Patrick Jane isn't the only person who's eager to bring his decade-long hunt for Red John to a close on The Mentalist. Simon Baker says the conclusion of the story line, after Sunday's final showdown, is a relief for him as well.
"This last five, six months that we've been working on the show, it's been really exciting for me," Baker said on a conference call this week. "It's felt like I've had the sort of enthusiasm that I had in the first season because it's new and fresh from week to week and it's going somewhere. Sometimes the frustration for me as an actor is that we're not going anywhere, not moving forward. In this, we're definitely going somewhere, and the stakes are high and it gives me something to do that I can really get my teeth into."
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As Jane has worked to narrow down the Red John suspects at the start of this season, Baker says he tried to keep himself in the dark as well. "I didn't have any theories at all," Baker admits. "Actually, I made a point to not read too far ahead on a lot of these episodes, the first six or seven. I would read the outlines, but I didn't really want to read scripts too far in advance, because I didn't want to get ahead of myself."
Still, after five and a half years of tracking Red John, Baker says it was somewhat of a letdown to finally come face-to-face with the mysterious killer, and that he felt a sense of loss after filming Jane's final showdown with his enemy. "I always felt what was scary was the fact that it could be the guy that you see every day on your way to work that's watering his lawn two blocks away ... the everyday guy that is a serial killer," Baker says. "So when we found out it was who it was — I think, ultimately with anything like this, there's a level of disappointment. When there's mystery, you paint the picture in your head of what it's going to be, and particularly when it's a mystery that holds you under water for so long, the mystery of who it is is mythical. The truth is, it's just a person."
After Sunday's installment, The Mentalist will jump ahead two years, so the immediate aftermath of Jane's final confrontation with Red John will have already been dealt with. But questions about where Jane (and the show) will go moving forward still loom large.
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"What this fresh version of this show is about is what happens afterwards," creator Bruno Heller said on the same conference call. "In a very real sense, Jane is a happier person. A weight has been taken off his shoulders, and to that degree a weight has been taken off the show. So, it's going to be the same show to some degree, but it's going to be a show with less darkness at the edges, and more freedom to roam. Jane has more freedom and more of a sense of possibility and liberty."
With that in mind, Baker says he's still trying to work out how to play Jane in a post-Red John world. "To be honest, it's been strange," Baker says. "It's been really strange, because whatever happens in the course of the series, there's reasons that you sign on to that show for, and there's very important elements to the character that you make a connection with immediately. And a lot of those things were laid to rest in this episode. So it did feel incredibly personal to me. I've always been very invested in what my character does and how he reacts to his personal story, which is the Red John story."
But Jane's character isn't the only one who's thrown for a loop. The time-jump reveals that his former CBI comrades are scattered around the country after their agency was shut down, with Lisbon (Robin Tunney) in San Francisco, Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) in northern California, and Cho (Tim Kang) in Austin with FBI agent Dennis Abbott (new series regular Rockmond Dunbar).
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"It's a little like they're the children of divorce," Heller says of the disbanded CBI crew. "They've been enthralled with somebody else's mission, and now that mission is gone. They were in a world that they didn't choose and now they're in a world that is changing around them, again not of their own volition. So what this is going to be for these characters is a process of growing up. They're leaving home. Jane has big questions to answer about what he's going to do with himself, and Lisbon, Van Pelt, Cho and Rigsby also have to make those choices."
What remains to be seen is whether viewers will stick with The Mentalist after the Red John story line is wrapped up. Baker, who directed the first post-Red John episode, airing Dec. 1, said he was adamant that the name "Red John" not even be uttered in the hour. "We've said, 'Red John' about four million times, and three million times in the last seven episodes, I think," Baker quips. "It's really nice to have a good, clean, fresh cut from that and not mention Red John for a while at all, and have Jane not even speak of him."
Heller is also confident about the decision to put the Red John story line to bed once and for all. "It's kind of like a marriage or any kind of partnership," he says. "How long is Red John driving the story forward, and at what point does it become an anchor — in both sense of the words an anchor? It just seemed like this was the right time. ... It felt very much to all of us like that chapter of the story was done.
"I think it's going to be a great show after Red John," Heller adds. "And then it's up to the audience to decide whether they like it or not."
The Mentalist airs Sundays at 10/9c on CBS. Do you think the show will be able to go forward without the Red John plotline? Vote in our poll!
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