After five-plus seasons of “The Mentalist,” Patrick Jane will finally catch up with Red John, the serial killer who murdered his family, in Sunday’s (Nov. 24) episode.
That raises a couple of big questions, the first of which is what happens then? And then, what happens next? If Jane (Simon Baker) achieves his goal of killing Red John, where does he — and where does the show — go from there?
Series creator Bruno Heller is obviously not answering the first question before the episode airs. As for the second one, he says he’s happy with the direction the show takes afterward.
“It felt very much to all of us like that chapter of the story was done,” Heller said earlier this week on a conference call with reporters. “Frankly, I think the great asset and value of the show is in Baker’s head and what he does. Red John never even appears as a character, physically, until the last episode. He was a feeling in the show and a sort of objective, but in terms of the moment-by-moment pleasures of the show, those were delivered by Simon Baker and [the cast], not by Red John.”
As for how viewers will react to “The Mentalist” without Red John, Heller admits he doesn’t know. “But I don’t mind,” he adds quickly. “I think it’s going to be a great show after Red John, and then it’s up to the audience to decide.”
Heller says the question of whether, and when, to reveal Red John’s identity has been around almost as long as “The Mentalist” itself has, so there was no “functional, formal” moment that made him and his fellow writers decide to bring the story to a close now.
“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 senses of the word anchor? It just seemed this was the right time. Ultimately that’s a subjective choice. It just seemed like from a storytelling point of view and from the audience’s point of view, it was time to move the story forward.
“And the best way to move the story forward in a way that’s exciting for the audience is to move it much faster than they think it’s going to move. The natural thing to do would be to work this to the end of a season, but then all those plot points and beats become more predictable and pro forma. This way you get a bit of the surprise and unpredictability of a real event happening.”
As with the Red John reveal, Heller doesn’t want to say too much about what happens in its aftermath. He does say, however, that it may allow Jane and Lisbon (Robin Tunney) to see one another in a new light.
“They’ve been so engrossed in this massive task ahead of them that they haven’t really looked around and looked at the people alongside them and thought about who those people are and what they mean to them,” Heller says. “Now Jane and Lisbon have a chance to take a breath and think about each other in a way they haven’t before.”
“The Mentalist” airs at 10 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS.