tiredness during the presentation, he doesn’t want to worry her about it, and instead, he helps Haneul by showing her who Jae-hyun’s father is. I get the impression that the show is slowly setting up a story about Myung-soo, and I can’t wait to delve a little more into our talkative college advisor. Behind his good-natured personality, he’s clearly experiencing a lot of stress that he doesn’t share with the others, and unlike the rest of the team, I feel like we’ve seen less of Myung-soo and his thoughts.
As Haneul mentioned in the beginning, life is filled with encounters, both big and small. Some are just passing and forgettable, while others may leave a deep impression. However, as in the case of Admissions Officer Song, sometimes people don’t experience an encounter the same way. For most of the teachers at Daechi High, Admissions Officer Song was another passing short-term teacher who wasn’t memorable. Yet for Admissions Officer Song, her time at Daechi High was one that left her feeling resentful. She couldn’t forget them, so when she realized that they all forgot her, I’m sure that hurt her as well. As Sung-soon predicted, the bitterness wasn’t just about not getting the job but the fact that her time there was so easily forgotten while she was clearly still dealing with it. As a result, when Teacher Yoon recognizes and greets the admissions officer, her resentment slowly dissipates. The sight of Teacher Yoon brings back a wave of emotions, and to me, it seemed that Admissions Officer Song’s pain was finally being acknowledged. Teacher Yoon is absolutely precious, and it seems wholly appropriate that it was Teacher Yoon who remembered the admissions officer. She doesn’t seem to be a flamboyant teacher who sticks out like Sung-soon or Yeon-woo, but quietly does her duties in the back regardless of recognition or reward. She doesn’t necessarily shake up the status quo or try to fix underlying problems, but in her own way, I think Teacher Yoon is helping the school by being one of those encounters that leaves a positive, lasting impression on others.
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