Joan and Peggy: Mad Men women under fire

It’s no secret I am riveted by every episode of this season’s Mad Men.  This week’s episode displayed some bold moves by the women of the cast (*spoiler alert*).


Joan essentially agreed to have sex in exchange for partnership in the agency.


Peggy is not only leaving the agency but elected to join Draper’s competition.

How far apart are these woman on the moral spectrum?   Which one did the right thing?  Who did the wrong thing?  Which one should be championed?

Before you answer, I offer some varied perspectives:

Joan: money was more important than her self-respect.


Peggy:  no amount of money could compensate for the ego beating she endured at Don’s hand.

Or?: they both had an agenda and they followed through to get what want.

Joan: was desperate.  She has a baby to think about and no husband to support them.


Peggy: was in control.  She was fed up with the way she was being treated and schemed to leave.

Or?:  they were both pawns – Joan to Lane and Peggy to Don’s nemesis – and didn’t even make choices for themselves.

Joan: Don begged her not to take the money and sell out.


Peggy: Don begged her to take the money and sell out.

Or?: it wasn’t about the woman’s self-worth or the “right” choice, it was about getting them to do what Don wanted them to do.  In the end, both women defied or disappointed him.

Joan:  did what was best for her family.


Peggy: did what was best for her career.

Or?: both were motivated by revenge.

Some may see these situations as simple to dissect.  But me?  I say the women of Mad Men are deeper and more complex than snap judgment.

Do you watch Mad Men?  What did you think of Joan and Peggy actions?

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18 thoughts on “Joan and Peggy: Mad Men women under fire

  1. Oh I know! This episode was amazing. One of the best ever. I honestly thought that both women did what they needed to do and I respected them for it. Joan was put in an incredibly demeaning and terrible situation, but she rose above it. She used what she had to get what she wanted. And while I’ve certainly never slept with someone to move up, I have used flirtation and charm to warm up to partners at law firms, etc. When that’s the environment you’re in, you do what you have to do. It’s not my problem or Joan’s problem: it’s the shitty world that we live in.

    And Peggy? She moved on and I think it was great. All I’m saying is, she damn well better be in every episode still. She’s my favorite.

    • I don’t think it was purely a career decision, but I do agree that she was a favorite. I can’t imagine her not on the show anymore!!!

      I agree – I thought Joan came off as far more relatable. They really did a great job of making the gray aspects of what she did come to life and ring true. I think the colossal jerk of the episode was definitely Lane.

  2. I don’t think there is any moral component to Peggy’s decision. She had reached her ceiling at the agency, she knew Don would never really get beyond seeing her as the former secretary from Brooklyn that was looking to help out. She needed a fresh start where she was seen for her accomplishments rather than where she started.

    Without getting into the morals of sex-for money debate, I think it is interesting that there was no conversation (on the show or in some of the commentaries I read) about the fact that Pete/Roger/Don were all faced with similar decisions when they took the Jaguar exec to the brothel. Pete and Roger (not being happy at home) participated, Don (happy at home) sat on the bench. Joan is getting divorced, she is free to do what she wants…why can’t she use this ‘opportunity’ to gain partnership? Why does the decision come with so much more gravity for her than her male counterparts?

    • You do make a great parallel with respect to the brothel, but let me tell you, you are SO wrong on the Peggy thing. If you think that was all about her career you are crazy. She was such a pawn, of the wimpy guy Don dumped, of his nemesis (who offers more money than what someone asks? He must just be a really good guy), and most of all it was a huge revenge play on Peggy’s part. Like showing up at the dance with a new dress and a new guy and saying to her ex “this is what you missed out on!”.

  3. I am having a heart attack b/c i was just standing in J.Crew thinking, “why isn’t anyone writing about Mad Men?” FOr one second, I thought maybe you would since I know that you watch, but then I got distracted by my thighs in the mirror…

    That was hands down the best thing I have ever seen on TV. I am dying. What about Megan? She decided to “follow her dreams” and it may take her to Boston, which would really piss Don off, but will she have to sell out too? remember those casting d-bags wanted her to turn around and she hesitated….That was a great scene. I used to hate Megan but I have grown and now I love her. She’s all idealism and “going for it” and dreaming big. She wants it all. So I think the Peggy/Joan spectrum is awesome, but let’s get a Megan vector in there. And I am a little lost on Joan and Lane…Lane tried to kiss her, right? But is there more? I know he’s got his embezzlement thing going, but what else did I forget about.

    And think about how awful Joan must have felt thinking that Roger and Don both sold her out for Jaguar? That must have sucked. Christinia Hendricks is flawless as an actor. Did you see the cast on Inside the Actor’s studio? Amazing. I am going to watch again tonight.

    Great post.

    • What? Lane was the worst! He went into to Joan, baited her with the 50G (that he knew he didn’t have because he STOLE it) and then said ask for partnership instead (read: so I won’t have to explain why I have no cash and hey, maybe I can steal from you too). Such an ass – I was furious.

      I am so willing to jump on a Megan vector but the truth is I’m just not sure how I feel about her yet!! I am starting to love her too – I’m impressed at the way she can handle Don. She’s no wilting flower. But I am so unsure of where they are headed…it makes me uneasy sometimes. We’ll see.

      YES – I will post while they are on hiatus, let’s just hope it’s not another 15 months like last time!!!

  4. OOh, Ian makes a good point about the men at the brothel and that scumbag Peter, WHO IS SO ICKY, but I am glad he had sex with Rory from Gilmore Girls because that’s good TV right there. My favorite is Kenny Cosgrove, the little science fiction writer. Can we please keep talking about this once the show goes on hiatus and I fall into a deep depression?

  5. It was absolutely a great episode. And I agree that Peggy better still be around. I’ve been disappointed that we haven’t seen much of Betty. She’s the gal I love to hate. I think Peggy did the right thing. Don treats her like crap and she deserves better. If she comes crying back to him, I’ll be so mad.

    And I got the impression that Joan wouldn’t have done what she did if she had known Don didn’t want her to.

    • I agree on the Betty thing. If my daughter was born early we were seriously considering naming her January. I thought last season lacked good female plot lines (while Don was having sex with everyone in the world). Season 3 rocked with Betty and now Season 5 is just as compelling as ever.

      I agree with your impression. Joan thought Don and Roger had both sold her down the river. You could tell it made a difference that he didn’t.

  6. Oh my gosh, I don’t watch Mad Men but I can assume this is what people love about the show so much, complex characters and story lines. Sounds like this was an awesome episode, I love it when favorite shows deliver! Also, I am in love with Joan’s whole look. Don’t know about her character but she looks amazing!

    • I love her look too. Probably because it is so different from me. Her milky white skin – it actually looks like milk! And it’s flawless. Don’t forget that gorgeous red hair. She is just stunning. It’s really a great show!

  7. I think I am a few shows behind but I’m trying to figure out Joan getting mad at Peggy for firing the guy that was disrespectful to Peggy. Maybe I am a simpleton, but the guy was a jerk and Peggy fired him, I thought it was great. I’m not sure I followed Joan’s logic, but maybe that’s why she’ll be partner and I was “laid off.” Maybe I should take some notes on working office politics (but the sleeping with the boss roll was already filled at my last firm)!

    • Ah! I totally forgot about that! Oh that dynamic is strongly reinforced in the second to last episode of the season. Damn! I wish I had talked to you before posting, I could have written so much more if I had remembered that!!!

      I think it was really just the way Peggy handled herself that Joan disapproved of. Peggy approaches her career by trying to be a man – to fit in to dominate. Joan uses her attributes as a woman to beat men at their own game. Genius parallel Alexis. I think I might write a whole post on this anyway. It rings VERY true with what I am going through myself.

  8. Love the post, and the show! I really enjoyed last episode. I think that both the ladies came across strong in dealing with crummy situations that were thrown at them. I love that Joan is now a (not silent) partner. Bodes well for future episodes. I think the episode was a good slice of what probably used to happen in both situations, though neither acted as emotional ninnies as most shows would depict.

    • Great point – true to the Weiner way he takes great pains to make every story as accurate as possible. The women, for better or for worse, took their actions in stride. They did what they ultimately decided was right for them in crappy circumstances. Probably exactly as would have happened in “real life”, not the “TV World”. Weiner has said it himself, the 60s represent one of the characters of the show and this was great to watch.

  9. Such a great episode! I’m not sure I can answer your either/or pieces because the circumstances are so nuanced. I can’t imagine being a single mom in that time, knowing you’re likely stuck in your administrative role. So many morally questionable moves by the men in this episode. Joan I think made a wise choice but also probably made it because she felt she HAD no choice. Peggy finally did have a choice, but you are right, she may be a pawn. Seemed to easy for her to get that offer.

    • Right? That is exactly what I am saying! It was just too easy for Peggy. Most employers don’t offer you more than you ask for unless they have serious ulterior motives. Can’t wait to see how that’s going to play out.

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