Nuances of Life: Dissecting Sandra Oh's Netflix Series "The Chair"
Knowledge Doesn't Just Come From Spreadsheets or Wiki Entries ~ Ji Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh)
Netflix has gone and done it yet again. I just stumbled upon "The Chair" and one can't help but fall in love with its quirky storyline. In fact, I have yet to encounter such a profound plotline in the comedy-drama sphere and its writers certainly delivered on these hard-hitting parameters.
Before jumping into its subject matter, let's first give you a bit of background about the series. It follows Ji Yoon, a Korean-American professor, who has just been brought in as the English department chair at Pembroke College. Unfortunately, this job comes with several complications as enrollments at the department are dwindling and Ji Yoon is asked to take swift action in response. Rather quickly, everything seems to spiral out of control as Ji Yoon finds herself navigating hostilities at work and grappling with a complicated mother-daughter relationship at home.
To make sense of the different themes outlined in this series, I'll be explaining them in the form of a listicle.
Her Life As An Unmarried Asian Woman
Contrary to the "norm", Ji Yoon is unmarried at 47 years of age and resorted to adopting her daughter. It's evident that her ideals don't align with those of her culture and she doesn't have any strong feelings about it. However, the series doesn't opt for culture bashing or maligning different patterns of thinking. Instead, more emphasis has been placed on finding the intricate balance between one's beliefs and those that are passed onto us. Clearly, life isn't easy for career-driven women and biological limitations of motherhood shouldn't be used as an excuse to hold them back.
Her Brush With Cancel Culture
Cancel culture swept the world faster than anything and most of us find ourselves treading on thin ice when discussing a controversial topic. Ji Yoon falls victim to a similar issue when her words are blown out of proportion and she becomes a front-page headline on the student newspaper, Pembroke Daily. People accuse her of issuing a gag order to a student 0f colour, all in an attempt to hide the "neo-Nazi" sentiments of a fellow professor. In reality, Ji Yoon had lost her temper after a frustrating set of events unfolded that morning and didn't realize what she had said until it was too late. With cases like these, one is drawn to wonder whether a series of ad decisions or statements under pressured conditions deserve ostracism from the entire community.
Her Adopted Daughter's Struggles
I would say it's a universally recognized fact that adoption is somewhat of a tricky endeavour, especially when you factor in our society's views on it. As a result, when Ji Yoon decided to be upfront with her daughter Ju-Ju about the adoption, it made the child decidedly insecure about her origins. Here, it's important to acknowledge how our conversations imprint onto our children who don't realize the consequences of sharing these thoughts (not that they are supposed to). After hearing the societal rhetoric in this way, Ju-Ju internalized the notion that she was abandoned by her biological parents. Consequently, we get to witness her hostility with Ji Yoon and understand how their conflicting heritage ends up bothering her (with Ju-Ju being Mexican and Ji Yoon, Korean). Again, we need people to realize why this makes it hard for adopted children to feel at ease with their new parents and emphasize the need to choose our words carefully.
Her Complicated Work Life
Living up to the expectations of those around her, while transitioning into a new job feels like being thrown into the deep end. Ji Yoon was in that position when she started her new role as the department chair. There were just too many people hounding her for answers and after some time, it became hard for Ji Yoon to keep up. Eventually, she decided to give up her job and resort to teaching, something she was truly passionate about. Obviously, passing on career progression in this manner is slightly bizarre but it does become a necessity after observing continuous burnout from the get-go.
Overall, I would say "The Chair" was a refreshing delight in midst of other conventional storylines on Netflix. Not only did it do a great job of highlighting the aforementioned topics but it also managed to put a new spin on the life of a harried female protagonist.
Here is a link to the official trailer: