It was perhaps last season's boldest finale. After three seasons, The Mentalist's Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) finally came face-to-face with the man he believed to be Red John (guest-star Bradley Whitford), the serial killer who killed Jane's wife and daughter. The two had a long, intense conversation as Jane tried to confirm that he was indeed in the presence of his nemesis. Once he did just that, Jane took his vengeance, shooting the man in broad daylight and surrendering himself to the authorities that came charging in.
But did he really kill Red John? And if so, what does that mean for both Jane's future (is he going to jail?) and the show's long-term goals? TVGuide.com chatted with creator and executive producer Bruno Heller to get the answers.
TVGuide.com: Now that some time has passed, how do you feel about the Season 3 finale?
Bruno Heller: I was very pleased. Bradley Whitford is a fine actor and gave a nice, creepy, solid performance. I hope the audience out there was pleased with it. Certainly, it throws a big stone in the pond. Coming into this period in the show, you want to shake things up a little.
TVGuide.com: How did you land on Bradley Whitford for the part? He's not necessarily the go-to guy for serial killer roles.
Heller: It was a tricky part because you need someone who's both powerful and charismatic, but to some degree very normal — just a regular guy. And [Bradley's] wonderful at playing a regular guy. I don't think he's ever been used in that way before, as a villain of that magnitude. It was great fun for him to play someone like that.
TVGuide.com: You've often said Red John is Patrick Jane's "white whale." Was it a challenge to write the episode where Jane gets his guy?
Heller: Writing that episode was not a challenge. Writing this next episode is the challenge. [Laughs] But that's exactly what you want: a challenge and an interesting dramatic corner to write one's way out of. And I think we've definitely done that. I think the challenge is moving the story forward without making the audience feel that they've been betrayed or conned or led astray. And I'm fairly confident — as confident as one can be — that they will not feel that way.
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TVGuide.com: I assume you're speaking of the people who have already decided that Bradley Whitford isn't really Red John?
Heller: Jane, in that scene, is kind of suspicious and dubious. The audience is in the same position as Jane. But Jane believes that this is Red John.
TVGuide.com: Either way, how will the new season deal with the fact that Jane murdered a man?
Heller: He is arrested for murder. Jane correctly says, "This guy said he was Red John, and he held a gun on me. It was self-defense." But the police reply that... no gun was found. So, within five minutes of the season opener, Jane is in jail for homicide with no way out, apparently. The immediate problem is not so much, "Is Red John alive or dead?" but, "How the hell am I going to get out from under a death sentence?"
TVGuide.com: Will Lisbon (Robin Tunney) or any of Jane's teammates be able to help?
Heller: He has to rely on them to get him out of that mess. And then the question does become: Are these temporary friends, or is there a deeper bond there? ... Also, [Jane] and Lisbon, to some extent, start questioning his sanity. He swears there was a gun, and this guy said he was Red John, but there is no proof.
TVGuide.com: But the audience saw the gun. So, is someone still following Red John's orders?
Heller: An intelligent viewer might think so.
TVGuide.com: Does the murder change Jane as a character? Are you worried audiences will be turned off by his actions?
Heller: Through all of that charm and joie de vivre, there is a certain steely hardness about him. There has always been an edge to him, and I think that is something the audience has always been able to see. If they didn't see it before, they're certainly seeing it now. I think, certainly in the first year, people might not have been willing to accept that kind of merciless streak in his character, but I hope they will come along with it now.
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TVGuide.com: Will he keep that edge all season, or will we still see some of the fun-loving Jane we've gotten to know?
Heller: The latter. It's always a balance. When Jane sees a boundary or an edge, he wants to see how far he can press it. But we're never going to put the show in a place where people are pushed away by its edginess. For good or ill, it's always been a show that you can watch with your grandmother and your child, and we very much want to keep it that way. But, you know, grandmothers like edge and children like edge.
TVGuide.com: How much does that finale change the show for you?
Heller: Every season you kind of take a chance to reset things. ... Last season was almost serialized. There was a great deal of plot and story that you could follow through the whole season. We're going to need less of that this season. There still will be an overarching narrative going on, but it won't be quite so intricate. From Jane's point of view, he doesn't want to play games any more. [He wants] to pull back a bit from that kind of obsessive chase, because it's the obsessive chase that has gotten him into problems in the first place,.
TVGuide.com: But if Jane really did kill Red John, what does the next chapter of the show look like?
Helller: If you got your heart's desire, and your heart's desire was a kind of bitter and dangerous pill to swallow, how would you go on with the rest of your life? What does revenge mean? Because, as you saw in that final moment, after you've killed someone, what's left? It's not like love. Love makes things grow. That kind of bitterness and hate kills things. But then, what do you do? That's what the show would be about when Red John is dead.
The Mentalist returns Thursday, Sept. 22 at 10/9c on CBS.