Lost in a Pigeonhole: Where The Mentalist Went Wrong

The Mentalist is another in a long line of procedural dramas that mixes in serialized elements. Meaning, it has the usual “case-of-the-week” structure going, but it also puts in little pieces of a large overarching story-arc to go along with it. With The Mentalist specifically, we’d often get a a slew of random cases to solve, but every once in a while we’d get a case that would progress the show’s central mystery, and that would be catching Red John.

The story of Patrick Jane (the titular mentalist) and Red John is a brilliant hook. Patrick Jane was a genius and a fraud who used his understanding of human behaviour to masquerade as a psychic. When he insults the prolific serial killer known as “Red John” on national television, Red John pays him back by brutally murdering his wife and daughter. Losing everything he had to live for due to his own hubris, Jane dedicates his life to exacting revenge on Red John, so he becomes a consultant for the CBI (the California Bureau of Investigation, like the FBI but more conveniently located). Using his considerable talents to help solve various cases, Jane use’s the CBI’s resources to get closer to Red John. He may be working on the side of good, but you can definitely sense that he’s being driven on by a darkness that’s inside of him, even if he hides behind an eccentric mask.

This is such a great set up for a show because it completely sucks you into the mythos between these two adversaries right off the bat. You really wanna see Jane catch Red John, you’re always excited about what Red John would do next to get under Jane’s skin, but most of all you just want to enjoy the thrill of the chase. Also, seeing Jane interact with the different casts of the unrelated cases he works through was fun for a while. That all sounds great, but where did the show slip up? Where did it lose its footing? It occured in the season 3 finale that ended with Jane and “Red John” meeting face to face for the first time.

The meeting itself was a shocking moment of television to say the least. Every word of dialogue between these two men had me at the edge of my seat, waiting for them to resolve their histories. Unfortunately, without giving too much away, the way they “resolved” their meeting in the following season’s premiere was cowardly to say the least. That single misstep sent the show into the deep quagmire of a pigeonhole from which it had no idea how to climb out of. The show became directionless, with Red John appearing less like a legitimate adversary and more like a 90s videogame foe. His cryptic challenges to Jane began to sound a lot more like arcade villain dialogue. Rather than the spine tingling taunts we’ve grown accustomed to, what we got was essentially Red John saying:

“Hehehe, nice try Jane. Close but no cigar! Are you a bad enough dude to find me and avenge your family that I KILLED!? If so, then press CONTINUE to keep playing… If you dare!

Having to experience this version of the show, where the stakes felt more and more frivolous as Red John became increasingly nonsensical in his ability to elude capture for all these years. When the moment did come to end the Red John story half way through the 6th season, what we got was incredibly disappointing and maybe even laughable. By then, the show had stretched my suspension of disbelief as far as it could go, but after watching the conclusion of the Red John story-arc (the arc that started the show), it was shredded into ribbons right before my eyes. The word “stupid” does not even begin to describe it.

The season 3 finale of The Mentalist is an example of a gamble that failed miserably in the end. They made a bold, exciting, and incredibly risky move, but got scared and failed to capitalize on it. As a result, the rest of the show spiraled out of control and everything about it was tainted. If the show’s main story-arc starts to feel frivolous, what do you think happens to the unrelated cases? It may not have been quite on the level of prestige dramas that have many critics seriously considering if TV  has surpassed film in terms of quality in story telling, but it had an amazing premise, a compelling star, and an intriguing overarching plot. It had so much potential and it wall squandered over one instance of indecisiveness. I don’t know, but to me, that’s definitely something to think to about.

Quote of the Day:

Shawn: Here’s the thing, Robert: I am a psychic.

Gus: We work for the Santa Barbara Police Department. We’ve solved over forty-seven cases. I’m also a pharmaceutical rep, if that means anything to you.

Shawn: You’ve seen The Mentalist, right?

Robert: Yes.

Shawn: It’s like that.

Gus: Except that guy’s a fake.

Shawn: Right. If I were a fake psychic, it would be eerily similar.

Gus: Exactly the same.

Shawn: A virtual carbon copy.

Psych

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