CBS’ hit drama The Mentalist, starring Simon Baker as tragedy-marked super-sleuth Patrick Jane, reaches the end of its third season this evening. This is about the time in the life of a successful television enterprise that showrunners like to shake things up with a move that profoundly marks the characters and even fundamentally alters the storytelling m.o., at least for a season or two, all for the sake of extending said life of said TV enterprise. See: Fringe, which concluded its third season a couple weeks ago with a time-travel twist that may have created a whole new version of history for the writers to explore. Also recall: Lost, which concluded its third season by abandoning flashback storytelling and introducing flash-forward storytelling.
The Mentalist promises to follow form, with insiders telling EW that tonight’s season finale is truly a “game-changer.” No, that doesn’t tell you much, but if you’re a fan, you probably don’t want too much spoiled for you, anyway. CBS has been promising viewers a story that will bring Baker’s character face to face with the William Blake-quoting, happy-face-scrawling serial killer that murdered his wife and child, a mysterious fiend named Red John that speaks with a creepy-high voice (faked?) and usually works through proxies that revere him like a cult leader. Those who follow the show know that Jane has sworn to slay Red John once he finds him or her. Will tonight’s finale make a cold blooded killer out of the hero? Might season 4 of The Mentalist be set in… prison?
Those who don’t watch The Mentalist may find all of this rather “whatever.” After all, it seems that every single police procedural about two bickering detectives/would-be lovers on TV right now must have some kind of ongoing murder mystery conspiracy mythology linked to someone’s tragic past. (Also see: Bones, Castle) Still, in this reporter’s opinion, The Mentalist’s “Red John” saga has been riveting. My pick for Red John? Virgil Minelli (played by 24 Emmy winner Gregory Itzin), the man who recruited Jayne to the “California Bureau of Investigation” and paired the ex-psychic with no-nonsense special agent Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney). Virgil retired from the CBI last season — all the better to plot intricate Red John schemes, my dear! — but made a conspicuous reappearance earlier this year during a Red John-centric episode. It was if the show wanted to remind us that his character was still in play…
For fans of The Mentalist: Who’s your top Red John suspect? And for everyone else: What’s the best “game-changer” moment ever?