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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.

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Mike writes about video games, television shows, and issues in the tech world.

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  1. Pliny on 04/28/2013

    I don’t feel any need to empathize with a person who takes out his inability to rise in his business on someone who has absolutely nothing to do with it. Joan’s rise to power has absolutely nothing to do with why Harry hasn’t. She hasn’t taken his spot.

    Look in the mirror, Harry, if you weren’t so consistently petty and unlikable the partners might think of you more. If you have the ability to take business away when you leave, as Ken and Pete do, then they might care about you more. As it stands, they will have to poach another media buyer from another company if you leave. Most clients don’t even know your name.

  2. Kelli Prince on 04/28/2013

    > Most clients don’t even know your name.

    I don’t think that’s true any longer, though it was clearly true when Harry started the TV department while at Sterling-Cooper and even when he joined the fledgling SCDP.

    Harry pulled together in very short order that meeting with Dow by bringing in Peter Cossette, who we learn is a top director by his claim that he “has access to the best talent available” and proves it by bringing together Joe Namath, Joey Heatherton, and others for the Broadway Joe on Broadway show, which Harry sells to Dow for $150,000.

    He now knows people, and people know him. That’s a big difference from his early years. (And why should we be surprised at this? That’s exactly what it means to gain experience in a position.)

    Harry knows his worth. But he doesn’t yet know why to remain at SCDP. The realization that Joan is now a partner, _and_ that she became one by sleeping her way to the top, is rankling enough to Harry to get him motivated to move on.

    As for Mike’s point that Harry is an ass, we can agree, and yet, we know of many, many people who are 100% asses and yet have risen to the executive or partner level.

    I would bet that there are _more_ genuine asses at that level than there aren’t.

  3. Broadway Joe on 05/02/2013

    Everyone keeps going on about Joan’s “partnership.” I think a 5% stake in SCDP is more for monetary terms — share of the overall net profits, cannot be fired — than it is one of overall power. However Joan got her partnership, she’s got it and Harry wasn’t consulted. Joan’s fit of temper in firing Jane and Scarlett could be why those attempts to fire someone on the spot backfired. You’d think having worked at Sterling Cooper for a decade would have schooled Joan in how to manipulate those men to do what she wants, when she wants it. Despite Joan being a partner, Harry trumps it simply by having been born WASP male. And that’s the way it was and remains, even today.