There is some bit of discussion going on around the internet about whether Harry was wrong to call out Joan in front of the other partners in ‘To Have and to Hold.’ Some people side with Harry, and others think Joan is a victim. It’s a testament to the writing on Mad Men that a seemingly straightforward scene can induce opposing reactions on the part of viewers.
Joan faces a lot of barriers. It’s the 60s, she’s a woman in a man’s world, she’s a single mom, and she’s getting older. Most viewers are rightly sympathetic to Joan’s plight. When Harry burst into the partners’ meeting and rudely called Joan out for the way she was promoted (sleeping with the Jaguar dealer), I reflexively wanted to throw my remote at his side-burned head.
After thinking about it more though, I am not without sympathy for Harry. I still think he was wrong. Publicly ridiculing someone—especially your superior—is (almost) never the right way to redress wrongs in the workplace. When an employee does so, it demonstrates such a lack of couth that it’s hard to side with them. Harry has legitimate points about how his career has stalled at SCDP, but being a total dick in front of all the partners only reinforces why he’s not on their level.
With that said, I get Harry’s frustration as an under-appreciated company minion. Harry is a very valuable member of SCDP. He is the cornerstone of the television department (in fact, without him, they might still not have one). Watching Joan—who started out as an office manager—ascend to a partnership would be disheartening for anyone in Harry’s position. Harry’s humiliation is only compounded by the circumstances of Joan’s rise to power. The illicit, back-room nature of Joan’s partnership gives Harry a righteous, moral indignation. It is this sense of moral outrage that emboldened Harry to barge into the partners’ meeting the way he did. From his perspective, Harry is lashing out against an injustice. Haven’t we all wanted to do that at some point?
So yes, Harry was an ass because of how he handled his outrage. But we should still empathize with him.
Photo courtesy of AMC.