Did CBS cancel The Mentalist and forget to tell us? The smash-hit crime drama just wrapped its third season with Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) shooting and killing serial slayer Red John (Bradley Whitford) in the crowded food court of a shopping mall. But wasn't Jane's vengeful pursuit of Red John his raison d'être and the very point of this series? How could the plot wrap up so soon? Then again, did Jane kill the real Red John? Whether he did or he didn't, he's in deep doo-doo. "Patrick has just murdered a man in cold blood in front of hundreds of people and next season he will be tried in court," creator Bruno Heller tells us. "We won't dodge any issues. Patrick won't wake up and discover it was all a dream. There will be consequences." TV Guide Magazine spoke with Baker to get his take on the daring cliffhanger and where his show is headed from here. Will that impish little devil Patrick Jane ever be able to charm us again?
TV Guide Magazine: Those who follow The Mentalist might well be shocked by what Jane has done, but they can't claim to be surprised, right?
Baker: Exactly! My character has always said, very coldly and matter-of-factly, that he would kill Red John if he ever got the chance. That was always his modus. And he's told that to Agent Lisbon [Robin Tunney] many times. Of course there will be repercussions, but Patrick clearly doesn't give a damn about that.
TV Guide Magazine: How will this murder change him? Is this closure? Can he get on with his life now, even if that life is spent in prison?
Baker: I think he feels great about finally getting revenge. But you never know. This could be the false bottom to the suitcase. Maybe this isn't the bottom.
TV Guide Magazine: Meaning what? That Jane killed the wrong man? He certainly thought he had the right guy once Red John described how Jane's wife and daughter smelled at the time of their murders — the exact soaps and shampoos they used. But, theoretically, the real Red John could have passed that information to Bradley Whitford's character, no?
Baker: There's a lot to play around with. I think it was a brilliant choice to have the murder happen in such a public place. Bang! Bang! Bang! Then Jane's totally calm. People are running around in a panic. Jane just sits down and has his cup of tea. It's done. He's finally done what he needed to do. After this season, you're going to have the lead character on a network TV series being a cold-blooded, vengeance-killing murderer. That's heavy.
TV Guide Magazine: He certainly can't claim to have killed in self defense.
Baker: And how do you get around that? There are too many witnesses who saw him go after Red John. I had some issues with the way the killing was originally written, which had Red John getting up and walking away and my character shooting him in the back three times. That wouldn't have been fulfilling enough for Jane. The whole idea of vengeance is the fulfillment factor! Patrick had already said in a really powerful scene in Season 1, "When I find him I'm going to cut him open and watch him die." A big part of the show — and the fan speculation — has always been whether or not Patrick really has what it takes to carry out that threat. Does he actually have it in him? So we played around with the scene. My idea was that Red John talks about how the wife and child smelled and it just cripples Jane. You see him go from this guy who's this close to having his vengeance, having his closure, and he just crumbles into a bit of a paralyzed mess. Then Red John walks away. Jane says, "Please, wait." Almost like he needs to hear more detail. I've always played the murders as still being so raw, so present, despite Jane's bravado. I like the perverseness of him needing to hear more, as macabre as it is. So Jane goes up to him and looks like he's shattered, then when he gets this close to Red John, the need for cold revenge kicks in. And he's thinking, "Not only am I going to kill you, I am going to mind f--k you at the same time." I wanted the audience to still think in that moment that, despite all Jane's talk, he just can't kill Red John. But then he does! It's very operatic. Bruno loved the idea.
TV Guide Magazine: You two seem to have a remarkably close, almost symbiotic relationship. A lot of exec producers in town would freak if an actor wanted this level of creative involvement.
Baker: Believe me, I know! [Laughs] I get such profound satisfaction working with Bruno, because he understands me and I understand him. It's really pure luck we found each other. It's very rare. I can be a real pain in the ass with the wrong types of people. The last thing I want to do is come to work each day and not be challenged. What's the fun in taking it easy? Let's push it! I'm very happy that Bruno and I have been able to juggle the procedural and the serialized aspects of the show without swinging too much either way. Bruno appreciates the genesis of the Patrick Jane character, what drives him, and that he comes from a very tragic place. And you can't fluff it off. You have to honor that. That hasn't been easy because sometimes there's been a lot of pressure from CBS to avoid the dark stuff, because the lighter stuff is so much easier to swallow. But without the dark, the light isn't as enjoyable. The light can't exist without the dark.
TV Guide Magazine: William Blake!
Baker: Exactly! One hundred percent.
TV Guide Magazine: Word is, CBS has been a bit uneasy with this finale.
Baker: There have been so many little arm wrestles to get this stuff through, but in the end I think we have the confidence and the support of the studio and the network. With Bruno and me there has been a lot of, "We can do this! We can get away with this!" Because this isn't cable where you can do what you please. In network TV, you have to present the box before you can step outside it. CBS has always wanted the fun procedural stuff, and that remains a big element of The Mentalist. But this show has a lot of different personalities. I think there's a sense with the network that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And I understand that because you can make some really bad mistakes that way. But we have to keep this show moving. I don't ever want to mess up the experience for the audience. I want them to enjoy the show as much as they do, from the first episode to the very last. I don't want to screw up that relationship at all. But at the same time, living and breathing this show every day, I have to challenge Bruno and he has to challenge me. In a way it's so much easier to be subversive in cable: "Oh, look at us! We're wacky! We're daring! We say 'f—k; a lot!" When you're on a network, you have to slide the subversive in the back door. And you don't have to be depressing in order to have gravity. A few episodes back we had Jane help the coroner kill himself. The guy had a terminal disease and the viewers were really touched and involved in that story. But it was all so subtle, I'm not sure they really realized what Patrick had done. And now we've moved on to total cold-blood vengeance. [Laughs] I know how this is going to play out. Trust me, this is a great setup for next season!