Mad Men and Joan’s “You Go Girl!” Moment

by Sonny Bunch on April 10, 2012

(I felt gross just typing that headline; hopefully you’ll realize it’s sarcastic. Some spoilers for the fourth episode of Mad Men follow; if you want to read, head under the jump. And if you don’t watch the show, well, this post probably won’t mean a ton to you.)

This season of Mad Men has been even soapier than seasons past, and I’m starting to get bored. Gone is the mystery at the heart of season one—”Who is this ‘Don Draper’ fellow, whose past is mysterious and purported brother hangs himself when he refuses to reconnect in New York City?”—that originally drove the interpersonal stuff. More importantly, however, what’s missing are the long, discursive tracts on advertising and what it means to consumers and producers alike. This was always the most interesting part of the show to me; its commentary on 1960s life was hackneyed and tired, but the idea of advertising as an emerging art form…now that was intriguing.

Anyway, that’s all gone now. We barely get into the intellectual/emotional side of advertising any longer. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce might as well be Dunder Mifflin, little more than a setting in which the action takes place.

And oh, what action! Someone’s sleeping with someone else! Embarrassment at a party! Ohh, look, diversity’s first tremors! It’s all quite dull. No character has better embodied this degradation of the show than Joan, who now does little more than pine for the men in her life, be they her Vietnam-based hubby Greg or her work-based stable of helpless fools. She finally showed some spark this week in the aforementioned “You go girl!” moment when she decided to leave her military doctor/kinda-sorta-awful rapist husband who had decided to return to ‘Nam for another tour. As Julia Turner puts it at Slate:

Eventually, she tells him to leave, for good. “You’re not a good man, you never were, even before we were married—and you know what I’m talking about.” Finally, Joan stands up for herself, acknowledging that Greg’s assault—and his general disregard for her desires in all realms—are unacceptable. The episode closes on Joan in bed with her dates for the foreseeable future—baby Kevin and her mom. This was satisfying, no?

I guess it was satisfying, but it’s also kind of ridiculous that we’re treating Joan as a totally aggrieved victim, no? I mean, it’s not like Joan has the undisputed moral high ground in this relationship—she fathered Roger Sterling’s child and is trying to convince Greg it’s his. Are we really supposed to cheer this kind of deception? How is Joan still the undoubted “good gal” in this scenario? She’s a cheat and a sneak and a bad person. I’m sorry, but she is. No one is acknowledging this, and it says something about our critical class that Joan’s infidelity is just being swept under the rug.

Anyway, Mad Men’s in decline. All hail Game of Thrones, the new King of Sunday Night!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Ericka @ The Sweet Life April 10, 2012 at 9:13 am

Glad you pointed that out…they do make Joan out to be the victim and seem not to condemn her cheating or lying at all thus far. Even Roger’s neverending attempts to seduce her make you feel “sorry” for her. The truth is, she doesn’t have to work there. Is she a “bad person”? I don’t know about that but she is a person making some immoral decisions and for that, we should not feel sorry for her.

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Beth April 10, 2012 at 12:12 pm

You do have to applaud Joan for having the balls to kick him out. I mean, she could have continued forever as things were, with him in Vietnam and her in New York, raising Roger Sterling’s baby. She decided that she didn’t want to live that lie anymore, and ended it.

Also, Greg isn’t a good person. Aside from the fact he raped her in her boss’s office, it also took him what, about a minute to leave her when she told him to go? If he really cared about the son that he (thinks) is his, wouldn’t he have fought that a bit?

And I for one think that some of the soapy-ness will fade as the season moves along. There’s a slow buildup underway with Roger and Pete… you know there will be a showdown there. That new arrogant character is obsessed with his ad ideas, which will create some fun plot lines. Plus, Peggy in the first episode had a line about how Don’s aloofness about ad copy, which has to come into play later on.

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Sonny Bunch April 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Agreed that Greg isn’t exactly perfect or “a good person.” But lines like this, from the AV Club, drive me nuts:

“Then, of course, Joan finds out that Greg actually volunteered to go back to Vietnam—and this when he’s a new father—and everything falls apart.”

*He’s not actually a new father!* The child is Roger’s! Even if he doesn’t know that, we as the audience do. So we are supposed to be angry with him for bailing out on what we know to be a lie. I refuse to go along with this little charade.

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Beth April 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Look, we all know the baby isn’t his. And Joan isn’t a good person for cheating on her husband, having a baby that isn’t his and then telling him it was. She’s no angel and isn’t completely innocent here.

But Greg doesn’t know that… he thinks that the baby is his! And he decided that his own macho pride was more important than helping to raise a son. He walked out on his family because a member of that family was upset that he made a huge life decision without even consulting her. I mean, he didn’t even value her feelings enough to ask what she thought about him going back for another year (he also never consulted her about joining the Army in the first place. He needs to work on his marital communication).

That’s why Greg is a bad person.

Plus, he raped Joan. On the floor. Of Don’s office. Bad person. Bad.

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Sonny Bunch April 10, 2012 at 12:27 pm

This isn’t necessarily a “if one person is bad, the other person must be good” scenario. Of course Rapey Dr. Greg is a bad person! No one denies this. That doesn’t make Joan a good person or mean that we should be sympathetic to her single-motherhood-related plight—which, as we all know, is of her own making.

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Will April 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm

On a semi-related note, I’d be interested to read your thoughts on Game of Thrones. I’ll cop to enjoying a bit of swords ‘n’ sorcery, but I think the over-representation of geeks in the media (particularly the blogosphere) has artificially inflated our collective critical estimation of the show’s merits.

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Sonny Bunch April 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm

You know, I like GOT a lot, but I have very few critical thoughts (critical as in TV criticism, not critical as in negative). I just enjoy it; I’m almost overwhelmed by the scope of it all to offer something coherent in response. I do appreciate the take-no-prisoners, no-one-is-safe feel to the show; I think the world-building is the most impressive I’ve ever seen on this scale in this medium; the costume and set design is marvelous; the deft and light touch of the mysticism is great. I dunno. I don’t really have anything super-original to add to the discussion, which is probably why I’ve shied away from writing much about it. Same reason I haven’t really written anything about Hunger Games…just don’t have much to add.

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Don April 30, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I know Mad Men and Game of Thrones recently competed for an emmy. MM as the author states is basically a sophisticated soap opera.

Game of Thrones on the other hand has an amazing potential. You will find that over time the characters actually respond to what happens to them during the story and develop and grow. Some of your favorite characters now change in ways you won’t like, and some who you hate now will become likeable in the future.

Arya is a perfect example. She is in constant threat of her life and witnesses some absolutely terrible things. As a result she goes to sleep reciting a list of those she plans to kill.

Additionally, there is absolutely no character like Tyrion in any show on TV. It simply has never been done. A brilliant man born physically handicapped, despised by most other characters because of that handicap, and yet one of the most remarkably capable characters in the whole story…. often turning his handicap into an advantage.

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Chuck Bearden April 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm

I agree with you about what made the show interesting. Don’s negotiation of imagination in the service of advertising was fascinating. I have some hope that the new character of Michael Ginsberg will bring some of that back. His riff on Cinderella in the presence of the Butler shoe clients (who had already been sold in a more mainstream ad) was good, and a nice contrast with Don’s more businesslike attitude.

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Jes May 11, 2012 at 1:34 am

Are you kidding me? Her husband raped her… how can you compare cheating on someone to rape? She didn’t cheat on him until well after he RAPED her.

This blog post actually made me angry. The episode was a masterpiece. The silent narratives (and not so silent narratives) intricately addressed violence against women. It also ingeniously depicted race relations and prejudice. You called it a soap opera, and wished that it would have more mystery and suicide???

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Sonny Bunch May 11, 2012 at 8:07 am

This blog post actually made me angry.

We aim to please!

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