Credit: Michael Desmond/CBS
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[Warning: Contains spoilers from Thursday night’s Mentalist finale]

Get that limo! Get that limo! But that dastardly Red John outsmarted Patrick Jane again in the season 4 finale, having used a decoy to fool the CBI team. Worry not: has an interview with The Mentalist creator Bruno Heller, who wrote tonight’s episode, answering burning questions about the finale, sharing thoughts about Red John’s identity, and giving hints as to what fans can expect next season and beyond (could The Mentalist suffer the same abrupt conclusion as CSI: Miami?).

Entertainment Weekly: You got to jailbreak Patrick Jane from the constraints of the CBI. Bet you had fun writing this one.

Bruno Heller: It was a laugh. These last few episodes of the season are always a challenge and a laugh because you get to break out of that CBI prison.

I particularly liked the first scene at the bar, I thought that was very well done.

That’s the other thing. Simon [Baker] takes such joy in being able to stretch that character, to take it to the edge of the character. It’s great fun for the actors as well.

Red John’s accomplices don’t tend to survive long in custody. Geiven the ending, are we to expect this one (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui from Entourage) to stick around?

They’re like Spinal Tap drummers, aren’t they? Yes, I hope so.

In the first season I thought Red John was just a serial killer. But he’s evolved to be more of a Moriarty-type villain with this web of other people under him and lots of money. Can you give me your sense of how you see the character?

The character is consistent in the sense that he has grown with time. He’s a bit like anyone who’s very successful at what they do, this superstructure grows up around you. Over time, he’s evolved as you say, from a serial killer to something more than that. I hate to use this analogy, and it may be an inaccurate one, but it’s like an actor. You start out by saying lines, then as you move up the ladder you start to think you’re more than a simple human being. Power attracts power and this is how great criminal psychopaths get power.

There’s this smart line near the start of the third act of Seven, where the audience is warned that when we meet the film’s serial killer, there’s no way he’s going to live up to our expectations. He’s just a man. Has that concerned you, building up the villain for so long that it can’t top expectations?

Sure, if season 5 we just opened a door and said “tah-dah!” and it was some mid-range actor, that would be disappointing. The trick is going to be — and this is coming — bringing the audience along and making them second guess themselves and ask, “Is that him? Is that him?” Red John ultimately is just a man — whenever you see the great criminals reduced to the flesh it’s sort of disappointing. I have two seasons or so to make it come true. [Joking dryly] I can guarantee that people will be disappointed.

Will you cast Red John next season?

Will I cast him? He might already have been cast. You might already have seen him.

So chances are when Red John is revealed, it will be somebody we already know rather than a “tah-dah” walking-out-of-the-fog moment.

Yes, it would be very disappointing if we did that and it was Nigel Lythgoe or something. I suppose if we could get Elvis Presley to come back we’d do it that way.

I thought Bradley Whitford did a good job as a faux Red John in last year’s finale.

He had a lot of fun doing it. It’s not quite sacrilegious, but verging on it, pretending to be Red John. I think we got away with it, the audience came with us on that one.

What else can we expect next season?

As you see at the end of last episode, it’s not that Jane is No More Mr. Nice Guy, but we’re certainly going to see a little more of that hard darker side of him. That’s one of Simon Baker’s great assets as an actor, he can play both charming and dark at the same time. The show is not going to turn into a much darker show, but that character will show more of those colors. We’re getting closer to the meat of what the show is about.

There’s a Sherlock Holmes show this fall, a character that inspired The Mentalist. Fox has a new show called The Following about a serial killer who creates a cult of serial killers. Were you like, “Hey, there’s already a show about all this!”

There’s room for any number of shows along these lines because it’s a universally beloved genre. I hear the Sherlock Holmes show [CBS’ Elementary] is very good and I look forward to seeing it.

CSI: Miami was canceled after a decade on the air without the producers having time to write a series finale. Have you been reassured by CBS that you’ll get to have a final-season arc?

There’s no assurances in this business. It’s the job of myself and everybody else on this show to keep it working as well as it does to ensure we get that final arc. A show that’s been running this long with the degree of success it’s had, we’ll know well in advance of that sort of outcome and we’ll adjust accordingly. I’m not concerned about that.

Assuming you’re fortunate enough to get a “final season” heads-up, have you considered throwing out the crime-of-the-week format and turning your show into a serialized drama about Jane chasing Red John?

It’s a good question. Most writers would rather write serialized drama because it allows you to explore [the characters] in depth. If it seemed that’s what the audience wanted, we’d consider going there. But I think the audience so far is coming to us because it’s a procedural detective show and I’d be loath to break faith with that deal. I think you can have your cake and eat it, and we have.

Any thoughts about moving to Sunday nights in the fall?

I’ve always left that side of things to the experts who know what they’re doing. And more to the point, if I thought making a fuss would make any difference then I would feel differently. But there’s aspects of this job you don’t have control over. Our audience will follow us and hopefully we’ll also find a different audience than we found on Thursday nights.

The Mentalist
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