By James Hibberd
Updated February 04, 2015 at 12:00 PM EST

The Mentalist has lost a series regular during Wednesday’s episode that will change the course of this final season.

Tonight’s hour, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” saw the loss of young FBI agent Michelle Vega (Josie Loren), who died struggling for breath in the arms of Agent Cho (Tim Kang) after being shot by a bank robber. The twist had been in the mix since last summer, says executive producer Tom Szentgyorgyi, and will have a big impact on the life of Patrick Jane (Simon Baker). “We knew it was the last season … and we wanted to revisit the world of traumatic death and loss that gave birth to the start of the show. From the midway through season six and seven we’ve been watching Jane move out from under that shadow. If the show as a whole has a story, it’s about Patrick Jane learning to live again.”

Loren said she wasn’t surprised when she got this week’s script. “I knew when I was cast,” she said. “Tom called me the day before I started shooting and explained my arc and let me know they were going to kill me off.” Even so, filming that death scene was an emotional experience for the actress, who previously co-starred on ABC Family’s Make It or Break It. “There was a palpable sadness for me,” she said. “It was my last day shooting and I was in this sadness because I was leaving this awesome cast and crew. I grew to love Vega and it was last you’ll ever see of her. Also, having to play at death is strange, I’ve never died on camera.”

Vega’s demise even managed to choke up Cho, which sure isn’t easy. “Once the scene was over, I felt so much closer to Tim than I had in the last 3-4 months working with him,” Loren said. “Doing that kind of bonds you.” Making the twist more tragic, Vega had finally set up a date with Jason Wiley (Joe Adler). “Even more heartbreaking!” she said. “We were finally going to have our very geeky nerdy date.”

As Szentgyorgyi pointed out, however, losing Loren serves a major purpose in the show’s home stretch. Jane now wants to quit law enforcement, and you can expect Vega’s death to impact Jane’s colleagues too. “It will have an impact on everyone,” Szentgyorgyi said. “We wanted to put everyone in Jane’s shoes and be forced to respond. The subject of Vega’s death comes up in episodes 11 and 12 and 13.”

As for Loren, the actress doesn’t have new gig lined up — yet. Loren says she’s ready to dive into pilot season casting. So don’t be surprised if she pops up in another project soon.