Ding dong, Red John (Xander Berkeley) is dead! On Sunday night’s episode of “The Mentalist,” Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) proved to be a man of his word and, on discovering the identity of the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter, he killed him with his bare hands, strangling him to death.
“The way we did it was important to me, because to pull the trigger, is just pulling the trigger and the gun does the killing,” Baker told reporters in a conference call to discuss the end of this major “Mentalist” storyline. “But to actually grapple with someone and kill them with your hands is far more intimate.”
In our Friday preview story, Baker and executive producer/showrunner Bruno Heller discussed why the time was right to wrap up the Red John story, and how the choice of Sheriff McAllister to be Red John evolved naturally.
But what wasn’t discussed were the additional twists that the story took with the dissolution of the California Bureau of Investigation; Lisbon (Robin Tunney), Cho (Tim Kang), Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) and Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) not trusting the FBI, who were possibly part of the Blake Association; and the final reveal of the true identity of Red John, who then killed Bertram (Michael Gaston), the man we thought was Red John.
So what’s next? There is a lot of clean up that will need to be done. Here is what Baker and Heller have to say about the future of “The Mentalist.”
What was the most important thing in creating this seminal episode in the series?
Heller: I guess giving a real pleasing, emotional closure to that story. For me, it was about giving Patrick Jane exactly what he had hunted for all these years. I didn’t think it was a moment for cleverness or moral ambivalence. He wanted revenge and he got it. I think that’s what the audience wanted, so that’s what we gave them.
Baker: I thought the most important thing — because you can look at any plot and pick holes in it. You can analyze it and pick it apart until the cows come home. For me, I did feel this sense of pressure because we had been working toward this for so many years. It was something that had pushed the character from the very beginning in 2008. I felt that I have to somehow live up to that in that one moment. Also, it’s a moment in the life of that character, where he is stepping out into the unknown. He has been talking about it and made a commitment to do that for such a long time.
Heller: [It was] real, and honest and visceral. I should say how that last scene went between the two of them was written and directed by Simon — the emotion he brought to it, the feeling. With all that pressure, and with all the story that has gone by, and with all the baggage, I have to say, he did a really, really beautiful, intimate killing there. It is hard but good to watch, I think.
Watch the Long-Anticipated “Red John” Episode of “The Mentalist” Below:
Moving forward in future episodes, how psychological are things going to get? Will this affect Jane very deeply?
Heller: Jane is this tragic figure, who has gotten his heart’s desire, and found the evil grail that he has been chasing all these years, but it is very much a question of: What does that do to him as a person? Can he begin a new life? What kind of life does he want for himself? How will he define himself now that that part of his life is over?
What can we expect from the episodes moving forward? How soon will we be getting back into the weekly procedural element? Also, are you writing toward what you see as a season finale or a series finale?
Heller: Tomorrow is never given in this business, so we always write to the season finale. A series finale is kind of an abstraction. I don’t really think about it in those terms. So, yes, a good season finale. Like I said, this fresh version of the show is about what happens afterwards. Now in a very real sense, Jane is a happier person. A weight has been taken off his shoulders, and to that degree, a weight has been taken off the show. It is going to be the same show, to some degree, but it is going to be a show with less darkness at the edges and more freedom to roam. Jane has more freedom and more a sense of possibility and liberty.
Might he have a love life moving forward?
You played that death scene very powerfully, can you talk about the choices you made for that moment when you are throttling Red John?
Baker: Like I said before, the character had made a decision he was going to kill Red John from the first time we ever saw him. In his head that was going to happen. What we didn’t know was how he was going to react, and whether or not he could go through with it, and in what fashion. To me, that was just jumping off a cliff. Really. Jumping off a cliff to the point where he has gotten what he wanted for so long.
The idea of what drama is, is when the protagonist sets out to achieve an objective but doesn’t quite achieve it, and then has to change tactics and approach it again. This is interesting, because he has Red John within his grasp literally. I think he doesn’t take a moment to hesitate. There is a line in there, “I am not hesitating. I am just savoring the moment,” in the church. But when he is on top of him, the idea of shutting him up in that time is less about network television always wanting to explain, but Jane just wanting to get on with the job. From that moment on, I don’t know. You’re actor. You’ve got to try to be there and be alive in the moment.
Going forward from there, when you achieve your objective, then what happens? A lot of the time you focus so much energy on trying to achieve your objective, you don’t really consider how it is going to leave you standing after. My favorite part of that is the transition out of it. “Okay, that’s done. Now, what do I have to live for? Where do I go from here. Was it that gratifying for Jane?” There are all of those questions. We sort of deal with that in a lot of ways in the next episode afterwards.
How concerned are you that “The Mentalist” can live without Red John?
Heller: Not really concerned, because if it can’t, then that’s what happens. It felt very much to all of us that that chapter of the story was done. Frankly, I think, the great asset and value of the show is in Baker’s head and what he does. Red John never even appears physically as a character until the last episode. He was a feeling in the show, and an objective, but in terms of the moment-by-moment pleasures of the show, those are delivered by Simon Baker and his people, not by Red John. Frankly, I don’t know, but I don’t mind. It is going to be a great show after Red John. Then it is up to the audience to decide if they like it or not.
What does this mean for the other characters?
Heller: I think for the other characters, it is a little like the children of divorce: What’s next? They have been enthralled to somebody else’s mission, and now that mission is gone. They were in a world they didn’t choose, and now they are in a world that is changing around them. Again, not of their own volition, so what it is going to be for these characters is a process of growing up. They are leaving home. Jane has big questions as to what he is going to do about himself. Lisbon, Van Pelt, Cho and Rigsby also have to make those choices.
Moving forward what will the relationship be between Patrick and Lisbon? Will they still have a strong bond?
Baker: I think absolutely. I think even stronger.
There is a point earlier where Lisbon tells him if he goes through with killing Red John, he is throwing his life away. Will that scene be revisited? Will that be her reaction to this?
Heller: The consequences that she is talking about there are very much dealt with, yes. Her meaning is revisited. His life as he knows it is over, but it is the beginning of a new life.
Baker: What you see once the dust settles is who is important to whom, where they fit in, how each person sees themselves, and who they care about.
Is Jane going to face any legal ramifications for his actions?
Heller: Yes, he is. You can’t go around killing people willy-nilly without some kind of ramifications. Very much so.
Will Jane have any desire to continue to work in law enforcement after this episode?
Baker: Not immediately.
Heller: I call tell you, he is going to be placed in a position, where his personal desires on that level are not to the point, because, like you say, he has done something highly illegal. What he does in the future is not going to be entirely up to himself.
Red John has all these disciples, who are still out there. Will they take any action in future episodes?
Heller: I never say never, but I would say, I think, the audience and the story demands that we step away from that trope for a while. The trouble with these sort of stories, where you are playing tricks on the audience with who-is-it mysteries, is that you can get way too mysterious. There are a lot of people who said all the way along that Patrick Jane is Red John. When you have that kind of elaborate thinking out there, it is dangerous to come back to stories unless you come back to that story with full force, because people will start to think that Red John is not dead. Red John is dead.
Red John was bragging that he figured out Jane’s list of suspects. Are we to take at face value his explanation that he is psychic, or is that a thread you want to leave dangling?
Heller: I want to leave that thread dangling. The whole issue of do psychics exist is a question that the show has deliberately… Jane feels very strongly, as I do, that psychics don’t exist, but you can’t tell that to the many millions of people who go to psychics every week and get genuine solace, comfort and understanding from what those psychics say. That is very deliberately a way of not being doctrinaire about that issue and leaving it for the audience as a dangling thread… Any and all answers to that question are correct. It depends entirely on your point of view about the existence or non-existence of those powers.
Did you ever consider Jane not killing Red John?
Heller: The idea of not having Jane not kill the guy? I never considered any other ending. I always hate heist movies, where they don’t get away with the heist or revenge movies, where they don’t get their revenge. That always seems like a cheat on the audience. The show started with someone who had very good reasons to find, catch and kill this guy. It would have been almost dishonest to not take that as the conclusion to this chapter.
“The Mentalist” returns on Sunday, Dec. 1 with an episode that begins to deal with the aftermath of the death of Red John at 10/9c on CBS.