Why is Mad Men so good? Sure, it’s lovely to look at—the stunning clothes, the careful set design, the gorgeous actors. But all that would be for naught if the relationships between those beautiful people were not so utterly believable. Whether in the boardroom or the bedroom, the smoky lounge or the sleepy suburb, the dynamics between the copywriters and the secretaries and the parents and the children and so on—they all feel true.
Which is why Jon Hamm’s very un-Draper-like moment earlier this week, letting slip a possible Don/Joan hookup, makes me cringe.
The men and women of the show’s fictional world have had their fair share of slinky affairs, one night stands, secret abortions, and what have you. But most of the show’s romantic entanglements involve characters outside the office and on the periphery of the cast (like that ever-rotating cycle of secretaries). The interoffice relations—Peggy and Pete, briefly, and, of course, Joan and Roger—have worked dramatically in part because they have been few and far between. The show’s writers have thus far avoided a tiresome TV trope: the web of coital encounters woven among a program’s leading characters.
Having Don and Joan “explore,” as Hamm hinted, their bubbling sexual tension, is to head into the sudsy territory of Grey’s Anatomy, a show that after eight seasons continues to throw the same characters into bed with one another. With just a few exceptions—most notably Chief Webber and Dr. Bailey—every major character at Seattle Grace Hospital has inadvertently slept with at least two others in their work environment; this chart doesn’t even include recent additions—like Dr. Avery—who have further entangled the web. The fact that only once in the show’s eight-season history has an STD surfaced (a case of syphilis which affected two main doctors sleeping with the same nurse in season one) is ludicrous; they may be doctors, but given the number of unplanned pregnancies on the show, it would seem many of them are unfamiliar with contraception.
Most of those hookups were pointless revenge screws and needless drunken moments—and any further relationship between Joan and Don would likewise be dramatically dubious. The two have exhibited some sexual chemistry, to be sure, demonstrated ever so subtly in a hospital waiting room in season three. But sexual tension in the workplace between two people as attractive as Don and Joan is to be expected. Throwing the two together would tarnish the show’s credibility. There is no Maddie and David, “Will they or won’t they?” vibe that needs to be explored here, just a shared attraction that exists on the backburner—where it should stay.