MAJOR-MAJOR SPOILERS: You have questions, yes? CBS’ The Mentalist team has answers — 20 answers for 20 burning questions following Sunday’s huge “Red John” episode. Reporters were given a sneak peak of the hour, then interviewed creator Bruno Heller and star Simon Baker during a nearly hour-long conference call.
As you now presumably know, tonight Patrick Jane (Baker) discovered Red John was a not-dead-after-all Sheriff Thomas McAllister (Xander Berkeley), then shot him and throttled him to death. Below the team talk about the big moment and what’s to come (transcript edited for length and coherence; questions paraphrased):
When did Heller decide Red John’s identity?
Bruno Heller: I’m not sure. It kind of just emerged over the last couple years. There was always three or four possibilities. And it just happened, really. It seemed like the natural correct choice.
Was now the best time to solve the Red John case?
Simon Baker: There’s a lot of different ways they could have gone. I always thought there was legs in the Red John story, as a show that wasn’t procedural. You could have milked that whole Red John thing out, but it would have been in the style of 24 where you’re picking up exactly where you left off [each week]. It would have been really interesting to explore that. But we’re on CBS and they love a procedural TV show and they know how to market those. So we did this little dance of doing a crime-of-the-week and then bouncing back to this Red John story … That was a difficult dance to balance those two things. I guess it got to a point where some people were like, “We love the Red John episodes, and we love the stand-alone episodes as well, is there a way to deal with one completely and move forward from there?” To be honest with you, those decisions are not for me to make. I’m always for going for it, pushing it a bit more. These last five months working on the show has been really exciting for me. I’ve had this sort of enthusiasm I had in the first season because it’s new and fresh from week to week and it’s going somewhere. Sometimes the frustration for me as an actor is we’re not going anywhere, we’re not moving forward, and this is definitely going somewhere and it gives me something to do.
Was Baker satisfied with Red John’s identity?
Baker: I was eventually satisfied with the way I killed him — how about that? I always felt the scariest [thing was] it could be the guy you see every day on the way to work who’s watering his lawn two blocks away, the everyday guy … so when we found out who it was, that fulfilled that category… Ultimately with anything like this there’s a level of disappointment because like anything when there’s mystery you paint a picture in your head of what it’s going to be, particular when it’s a mystery that holds you underwater so long, the mystery of who it is is mythical.
Heller: Ideally you want it to be Sean Connery with horns and a tail in a cave, but that guy doesn’t exist.
Why did Jane kill Red John? And what was most important to you in creating this episode?
Heller: It was about giving Patrick Jane exactly what he has hunted for all these years. I don’t think it was a moment for cleverness or moral ambivalence. He wanted revenge and he got it. And I think that’s what the audience wanted and that’s what we gave him. … I always hated heist movies where they don’t get away with the heist, or revenge movies where they don’t actually wreck their revenge. That always seemed like a cheat. The show started with [Jane] having a very good reason to catch and kill this guy and it would have been almost dishonest not to have that as the conclusion to this chapter.
Baker: You can look at any plot and analyze it and pull it apart until the cows come home, but I did feel a sense of pressure since we’ve been working toward this for so many years … I thought it’s gotta live up to that in that one moment. It’s also the one moment in the life of the character where he’s stepping out into the unknown and he’s been talking about it and made a commitment to do that. Also the way we do it was important. I felt like to pull the trigger [of a gun], it’s just puling the trigger and the gun does the killing. To grapple with somebody and kill them with your hands is far more intimate–
Heller: — and real and honest and visceral … with all that pressure and all that story that’s gone by and all the baggage, he did a really beautiful intimate killing there. It’s hard but good to watch.
Baker: Whatever happens in the course of the series, there’s reasons and things you sign on, and there’s very important elements to the character that you make a connection with immediately. A lot of those things were laid to rest in this episode. If felt incredibly personal to me. I’ve always been very invested in what my character does and how he reacts to his personal story — which is the Red John story. Not so much what’s thrown at him, but how he reacts and how he deals with it. What can best serve the story that feels [realistic] as opposed to the character behaving a certain way to drive the plot forward. The challenge and most difficult part of working on this show is playing a tragic character that has a very raw and unprotected emotional side to him but has this sort of whimsical tap-dancery thing going on with a sense of humor as bravado — to dance between the two tones of the show has always been very challenging. I get very protective of the personal stuff with that character — so things like the tea cup and obviously how we kill him, Bruno knows that I’m going to be waiting outside his door to weigh in on all that stuff.
But is Red John really dead?
Heller: Red John is dead. It’s passed that point.
How long was The Blake Association part of the show’s master plan?
Heller: The Blake Association was there from quite early on, though hidden. Frankly, it gives you a logical, coherent reason for Red John’s immense power that is not down to him being supernatural being. That notion of a villainous Freemasonry inside law enforcement seemed like a realistic idea because it’s happened in other places and a deeply creepy idea.
Red John said he was psychic. Is that to be believed?
Heller: I would leave that thread dangling … Jane feels very strongly, as I do, that psychics don’t exist. But you can’t tell that to the many millions of people who go to psychics every week and get genuine comfort and solace and understanding from what those psychics say. So that’s very deliberately a way of not being doctrinaire about that issue and leaving it to the audience. All answers to that question are correct and it depends on your point of view.
Can Baker mentally stitch together the whole Jane story now?
Baker: I don’t think I could put the pieces together in my mind. Far too many pieces. But there’s definitely there’s kind of key scenes in the journey of the character that he was going to exact revenge and it was going to be personal showtime and then possible an existential crisis afterward.
NEXT: What happens next? Romance? Jail? More Red John?
At what point did Xander Berkeley (McAllister) learn he was Red John and how did he react?
Heller: At the very last moment and he was thrilled.
Wouldn’t it might have been better for Red John to be captured so his other victims’ families could get some closure too?
Baker: I like it. I like that idea. We’re going to steal that.
Heller: There you go. That’s where me and Baker disagree. I was like, “No, kill the guy.”
Baker: Not the only thing we disagree on.
Heller: Not the first, won’t be the last.
Baker: I think if you really looked at it, if there’s any kind of sense of regret ever about that thing, that would totally be it.
Heller: That’s the difference between me and Baker. I thought the only regret would be not to take longer killing him … it’s a good question, tough to play if that were [to happen]. My sense [it] either destroys you with guilt or you get a certain amount of strength from it. And I think Jane gets a certain amount of strength. This is not the first time he’s killed somebody. And like primitive men used to think, when you kill somebody, you take a certain amount of strength with them.
How will murdering Red John change Jane?
Heller: Jane is this tragic figure who has gotten his heart’s desire. He’s found the sort of evil Grail he’s been chasing all these years, but what does that do to him as a person? Can he begin a new life? And what kind of life does he want for himself, and how will he define himself, now that that part of his life is over? … this fresh version of the show is about is what happens afterwards. In a very real sense, he’s a happier person, a weight has been taken off his shoulders. In that way, a weight has been taken off the show. So it’s going to be the same show, to some degree, but a show with less darkness at the edges, and more freedom to roam. Jane has more freedom and a sense of possibility and liberty.
Might Jane finally have a love life?
Will Jane and Lisbon (Robin Tunney) get closer now?
Baker: Yeah, I think, absolutely.
Heller: They’ve been so engrossed in this massive task they haven’t really looked around at the people around them and think about who those people are what they really mean to them. Now Jane and Lisbon have a chance to take a breath and think about each other in a way that they haven’t before.
Is Jane going to face legal ramifications for killing Red John?
Heller: Yes, he is. You can’t go around killing people willy-nilly without some kind of ramifications. Very much so.
Will Jane continue to want to work in law enforcement?
Heller: Not immediately. I can tell you he’s going to be placed in a position where his personal desires are not the point. What he does in the future is not going to be entirely up to himself.
Will the show return to being a weekly crime procedural?
Heller: Yes, we’ll be returning to crime solving. Not necessarily the same kind of crime solving.
Will The Mentalist succeed without Red John?
Heller: Not really concerned … It felt to all of us like that chapter of the story was done. I think, frankly, the great asset of value of the show is in Baker’s head and what he does. Red John never even appears as a character until this last episode. He was a feeling in the show and an objective, but in terms of moment-by-moment pleasures of the show, those are delivered by Simon Baker and [the rest of the cast], not by Red John. I think it’s going to be a great show after Red John. Then it’s up to the audience to decide if they like it or not.
What does this mean for the other characters?
Heller: I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms. It’s a little like the children of divorce. What’s next? They’ve been enthralled in somebody else’s mission and now that mission is gone. They were in a world they didn’t choose and now that world is changing around them again.
Will we get more information about Red John?
Heller: We won’t be going back. … Once the curtain is drawn back from these evil Wizard of Oz characters they tend not to be very interesting dinner companions. They tend to be ego-maniacal one-track minds … There is a great deal of [backstory], if anyone waned to ask those questions, I’d be happy to answer. There’s a lot of questions about motivations and what [Red John] was doing and when and how… It makes for great Internet fodder, but it’s not very entertaining for a weekly TV audience.
Baker: When Red John dies there’s a part of Jane that dies in that moment as well. It’s kind of what he’s been about since we met him. It takes a little time to get back on his feet again. He doesn’t have a wife and kid, he doesn’t have a relationship with anyone other than those he worked with at the CBI and this perverse relationship/obsession with Red John, which is now over … In the very next episode there was a line that referenced Red John and I was pretty adamant about losing it. Because we’ve said “Red John” about 4 million times and 3 million in the last 7 episodes … It’s nice to have to have a good clean cut and not have Jane speak of him … Even if he speaks [of killing him], he doesn’t mention “Red” or “John” in same sentence.
Does this mean episode titles will no longer have variations on “red” in them?
Heller: Oh yes … very happy about that.