Who knew that the sheriff from the show’s second episode could make such a huge impact on a hit show. The Mentalist starring Simon Baker has had a good run over the past few years. Lead character Patrick Jane spent every episode helping the CBI solve hard cases, while in the bigger picture hunting the man who killed his family, the serial killer Red John. Two episodes ago Sheriff Thomas McAllister (Xander Berkeley) was discovered to be Red John, and subsequently outsmarted and killed by Jane. Red John’s death was shocking and satisfying for most viewers, and had been a long time coming.
Creator Bruno Heller made an admission about this revelation: He didn’t decide Red John’s identity until sometime within the last couple years. For at least three seasons, the show gave us Red John clues without knowing who Red John was. That’s maddening, but also draws you in weekly. The Mentalist is show about mysteries! This is the one that matters the most! Yet until recently they didn’t know any more about who Red John was than we did! Heller says he had some backstory for Red John that filled in various blanks in the plot, but if he didn’t know Red John’s identity. Red John could seemingly be anywhere and do anything — when a character has no identity, they have no limitations. The story of Red John was always there, in the background, even when Jane was solving other cases.
The Mentalist missed a golden opportunity to wrap up the Red John arc with it’s own previous version of Red John, Bradley Whitford. Looking back, that food court confrontation with Whitford should have ended the Red John story. Why? Because what’s the point of dragging out the mystery of Red John? That was a great scene and ended fittingly. It seems the point was so the writers can pen the next chapter of the show in a post Red John world. This is where the real question starts. Because of the way the show has explored the Blake Association this season, and the way Red John story was ended, now the writers are between a rock and a hard place.
The episode following the death of Red John was called ‘My Blue Heaven’ and was directed by Baker. It was not an episode of The Mentalist we’ve come to know and love. They propelled us two years into the future on an island where Jane fled after he murdered Red John. FBI agent Abbott (Rockmund Dunbar) and what turns out an undercover agent Fisher (Emily Swallow) trick Jane into coming back to work for the FBI. This is where things get a little cute for me. Last nights episode explored what the new show would look like. It consisted of Jane outsmarting the FBI, catching a killer, and using leverage to negotiate to get what he wanted. Things we know and love about Jane. All that is fine, but what about all the other qualities that weren’t present?
Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) is now in a vunerable position, having Jane save her by making the FBI giver her a job? That one part turns the whole show upside down. She as always been the anchor, the rock, the one constant, and now she doesn’t know what to do with her life? No thank you. What about agent Rigsby and Van Pelt? They are running their own private security firm? Ok, I buy it, no thank you. Cho became an FBI agent and seems to be the only character who hasn’t changed much, thank you by the way. What about all the time that the audience has spent investing in these characters? I was really hoping The Mentalist wasn’t going to be one of “those shows”.
Personally I’d much rather see a show go out with a bang and wrap up the story like Lost, or Fringe, most recently. Dragging the audience along and changing the cast because the brand is so big people will still watch, isn’t fair. I was a big fan of Grey’s Anatomy, until about half the original cast was gone. In years past we’ve seen it with shows like ER. Make no mistake, the shows are about the characters, the actors playing them, and the story, period. The Mentalist has all of those qualities and an audience who appreciates it. I hope Rigsby and Van Pelt are back soon, because leaving only three original characters makes this a different show. Maybe it would have been a better show, but probably not, and definitely not after all they’ve been through with their audience. I hope the writers respect that, and try to keep certain elements constant and the show evolves.
People change, characters evolve, and life happens. I understand that. I think this show has a lot to offer without Red John, just don’t try to top it. That was one of the most clever stories in TV history. That usually means creators try to distance themselves from that part of the show, it’s human nature, but I think a big mistake. My wife woke up this morning and the first thing she said was ‘I’m not happy with the Mentalist’. She is an average viewer that makes up their biggest demographic. I enjoyed last nights show, just not as much as before Red John died. As the Mentalist goes forward I hope for the best, but I fear the worst could happen.