The much-debated season finale of "Mad Men" this past Sunday revealed that Joan Harris, the efficient bombshell who's been newly promoted to Director of Agency Operations, did not have an abortion, as was implied earlier this season. When a TV or movie character contemplates terminating a pregnancy, writes Eleanor Barkhorn in The Atlantic, critics are quick to assume that her decision (or rather, the writers') is guided by politics, but it's really "about plot." It's true that few female TV characters actually go through with an abortion (you have to go back to early 2000s shows like "Everwood" or even the '70s sitcom, "Maude" to find examples), but this doesn't necessarily reflect changing public opinion when it comes to reproductive rights. Rather, says Barkhorn, the simple truth is "babies advance plotlines, whereas abortions end them." Here's an excerpt:
As [Joan's] pregnancy progresses, a host of intriguing questions will arise that will show us even more about the characters, from the frivolous — What will the stylish Joan wear for maternity clothes? — to the technical — Who will keep the office running smoothly while Joan is on maternity leave? — to the serious — Will her husband do the math and figure out he was already on his way to Vietnam by the time the baby was conceived? What will Roger do when he realizes he has a baby on the way?
Sure, [show creator Matthew Weiner] could have found other ways to teach us more about the characters he's created. But Joan's decision on "Mad Men"—and Miranda's on "Sex and the City," and Juno's in Juno, and so on—show that on screen, advancing the plot is more important than making a political statement.