I’ve posted in the past about the Whedon connection to Mad Men. Well, my son and I are watching Angel on DVD these evenings, and lo & behold, looks like Darby Stanchfield (Helen Bishop) guest-starred in the Angel Season 2 episode “The Anniversary.”

It’s very geeky, but I love finding things like this.

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Looking through my file called “Weiner Notes” (sounds funny, right?) from the Jacob Burns Film Center event, I find the following quote:

“I don’t want to do the same season two years in a row”

He may have said “ever” — “I don’t ever want.”

The point is, next year’s Mad Men will not be like this year’s Mad Men. Matt Weiner was specifically referring to the mystery of Don Draper, built from episode one (where Harry says “nobody knows that guy;” a clip used repeatedly in “Previously…” segments) and culminating in the blackmail of episode 12. “No mystery next season” he said. Because repeating himself is no fun.

So I have a little anxiety about that. I don’t want another mystery, but how different is different? It’s a different year. It’s a season that could be about changes that have already taken place; Rachel is already back from her cruise, and has already confronted or refused to confront Don, Harry and Jennifer are either back together or split apart, Trudy has perhaps had a baby, Francine and Betty have both addressed or refused to address their husbands’ infidelities. What might such a season be like? I’m kind of excited and really, kind of scared to find out.

Roberta already mentioned how Weiner realized that most of The Apartment, is spent establishing things that the characters already know, and that’s informative about the writing process: Jack Lemmon loans his apartment out to higher-ups in order to curry favor. Shirley Maclaine is having an affair with a married man, and Lemmon has a crush on her. All of this is known to those characters, but not to the audience. So my guess is that Season 2 will heavily involve telling us things that that the characters already know, things that happened while we, the audience, were not watching them.

I can totally see how television shows (and comic books, and movie franchises) get in a rut. I feel the resistance to change within me. I want my beloved show, not some new deal that may not be as good. Yet I know that this kind of change is vital to the creative health of a show. On Buffy and his other shows, Whedon killed beloved characters, changed them unalterably, and when he didn’t do that, when he conformed to the needs of keeping the show “continuing,” is often when he produced his weakest writing. Whereas when he said, to hell with fan expectations, is often when he was strongest. I think Weiner is going to say to hell with expectations.

Wow.

We all know that there are some actors who are bad in many things, but sometimes great. Was Halle Berry the “best actress” of 2001? Not possible while people like Streep are alive and working. Did she give the best performance that year, in Monster’s Ball? Arguably yes.

Some actors are limited, and some are just uneven, but sometimes the director or the script brings something forth in that actor that had maybe been less visible. Those are inferior actors; if you need a good director to be good, isn’t that like, say, needing glasses to see? Isn’t your vision, by definition, inferior to those who don’t need the appliance?

Why do I bring this up? Two words: Vincent Kartheiser.

He was hateful and awful in Angel. He was the Wesley Crusher of that show. And now, as Pete Campbell, he’s kind of amazing. Now, maybe it’s that playing a petulant, pain-in-the-ass teenager is inherently less compelling than playing a petulant, pain-in-the-ass married adult. Or maybe the scripts here serve him better. Joss Whedon is known for bringing great performances out of so-so actors (not. naming. names.) but maybe in this case he fell down.

Or maybe Kartheiser is a bad actor in the right role.