Black Dog: Episode 14
Black Dog continues to do a great job tackling issues within the school system without over-exaggerating them – it’s always a slow and natural build-up of events. This time, our teachers belatedly realize that they may have unknowingly turned a blind eye to certain things while focusing on others.
EPISODE 14 RECAP
Myung-soo tunes in to the news, where an announcer reports on the combined arts and science curriculum for high school students. The freshmen that entered school when this was implemented are now seniors and will be assessed with combined grades for the first time, but the CSAT format will remain unaffected this year.
Haneul nonchalantly slides Yeon-woo a milk carton to flatten as they sort the recycling and the sight of her ordering him around makes Myung-soo chuckle. He joins them to conduct an interview on Haneul’s thoughts about spending another year together. She jokes, “The two of you don’t feel as fresh and novel as last year,” agreeing in jest with Myung-soo’s commentary that she’s sick of them. Pfft, I love their dynamic.
Yeon-woo catches Haneul looking fondly the class list of her previous homeroom class, commenting that she’ll be thinking of them for a while. Myung-soo agrees that the first homeroom makes a huge impact, but you don’t get as attached from the second one onwards.
Sung-soon decorates Principal Byun’s (now Teacher Byun) office with plants and on the topic of him returning to the classroom, teases that students these days aren’t easy to deal with. He’s not bothered but temporarily loses his hearty laugh when they spot Teachers Han and Ha walk past with the newly appointed Principal Lee.
The recently promoted Vice Principal Moon drops by the office with a radio and Sung-soon grimaces as she watches him awkwardly declare that they should get Teacher Byun a water purifier.
They leave the office (giving Teacher Byun privacy to sing along to the radio) and Sung-soon comments that Vice Principal Moon has matured – he’s not on Team Byun, after all. He reminds her that the reason why he wanted this position is to protect teachers like herself so they don’t need to deal with the politics, which makes Sung-soon see him in a new light.
Haneul’s homeroom creates their own seating arrangement without Bo-tong, who was late and gets the last seat. The class president doesn’t even know Bo-tong’s name, acting like there’s no reason he should. Myung-soo has the entire class in stitches during his lesson. Bo-tong joins the laughter belatedly but the moment is over, earning him some judging looks that don’t escape his notice. Aw, poor boy.
The department heads discuss the combined curriculum that will affect school exams and college admissions during their meeting. They turn to Sung-soon for advice, but she confuses them with an analogy likening the students to birds. It’s a round-about way to say that she doesn’t know what to do with them now that they’ve suddenly been set free.
On that note, Teacher Han flaunts her new position to suggest expanding the Icarus Club. Next to a poster that shows off what colleges the first generation Icarus kids were accepted to, the recruitment notice for Icarus 2.0 is met with complaints. They’re now accepting 50 students (25 from each stream), which means even less resources for the other students.
The middle and lower tier students are clearly resentful that the school is ignoring them and blatantly favoring the top students. Some boys even go as far as ripping down the poster and running away.
Teacher Shim asks Haneul to speak to Bo-tong about his electives. Despite the combined curriculum, he still needs to apply to college as either a liberal arts or a science student. She suggests arts, since Bo-tong’s grades aren’t exceptional.
Haneul looks for Bo-tong in the classroom but doesn’t see him because he’s napping. A classmate says he’s not there, but when Haneul’s about to leave, Bo-tong raises his head to call out, “I’m right here.” They chat in her office and she asks him to make a decision: arts or science?
It’s clear her heart’s not really in the conversation as she gets endlessly distracted by e-mails and calls. He voices that he won’t be able to make money even if he attends college, but the comment is dismissed by Haneul who just urges him to make his decision quickly. She’s taken aback when he says he’ll think about it.
Sung-soon notices the ripped poster and puts up a new one but the boys continue to tear down newly replaced posters over the next few days. Haneul gets an e-mail from Teacher Shim about Bo-tong and Myung-soo can’t understand why he hasn’t made a decision yet. Although he and Yeon-woo can recall the peculiar name, they can’t remember what he looks like.
Stressed, Haneul wonders if she should call Bo-tong’s mother. Sung-soon knowingly says she won’t answer, which prompts Haneul to ask about the history between her and Bo-tong. When Myung-soo learns that Sung-soon was his homeroom teacher two years ago, something seems to click. Sung-soon avoids answering, leaving to head home instead.
Bo-tong picks up a piece of a ripped poster outside the Icarus study room. Three boys stumble out and run away, and Sung-soon, who happened to hear the ruckus, peers inside the study hall which has been completely overturned with books strewn everywhere. Bo-tong is still silently clutching the poster, so she looks at him with accusatory eyes.
Myung-soo explains to Haneul that two years ago, Sung-soon’s homeroom class created a group chat without including her. They’d greeted Sung-soon nicely to her face, but immediately went behind her back to badmouth her in their chatroom, calling Sung-soon fake for pretending to care about the students (the exact words Bo-tong used to describe her).
Due to a separate conflict the kids had within the chat, a counsellor stepped in and discovered the texts, which is how Sung-soon found out. She was so traumatized that she had to go to therapy for a while. Myung-soo speculates that Bo-tong’s misunderstanding caused the students to turn against her.
Although Bo-tong says he didn’t cause the mess, Sung-soon doesn’t believe him. He’s brought to Haneul the next day to explain himself, with Sung-soon watching close by.
Teacher Song’s in a sour mood because Teacher Ha betrayed him and is sucking up to Teacher Han instead. It’s made worse when Yi-boon doesn’t have concrete answers about the status of the Icarus club and his yelling doesn’t faze her at all – she purposely blasts steam in his face with her humidifier, hah! Their spat is cut short by the arrival of a few Icarus kids.
Haneul coldly asks Bo-tong, “Why did you do it?” He denies any involvement, though she doesn’t believe him. Bo-tong spots the actual culprits peering in from the window and continues that he understands why they did it.
During breaktime, Bo-tong overheard the three boys complaining that teachers endlessly demand them to work hard despite not paying them any attention. Feeling like they’ve been tossed aside, they took their anger out on Icarus. It reminds Haneul of the break-in from last year, but she gets called away from dealing with the situation. The boys feel bad for getting Bo-tong in trouble and consider turning themselves in, scurrying away when Vice Principal Moon catches them lurking.
The Icarus kids want to do a survey so that their opinions are heard regarding which teachers they want their after-school classes to be taught by. The third year teachers all scoff in disbelief but when this is mentioned to Principal Lee during a meeting, he green-lights the survey. He reasons that even the regular students get to pick any after-school class they want – why can’t the Icarus kids do the same?
As the Icarus kids vote, Teacher Sohn sighs that Teacher Byun would’ve never allowed something like this as the principal. This event created an even bigger divide between Icarus and the rest of the students, who grew more bitter and hurt. When the results are in, Yeon-woo ranks first with Sung-soon following closely behind.
Yeon-woo and Myung-soo offer comforting words to Haneul for ranking in the middle, “I’m sure it’s because they never took your class before.” She narrates that it was only after she personally experienced being overlooked that she took a closer look at the students who don’t typically get much attention.
Teacher Byun teaches to a disrespectful and uninterested class. Nobody makes an attempt to answer his questions except Bo-tong, which Teacher Byun appreciates. After class, he kindly invites Bo-tong to visit his office when he’s bored. Sung-soon waits for Teacher Byun outside the classroom and asks him to counsel her later that night.
Teacher Song gets into another spat with Yi-boon, who still isn’t sure whether Haneul will take on the Icarus class. The short-term teacher from the interview (named Teacher Jung) listens as he says they’ll have to find somebody else if she declines.
Yi-boon ignores his questions and tells Teacher Song to check the survey results, casually peeking to see his reaction – he came dead last with zero votes. She taunts him, knowingly asking, “Why the long face?” HAH, I’m all for the pettiness between these two.
He goes back to talking about Icarus, and Teacher Jung jumps in to ask if she can lead the club if nobody else will. She later checks a forum post that confirms that there’s a permanent position still open at the school, and Yi-boon has her all figured out.
During their counselling session, Teacher Byun asks if Sung-soon personally saw Bo-tong vandalize the study room. She isn’t sure whether she should believe his claims of innocence and Teacher Byun can tell that she must’ve had some history with this student.
We get to hear her side of the story this time – when Bo-tong called her from the police station, she was frantically trying to get her son Ha-rang to the hospital because he was sick. She’d told him to wait, but hours went by and she didn’t show up, missing his calls because she was pre-occupied with Ha-rang.
Teacher Byun empathetically tells Sung-soon that nobody would blame her for choosing Ha-rang over a student. Still, she thinks she should’ve taken care of him and understands why her class criticized her (although notably, she doesn’t know for sure that this was the reason why they started badmouthing her).
The three boys are back at it again, breaking into the Icarus study hall at night. As the security guard makes his rounds, the three boys are liberated by how good it feels to vandalize the room with their cartons of milk. Unluckily for them, they’re caught red-handed by the guard.
The next morning, Yi-boon shows up at the College Advisory office to chat with Haneul about Icarus. Haneul receives an e-mail that states she’s been chosen to teach an after-school class to the Icarus kids, but doesn’t get to choose the subject.
Yi-boon calls it discrimination (she was also ranked in the middle) because the higher ranked teachers are given free rein to set up their classes. Haneul agrees, musing that they didn’t even ask for her opinion. Yi-boon realizes that this must be how the students who didn’t get accepted into Icarus must feel.
Haneul recalls her conversation with Bo-tong, and belatedly realizes that before bringing up the discussion of arts vs. science, she should’ve asked him how he felt about college and what he wanted to do.
Teacher Sohn, who always knows what’s happening around Daechi High, runs into the office to announce that some students are being disciplined in the Third Years’ office for vandalizing the study room. They all rush over and Sung-soon joins them when she sees the commotion.
The three boys gain courage from seeing a crowd of students outside the office, scornfully accusing the teachers of discriminating against them. “We’re nobodies, so you don’t care about us and give Icarus everything.” Students like them are looked down upon for not being good enough, which makes Yi-boon emotional with how much she relates to the situation because of the survey.
The boys admit that they didn’t go about it the right way, but maintains that they aren’t wrong about what they said. The third years who’d just graduated told them that only the top students went to good schools, while the bottom kids “just died,” which the students outside agree with.
Teacher Song yells that the real world is much harsher, but a few third year teachers step in to say that the students are right. The disciplinary committee should deal with the act of vandalism, but they should discuss Icarus separately. Haneul asks if Bo-tong had any part in their shenanigans, and the truth sinks in when she and Sung-soon realize that they’d wrongfully blamed him.
Sung-soon later receives a call regarding her Icarus after-school class, which she declines to teach. She jokes that she’s already so special that there’s no need for her class to be special as well. Hah.
Young-sook receives a call from a woman, hanging up as a jerk reaction. When the phone rings a second time, she yells at the caller to stop contacting her, but whatever she hears gives her pause.
Bo-tong leaves a piece of paper on Haneul’s desk, which is empty because she’s speaking to Teacher Han. Haneul asks for an extra day to talk to Bo-tong about his electives, and Teacher Han comments that it would’ve been nice for Haneul to have better students but “The world isn’t only made up of kids like Yoo-ra and Jae-hyun.”
When Haneul returns to her desk, she’s happy to see that Bo-tong dropped off his form. However, instead of choosing his electives, he submitted a withdrawal notice instead.
Haneul cries when she sees this, lost in memories of the celebratory moments with her top students and realizing that she neglected to pay attention to the others. She’d had students other than Jae-hyun and Yoo-ra but was so focused on those two that everyone else was a blur. The comment that the world isn’t made up of just Yoo-ras and Jae-hyuns rings in her ears, having a different meaning than Teacher Han had intended.
Young-sook heads to a realtor’s office to sell her restaurant. The woman who’d called had urged Young-sook to return home – her mom has dementia and has six months left to live.
Haneul makes her way to the Third Years’ office and Teacher Song compliments her for doing so well with Icarus last year. She surprises everyone by declining the position of leading the club and on top of that, will not teach an Icarus after-school class either. She wants to teach the kids who didn’t make it. “You see, I owe a debt.”
Teacher Song wonders why Haneul wants to teach the “idiots” when it’s much easier to teach the top performers. Yi-boon runs after Haneul to advise her that Teacher Jung is aiming for the permanent position which is still open. Haneul just smiles and says that it’s not important to her anymore and won’t let it influence her decisions.
When Haneul heads home, she spots Sung-soon battling it out with a claw machine. They have a hilarious conversation solely through hand motions where Sung-soon reluctantly allows Haneul to come join her. They celebrate happily when Sung-soon successfully wins a bear.
Haneul asks if Sung-soon would like to teach an after-school class with her, but she declines, assuming that it’d be an Icarus class. Haneul shares that she taught Icarus whole-heartedly last year, but wants to focus on other kids. Sung-soon understands that she’s talking about students like Bo-tong and says, “Let’s do it together.”
Sometimes when a drama ends, you find yourself wondering, “I wonder what all the characters are up to after everything was tied up neatly?” Episode 12 felt very much like a final episode, and we’re getting a glimpse into life after the happy ending. Except, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, which is so realistic and I love the direction that this show is going. This act of rebellion from the non-Icarus kids was to be expected. It’d been brewing for over a year with the inception of the club, just waiting to boil over. The way these boys went about showing their feelings was wrong, but the disappointment felt from being looked down on, or worse, just not seen can be soul-crushing and discouraging. Our teachers got a taste of that with the survey, and it was very powerful to hear them speak up for the students instead of dismissing their concerns.
Bo-tong is a prime example of a student who’s just so… average, as his name suggests, that he becomes forgettable. It’s really difficult as a teacher to remember every single student – as hard as they may try, there are some that slip through the cracks and are difficult to remember. Bo-tong doesn’t seem to engage with the other students, nor does he stand out in any way. I was worried when he found out about Haneul’s short-term status that he’d use it against her, but he doesn’t seem like the type. He’s just a really sweet kid who’s very lonely and is used to being overlooked. Teacher Byun acknowledging him was such a small but great moment in this episode.
Black Dog always draws parallels with its storytelling. Teacher Han previously blamed Jae-hyun for not locking up, and saw him with a preconceived bias. Haneul and Sung-soon aren’t perfect either, and did the exact same thing with Bo-tong. They didn’t have any evil intent, but were just so stuck in their own thinking that they could only see their own version of the truth. But because of who these two are as human beings, being proven wrong was a huge wake-up call that prompted both of them to re-evaluate their actions. Haneul’s dismissive nature earlier on in the episode was disappointing to see, but what sets her apart is how she learns from her mistakes. I am always awed by her ability to admit her faults and take action to right her wrongs.
I’m excited for the final week of this beautiful, understated show. We’ve come to learn that school really is an organization through and through, but there will always be people with good intentions trying to do the right thing. I hope that the non-Icarus kids are better taken care of from now on and that other teachers (not just Haneul and Sung-soon) are inspired to support all students to the best of their abilities. Teacher Song’s right in that the real world is harsh, but school is supposed to be a place to cultivate learning and provide the tools to guide all students towards their versions of success.
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