Black Dog: Episode 15
Goodbyes are rarely ever easy, even if you’re prepared for them. However, sometimes you need to let go of those you care about so they can grow. As our protagonist starts questioning her role as a teacher and where her responsibilities lie, she learns that life isn’t always straightforward and simple.
EPISODE 15 RECAP
Haneul finds Bo-tong’s withdrawal form on her desk and reflects, “What have I been missing all this time?” She calls Bo-tong’s cellphone, but he’s too busy doing the laundry to pick up. His dad asks if he’ll be staying up all night again, and Bo-tong nonchalantly tells him about his withdrawal.
The next day at school, Haneul stares at the withdrawal form and tells her teddy bear that not having students is the best. However, her mood lifts when she receives a text from Yoo-ra and Jae-hyun, and Haneul takes back her comment.
Myung-soo and Yeon-woo catch Haneul talking to her bear and notice a similar one on Sung-soon’s desk. Haneul smiles and explains that she and Sung-soon exchanged their claw machine prizes to match. So cute!
The school sends out an email with a list of withdrawing seniors, and Haneul deflates as she stares at her silent phone. Deciding to text Bo-tong first, Haneul types out a message, but deletes it after realizing that she was making excuses for her behavior. In the end, she sends, “I am sorry that I didn’t believe you,” and Bo-tong writes back that he’s on his way to school.
Myung-soo also has a dropout in his class, and he discusses the logistics with Yeon-woo. Haneul learns that the students have to attend counseling sessions for a week before leaving the school, which means she only has a couple of days left with Bo-tong.
Sung-soon hangs out at Teacher Sohn’s desk, and they chat about her after-school class with Haneul. An email notification interrupts their conversation, and Teacher Sohn checks the list of withdrawing seniors. Sung-soon reads over his shoulder and immediately recognizes Bo-tong’s name.
In the Third Years Department, the teachers talk about who will lead the Icarus club if Haneul steps down. The only volunteer has been Teacher Jung (the new, short-term teacher), but Teacher Song refuses to appoint someone inexperienced, especially since the club has expanded. Yi-boon suggests that Teacher Song be the club advisor, then, since he’s so experienced. He scowls at her, but she simply smiles back. Heh.
The school emails all the teachers their yearly evaluation (which is directly tied to bonuses), and Haneul shares excited gasps with Myung-soo. They take turns looking at their score—covering the screen with their hand for dramatic effect—and Haneul jumps for joy at her S ranking. On the other hand, Haneul freezes mid-smile when she checks Myung-soo’s evaluation.
During his coffee break with the other teachers, Myung-soo bashes the whole evaluation system, and Teacher Sohn concurs since he got a B (the lowest grade). Even Yeon-woo received a lower grade (an A) which surprises the others because he taught so many classes this year. Though he looks upset with his evaluation, Yeon-woo acts like it’s not a big deal, explaining how he lost points because he didn’t accept any additional duties at the school.
Teacher Song meets with the principal and vice principal to request a performance-based bonus for the new Icarus club advisor. Both administrators hesitate to make a decision since bonuses are a sensitive topic, but Teacher Song argues that the school needs to offer some incentives for teachers to step up.
Haneul calls the counseling center to ask about Bo-tong, but he already left after his session. As the days go by, the counselor notifies Haneul of Bo-tong’s absences and warns her that if Bo-tong continues skipping school, then he’ll be forced to quit the school even if he changes his mind.
Despite their reluctance, the administrators accepted Teacher Song’s suggestion for the Icarus club, but the incentive has the opposite effect on the teachers who scoff at the obvious ploy. Unfortunately, the favoritism has also ruffled a few parents’ feathers as two mothers charge into the office, looking for Teacher Song.
Teacher Ha calls over Vice Principal Moon, and they join a group of teachers monitoring the situation from the hall. Vice Principal Moon tells Teacher Ha to warn Teacher Song about the mothers, but Teacher Ha doesn’t seem inclined to help his old department head.
Meanwhile, Bo-tong walks to school and notices the missed calls from Haneul. He then receives a text from the counseling center, urging him to come to school since his absences have been marked as unexcused.
Unaware of the fight brewing in his department, Teacher Song makes his way to his desk but stops in the hall when he hears the angry parents. He makes eye contact with Yi-boon, and though he motions at her to be silent, she quickly informs the others of his presence. Teacher Song dashes away as parents and teachers chase after him.
Walking down the halls of the school, Bo-tong passes by Teacher Byun’s office, and remembering his teacher’s invitation to visit, he drops in for a chat. He confesses to Teacher Byun that he has no friends and feels like a loser, which is why he’s dropping out.
Sung-soon takes Vice Principal Moon outside to talk privately about the Icarus club. She thought helping the top students get into good colleges would benefit their school, but she realizes her mistake. In order to support the top, Sung-soon points out that the school and its teachers have forsaken the rest of the students.
Feeling forgotten himself, Bo-tong tells Teacher Byun that even the teachers don’t care about him, but to his surprise, Teacher Byun recognizes his name. He mentions how Sung-soon was Bo-tong’s first year homeroom teacher and asks if he talked to her after the incident. Bo-tong says that he didn’t write the things in the chatroom, and Teacher Byun seems to believe him. As they step out of his office, Haneul greets them in the hall and asks Bo-tong to talk.
After hearing Sung-soon’s assessment, Vice Principal Moon asks what she wants to do with the club. Sung-soon replies, “Why don’t we get rid of Icarus?”
Sung-soon walks with Bo-tong to his home in order to meet with his parents, and along the way, he snaps pictures of his surroundings. She asks what he’s doing, and he shows her his gallery. Swiping through his random assortment of pictures, Bo-tong accidentally shows the image of Haneul’s name listed as a short-term teacher.
Bo-tong deletes the picture right away and explains to Haneul that he took it as evidence since the school shouldn’t be posting such information online. (Aw, he’s such a good kid.) He proudly shows his phone to prove that he deleted it, but Haneul tells him that it doesn’t bother her.
Bo-tong asks if he can take a picture of Haneul and snaps a quick headshot. She wonders why he takes so many photos, so Bo-tong reveals that he’s an aspiring webtoon artist. He lets her read his webtoon, and Haneul learns that he was working part-time for inspiration for his story.
She wonders why he can’t continue his schooling and draw at the same time, but Bo-tong surveys the city before replying, “School doesn’t teach me this.” As Haneul looks at the world from Bo-tong’s eyes, the truth seems to slowly dawn on her…maybe it’s time to let Bo-tong go.
Young-sook hears back from the realtor that someone bought her restaurant, but rather than look happy, she seems worried and upset at the thought of finally leaving.
Haneul arrives at Bo-tong’s home and runs across his dad outside. She informs him of Bo-tong’s withdrawal, hoping that he might object, but Dad supports his son’s decision. Though Mom seems to be out of the picture, Dad knows that she’ll agree with him and explains, “If his life goes well, then it’s to his credit. If his life gets ruined, then that’s his fault.”
Hearing those words, Haneul remembers Sung-soon’s outlook on teaching: those who give up on the students first aren’t qualified to be teachers. Conflicted, Haneul visits Young-ha to seek out advice and asks where the line exists between giving up on a student and taking responsibility. While Bo-tong draws Haneul into his webtoon, Haneul narrates that it’s time to let Bo-tong go.
Young-sook calls Haneul, who’s still preparing herself to say goodbye to Bo-tong, and invites her to watch a late-night movie. However, Young-sook pays more attention to Haneul than the movie, and afterwards, she even walks her home.
As Young-sook leaves, Haneul’s parent catch her outside and scold Haneul for not inviting Young-sook into their home. Mom suggests stopping by the restaurant soon, and then slaps Haneul on the back once more for not asking Young-sook to stay. Haneul wonders how Dad could live with Mom all these years, and he jokingly tells her to marry someone with less of a temper.
Vice Principal Moon knocks on the principal’s door with Teacher Byun and Sung-soon at his side. They propose disbanding the Icarus club, and the principal decides to leave the club’s fate in the hands of the teachers and students.
After everyone in the school votes on the matter, the results show an overwhelming support for the discontinuation of the club—even from the Icarus students. Haneul narrates that just like the mythology where Icarus flew too close to the sun and fell, their Icarus disappeared as well.
In exchange for disbanding the club, the school will now offer after-school classes of varying difficulty. Additionally, as per Sung-soon’s suggestion, teachers’ names will no longer be listed next to classes in order to combat the issue of students choosing based on teacher popularity. This new policy also offers teachers more flexibility in their lesson plans and opportunities for collaboration, which Haneul and Sung-soon immediately put into action.
They propose a team-taught class that includes their entire department, and though this is a first for Myung-soo and Yeon-woo, they both agree to the idea. As they work well into the night, Teacher Byun passes by and smiles to himself. He catches Principal Lee on his way out and heartily says that he might retire next year since the school is running smoothly.
Yeon-woo receives a text from EBC, congratulating him on his contract renewal, but he mumbles to himself that maybe he isn’t capable enough to balance both responsibilities. Myung-soo suddenly pops up behind him, hugging his arm, and Yeon-woo pulls back in shock. Myung-soo teases him for shying away from his touch after his evaluations, and offers to buy him a meal.
Bo-tong texts Haneul to thank her for the other day as well as to send his apologies to Sung-soon. His message gives Haneul an idea, and she asks Sung-soon if she has some time this evening.
At her restaurant, Young-sook complains about the lack of customers, and the rainy weather makes her wish for some food and drinks. Right then, Haneul’s parents come baring gifts with exactly what Young-sook wanted.
Sung-soon buys chicken for Bo-tong and Haneul, and Bo-tong nearly gives his teachers a heart attack when he jokes that he can’t eat chicken… because he can’t get enough of it. After a call from her father, Haneul leaves the table early, and once it’s just the two of them, Sung-soon apologizes to Bo-tong about not showing up at the police station.
She explains that her son was sick that day, and Bo-tong seems to accept her apology, admitting that he cursed her at the police station back then. Sung-soon tells him that it’s fine since she cursed him more in the office. Heh.
Gathering her courage, Sung-soon asks if Bo-tong hated her, and he confesses that he did, especially since he used to be her fan. However, he tells her that he never wrote about the incident in the chatroom and explains that it was the class president and a few students who badmouthed her.
The day after the police station, Bo-tong went into the office to confront Sung-soon and overheard her talking with some students about buying a meal for their seniors yesterday. He left feeling hurt, but Sung-soon misspoke, since she actually met them a few days ago. However, her chat about their seniors upset some students who accused Sung-soon for only caring about the high-achievers.
Bo-tong reassures Sung-soon that only a couple of students talked about her, and the rest didn’t believe the obvious lies. Sung-soon can barely meet Bo-tong’s eyes as she thanks him for taking her side.
Myung-soo and Yeon-woo clink glasses as they talk about the teacher evaluations, and Yeon-woo finally admits to feeling frustrated about his lower grade. Myung-soo listens to Yeon-woo vent and then offers a solution: they should get couple scarves. Hahahaha!
Putting his jokes aside, Myung-soo tells Yeon-woo that he’s starting to fall into a mannerism like him and probably feeling bored with school. Myung-soo pours Yeon-woo another glass, and they share drinks over their mutual struggles as teachers.
Haneul and her parents eat and drink with Young-sook who closes her eyes and hums. She tells the others that she feels great, and when no one’s looking, she stares at Haneul endearingly.
The rain stops as Sung-soon and Bo-tong part ways, but before he leaves, she hands him a present. Though she would rather have him graduate high school, she respects his decision to quit and tells him to become a fine adult. At home, Bo-tong takes out Sung-soon’s gift and reads her note, “I’m rooting for your future unconditionally.”
Young-sook stares at her empty restaurant while Haneul narrates, “They say those who are meant to leave will leave, but that final moment is always sad.”
Haneul escorts Bo-tong out of the school and tells him that he’s her first dropout. In response, he tells her his penname and promises to give her his autograph once he becomes famous. Contrary to Haneul’s worries, Bo-tong already has plans to work under a webtoon artists and looks forward to learning outside of school. She tells him to stay in contact, and Bo-tong gives her a final bow. As he drives away, so does Young-sook.
Haneul asks Sung-soon to buy her a drink, and over dinner, she voices her concerns, wondering what she should do if Bo-tong regrets this decision in the future. Sung-soon reminds her that it’s his choice and his life. Even parents can’t take responsibility for their child’s entire future, so neither should they. All they can do is wish for the best for their students.
Another year passes, and Haneul grabs coffee with a friend. She explains how her past year went after Bo-tong’s withdrawal from her taking the teacher certification exam to Sung-soon’s departure. Wait, what!?
As memories of her time at Daechi High flash on screen, Haneul says in voiceover that Sung-soon didn’t keep her promise to stay in the College Advisory Department for another year. Despite her leaving, Haneul doesn’t regret her decision retake the Daechi High exam because she’s still waiting for Sung-soon to return.
With so many goodbyes in one episode, it seems like the show is preparing its viewers for its final farewell. As Haneul said, even though we might know that some people are meant to leave, it doesn’t make their departure any less sad. Bo-tong’s story came to a fitting conclusion this episode, both from a narrative standpoint as well as for Haneul’s character development. Bo-tong fits into the story as the “normal” student, but he actually turns out to be quite the outlier. Through Bo-tong, the show wrestles with the question of schooling and its purpose. Ultimately, we see an alternative route for students outside of school that isn’t seen as wrong, just different. In most cases, dropping out of high school is frowned upon, but the current system doesn’t account for student variability. A part of me wanted Bo-tong to stay and finish, but when Bo-tong stared out at the city and said that school couldn’t teach him this, I realized that I restricted him with my own views on education. If the ultimate goal of schools is to educate students to become functioning adults, then Bo-tong’s choice is more about a change in his learning environment than an abandonment of education altogether.
Bo-tong’s decision also forced Haneul to confront herself and ask where her responsibilities lay. Her motto as a teacher is to never give up on her students, but she learns this episode that there’s a fine line between supporting a student and respecting their decision. In Bo-tong’s case, letting him go meant supporting him. As a teacher, it must be hard to acknowledge the fact that schools can’t teach their students everything because it means coming to terms with your own shortcomings. Though Haneul probably wanted to “fix” Bo-tong’s problem, it wasn’t her place to do so, and she realizes that her role as a teacher is much more complicated than she initially thought. With every student she encounters, Haneul grows and learns from these experiences. Slowly but surely, she’s becoming a teacher I’m sure Young-ha would have been proud of, and while she might not be able to fix all her students’ problems, she can always be a supportive adult in their lives as their teacher.
Like all the students the show has focused on, Bo-tong turned out to be a lovable kid. I found it sweet that he took a picture of Haneul’s name on the school website not for malicious purposes but for her benefit. At that point in their relationship, he could have felt bitter towards Haneul for acting like a controlling adult who didn’t see his side of the story, but he didn’t. It’s sad to hear Bo-tong think so poorly of himself, which is why I was especially happy to see the misunderstanding between him and Sung-soon go away. Not only does he get to relieve himself of some guilt over the chatroom incident, but he also regains a mentor he admired. Because of the mended relationship, Bo-tong has another adult who supports his dream, and hopefully as he expands his circle, he’ll meet new people who he can call his friends.
There were a lot of scenes that I enjoyed in this penultimate episode, but there were also moments that didn’t quite work for me. The most glaring one was the final scene with the one-year time skip. I didn’t particularly like how the scene played out with some random friend asking Haneul about her year. The whole conversation felt awkward, which made the ending feel too expository. While it gets information across, it lacks subtlety and didn’t really fit with the rest of the episode. Rather than have Haneul explain how her year went to some friend, maybe we could have actually seen her at school (or wherever she ends up) than her talking about it. Or at a minimum, maybe have a character we already know and care about come up at the end and talk with Haneul. This could have been a great chance to bring back Hae-won or Ji-sun for a couple of seconds.
Complaints aside, I enjoyed the episode overall, and thought there were some especially great moments between characters. Though I don’t agree with Young-sook’s decision to leave without telling Haneul, I think the show did a great job showing us how much she cared for her, and portrayed the parallelism between Young-sook and Bo-tong well. I also loved the scene with Myung-soo and Yeon-woo since we rarely get screen time with just the two of them. While Yeon-woo may look competent and in control, he’s still learning what it means to be a teacher just like Haneul, and while Myung-soo can be a goofy colleague, his years of experience aren’t just for show. (Also, I really hope they at least when to take photo stickers together.) I’m sad to hear that Sung-soon left the department during the school year, but like Haneul, I’m hoping that she’ll return because what would Daechi High do without its center?
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