For 10 years, Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) has hunted Red John, the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter. Jane has threatened to kill him if they ever meet, but will he actually be able to exact his revenge when they finally have their showdown on this Sunday’s episode of “The Mentalist“?
“If you think you know what is happening, and you know where it is going, you may be wrong,” said executive producer Bruno Heller on a call to promote the big “Red John” episode. “You should watch this episode to find out.”
We are sworn to secrecy as to the identity and fate of Red John — check back on Monday for our conversation with Heller and Baker about the aftermath of the meet — but in this interview the two talk about how the final decision was made as to which of the seven suspects on the list would be Red John, if they ever considered an alternative ending, and why the time is right now for the two to come face-to-face.
When and how did you arrive at Red John’s identity?
Heller: It just emerged over the last couple of years. There were always three or four possibilities, so it just happened. it seemed like the natural, correct choice.
I agree that the choice was correct. Cut can you talk about the idea for the Blake Association? Was that always there? When did you put that in place?
Heller: The Blake Association was there from quite early on — hidden. I wouldn’t say I had that element from the start, but from quite early on, it was an important aspect of the show because, frankly, it gives you a legitimate, logical coherent reason for Red John’s immense power that is not down to him actually being a supernatural being of some kind, or having supernatural powers. That notion of villainous free masonry inside law enforcement is a realistic idea because it has happened in other places and it is a deeply creepy idea.
Did you ever consider an alternate ending?
Heller: Certainly, a different identity. The identity of Red John was always going to be contingent, if you like. We didn’t have the choice of Jesus or Elvis Presley, so it was going to be a character actor who had been on the show. There were good alternatives, but none of them made a huge difference to what we were doing with the show.
How personal is this for you?
Baker: To be honest, it has been really strange, because whatever happens in the course of the series, there are reasons and things you sign on to that show for. There are very important elements of the character that you make a connection with immediately. A lot of those things were laid to rest in this episode, so it did feel incredibly personal.
I have always been very invested in what my character does and how he reacts to his story, which is the Red John story. Not as much with what’s thrown at him, but his response to it, how he deals with it, and what can best serve the story, while realistically being the character’s behavior, as opposed to the character behaving a certain way because it drives the plot forward in a way we want to go.
The challenge and the most difficult part of working on the show has been playing this tragic character that has a very raw and unprotected emotional side to him, but also has this whimsical tap dancer-thing going on with a sense of humor as bravado. To dance between the two tones of the show has always been very challenging for me and complicated. I get very, very protective of the personal things about the character, like the broken teacup and all of that. Bruno knows that I am going to be waiting outside the door to weigh-in on all of that stuff.
Why is now the right time to have the confrontation between Patrick Jane and Red John?
Heller: Very early on in the first season, there were people saying, “Are you going to find Red John at the end of the season?” It’s a question people have been asking, and we have been asking ourselves in the writers’ room from very early on. There was no kind of functional, formal protocol moment, where we said, “When this happens, we will set about closing off that chapter.”
It is like a marriage, or any kind of partnership. How long is Red John driving this story forward, and at what point does it make sense [for the confrontation]. It seemed as if this was the right time. Ultimately, that is a subjective choice. It just seemed like from a storytelling point of view and from an audience point of view, it just seemed like time to move the story forward.
The best way to move the story in a way that would be interesting to the audience is to move it forward much faster than they think they are going to move. The natural thing to do would be to work it to the end of a season, but then all those plot points become much more predictable and pro forma. This way you get a bit of a surprise and unpredictability, like a real event happening, so that was the thinking there.
Simon, what did you think of the timing?
Baker: There are a lot of different ways that it could have gone from the very beginning with Red John. I always thought there were legs in the Red John story. For a show that wasn’t procedural, you could have milked that whole Red John thing out. It would have been more in the style of “24,” where you are picking up exactly where you left off. It would have been interesting to really explore that, but we are on CBS and they like procedural TV shows and they know how to market those and all that stuff.
We did this little dance of doing crimes of the week and we would go back to this Red John story that was underneath. It is always a difficult dance to balance those two things. I guess it got to a point where some people were like, “We really love the show. We really love the Red John episodes, and we love the stand-alone episodes that don’t pertain to Red John at all. Is there a way that we can deal with one completely and move forward from there?
To be honest with you, those decisions are not for me to make. Obviously, I weigh in on those sort of things, but I am always for going it, pushing it a bit more and taking risks. This last five to six months, it has been really exciting for me. It has felt like I had the enthusiasm I had in the first season because it was new and fresh and going somewhere. Sometimes the frustration for me, as an actor, is we are not going anywhere. This was definitely going somewhere. The stakes are higher and it gives me something to do that I can get my teeth into it.
The “Red John” episode of “The Mentalist” airs Sunday, Nov. 24 at 10/9c on CBS.