Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean somebody ain't out to getcha. It might even be several somebodies. In the early months of the CBS hit The Mentalist, it seemed to viewers that Red John, the unseen psychopath who haunts and taunts Simon Baker's character, Patrick Jane, was operating as a solo act. But now, in the show's third season, it is creepily clear this serial killer is part of a larger conspiracy and has several operatives at his command. Red John even has an accomplice actively involved with the California Bureau of Investigation, the very organization that's trying to bring him down.
Fans finally learn the identity of that mole in the May 19 season finale, a two-hour heart-pumper — innocently titled "Strawberries and Cream" — that ends with the unmasking of Red John himself. It's true! Jane finally gets face time with the sicko who slew his wife and daughter many years ago, and that confrontation will change the course of the series in a seismic way.
"We're really stepping outside the box with this one," Baker says. "We'll see how far we can push Patrick and still keep him empathetic and likable in the eyes of the audience. There's been an increasing feeling of paranoia all season, a real pressure-cooker situation. You have to be constantly on guard and careful that you're not talking to someone who is now or has ever been a member of the Red John Communist Party. It's bad."
But only Jane knows how bad. In a scene filming at the Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, the uncannily shrewd crime consultant has gathered together his inner circle of trust — agents Lisbon (Robin Tunney), Cho (Tim Kang), Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) — for a briefing session in which he tells them Red John has someone planted in their midst. He's kept this a secret for months, sharing it only recently with Lisbon.
"Patrick finally has to play his hand, and it's nerve-racking for him," notes Baker between takes. "He's at a point where he's desperate — desperate and calculating — and he needs the help of the CBI team to find the mole." Taking part in Jane's plan could be lethal, so Lisbon gives everyone a chance to back out. No one takes her up on it. "Until now, Patrick has been on an almost maniacal one-man hunt for Red John," Yeoman says. "Dangerous as it is, everyone's glad to be included. For the first time in a long time, we're really bonded and working together." Adds Kang: "At this point, the Red John conspiracy is so potentially big, only Jane and his immediate team can count on each other. It has them going, 'Screw everybody else at CBI! We're circling the wagons and taking care of business our way!'"
Just as there are five definite good guys, Jane reveals there are five possible moles. All are connected to the Red John investigation and all are known to regular viewers. "We've tried to create a real Hitchcockian whodunit that puts the audience in a privileged position," says creator Bruno Heller. "We know more than the people on screen, and in suspense drama, that's always a beautiful thing."
This isn't the first time one of Red John's associates has come dangerously close to our heroes. Last season, an innocuous secretary named Rebecca (Shauna Bloom) massacred three staffers at CBI headquarters. Religious guru Bret Stiles (Malcolm McDowell) is certainly in league with this devil, as was Todd Johnson (Josh Braaten), the cop killer who was burned alive in his high-security prison cell by the mole Jane now seeks. Quoting the 19th century Romantic poet William Blake can be a tip-off. Red John did it most memorably in last year's season finale when, wearing a mask, he whispered a stanza from "The Tyger" into Jane's ear. Then Johnson, a hick from the sticks, quoted from the same poem while taking his last breath. Even CBI director Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston) broke into a little Blake during a manhunt, instantly placing himself on our suspect list. And though we now know Lisbon's on-the-lam boss, Madeleine Hightower (Aunjanue Ellis), didn't kill Johnson as initially feared, can we really trust CBI agent J.J. LaRoche (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the nuisance who fingered Hightower for the crime?
"We don't know how Red John is creating his society, and that makes it all the more scary," Righetti says. "Are these people who work with him doing it willingly? Are they being paid off? Bribed? Blackmailed? Brainwashed? Until he's caught, we won't know." Were we tipped off to all this way back in Season 1? Mentalist groupies will recall the episode "Red John's Friends," where one of the killer's victims spent his last moments writing the cryptic message "He is Man" in his own blood. What did it mean? Was the message complete? Fans have debated these questions ever since. Finally, Baker weighs in with his take. "I think we could say at this point that 'he is man' was meant to be 'he is many,'" the actor observes. "But then that raises the question, if Jane ever gets Red John, is he getting the real Red John?"
But let's get back to that mole. "This season we've brought in so many great guest actors that it makes it really hard to figure out who it is," says Tunney. "Plus, I guess it helps" — she adds with a laugh — "that we have such a rotten security system at CBI. Our screening process is certainly lacking. It could be anybody!"
For more on The Mentalist's season finale, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, May 12!