Last Night On “Mad Men”: Goodbye, Joan?

Last night’s episode of “Mad Men” saw the former members of SCDP adapting to the oppression of their new advertising overlords in the dark, narrow offices of McCann. Everyone is fitting in in their own way — Ted Chaough, bumbling along with a dopey smile and that goddamn mustache; Roger avoiding change by haunting the abandoned halls of their former office like a wraith, playing an electric organ; Peggy, striding through the doors of McCann, sunglasses on, cigarette clamped firmly in mouth, ready to take on the world. But, what of Joan, our heroine, clawing her way out of the secretarial pool, sailing straight to the top? The glass ceiling hit her fair and square on the top of her flame-haired head.

Joan’s been fighting against the horrible misogyny and sexism that has followed her everywhere she’s gone, but we knew that McCann was somehow going to be different. It was evident in that scene early on in this mini-season, when she faced the gross boorishness of Dennis from McCann and his cackling minions. That could’ve been the end for Joan — any woman would have been well in her right to walk out of that office, a cool $500,000 sitting pretty in her pocket. Joan wanted more — it’s okay to want more — and she hit her head against the three-inch thick glass ceiling that Peggy will inevitably encounter in the last two episodes of this show.

What happened to Joan last night was hard to watch, because we root for her success, more so than Peggy in some ways. This episode was a poignant denouement, a neat closing of her arc, and probably the last time we’ll see Joan Holloway on screen again. After weathering the disgusting implication that, instead of working with Dennis, she’d work with the sleazebag Ferg, who really just wanted to see her in lingerie, she went straight to the top of the food chain, setting a meeting with Jim Hobart, who quickly devolved from understanding old man to hissing, dangerous snake, his craggy face crumpling into itself in impotent rage. Joan’s threats of calling the ACLU, the EEOC, and whoever else would listen felt good to watch, because entertaining the idea of Joan on a picket line in smart polyester suits feels satisfying, like a neat and tidy end to her saga. In the end, she did what many women with a child to support would do — take the fifty cents to the dollar of her $500,000 fortune, and walk away, head high.

We will miss Joan, for her barbs, for her quiet wit, and for her steely determination to sidle her way to the front of the room, to have a seat at the table instead of standing next to it, waiting to serve coffee. We will miss the way that she and Peggy worked together with mutual, begrudging respect. This might not be the last we see of Joan, but something about the way she left felt final. With two episodes left, our great hope now rests with Peggy.

Poor, sweet Peggy, about to roller-skate straight into the lion’s den.

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