'Mentalist' Boss Promises Satisfying Red John Wrap-Up, More Serialized Season 6 (Q&A)
What was the impetus behind ending the series-long mystery? "It was very much a combination of a natural final chapter of the story but also responding to the desires of the audience to move forward," executive producer Bruno Heller tells THR.
[Warning: Some spoilers ahead.]
Who is Red John?
The mystery of the enigmatic killer, who has plagued Patrick Jane's (Simon Baker) life for the past five years, will take center stage when The Mentalist's sixth season kicks off. With a final list of seven suspects (Bret Stiles, Gale Bertram, Ray Haffner, Reede Smith, Robert Kirkland, Sheriff Thomas McAllister and Brett Partridge) who could be Red John, two looming cast departures (Amanda Righetti and Owain Yeoman) and new blood coming in, the CBS drama is ramping up the action in a significant way.
In preparation for the new season, THR jumped on the phone with creator and showrunner Bruno Heller to discuss the challenges of wrapping up a mystery that has become a "dark cloud" over Jane's head, the complex Lisbon/Jane relationship and more.
What lessons did you take away from last season?
The main lesson I learned is that it's much more fun to write the show and make the show and the show is more fun to watch when we can move the Red John story along at a cracking pace. The backend of season five and this coming season are the final chapters of the Red John story — if not the Jane story. That's been such fun to tell the story and to finally be able to reveal things to people. So much of this storytelling is concealing things from people. Revealing stuff is more exciting to write, more exciting to play and hopefully more exciting to watch.
The Red John story has been a huge part of the series from the start. As seasons went on, how much of the journey changed?
No, the story played out from the start and is climaxing as was planned. I would say that though it's like life. Every year, it adds complications. Life happens, and if you try to tell the story of your life when you're 20, it's actually quite a simple story to tell. But by the time you're 40, there are things that have happened to you that you've forgotten and you can't really explain. It's not so much that our conception of the Red John story changed; the more weight it accumulates, the more you have to explain. This is more of a technical challenge for the writing. You want to bring people along with the story that gets more and more complex — not because we want to complicate it, but because it has more and more detail. The one thing you can't do, or the one thing I refuse or try not to do, is the "As you know, Jane" lines to have people catch up. It's both become deeper, richer and more complex, and at the same time harder to tell, but much more real, frankly. When you start a show like this, the story you're describing is a vague dream of the future. Now, like real life, for the actors and everyone involved, they've been chasing Red John for all these years so they've accumulated a certain amount of world experience and weight about them, which makes it much more fun.
Since the mystery will be wrapped up before the season is over, do you have a timeline in terms of when that will happen?
The Red John story is going to be moving at a very fast pace with no vamping, no tricks. Well, there'll be tricks, but we won't be fooling the audience or messing with them. They should keep watching through these first few episodes. By the end of the season, Red John is long gone.
Is it fair to say that season six is more serialized than past years because the Red John wrap-up is a major focal point?
It's far more serialized. It gathers much more momentum and weight, but every week we're also — because it is a procedural — solving, as in the first episode, a whodunit. Yes, it's more serialized, but you don't need to have seen the previous episodes to enjoy any given episode. That's the pact with the audience we never want to break.
When the list of seven Red John suspects was revealed last season, did you find it a particular challenge to navigate that now that there is a finite number of people viewers will be honing in on?
Yeah, it's not so much a challenge. It's scary because you're doing this very long, elaborate — if it was a joke, you're coming to a punchline and here's the punchline. Or it's a magic trick and you could produce a rabbit out of a hat, that rabbit better be a damn good rabbit. That punchline better be bloody funny. Same thing with this kind of mystery revelation. So yeah, big challenge. The only way you can do it is just to do it. We're committed to telling as exciting and interesting and fun a story as we can. You just have to go ahead and do it. It's sort of like karaoke or stripping. You have to get up and start undoing the buttons.
Two regulars, Amanda Righetti and Owain Yeoman, are leaving at the end of this season. How has that affected the season and how are you wrapping up Van Pelt and Rigsby's arc?
It's more the other way around. Even when we capture Red John or kill Red John, it brings down the walls of the CBI to a degree. You can't go around murdering people just because you have a vigilante desire to do so, so it means Jane is in a very difficult position and the rest of the team are in a very difficult position at that point. The CBI is in crisis and the rest of the season follows on from that situation. The end of every journey is the beginning of a new journey and our new team will have to go their separate ways before they find each other again.
What can you tease for the wedding that takes place in episode three?
Well, it's not Cho (Tim Kang) and Lisbon (Robin Tunney) getting married, I can tell you that. It was a lovely scene to shoot. [Writer] Dan[iel] Cerone wrote a romantic script around it. It's a culmination of a romance that has taken many years to come to fruition. It just seemed like a right time for them [Van Pelt and Rigsby].
Besides the Red John reveal, are there other landmark moments this season that you're working toward?
The one question for me and other people that remains to be answered after, if and when Jane and Lisbon are done with Red John, what happens to them? I think their feelings for each other, whatever they are, have been masked by this joint mission they've been on. Now they're getting toward the end of that mission — for good or ill, success or failure. Certainly Lisbon is beginning to think about what happens after and how is that relationship going to change. They've always thought themselves that it's a brother-sister, professional relationship but clearly there is more there that they're not really aware of themselves. Once Red John is gone, if he goes, the real relationship that they have with each other is then exposed to light, if you like, then they have to deal with that.
They'll address it head-on?
Yeah, yeah. Or, well, not head-on because neither of them are quite aware of their own feelings but as their feelings become clear, then, yeah.
You're bringing back a lot of recurring characters this season, but also introducing two new players. What can you say about Fischer and Abbott?
As the series rolls on, we're introducing a number of new main characters, but the two biggest ones are FBI agent Abbott, played by Rockmond Dunbar, and FBI sgent Fischer, played by Emily Swallow. I can't really tell you how they enter or what happens with them but they come in and throw several cats among the pigeons among the CBI and cause major drama.
Should we expect new guest stars?
The first few episodes are very much about the seven suspects. Beyond that point, it's all blue sky. There will certainly be some fun guest stars but we haven't cast them yet.
It's early, but have you thought about stories or arcs past a sixth season?
Oh sure. That's out of our hands. I know we'd all be very happy to [continue]. At a certain point, you just want to see how long you can hold your breath, so to speak. As long as people are enjoying the show and loving it and watching it, we're very happy to continue making it. Yes, we've thought a great deal about what happens next and where it's going to go. The Red John, as thrilling and suspenseful as it may be, has essentially been a dark cloud over Jane's head. When that is removed, he's both a much more joyous character, a happier person because he doesn't wake up every morning thinking, "I gotta go find this guy and kill him." That's not a very nice way to start your morning. After the fact, if such a fact happens, then who is Jane? What is he going to want to do? Certainly whatever he's going to be doing, he's going to be doing it with a renewed vigor and sense of purpose and appreciation of life.
This felt like the natural time to end that particular story? It wasn't imposed on you by third parties?
The great thing about series television, more so than any other art form of this type, is that you get to respond to the audience. You get a good sense of what people want, whether they're enjoying a particular storyline, when something has run its natural course. It was very much a combination of a natural final chapter of the story but also responding to the desires of the audience to move forward.
How do you think the Red John reveal will be received?
Oooh, you know what, going back to the jumping up and taking your clothes off, you don't worry about [that]. (Laughs.) I hope they like it. I hope people are satisfied and hope it's a great, fun conclusion to that particular aspect of the show. But you can only do your best and put it out there. I know that everyone here is happy and pleased. Sometimes you're forced to hate the conclusions or the wrapping things up in silly, absurd ways or in fact — naming no shows — it turns out they didn't have any idea how they were going to end the show or what the secret was or why there were polar bears. We have the answers and it's very important to us, for those people who have been following us from the start, to reveal not in a series of cryptic moments that leave a lot of questions begged. We're going to tell the story and explain who Red John is and what happened and what is going to happen as clearly as possible because the audience deserves that.
The Mentalist premieres Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. on CBS.