Mad Speculation – Joan Holloway Harris
Joan Holloway Harris has been the real power behind Sterling Cooper since Mad Men’s first season. She glides through the office part fixer, part madam, always perfectly coiffed and polished. Based on my PaleyFest experience Christina Hendricks upstages even Jon Hamm as the most popular actor on Mad Men. The actress infuses her role as the sultry Joan with heartbreaking vulnerability and strength.
Hendricks, another Whedonite, also played the scheming Saffron on Firefly. Saffron and Joan both rely upon their bodies and their beauty to get ahead, though Joan does so within the context of 1960s sexism and chauvinism.
She advises new secretary Peggy to “make the right moves,” following Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl advice to look for love at the office. Joan engages in a long term affair with her boss Roger Sterling that eventually leads to the birth of their son Kevin.
Along the way she marries Greg “Mountain King” Harris, a talentless doctor, in a misguided effort to move up the class hierarchy. Joan displays the pain of this mismatch at a dinner party in “My Old Kentucky Home” [3.3].
Later in “The Gypsy and the Hobo” [3.11] she bashes vile Greg over the head with a vase in perhaps the most gratifying scene in Mad Men history, scripted in part by Buffy alum Marti Noxon.
Last we saw Joan she was counting the dollars she would earn from Roger’s McCann Erickson power play. Her concern over money matters has slowly increased over the course of the series. This trajectory makes sense given her unsteady fatherless upbringing with a mother who might have done just about anything to keep food on the table. Joan has moved from Office Manager to Partner successfully securing a healthy financial future for herself and her son. Yet Joan still searches for love, something she made apparent when she rejected Bob Benson’s gloomy marriage proposal. She “want[s] love and [would] rather die hoping that happens” than settle for a loveless marriage. With priorities like this one and her self-confidence, our Joanie will be just fine.