Since the beginning of CBS’ crime drama “The Mentalist” — currently airing its sixth season on Sundays — faux psychic-turned-criminal investigator Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) has pursued Red John, the serial killer who murdered his wife and child.
Jane’s single-minded obsession with Red John has been the thing propelling him forward through his pain and grief. His quest for justice — both in the pursuit of his hated foe and in his crime consulting work for the California Bureau of Investigation — has, in some ways, ameliorated his guilt over fleecing the gullible in his previous life.
But having a single overriding goal could become a problem for Jane if he hasn’t considered what his life will be about if that aim is reached. If he doesn’t give this some serious thought, the end of the hunt could be the end of the line for Jane.
Since the beginning of the season, the list of suspects has been whittled down. In October, suspect Bob Kirkland (Kevin Corrigan) was first eliminated when it was revealed that he was actually on the hunt for the serial killer, blaming him for the death of his twin brother.
Then Kirkland also became a victim at the hands of a fellow suspect.
At the same time, it’s become obvious that there are people keeping close tabs on Jane.
In the episode airing Nov. 3, he begins a journey that may lead to the revelation of Red John’s identity, currently narrowed to suspects Ray Haffner (Reed Diamond), Reede Smith (Drew Powell), Sheriff McAllister (Xander Berkeley), Bret Stiles (Malcolm McDowell) and Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston).
Having discovered that Red John has a particular tattoo, Jane hatches a plan to lure the suspects to his Malibu home — the site of his family’s murder — and finally identify his nemesis.
The fascination with Red John extends beyond the show to its loyal fans.
Speaking between scenes — and just before his nap — in his trailer at Warner Bros. Studios, Baker says fans who see him want to know “‘Who’s Red John?’ That’s the standard question.”
His standard reply is “‘Can’t tell ya.’ They’re always pretty nice. They smile. Occasionally I say, ‘I don’t know, but if you find out, let me know.’ That one always goes down well.”
There are rumors that this is the season Red John finally is identified, but Baker, who’s also a producer on the show, responds to some skepticism about that, saying, “You don’t believe the talk, the chatter that’s out there that we are going to find him this season? Wouldn’t you want, just for the sake of it, to close that off? Because if the network decided to cancel you, you would never close that story up.
“It’s tricky. Is Red John the spine of the show? I don’t know. Is he? Is he the spine of the show or is ambition the spine of the show, in the main character? My question is this: Is Red John the spine of the show, or is Jane’s desire to seek revenge the spine of the show?”
This leads to the question: Since Jane’s desire to seek revenge is directed at Red John, aren’t the two the same thing?
“We’ve built Red John as Keyser Soze,” says Baker, referring to Kevin Spacey’s mystery man in “The Usual Suspects.” But if we don’t really know who Red John is, what if he’s little Jim out at the corner? It’s really about seeking revenge. As long as you keep the desire for the carrot, what happens when you get the carrot? What happens when you obtain a goal in life?”
Told that a person who experiences this might either feel lost without his or her driving force, or might just set another goal, Baker launches into a playful speculation.
He says, “OK. What if you’re singularly focused on one goal, and you’ve put everything into seeking your goal? What happens when you obtain that goal? What does Jane have to live for?
“If someone lives for a goal, if their sole purpose in life is to seek revenge, what does that leave Jane? That could be an interesting show. I’m just talking story. If you want to talk about, from an audience standpoint, is it no longer entertaining?
“Do we care, once he’s reached that goal? Do we care? Do we like Patrick Jane enough to care what happens to him after the dust settles? My wife has a little timber plaque. It’s not attached to anything. It just floats around the kitchen. In red print it says, ‘Protect me from what I want.’
“All I’m doing is giving you a question mark.”
Whether it’s the romantic dance of private detectives Dave and Maddie on “Moonlighting,” Mulder’s quest for the shadowy alien-government conspiracy and the secret of extraterrestrial beings in “The X-Files” or biker Jax’s attempt to recapture his dead father’s vision of his outlaw motorcycle club on “Sons of Anarchy,” unresolved desires can keep a series alive. But as “Moonlighting” discovered when it brought its lovers together, resolution can be a death sentence.
Is there TV life for Patrick Jane and “The Mentalist” after Red John?