Robin Tunney and Simon Baker

Patrick Jane got closer than ever to his psychopathic nemesis, Red John, in The Mentalist's Season 2 finale, but an end to Jane's quest for vengeance couldn't be further away.

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"Jane was pretty badly traumatized by his encounter with Red John," creator/executive producer Bruno Heller tells TVGuide.com "It wasn't on Jane's terms. He felt ... violated and to a degree humbled by the experience. Jane had always had some sense that this was an equal duel of wits. But the last episode showed it was certainly more of a cat-and-mouse thing going on, and that Red John was holding all the cards."

Worse, Red John abducted psychic Kristina Frye (Leslie Hope), the first woman Jane (Simon Baker) had allowed himself to get close to since the murder of his wife and child at Red John's hand. Heller says Jane will pull away from Lisbon (Robin Tunney) and the rest of the team at the fictional California Bureau of Investigation  out of fear that they might also become victims.

"[The experience] certainly makes him much more wary of making those connections with people," Heller says. "And it makes him realize that until this primary relationship with Red John is sorted out, no other relationship is going to be able to play out in any kind of healthy way."

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The result is a more intense, serious Jane, Baker says. "There's still humor obviously, but I think everything is a bit closer to the bone — more raw, more sensitive," he says. "Jane has sort of opened himself up and then he's been damaged even more because of it. [In] the first couple of episodes, there is kind of a psycho Jane. Not that he's a  psycho, but you can tell that he's been hurt. .... Everything gets ratcheted up a little bit dramatically."

While Heller agrees that Jane's much tougher this season, he notes that a reunion between Jane and his brother-in-law (guest star Kevin Rankin) will also play up Jane's more sensitive side. When his con-man brother-in-law is suspected of murder, Jane will have to prove his innocence, despite bad blood between them.

"It gives us a little insight into the person Jane was before all this happened," Heller says. "It's the first time we've seen him with genuine family, and the love he had for his wife is sort of transferred to [her] ne'er-do-well brother. Jane is sort of morally obliged to treat him well because he's the last living connection to everything Jane held dear. Jane has affections and is willing to follow through with him when need be."

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Jane will also show a new affection toward Lisbon when she persuades him to come back to work with the CBI team. "Her faith in him and her willingness to go to bat for him means they're much tighter," Heller says. "As much as he wants to protect her by pulling away from her, he feels more love for her this year because they've been through so much, yet she's proven that she'll be there for him."

The show's other relationship, however, will be tested when Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti), much to the chagrin of former beau Rigsby (Owain Yeoman), creates some sparks with a new FBI liaison (guest star Eric Winter). "How they keep working together and how that relationship plays out is a big part of the season," Heller says.

But the relationship that will always drive the show is the antagonistic one between Jane and Red John. Although Heller maintains that the show will remain a week-to-week detective series, he concedes that Red John must inevitably become a bigger focus as Jane's obsession grows.

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"The ongoing story gets wrapped up in Red John in much more detail as the season rolls on," he says. "We're very cognizant that Red John is a big part of Jane's life, and it will become more and more a part of the show. ... This season we will get many answers, but you will also discover that Red John's world and his reach and his power is deeper, darker and wider than even Jane suspected to begin with. We will both learn more and learn that there is to more to fear."

The Mentalist returns for its third season Thursday at 10/9c on CBS.