<i>The Mentalist</i> The Mentalist

The latest person to fall under Patrick Jane's spell on The Mentalist is Jane's new boss, Special Agent Madeline Hightower.

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"She's really fascinated by him," Aunjanue Ellis

, who plays Hightower, tells TVGuide.com. "She respects him, and I think there's an element of her she sees in him. She's a strategist and she's able to, with a lot of fluidity, handle a wild card like Patrick [Simon Baker] and at the same time deal with the incredible bureaucracy that comes with having a job like that."But make no mistake: Hightower, who makes her debut Thursday, is no pushover. She means business, says executive producer Bruno Heller."Hightower is brought in from the Fresno office to fix all the damage that's been done because Minelli [Gregory Itzin] left," Heller says. "Since that point they haven't had anyone in charge of the overall CBI and they need someone to work politically with the powers that be and someone to bring a bit more discipline to the unit. Agent Hightower is ex-Secret Service; she's very sharp, very smart, very political and cunning in a bureaucratic way. But the main thing is, she's got a wit about her that is a great match for Jane — not as an adversary but as a boss."

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That instant chemistry between Jane and Hightower doesn't bode well for Lisbon (Robin Tunney). "She's hard on Lisbon, but she's hard on her for a reason," Ellis says. "She's being manipulative — she's trying to get something out of Lisbon, as well as something out of Jane. What's great about her is, if she goes after someone hard ... [it's] because she wants to gain a certain reaction from the whole team. I think that's what she's done with Lisbon. Her relationship with her sets in motion this ripple affect, and I think it's going to create something that will be really engaging to watch."Jane, meanwhile, is given a longer leash than ever before. "Her job is to let Jane be Jane, but to make sure the CBI is not damaged as a result," Heller says, noting that Lisbon will be held responsible if Jane goes too far. "Hightower has immediately assessed that there's a continuing amount of affection and friendship between those two, and she uses Jane's own conscience against him. While Jane is very happy to break the rules, he's going to be a little more careful if it's Lisbon that suffers. But of course he can't help himself and that's where the drama lies."Hightower will also quickly figure out the romance brewing between Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti), and she will give them an ultimatum. However, Ellis says Hightower has to be careful not to make enemies.

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"She does immediately figure out what the relationships are — she's done her research," she says. "But she has her own agenda, and she needs to have her allies. She has to strategize and manipulate in a way so she can get what she wants out of the people under her. What makes this character unique is she uses an attack that hasn't been done before. I think there's something very female about it. It's not just muscle."

Ellis says Hightower's fascination with Jane begins when he exposes one of her secrets. "She's kind of maintained a story about herself that is revealed to not be the truth," she says. "It's true, but semantically, it's not true and Jane, in a very revealing and playful scene, exposes that. He disarms her in a way; he has that ability with everybody."

And could that fondness Hightower has for Jane ever turn to something more? Doubtful. "She sees Jane as a bit of a mystery that she wants to solve," Ellis says. "In the last few episodes we've done, there's a figuring-out between the two of them. I wouldn't say there's romance in a sexual way, but there's a sort of romance that happens with people who do have a fascination with one another."

The Mentalist airs Thursday at a special time, 9/8c, on CBS.