Watching the spinning top that is Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim careen toward the edge of the lectern in “Don’t Kill Bill,” it occurred to me that I’m not sure what the chair of an academic department does in the best of circumstances. The responsibilities seem like mostly thankless bullshit — massaging egos, scheduling courses, approving purchase orders. Having now looked at the job descriptions posted on exactly four university websites, I can confidently assert that The Chair paints a generous picture. Being chair is entirely thankless bullshit.
But that’s liberating to know. I’ve mellowed from panicking that Ji-Yoon will lose her place at the head of the table to bewilderment that she ever wanted it. On the heels of what was surely a torturous meeting with Dean Larson about the town hall, she makes a house call to Bill, who’s waiting on his front stoop like a dog no one let back in. Fittingly, he’s also in his pajamas, a sartorial surrender that anticipates the bad news: temporary suspension. He’s not even allowed on campus, Ji-Yoon tells him.
Bill immediately asks if she defended him, because to his mind, the chair is his personal bulldog; his fate is the fate of the department. (Does Ji-Yoon realize this outcome is actually incredibly unfair because it was Larson who called campus security and started the altercation?) Bill is so consumed by defending himself against the charge that he’s a full-on Nazi that he’s blind to the possibility of lesser crimes — that his Hitler salute was insensitive or inappropriate, that his hubris is at the heart of what’s happened since. Ji-Yoon reveals that the road to reinstatement is through a formal apology, so realistically, Bill isn’t ever teaching another class.
The upside of this man-child being at loose ends is that he’s free to watch Ji-Yoon’s actual child, also suspended from school for the more straightforward offense of biting another human being. Ji-Yoon wants Ju Ju to write an “apology letter” to her classmate-turned-snack, which was the standard detention assignment at the school where I used to teach seventh-grade lit. A kid who cheated on his Call of the Wild essay once wrote to me, “I’m sorry for using [REDACTED]’s homework as a template” — a euphemism so brilliantly conniving I’m convinced he’s destined for success. Ju Ju, who has eaten nothing but Lunchables her entire life, will surely come up with something even bendier.
Back on campus, Ji-Yoon’s situation continues to deteriorate. A student reporter hounds Lila about Bill until she lets slip that her department chair told her not to comment. Ji-Yoon didn’t intend it as a directive, and I don’t think Lila meant to convey that there’s a gag order, but from the reporter’s smirk, that’s exactly the story we can expect. It’s an intriguing foil to Bill’s predicament. Both committed unforced errors, but I imagine Ji-Yoon won’t struggle to be remorseful.
If there is an upside to being the chair, it’s the chance to shape a department that reflects your priorities for your students. In that sense, it’s heartening that Dustin and Capri come to see Ji-Yoon when they hear a Black professor was denied tenure in political science. They agree that Yaz is critical to their learning and don’t want to see a repeat in the English department. Armed with a student petition, they want Ji-Yoon’s assurance that she’s on top of things, which she absolutely is not. Bill’s fiasco is distracting, yes, but she made the cataclysmic decision to task Elliot with Yaz’s case when she was clear-eyed and uncompromised.
So let’s check in on the status of Yaz’s tenure proceeding. Well, her most important advocate needs a new academic gown because some incredibly arcane status signifier communicated by the belling of his sleeves was lost to the tailor’s stitch. When Ji-Yoon attempts to push past that to make suggestions about Elliot’s letter of support for Yaz, he’s resistant. What excites Ji-Yoon about Yaz — her fresh approach to pedagogy, her Twitter follower count — is what’s making Elliot feel obsolete, which is how you should feel if you fret more about the shape of your sleeves than your specialty. As he sits in the back of Yaz’s section, watching the students perform a feminist rap critique of Moby-Dick in the style of Lin-Manuel Miranda, his eyes flash with resentment. Not unlike the adult diapers he wears to bed, Yaz is a mirror of his own mortality. She can fix the photocopier for him and even ingratiate herself with Melville trivia, but she can’t make Elliot not die.
No, the academy may not be opening its arms to Dr. Yasmin McKay, but there’s always room at the table for another underqualified man. Dean Larson tells Ji-Yoon that David Duchovny is taking over Bill’s classes, so he’ll need the syllabus and lecture notes, which is great because it’s been about ten minutes since Bill’s last shitfit about a perceived injustice. Larson reminds Ji-Yoon that she’s not Bill’s peer anymore, but nor is she the dean’s lackey. She pushes back on both men, but never effectively. Yaz can see it; that’s why she looks distrustful every time Ji-Yoon assures her that tenure is sewed up. What I’m questioning is why Yaz would even want to stay at Pembroke if she’s such “hot shit.” What made Ji-Yoon want to stay when that snake Elliot was inviting Bill to dinner but forgetting her phone number?
The only problem that doesn’t seem to require Ji-Yoon’s constant attention right now is Ju Ju, who brings out Bill’s latent competence. They practice apologizing on each other’s behalf, but even Bill’s belabored sentence starter — “I want you to know how sorry I am for biting you” rather than the simpler, more direct “I’m sorry I bit you” — has me concerned he’s apologized seldom across his 40-odd years of earthly blundering. For her part, Ju Ju doesn’t want to sign her full name, Ju-Hee, to the letter. There’s a percolating subplot about identity and adoption that hasn’t quite surfaced, except to show Ji-Yoon is too frazzled to give it attention.
In a way, Ju Ju’s suspension is convenient for Bill, who can itinerize her life instead of introspecting. School lessons, a fridgeful of fruit and veg, reading to her about Oaxaca — Ju JuJ’s homeschooling is so rigorous she might even start to prefer mother. When a water-balloon-based science lesson breaks down into a game of tag, Ju Ju lures Bill onto the forbidden forest of Pembroke. There, a pipsqueak in a sports coat — whose ruddy cheeks instantly called to mind for me the MAGA-hat teen — tells him not to back down: “Free speech in America.” These are your people now, Bill.
Still on the hunt for Ju Ju, he passes by his slightly ajar office door to find Ji-Yoon inside, snatching up class materials. The moment she sees him, though, her priorities snap back like a rubber band. She shuts Bill inside where Larson can’t catch him on campus. He’s hung a Waiting For Godot poster and a giant print of Lou Reed with his arm around Patti Smith on the walls — versions of what hung in his college dorm, I’d guess. Bill’s mad Ji-Yoon is stealing his IP; she’s furious he’s there at all. She shouldn’t have gone behind his back, but Bill is masterful at quickly figuring out exactly how he’s been wronged in a given scenario. It’s especially rich considering he lost Ju Ju. Eventually, he and Ji-Yoon find her and compel her to the car, where Larson sees them huddling in, not unlike a family. The optics are unfortunate, but that’s the truth of Ji-Yoon’s loyalties. Bill’s fate is her fate.
The only person making any forward motion right now is Joan. She’s bewitched the IT guy into helping her find the pissant who’s been smearing her on RateMyProfessors.com. When they catch the troll — an otherwise mute undergrad named Steve — she dresses him down, indignant and impassioned on Geoffrey Chaucer’s behalf. Maybe this is the moment Joan realizes what she can offer the lit majors who take her class only to fulfill their medieval requirement: the zeal of a lifelong believer but the eagerness of someone who always reads The Canterbury Tales like it’s that first, bulldozing time.
In a previous episode, Ji-Yoon mentioned to Joan that she hadn’t redecorated the chair’s office yet — no family photos, no poster of Emily Dickinson’s homestead. That makes sense. In this episode alone, Ji-Yoon’s work husband was suspended, her child was suspended, a grad student besmirched her to a reporter, and her most senior faculty member was revealed to be sabotaging the tenure process for her most promising faculty member. It’s hard to find time to look at curtain swatches between all the bullshit. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really an accident at all that she hasn’t fully installed herself. Maybe Ji-Yoon’s reluctance to tattoo the place with her interests, like Bill’s done to his office, is something more — her exhausted subconscious screaming out for her to quit.