Patrick Jane finally comes face-to-face with his bloodthirsty nemesis Red John in The Mentalist game-changing season finale
By Michael Logan
Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean somebody ain't out to getcha. It might even be several somebodies. In the early months of the CBS hit The Mentalist, it seemed to viewers that Red John, the unseen psychopath who haunts and taunts Simon Baker’s character, Patrick Jane, was operating as a solo act. But now, in the show’s third season, it is creepily clear this serial killer is part of a larger conspiracy and has several operatives at his command. Red John has even an accomplice actively involved with the Californian Bureau of Investigation, the very organization that's trying to bring him down.
Fans finally learns the identity of that mole in the May 19th season finale, a two-hour heart-pumper—innocently titled "Strawberries and Cream"—that ends with unmasking of Red John himself. It's true! Jane finally gets face time with the sicko who slew his wife and daughter many years ago, and that confrontation will change the course of the series in a seismic way.
"We're stepping outside the box with this one," says Baker. "We'll see how far we can push Patrick and still keep him empathetic and likable in the eyes of the audience. There's been an increasing feeling of paranoia all season, a real pressure-cooker situation. You have to be constantly on guard and careful that you're not talking to someone who's now or has ever been a member of the Red John Communist Party. It's bad."
But only Jane knows how bad. In a scene filming at the Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, the uncannily shrewd consultant has gathered together in his inner circle of trust—agents Lisbon (Robin Tunney), Cho (Tim Kang), Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti)—for a briefing session in which he tells them Red John has someone planted in their midst. He kept this a secret for months, sharing it only recently with Lisbon.
"Patrick finally has to play his hand, and it's nerve-racking for him," notes Baker between takes. "He's at a point where he's desperate—desperate and calculating—and he needs the help of the CBI team to find the mole." Taking part in Jane's plan could be lethal, so Lisbon gives everyone a chance to back out. No one takes her up on it. "Until now, Patrick has on an almost maniacal one-man hunt for Red John," Yeoman says. "Dangerous as it is, everyone's glad to be included. For the first time in a long time, we're really bonded and working together." Adds Kang: "At this point, the Red John conspiracy is so potentially big, only Jane and his immediate team can count on each other. It has them going, 'Screw everybody else at CBI! We're circling the wagons and taking care of business our way!' "
"Jane's terrible secrets about Red John have created a distance between him and the CBI team," says exec producer Ashley Gable. "This is a chance for the family to come back together". Just as there are five definitive good guys, Jane revels there are five possible moles. All are connected to the Red John investigation and all are known to regular viewers. "We've tried to create a real Hitchcockian whodunit that puts the audience in a privileged position," says creator Bruno Heller. "We know more than the people on screen, and in suspense drama, that's always a beautiful thing."
This isn't the first time one of Red John's associates has come dangerously close to our heroes. Last season, an innocuous secretary named Rebecca (Shauna Bloom) massacred three staffers at CBI headquarters. Religious guru Bret Stiles (Malcolm McDowell) is certainly in league with this devil, as Todd Johnson (Josh Braaten), the cop-killer who was burned alive in his high-security prison cell by the mole Jane now seeks. Quoting the 19th century Romantic poet William Blake can be a tip-off. Red John did it most memorably in last year's season finale when, wearing a mask, he whispered a stanza for "The Tyger" into Jane's ear. Then Johnson, a hick for the sticks, quoted from the same poem while taking his last breath. Even CBI director Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston) broke into a little Blake during a manhunt, instantly placing himself on our suspect list. And though we know Lisbon's on-the-lam boss, Madeline Hightower (Aunjanue Ellis), didn't kill Johnson as initially feared, can we really trust CBI agent J.J. LaRoche (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the nuisance who fingered Hightower for the crime?
"We don't know how Red John is creating his society, and it makes it all more scary", Righetti says. "Are these people working with him doing it willingly? Are they being paid off? Bribed? Blackmailed? Brainwashed? Until he's caught, we won't know." Were we tipped off to all this way back in Season 1? Mentalist's groupies will recall the episode "Red John's Friends", where one of the killer's victims spent his last moments writing the cryptic message "He is Man" in his own blood. What did it mean? Was the message complete? Fans have debated these question ever since. Finally, Baker weights in with his take. "I think we could say at this point that 'he is man' was meant to be 'he is many'," the actor observes. "But then that raises the question, if Jane ever gets Red John, is he getting the real Red John?"
But let's back to that mole. "This season we've brought in so many great guest actors that it makes it really hard to figure out who it is," says Tunney. "Plus, I guess it helps"—she adds with a laugh—"that we have such a rotten security system at CBI. Our screening process is certainly lacking. I could be anybody!"
All this in-house chaos comes just as Van Pelt is getting ready to wed her lanky FBI man Craig O'Laughlin (Eric Winter). They meet only last fall when their cars collided during a crime chase, and, soon after, he seduced her. "Their relationship is probably too good to be true, but Van Pelt doesn't realize it," says Righetti. "She's a bit naive. She's on the rebound from Rigsby. She's excited and very much wanting to move forward with the marriage because there's nothing to make her think she shouldn't."
Well, except for that dress. "The costume department picked out some beautiful wedding gowns for my character, but the producers wanted her in a really terrible one, some big, poufy princess thing out of 1980s," Righetti says. Not even the pantsuit-loving Lisbon—one of the bridesmaids—escapes with dignity intact. "My dress is as tasteful as it can get and still be pink with a big satin bow," Tunney groans.
We can use the chuckles, because soon enough things turn dark and uncomfortably freaky when Jane and Red John have their encounter. Details of the meeting—which happens in a public place—are being kept under wraps, as is the casting of Red John. (Here's a hint: He's played by an Emmy-winner charmer who made his mark in one of the most beloved and inspiring drama series in TV history!)
But there's one thing about this finale people at the show aren't hiding—their enthusiasm. "This episode is going to leave everyone on the floor," promises Kang. "It's a very ballsy move on the part of the writers." Says Yeoman: "It's our most subversive episode yet, with a massive, massive cliff-hanger. We all love it!"
Heller leaves us with some intriguing hints. "Despite all of Jane's drive and determination, his life has long been controlled by Red John's agenda. But at the end of the finale, Jane takes control and turns that situation around," Heller says. "He's about to go on a journey of empowerment, but we will discover that this empowerment has its costs. Any violence or force of any kind always comes back to you in one form or another."
Yep, payback's a bitch, even for the Mentalist. "We are going to leave the audience with a whole lot to think about over the summer," says Baker, flashing his naughty trademark grin. "Everyone will be wondering 'How the hell are they gonna get out of this one?' "
Credits and a very especial thanks to: MiahSchmiah, for the scans. Check them out on Jello-Forever boards.