The Chair is one funny show. Sandra Oh, who was a scream in Killing Eve, takes her comedy chops to the next level in the new Netflix series, in which she plays Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, the first woman of color to be made chair of Pembroke University’s famed English department. Although the plot seems serious — the department is struggling, and Dr. Kim has to hold things together when a scandal rocks a star teacher — it’s actually really funny. But the series is technically a dramedy, and that label is for a good reason. Details like what happened to Bill Dobson’s wife in The Chair are the tragedy that underpins the show’s comedic force.
Warning: Spoilers for The Chair Season 1 follow. Professor Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), to put it politely, is a hot freaking mess. Ji-Yoon tells him at one point that he has checked every box in the disaffected middle-aged white male professor cliche, and she’s not wrong. From dodging wide-eyed coeds with crushes to smoking weed at the faculty party, Dobson is a litany of poor life choices. His daughter tells him to get his sh*t together at home; that’s how completely incapable of functioning he is. Dr. Kim tells him the same for work and almost certainly comes to regret it, because while he was checked out of actually doing his job at first, at least he wasn’t doing Nazi salutes in the classroom.
So, what is up with Dobson? As fans came to learn, he’s trying to pull out of a massive grief spiral that he’s been in since his wife, Sharon, passed away. It’s unclear exactly how she died, but it clearly rattled Dobson.
Losing a spouse is never easy, and grief can take many forms. Dobson is also clearly the type of dude who moved through life on the easy setting, able to get away with a lot because he was white, educated, good-looking, charming, witty, and a respected teacher who cared about his students. Without Sharon, he’s basically fallen to bits.
But he does have hope on the horizon. He’s got a massive crush on Ji-Yoon, who clearly returns it. But she’s the new chair, and the optics of them dating are not great, especially once he becomes a giant liability to her department. And besides, she deserves someone who, well, has their stuff together — in the end, spending the rest of one’s life a mess because their wife died in untenable. As Ji-Yoon told him, “Sharon wouldn’t want to see you like this. If she did, she’d be ashamed.”
It’s tough love, but it works. By the time Season 1 is over, Dobson has somewhat put his life in order. Although his life choices are still not the best (he turned down a fat settlement from the university?!), at least he’s finally facing the right way up. Maybe he and Ji-Yoon will make it after all. Fans can only hope they do if The Chair gets a Season 2.