Robin Tunney, Simon Baker

The word game-changer gets thrown around a lot, but The Mentalist's bold Season 3 finale, which finally puts Patrick Jane face to face with serial-killer nemesis Red John, is a giant moment for the CBS drama.

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"This changes everything," executive producer Ashley Gable tells TVGuide.com. "[There] is a confrontation between Jane and Red John like we've never seen before, and I think fans are going to be screaming at their televisions. It's going to blow people's minds."

CBS clearly believes in the power of the episode, which for the first time in the show's history will be two hours long. The first hour (Thursday, 9/8c, CBS) begins with a routine case involving a man who shows up at a gas station with a bomb strapped to his chest. When the man is blown up by a remote detonator, Jane (Simon Baker), Lisbon (Robin Tunney) and the team begin looking for clues from the man's life.

Eventually, the clues lead to another body — and, more surprisingly, Madeline Hightower (Aunjanue Ellis), who remains the lead suspect for the murder of a man connected to Red John earlier this season. Because Jane knows Hightower isn't guilty of the crime, he sets up an elaborate plan to prove Hightower's innocence and reveal Red John's real mole in the CBI. To do so, he calls on Rigsby (Owain Yeoman), Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) and Cho (Tim Kang) to lure the mole — and Red John himself — into a trap.

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As usual, you can expect plenty of twists and turns along the way. But what happens when Jane finally looks into the eyes of the man who murdered his wife and child? "This has been [Jane's] whole reason for being for the last several years," Gable says. "This is his white whale, and it's going to be a very interesting encounter. The show does ask the question: Can this funny, Cary Grant-like character kill someone like he's always sworn to do? I think fans will be pleased with the way it plays out."

But that opens up another question: Can The Mentalist continue without Red John? "The mythology of the show has to deepen and has to become richer," Gable says. "What is true at the beginning of the series isn't really true forever. Shows evolve. Things change and that's good for the show. There certainly could be life after Red John in my opinion."

Series creator Bruno Heller expressed similar thoughts at the beginning of this season. "I can easily imagine a version of the show without Red John, but we're only in the third season of the show we have now," he said. "I want to be telling a story that people are paying attention to next year and the year after. We have lots of great stuff to play with, but I don't want to throw it all into the mix right away."

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Whatever happens during the Jane-Red John showdown (and just wait until you see which Emmy winner the show cast for that juicy role), Gable expects viewers will be talking about the finale for a while. "We've never done a true cliff-hanger before, but I think this does qualify," she says. "It answers a lot of questions but opens up a whole new [mystery]. People will be wondering all summer long what's going to happen in the fall."

The Mentalist's two-hour Season 3 finale airs Thursday at 9/8c.