The Chair is a new six-part comedy series now streaming on Netflix. It is set in the minor ivy league college, Pembroke, and follows the lives of the people in the English department as they scramble to remain relevant in a world where literature holds little value for students and employers.
The English department at Pembroke is suffering as their enrolments are down and their budget is cut. The whole department has to work on bringing and retaining students to save the study of literature from becoming redundant and by extension, themselves.
The show begins with Dr. Ji Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) becoming the first woman of colour to be appointed the chair of the English department at Pembroke university.
The Dean (David Morse) informs her of the bad shape that the department is in and tells her that she may have to fire certain older faculty as they have not changed with time and continue to stick to old readings and old methods due to which their classes have the fewest students.
The university gets a new English faculty Yasmin McKay aka Yaz (Nana Mensah) who, with her interesting pedagogy, becomes popular with students. Dr. Kim wants to promote Yaz as the face of the department and make her the first female black tenured professor on campus, a move that is not appreciated by many within the department, especially the dean.
Bill Dobson (Jap Duplass) is a middle-aged professor on campus who is famous because of his teaching skills and his novels. Bill is going through a mid-life crisis after the death of his wife and struggles to keep up with the demands of the teaching profession or even day-to-day life as he relies on drinking and drugs to overcome his grief.
Bill stirs controversy in the university due to a gesture that is considered Nazi and as the student movement to remove him grows, the administration forces him to apologise, which he refuses.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kim is also facing trouble at home as she attempts and fails to connect with her adopted daughter Ju Ju (Everly Carganila), who becomes a distant and destructive child. There is also a romantic angle between Dr Kim and Bill as they are portrayed as old flames who still have feelings for each other.
Dr. Kim struggles to manage things at the department as the older faculty becomes bitter with her and the controversy surrounding Bill takes centre stage.
Dr. Kim, herself, comes in the eye of the controversy when she unknowingly issues a gag order among students to not talk about the Nazi incident and she is now seen to be complicit with Bill.
Professor Yaz gets angry with the department over her tenure recommendations and decides to join Yale. Professor Rentz, upon realising the university is trying to force him into retirement, forms a group along with Professor Joan (Holland Taylor) and other older members of the staff, to stage a coup to ouster Dr. Kim as chair.
On the day of the hearing, things do not go Dr. Kim’s way as she tries to save her friend and the department.
Does Bill settle the case with the university? Does Dr. Kim remain the chair of the English department? Will Yaz leave Pembroke to join Yale? Will Dr. Kim fix things with Ju Ju? Will the English department overcome the issues of colour and racism?
The Chair ending explained in detail:
Before the day of the termination proceedings against Bill, he meets with his lawyer, who advises him to settle the case and take a big cheque from the university to begin his life elsewhere. Bill informs Dr. Kim about the settlement money and asks her to move with him and leave Pembroke.
But Dr. Kim refuses to leave because of her family and informs Bill that she will represent the university at the hearing and provide evidence against him which makes Bill angry and he leaves.
At the hearing, Bill, in his defence statement, talks about how he came to fall in love with literature and becoming a teacher. His statement moves Dr. Kim, who then realises that the problems within the English Department will not get solved by firing Bill and urges the members to make meaningful changes rather than focusing on the optics. The department is not satisfied and still goes on to fire Bill from the job.
But after getting fired, when Dr. Kim and Bill meet towards the end of the show, he tells her that he didn’t go through with the settlement and he is going to fight his case of wrongful termination. He decides to fight for the love of teaching but also because he does not want to leave Dr. Kim, whom he loves.
Dr. Kim’s fate
The senior faculty of the department The faculty of the English department led by Professor Rentz and Joan, including the other senior faculty members, reach their end of patience with Dr. Kim and decide to stage a coup to remove her as the chair of the department. At the faculty meeting, Professor Rentz calls for a vote of no confidence against Dr. Kim.
Professor Joan undergoes a change of heart as she recalls the incidents of sexism within the department where her fellow male colleagues were always preferred above her and she never made the chair because she was a woman.
She develops sympathy towards Dr. Kim and realises that in the garb of Bill’s incident, the older faculty members just want to remove Dr. Kim because they don’t believe that a woman can represent their best interests.
Joan refuses to vote Dr. Kim out. However, the vote goes 6 to 5 in favour of the removal of Dr. Kim and she is, henceforth, removed.
After the vote, Professor Rentz nominates his name as interim chair, but Dr. Kim interjects and forwards Joan’s nomination as interim chair to which all agree and Joan becomes the new chair of the English department.
Yaz’s Yale offer
Professor Yaz becomes the most popular teacher in the English department with the maximum number of students in her class. Most other teachers get jealous of her success. Professor Rentz, who is a member of the committee that has to decide over Yaz’s tenure, gives her a bad recommendation which jeopardises her tenure at Pembroke.
The Distinguished Lectureship, promised to Yaz by Dr. Kim, is also taken away from her and given to a celebrity.
Yaz becomes disappointed with the behaviour of the administration towards her and meanwhile gets an offer from Yale with better salary, distinguished lectureship and expedited tenure.
However, after she talks to Dr. Kim who promises to give her all that Yale is giving her and who beckons her to stay at Pembroke to save the department, she begins to second guess her own decision.
Once the ouster of Dr. Kim as Chair is complete, we see that Yaz has all but decided to leave. But upon seeing that Joan becomes the new chair, she sees hope yet for the department. At the end of the show, we see Yaz teaching her class so it becomes clear that she does not leave for Yale.