Simon Baker and Bruno Heller Talk THE MENTALIST, Closing the Red John Chapter, Arriving at His Identity, and What the Resolution of This Case Means

     November 25, 2013


Now that he has finally come face-to-face with Red John, the serial killer he’s tracked since the madman murdered his wife and daughter, it will be quite interesting to see what’s next for Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) on The Mentalist.  After nearly five and a half seasons of hunting Red John, that chapter of the story is closed and everyone will need to start over and find their place again.

During this recent interview to discuss the ramifications of that resolution, show creator Bruno Heller and actor Simon Baker talked about what was most important to them with this seminal episode, when and how they arrived at Red John’s identity, how this will affect Patrick Jane going forward, what the resolution of this case will mean for the rest of the team, whether Patrick Jane will ever return to law enforcement, why now was the right time to deal with this storyline instead of waiting until the end of the season, when the Blake Association was put into place, whether they ever considered an alternate ending or an alternate identity for Red John, and how they’re now working towards making a good season finale.  Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.

Question:  What was most important to you, in creating and performing this seminal episode?


BRUNO HELLER:  I guess giving a real pleasing, emotional closure to that story.  For me, it was about giving Patrick Jane exactly what he has hunted for, all these years.  I didn’t think it was a moment for cleverness or moral ambivalence.  He wanted revenge, and he got it.  I think that’s what the audience wanted, so that’s what we gave him.    

SIMON BAKER:  You can look at any plot and pick holes in it and analyze it and pull it apart until the cows come home.  For me, I did feel this sense of pressure because of having worked towards this for so many years.  It had been something that had really pushed the character, from the very beginning.  I thought, “I’ve gotta somehow 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, for such a long period of time.  Also, I think the way we did it was important because I felt like, to pull the trigger is just pulling the trigger and the gun does the killing, but to actually grapple with someone and kill them with your hands is far more intimate.  

HELLER:  And it’s real and honest and visceral.  How that last scene between the two of them went was very much written and directed by Simon.  The emotion that he brought to that, with all that pressure and with all of the story that’s gone by and all of the baggage, he did a really beautiful, intimate killing there.  It’s hard but good to watch, I think. 

When and how did you arrive at Red John’s ultimate identity?

HELLER:  That’s a good question.  I’m not sure.  It just emerged, over the last couple of years.  There were always three or four possibilities, and it just happened, really.  It seemed like the natural, correct choice. 

Simon, after having lived with this character for six seasons, how personal was this journey for you, in getting to this point?

BAKER:  To be honest, it has been really strange.  Whatever happens in the course of the series, there are reasons that you signed on to that show for, and there are very important elements of the character that you make a connection with, immediately.  A lot of those things were laid to rest in this episode, so it did feel 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 as much with what’s thrown at him, but his response to it, how he reacts and how he deals with it, and what can best serve the story while realistically being the character’s behavior, as opposed to the character behaving a certain way because it drives the plot forward, in a way that we want to go, but what serves the story, in a real way.  The challenge, and the most difficult part of working on this show, all along, has been playing this tragic character that has a very raw and unprotected emotional side to him, but also has this whimsical tap-dancery thing going on with it, with a sense of humor as bravado.  To dance between the two tones of the show has always been very, very challenging for me, and complicated.  I get very, very protective of the personal stuff with that character.  Bruno knows that I am going to be waiting outside the door to weigh in on all of that stuff. 

the mentalist - simon bakerBruno, how is this going to affect Patrick Jane?

HELLER:  Jane is this tragic figure who has gotten his heart’s desire and has found the evil grail that he’s been chasing, all these years, so it’s very much a question of, what does that do to him, as a person?  Can he begin a new life?  What kind of life does he want for himself?  How will he define himself, now that that part of his life is over?  

What can viewers expect, from the episodes moving forward?

HELLER:  What this fresh version of the show is about is what happens afterwards.  In a very real sense, Jane is a happier person.  A weight has been taken off of his shoulders, and a weight has been taken off the show.  So, it’s gonna be the same show, to some degree, but it’s gonna be a show with less darkness at the edges and more freedom to roam.  Jane has more freedom, and more of a sense of possibility and liberty. 

Might he finally have a love life, moving forward?

HELLER:  He might.   

How concerned are you about whether The Mentalist can live without Red John?

HELLER:  I’m not really concerned.  If it can’t, then that’s what happens.  It felt very much to all of us like that chapter of the story was done.  Frankly, I think the great asset and value of the show is in Baker’s head and what he does.  Red John never even physically appeared, as a character, until the last episode.  He was a feeling in the show and an objective, but in terms of the moment by moment pleasures of the show, those are delivered by Simon Baker and his people, not by Red John.  So, I don’t know, but I don’t mind.  I think it’s gonna be a great show after Red John.  It’s up to the audience to decide, if they like it or not. 

What will it mean for the other characters, now that Red John is dead?

HELLER:  That’s a good question.  I haven’t really thought of it in those terms before.  For the other characters, they’re a little like the children of divorce.  What’s next?  They’ve been enthralled to somebody else’s mission, and now that mission is gone.  They were in a world that they didn’t choose, and now they’re in a world that is changing around them, and not of their own volition.  What it’s going to be for these characters is a process of growing up.  They’re leaving home.  Jane has big questions to answer about what he’s going to do with himself, and Lisbon, Van Pelt, Cho and Rigsby also have to make those choices.  

What will the relationship be like now, between Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon?  Will they still have a strong bond?

BAKER:  I think, absolutely.  Probably even stronger.  

the-mentalistHELLER:  They’ve been so engrossed in this massive task ahead of them that they haven’t really looked around and looked at the people alongside of them, and thought about who those people are and what they mean to them.  Jane and Lisbon have a chance to take a breath and think about each other, in a way that they haven’t before. 

Will Patrick Jane face any legal ramifications for his actions in this episodes?

HELLER:  Yes, he is.  You can’t go around killing people willy-nilly without some ramifications. 

Will he have any desire to continue to work in law enforcement, after this?

BAKER:  Not immediately. 

HELLER:  I can tell you that he’s going to be placed in a position where his personal desires, on that level, are not to that point.  He’s done something highly illegal.  What he does in the future is not necessarily going to be entirely up to himself.  

BAKER:  Once the dust settles, you start to realize who’s important to who and where they fit in, how each person sees themselves, and who they care about.  

Will you be returning to crime solving, at some point?

HELLER:  Yes, we will be returning, eventually, to crime solving.  Not necessarily the same kind of crime solving, but yeah.  We could make it a weekly elimination dance contest.  Simon Baker would be really good at that.  He wouldn’t win the singing contest because I would win that, but he would definitely win the dancing. 

Why was now the right time to have the confrontation between Patrick Jane and Red John?

HELLER:  Very early on in the first season, there were people saying, “Are you going to find Red John at the end of the first year or second year?”  It’s a question that people have been asking, and we have been asking ourselves in the writers’ room, from very early on.  There was no functional, formal protocol moment, where we said, “Okay, when this happens, we will set about closing off that chapter.”  It’s like a marriage, or any kind of partnership.  How long is Red John driving the story forward, and at what point does it become an anchor?  It just seemed like this was the right time.  Ultimately, that’s a subjective choice.  It just seemed like, from a storytelling point of view and from the audience’s point of view, it was time to move the story forward.   The best way to move the story, in a way that would be exciting  to the audience, was to move it forward much faster than they thought we were going to move it.  The natural thing to do would be to work it to the end of a season, but then all of those plot points become much more predictable and pro forma.  This way, you get a bit of the surprise and the unpredictability of the real events happening.  So, that was the thinking there.

simon baker - the mentalistBAKER:  There are a lot of different ways that it could have gone, from the very beginning, with Red John.  I always thought there were legs in the Red John story.  On a show that wasn’t procedural, you could have milked that whole Red John thing out, but it would have been more in the style of 24, where you’re picking up exactly where you left off.  It might have been interesting to really explore that, but we’re on CBS and they like procedural TV shows, and they know how to market those.  We did this little dance of doing the crime-of-the-week, and then bouncing back to this Red John story that was underneath.  It’s always a difficult dance to balance those two things.  It got to a point where some people were like, “We really love the show.  We really love the Red John episodes, and then we love the stand-alone episodes that don’t pertain to Red John, at all.  Is there a way that we can deal with one completely, and then move forward from there?”  To be honest with you, those decisions are not for me to make.  Obviously, I weigh in on those sort of things.  But, I’m always for going for it and pushing it a bit more and taking those risks.  This last five to six months of working on the show has been really exciting for me.  It has felt like the 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 that we’re not going anywhere or moving forward.  This was definitely going somewhere.  The stakes are higher, and it gives me something to do that I can really get my teeth into. 

When was the specific actor made aware that he was Red John, and what was his reaction?

HELLER:  It was at the very last moment, and he was thrilled. 

When did you decide to put the idea for the Blake Association in place?  Was that something that was always there?

HELLER:  The Blake Association was there from quite early on, but hidden.  I wouldn’t say I had that element from the start, but from quite early on, it was an important aspect of the show because, frankly, it gives you a legitimate, logical, coherent reason for Red John’s immense power, that is not down to him actually being a supernatural being of some kind, or having supernatural powers.  That notion of villainous free masonry inside law enforcement seemed like a realistic idea, because it’s happened in other places, and a deeply creepy idea.

Will those Red John disciples in the Blake Association still be after Patrick Jane?

HELLER:  I never say never, but I would say that I think the audience and the story demand that we step away from that trope for awhile.  The trouble with these sorts of stories, where you’re playing tricks on the audience with who-is-it mysteries, is that you can get way too mysterious.  There are a lot of people who said, all the way along, that Patrick Jane is Red John.  When you’ve got that kind of elaborate thinking out there, it’s dangerous to come back to stories, unless you’re coming back to that story with full force ‘cause people will start thinking, “Oh, maybe Red John is not dead.”  Red John is dead.  It’s past that point, in terms of the narrative of the story.  

Simon Baker The MentalistBruno, did you ever consider an alternate ending, or an alternate identity for Red John? 

HELLER:  Certainly, we considered a different identity.  The identity of Red John was always going to be contingent.  We didn’t have the choice of Jesus or Elvis Presley, so it was going to be a character actor who had been on the show.  They were all good alternatives, but none of them were shocking or would have made a huge difference to what we were doing with the show.  The notion of having Jane not catch and kill the guy, certainly I never considered any other ending.  I always hate those heist movies where they don’t actually get away with the heist, or revenge movies where they don’t actually wreak their revenge.  That always seems like a bit of a cheat on the audience.  The show started with someone who had very good reason to find and catch and kill this guy.  It would have been almost dishonest not to take that as the conclusion of that particular chapter. 

How much Red John will we hear about, in the future, or have you entirely moved on now?

HELLER:  We won’t be going back.  One of the things that you discover when these figures of great evil are unmasked, in real life, is that once the curtain is pulled back from these evil Wizard of Oz characters, they tend to be not very interesting dinner companions.  They tend to be egomaniacal, one-track-mind type of guys.  There are a lot of questions about motivation, and what he was doing when and how, and how that connects to other things.  That makes great internet fodder, but it’s not very entertaining for the weekly TV audience, so there won’t be much of that.  Even though some people would love to delve into that, it’s not what the show does, on a weekly basis.

Do you think Patrick Jane will have any regrets over killing Red John, instead of allowing him to be brought to trial to give the family of his other victims closure?

BAKER:  If there’s ever any sense of regret about that, that would totally be the reason.  But, it’s all a bit too fresh and new. 

HELLER:  I thought the only regret would be that he didn’t take longer killing him.  He could have taken him off and hidden him in a cupboard and watched him die over weeks.                                                                                

BAKER:  An episode is 42 minutes, and 40 of those minutes were of me running, chasing the bastard. 

HELLER:  It’s a good question.  If that were true, it would be tough to play.  My sense is that 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 someone.  He’s capable of it.  Like primitive men used to think, when you kill someone, you do take some of their strength with you. 

The MentalistBAKER:  We’ve said “Red John” about four million times, and three million of those times were in the last seven episodes.  So, it’s really nice to have a good, clean, fresh cut from that, and not mention Red John for awhile, at all, and to have Jane not even speak of him.  Even if he speaks of the act, he doesn’t mention Red or John in the same sentence. 

Simon, when you got the list of the final seven suspects, did you have your own theories about which one was Red John?

BAKER:  No.  

HELLER:  He was holding out for Jesus or Elvis. 

BAKER:  I was hoping that Quentin Tarantino would show up on that list.  No, I didn’t have any theories, at all.  Actually, I made a point to not read too far ahead with the first six or seven episodes.  I would read the outlines, but I didn’t really want to read scripts too far in advance because I didn’t really want to get ahead of myself, at all.  To be honest, I don’t have the time to come up with theories.  

Were you ultimately satisfied with how it turned out, when you did find out?

BAKER:  I was eventually satisfied with the way I killed him.  I always felt that what was scarier was that it could be the guy that you see every day, on your way to work, who’s watering his lawn, two blocks away.  So, when we found out it was who it was, that fulfilled that category.  But ultimately, with anything like this, there’s a level of disappointment.  Like anything, when there’s a mystery, you paint the picture in your head for what it’s going to be.  Particularly when it’s a mystery that holds your head under water for so long, the mystery of who it is, is mythical.  

HELLER:  Ideally, you want it to turn out to be Sean Connery, with horns and a tail, and who lives in a cave.  But, that guy doesn’t exist. 

BAKER:  The truth is that it’s just a person.    

Are you writing towards what you expect to be a season finale or a series finale?

HELLER:  Tomorrow is never a given, in this business, so we’re always writing towards a season finale.  A series finale is an abstraction.  I don’t really think about it, in those terms.  We’re just working towards a good season finale.  

The Mentalist airs on Sunday nights on CBS.

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