CONTENT WARNING: The following post is somewhat soap opera-ish, thereby reflecting the subject matter.
Mad Men is back.
It was apparent to me a couple of seasons ago that Joan Harris, the firm’s long-serving bombshell secretary, didn’t love her husband. Indeed, she is likely too mercenary to love anyone in the way the word is commonly used. But as a doctor and surgeon, Greg was to be her ticket to life as a society wife.
Alas, it was not to be. Greg failed as a New York surgeon, and his success as an Army surgeon was not what Joan had in mind. It’s was striking how out of place Greg looked in Manhattan wearing a captain’s uniform. I don’t actually know if this was really true as much in 1966 as it is true now. But the episode demonstrated starkly how disconnected American society, especially its upper reaches, was from the Vietnam War, how it just didn’t feel like it had, or should have, much to do with it. The war was an imposition, a burden being foisted upon it.
Implausibly, the writers have Greg become a full-on militarist, without even a nod to M.A.S.H. or even the reality of how the military trains its doctors. (Short answer: they don’t go through Basic, but rather a finishing school that teaches them the customs and courtesies and how to wear a uniform.) I don’t know if the writers intended this portrayal to be negative – the evidence is mixed – but it surely made his character difficult for the typical Mad Men audience member to empathize with. Better writers would have had him be honest: the Army was giving him opportunities that civilian life did not. New York was never going to give him the large medical staff and responsibilities he wanted; so, he had changed the game. But that would have conflicted with the point of the episode, which was to have the audience sympathize with Joan for dumping him.