[Warning: The following article contains spoilers about Sunday's episode of The Mentalist. Read at your own risk!]
So much for a tattoo being the surefire way to determine who Red John is.
On Sunday's episode of The Mentalist, Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) gathers the five remaining Red John suspects — Bret Stiles (Malcolm McDowell), Ray Haffner (Reed Diamond), Thomas McAllister (Xander Berkeley), Reede Smith (Drew Powell) and Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston) — at his house to determine once and for all which one is his nemesis. As he's rounding the quintet up, we learn a couple of important things: first, that the FBI has reopened their investigation into Bret Stiles, but Stiles isn't worried about being found because he's dying getting ready to "elevate himself to another plane," in the parlance of Visualize.
Also, Stiles and Bertram whistle a creepy tune at different points in the episode — Bertram just before he makes a mysterious phone call, and Stiles as he's the first to arrive at Jane's house. We know that Red John was described as a good whistler in Jane's psychiatrist's notes. But, we've also heard Haffner, McAllister and Smith whistle at odd moments in earlier episodes. Is it a clue or just a red herring?
Fast-forward to Jane's awkward party. Armed with a clue from Red John's latest victim that RJ has a tattoo of three dots on his left arm, Jane tells his five guests that he knows one of them is the killer, and unceremoniously orders them to lose their shirts. When they disrobe, Jane sees that no less than three of the men (McAllister, Smith and Bertram) have the tattoo. "It's not what you think," McAllister tells Jane, who's pointing a shotgun at his face. So which one is Red John?
Unfortunately, once again, Johnny Crimson seems to be a step ahead of Jane: the episode ends with Jane's strategy literally blowing up in his face, as the house (presumably with Jane and the five suspects still inside) explodes just as Lisbon (Robin Tunney) is seen running up the driveway.
TVGuide.com turned to Mentalist writer Ken Woodruff, who penned the episode, to break down the major developments in "Fire and Brimstone."
Is the information that Bret Stiles only has a couple of weeks to live trustworthy?
Ken Woodruff: We should definitely trust that, especially given Jane's trust of that. Any time [Jane] buys into it, which he does in this episode, it's pretty safe to say that it's trustworthy.
Does that make the case for Stiles being Red John stronger or weaker? On the one hand, is he physically capable of committing all these murders? On the other hand, he might be motivated to finish his mission before he dies.
Woodruff: You brought up both sides of it, which is exactly what we were sort of hoping for. He is a Red John suspect. I think he's been one of the strongest Red John suspects since his character's introduction, and you get to see him I think in a vulnerable way that we haven't really seen him in before. He's on the run. He's trapped by the FBI. He's forced to live sort of like Julian Assange in this consulate. So maybe what we're hoping is you think a little bit less of him. You think maybe he is on his way out and not capable, just because you sort of seem to feel a little empathy for him. On the other hand, if we are getting to the end of Red John, it's sort of perfect timing. Maybe he's resolving some final things. And the line "a dying man does not fear death" I think could mean a lot, just given how truthful that can be. He has nothing to lose at this point.
There are also some key moments in the episode between Jane and Lisbon. Lisbon, for the first time, says that she wouldn't stop Jane from killing Red John. Should we believe her?
Woodruff: I wanted people to believe it in the scene, but Jane sort of calls out exactly what the truth is. He sarcastically says, "So let me get this straight. After 20 years in law enforcement, you're suddenly changing your opinion." I think it is a lie on Lisbon's part, and I think Jane's calling that out. It's one of the reasons for his deception later on, because he knows that she's a good person in spite of herself. She wouldn't be able to go through with this, and I think Jane knows that by now.
That's their classic dichotomy. Lisbon is very by the book, whereas Jane's motivated by a personal need for revenge and doesn't feel the need to play by the rules.
Woodruff: Absolutely. And we said it early on in the series, where he says, "When I find Red John, I'm going to kill him." And she says, "I'm going to stop you." It's a lie for sure in this episode. But she really means it. She wants to stop him from doing this. The other thing in the script is, she does believe he's sort throwing his life away if he does [kill Red John]. It's going to have some serious repercussions.
Is there also a sense of them wanting to protect each other? Jane wanting to protect Lisbon by not putting her in a position of having to stop him, and Lisbon not wanting him to do this on his own?
Woodruff: I think it's very selfless, and it sort of represents the deep caring and the level of love, in a way, that they have for each other. It absolutely means it's more dangerous for Jane to do something like this on his own, but he's willing to sort of risk that if it means protecting Lisbon. And vice versa. She could be throwing her career away and she could be throwing her life away if she goes along with this and isn't able to stop him. And I think they're both willing to take that chance for the other person.
But for Jane, is him leaving Lisbon on the cliff solely because he wants to protect her, or is it also that he has a need to finish this by himself?
Woodruff: I think it's somewhere sort of in the middle. That's how I wanted to write it. At the end of the day, when push comes to shove, I think he wouldn't let anyone stand in his way, even if that means hurting Lisbon to a certain extent. When he ditches her and drives off at the beach, that's not a nice thing to have done, by any means. (Laughs). I laughed every single time we filmed that scene. I got a kick out of it. But it's a sad, hurtful thing to have done. ... My wife leaned over and punched me in the arm when she watched that. At the end of the day, [Jane's] wife and daughter were murdered by this man, and I don't think he's going to stop at anything, really.
Before he ditches her though, Jane has a nice speech where he tells Lisbon how much she means to him. It seems genuine, but is it just a diversion tactic? Could it also be his way of saying goodbye in case he doesn't survive the confrontation with Red John?
Woodruff: I'm so glad you thought that it played on those different levels, because that was the hope for it. I think absolutely he wants the opportunity to say goodbye if something does go wrong. Also, he was being deceptive with her, but the best lies are sort of hidden in truth. So when he says the things they say on the bluff, in my opinion, he really meant them and that's why they're so effective. And that's why even Lisbon — the sort of wary detective — doesn't see it coming, because it just hits her in such an emotional place.
Will their heart-to-heart be revisited later this season?
Woodruff: We're exploring a lot of that. We're just now into the first couple of episodes of the new [post-Red John] world, and there's so much going on and so much that we're setting up and changing that it's a tricky one to answer. But the dynamic between Jane and Lisbon is such a core part of the show. That's always going to be there. It may change and adapt, but it'll always be the heart, I think, of the show.
What's the significance of Jane bringing the five Red John suspects to his house?
Woodruff: There really wasn't another setting that was as fitting, that had as much emotional resonance and just meant as much. It's a charged place, as soon as you step foot inside that door, as soon as Jane looks at the smiley face that's faded after 10 years. To me, there was just nowhere else to do it.
With Haffner, Bertram and Smith all having the tattoo, is it safe to assume that it relates to the Tiger Tiger conspiracy within law enforcement?
Woodruff: Absolutely. It's definitely related to Tiger Tiger, but how it's related is still a little bit of a mystery. It's going to be explained and explored further in the coming episodes.
Since they don't have the tattoo, can Stiles and Haffner be ruled out as suspects at this point, or is that jumping the gun?
Woodruff: I think it might be jumping the gun, only because as soon as more than one person has the tattoo, it sort of throws into question the whole theory that Jane's been operating on up until this moment. So I wouldn't throw it out ... just given the nature of our show and how we twist things around, and Red John as a character, how sort of capable and deceitful he's been able to be all these years. Don't forget, Jane's been in the place where he's been 100 percent positive of Red John before and he was wrong. So I wouldn't underestimate Red John.
Being so close to catching Red John, where is Jane's head in the final moments of the episode, leading up to the (quite literally) explosive ending?
Woodruff: I just haven't seen [Baker] go there and be that way very often in the series. I think it's really, really fun to watch. He brings a menace and a sort of danger that you don't always see from Patrick Jane. ... You can really feel it in those scenes, and on set it's the same way. Those scenes in particular I feel are really interesting for his character, to go to that place.
We've heard Red John's voice before and it doesn't match up with any of the suspects. How will the show resolve this?
Woodruff: We definitely will deal with that, and I think it's done in a really, really great way that's going to be coming up in [Episode 8]. ... We were very aware of that and conscious of it going forward and in dealing with Red John and [his] voice and all that stuff. So it definitely pays off, and faithful viewers will, I think, be satisfied by it.
What did you think of the episode? What caused the explosion at Jane's house? Who will make it out alive? And who do you think is Red John? Weigh in below!
The Mentalist airs Sundays at 10/9c on CBS.
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