Credit: Sonja Flemming/CBS

So was it really Red John?

That’s one of our burning questions as we match wits with Bruno Heller, the wickedly savvy showrunner behind CBS’ The Mentalist (and, lest we forget, HBO’s Rome). Here’s Heller talking for the first time about last week’s shocker finale, where Patrick Jane gunned down in cold blood his longtime serial killer nemesis in a shopping mall (clip below). What’s the story behind that pivotal scene, could there be a Mentalist spin-off and what’s the latest on the Rome movie? Read on.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we last spoke shortly after you launched The Mentalist, you said Patrick Jane confronting Red John would be a series-ending moment, not a season-ending moment. What changed that?

BRUNO HELLER: Good question. Hoisted by my own petard. [Pause]. The answer will be revealed at the beginning of next season. Jane wanted to know if this was Red John or not. And the guy gave him proof that he was. The question remains: Was that Red John? The larger question is: How does Jane get away with murder? Whoever the man was, you’re not allowed to do that.

When I re-watched the scene, I realized the entire conversation is Jane trying to get to a point where he’s convinced of Red John’s identity so he could take action. Though readers debated whether it was really him, it felt pretty clear that as a viewer you’re supposed to be convinced it was. You’re saying it’s still up in the air?

Heller: What you get from that scene is what you should get. The viewer is supposed to be convinced. Patrick Jane is certain it’s Red John. Some people are not so certain. Thing is, Red John is a master of the mind game. If Red John wanted to die, maybe this is how he wanted to die. Or maybe he just wants Jane to think he’s dead.

Either way, it sounds like this is not the end of the Red John storyline. The show is not just going to re-set.

Heller: Well, look at it this way. If you, James, killed your worst enemy, would that be the end of the story? No. It would be the beginning of a whole different story. Sorry to play mind games with you.

I’d be disappointed if you didn’t! Is this scene how you always conceived of Jane confronting Red John?

Heller: No matter how I conceived it, it wasn’t the way Patrick Jane conceived it. And that’s the thing about revenge and what the scene is about. It’s a dish that’s best eaten cold, but even eaten cold you’re still hungry after you’ve finished it. I thought it was a nice, powerful scene. It was precisely the banal surroundings and mundanity of it that makes it powerful. It’s also what makes it a little unreal for Jane — Did I just do that? And how does he feel now? It’s a little like post-coital depression — one of those things that everybody feels and nobody talks about.

He sort of looked rattled and disturbed yet at peace at the same time, is that accurate for how he is now?

Heller: That’s very accurate. How do you feel when you’ve just done something so simple that changes your life.

There’s a moment when you think he’s going to let Red John walk away. And you think: If that happens, it’s a total violation of Jane’s character as we’ve gotten to know him — even if, as we think in that scene, Red John has a gun and Jane doesn’t — you just want Jane to tackle him.

Heller: Absolutely. The evil of storytelling is you’re trying to make the audience complicit in murder — Kill the guy! Jump him! And then once you’ve done it, it’s like, I’ve killed this guy, now what? If you do that kind of violence in a show like this, you have to bring the audience along with you and then question their judgement.

At the start of the series you said something I thought was really interesting. You suggested the show was only half as good as it could be. Is the show now where you want it to be?

Heller: Oh, I was being very honest, wasn’t I? We’re getting there. It can be like cooking the same dish over and over. But the more you do it, the more you find the essence of what makes the show work. We’re always trying to make it better.

Any update on the Rome movie?

Heller: I wish. There’s a script. There’s been some talk of it at Cannes. But I’m not holding my breath.

Finally, any chance of a Mentalist spin-off?

Heller: That would be tempting. One of the nice things about a show going on as long it has is the secondary characters take on a life of their own. We absolutely could do a spin-off. I’m not developing one, but you never know.

The Mentalist
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