Mad Men is often poignant and sometimes difficult to watch, but Sunday night’s episode, Season 5, Episode 11: “The Other Woman,” was even harder to take than normal. Although Peggy's escape from the toxic environment of SCDP was heartening — even if we are concerned about what it means for her screentime in the future — Joan's story was so heartrending that we could hardly find the energy to be happy for Peggy.
Watching Joan, so fiercely intelligent and proud, literally prostitute herself for the sake of the company was sickening. But, interestingly, we found that none of our fury or disgust was directed at Joan herself. We hate the man who was presumptuousness enough to ask for a night with her. We want to throttle Pete for manipulating the situation until she consented. We're angry at the other partners for turning a blind eye, and for not questioning Pete when he said she was interested (it's Pete, guys. You know he's a slimeball who will say whatever he needs to). And, most of all, it was a stark reminder of how misogynistic the culture was at the time.
But, given all that, we actually understood Joan's decision to go through with it. She didn't jump at the opportunity; she was initially offended that Pete would even think to ask. The turning point for her seemed to be when she found out that all of the partners were (supposedly) behind the plan. And we get why that would sway her. After all, it seems like the ultimate proof that they fundamentally do not respect her. She's essential to the smooth operations of SCDP, but she could never get the salary, position, or respect she deserves on her own because she was, in the minds of the partners, essentially a glorified secretary — one they were willing to whore out.
So, she looked at her options and realized that one huge sacrifice could get her something she could never get on her own. This was not sleeping her way to the top in the traditional sense — it was using her body to achieve something that, at least in her mind, she could not achieve otherwise because her situation would never allow for it.
We're not saying we'd have made the same choice, but we find that we can't judge her for it. Do you agree?