Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) meets with (from left to right) CBI director Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston), Sheriff Thomas McAllister (Xander Berkeley) and FBI agent Reede Smith (Drew Powell) — three of the seven Red John suspects. Photo: Colleen Hayes/Warner Bros. (Photo: Warner Bros. Television)
Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
Since CBS drama The Mentalist began in 2008, California Bureau of Investigation consultant Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) has been fixated on finding Red John, the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter. On Sunday (10 p.m. ET/PT), he gets his wish.
Although the Red John story has been central to Jane's character and the series, creator Bruno Heller wanted to bring it to a conclusion before the show's own ending in order to examine how its resolution would affect Jane. In the Dec. 1 episode, the sixth-season drama will jump ahead two years to look at Jane and his CBI colleagues in the aftermath of Red John and the dissolution of the law-enforcement agency.
The Red John story "has been the anchor of the show and, when I say anchor, I mean it in both senses of the word," Heller says. "It's been an absolutely necessary (device for) stability,but it's also been something that has held Jane in thrall and made him a darker and more driven and more ambivalent character than he would be otherwise. Now that anchor has slipped its moorings," he says. "We wanted to see what Jane is like without this burden," and the mentalist is definitely "happier" and "free to think about what to do with the rest of his life." Even love is a possibility.
Australian actor Simon Baker, who plays Jane, calls the decision to end the Red John story and jump ahead in time "a bold and risky thing to do," especially during the middle of a season. "I think that makes it fun and interesting."
Viewers have gotten to play along, as Jane has been whittling down a suspect list that started at seven. Last week, the focus shifted to CBI director Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston), the subject of an intense manhunt as tonight's episode opens.
"I thought the list was a great idea," Baker says. "For the first time, there was something tangible. It's just a process of elimination in some way or another. After vamping for so long and giving tidbits of information and then (having) fantastical theories all over the place, to then have something that tangible was very clever."
That solution to the murder mystery comes as the CBI Sacramento office is dismantled, after the discovery that it has been infiltrated by a corrupt secret society of California law enforcement officials that includes the serial killer.
"It was really strange to shoot all of that stuff. It felt enormously like we were at the end. That set is gone. We've got a completely new set now," Baker says. Combined with the Red John conclusion, "It's very clear that we're striking the whole thing and starting again."
CBS supported Heller's proposal to end the Red John story, which has been so central that the color, in various forms, has been woven into episode titles throughout its run.
"In Bruno's version, we realize Patrick Jane is bigger than Red John," says Glenn Geller, CBS' current-programming chief . "There's much more to the story of The Mentalist than just the hunt for Red John. We really get to see the aftermath and what happens to Jane."
When The Mentalist jumps ahead, the former CBI team members will be scattered, with Lisbon in San Francisco, Rigsby and Van Pelt in northern California and Cho in Austin, the home base of the FBI agent (Rockmond Dunbar, who will become a series regular) assigned to shut down the CBI. Jane is out of the country.
Jane "wants nothing to do with his old life at all. (Lisbon) has made a new life for herself, (but) after two years she finds she's thinking about Jane all the time." Heller says. Their investigations will continue but in "a world of higher stakes and bigger strategies. They won't just be solving crimes in California."
Baker, who directs the Dec. 1 episode, says viewers will see changes in Jane. "It's a coming of age in a way," he says. "It redefines the relationship between Jane and Lisbon (Robin Tunney) in a real and adult way."
No decision has been made regarding The Mentalist's future beyond this season - ratings are down, and CBS needs slots to launch new series - but Baker and Heller say there are plenty of stories to tell in the post-Red John era.
"I think that is going to fall on our writers, if they can come up with stuff that's interesting and if we continue to move forward. That's a challenge. I think they're pretty keen to meet that challenge," Baker says. "We'll give it our best shot."