Simon Baker

As bad-boy crime whiz Patrick Jane on The Mentalist, Simon Baker takes orders from no one. But he sure knows how to give 'em! The Aussie Adonis turns director for tonight's episode, a sprawling story — written by series creator Bruno Heller — that finds the CBI team investigating an artfully staged triple homicide, which appears to be the work of a complicated maniac. It's soon revealed that the small-town murders are part of a wider slaughter of California policemen, which could lead to a media nightmare.

"It was a masochistic challenge," says Baker with a laugh. "When you direct, it's the luck of the draw which episode they give you. When I read the script, I was like, 'Holy s--t! This is a tough one. Gee, thanks, guys!'" He has high praise for his guest cast, including Star Trek: Enterprise vets Connor Trinneer, as a redneck cop, and John Billingsley, as a geeky psychic who claims the killer is affected by the moon. "I was most critical of myself," Baker admits. "You can't let your acting suffer because you're thinking about 14,000 other things."

The hour also drops some unnerving hints about the show's phantom supervillain Red John, echoing the recent episode where Bret Stiles (Malcolm McDowell), the creepy leader of a Scientology-like church, appeared to be a Red John accomplice. "It's like we're slowly creating our own conspiracy theory here," says Baker. "Who or what exactly is Red John? Is he one person or many?"

The Mentalist airs Thursdays at 10/9c on CBS

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