SPOILER ALERT: This recap contains storyline and character spoilers.
After five-and-a-half seasons of "The Mentalist," we finally know who killed Patrick Jane's family — though not without a few last-minute twists and turns: Sheriff Tom McAllister.
At the beginning of the episode, CBI director Gale Bertram is on the run, seemingly implicating himself as the killer. But although he was in fact a killer, he wasn't the killer. He was just a patsy for The Blake Association, which was run by McAllister.
The years-long chase ends with Jane choosing not to shoot Red John, but instead choking the life out of him. The last image is of Jane apologizing to Lisbon's voicemail (the FBI have confiscated her phone) and running away alone.
Simon Baker, who plays Jane, and "The Mentalist" creator/showrunner Bruno Heller spoke with reporters about the choices they made going into this episode. For starters, there was never going to be another ending to the Red John story; Heller is emphatic on that point.
“The notion of having Jane not actually kill the guy ... certainly, I never considered any other ending,” he says, likening it to heist films where they don't get away with the heist. “That always seems like a cheat on the audience,” and he feels like it “would have been almost dishonest” not to let Jane exact his just revenge.
Red John was always going to be a character actor who had already appeared on the show, “We didn't have the choice of Jesus or Elvis Presley,” says Heller, though apparently Baker held out hope for Quentin Tarantino. And though Baker was a little let down when he discovered who Red John turned out to be (“When there's mystery, you paint in your head” a mythical answer that can't possibly meet expectations in the real world, he says), “I was eventually satisfied with the way I killed him.”
Heller agrees: “Ideally, you want it to turn out to be Sean Connery with horns and a tail in a cave, but that guy doesn't exist.” And that's also the reason why they didn't want to stay with him much beyond the revelation. “I hate to use the phrase 'the banality of evil,' but ... once the curtain is drawn back” and you're actually dealing with a human monster, “they tend to be not very interesting dinner companions. They tend to be egomaniacal, one-track-mind type of guys.”
Which is also why they won't be returning to Red John. The chapter is closed — so much so that Baker pushed to excise references to him in the next episode's script (which he himself directed). “We've said 'Red John' about four million times. And three million times in the last seven episodes.” They've been at it for a long time, and “it's really nice to have a good, clean fresh cut.”
"The Mentalist" stars Simon Baker and Robin Tunney talk about the big Red John reveal:
Can the show stand up on its own now that the beginning impetus for the show is gone? Heller isn't concerned. “The great asset and value of the show is in Baker's head and what he does. Red John never even appears as a character, physically, until the last episode.” And though that sense of foreboding is now gone, “in terms of the moment-by-moment pleasures of the show, those are delivered by Simon Baker and his people.”
So what will the show be going forward? Says Heller, “a weight has been taken off [Jane's] shoulders, and to that degree, a weight has been taken off the show. It's going to be the same show, to some degree, but it's going to be a show with less darkness at the edges.”
On the possibility of a relationship between Jane and Lisbon (Robin Tunney), the pair remain coy, but Heller offers that Red John has consumed them for so long that they've never thought about each other in that way. “And now Jane and Lisbon have a chance to take a breath and think about each other in a way that they haven't before.” Though Baker says, “He's going to sign up for [dating website] JDate,” before swiftly retracting it — perhaps fearing the Internet would take him seriously.
What do you think, "Mentalist" fans? Will you still be watching now that you know who Red John is? Are you looking forward to the same show “with less darkness at the edges”? There are huge changes in store that we've been asked not to reveal. Tell us how you think the show should proceed in the comments below.
"The Mentalist" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on CBS.