6:00pm PT by Ryan Gajewski
'The Mentalist' Postmortem: "Bittersweet" Twist Is "Catalyst" for Jane
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the Feb. 4 episode of CBS' The Mentalist.]
The Mentalist delivered quite a shocking episode as the series rounds the bend toward its finale.
Heading toward its Feb. 18 series finale, the CBS drama said goodbye to Michelle Vega (Josie Loren), who was killed in a shootout in a diner during Wednesday's episode, "Nothing Gold Can Stay."
Loren, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, says she was told about her character's fate when she joined the cast at the start of season seven, but she was forbidden from sharing the top-secret plot point with anyone else, meaning her co-stars were completely blindsided — and even angry — about Vega's demise.
Here, Loren and Mentalist executive producer Tom Szentgyorgyi talked with THR about why Vega had to die, Loren's nerves about joining an established show in its final season and how the death changes Jane's (Simon Baker) relationship with Lisbon (Robin Tunney).
When did you learn the character's fate?
Loren: Tom called me the day before I started shooting the very first episode, and he let me know what was in store for Vega, and in that phone call, he also laid out her storyline for me. So I knew everything that was going to happen before I stepped on the set.
Tom, this has been in the cards for Vega since Day 1?
Szentgyorgyi: That was completely the plan for the character from Day 1. When we created Michelle Vega, or imagined her — Josie really created her — we had two things in mind. We wanted to introduce a character who was new to Jane, who ... would perhaps look at him through a fresh set of eyes. We also knew that, because we'd been told that it was the last season, that we wanted to take the character back to the beginning. The Patrick Jane that we know was born out of a terrible loss — the death of his wife and daughter — and we wanted to create a parallel event, one that would raise the same issues.
What was it like to film the episode?
Loren: The whole experience was bittersweet. In the ninth episode, it establishes us as a team. Vega, after that episode, felt that she was part of something important and something good and something that mattered, which is what basically drives her life. In the 10th episode ... she's happy, and she's joking around with these people, and you can feel that in all of the scenes. It was so sad to film those scenes ... where she's light, and she's joking, and she's having fun, and then knowing that next week, it was all going to be over.
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Did your fellow castmembers offer any words of encouragement throughout filming?
Loren: It was a surprise for all the cast and crew pretty much — they didn't know.
So you knew initially Vega would die, but they didn't know?
Loren: Yeah, when Tom called to let me know what was happening, they asked me to please keep it under wraps. So I did, so it was a surprise for all of them. I was constantly having people coming up to me and talking to me about it. I was actually surprised by the reactions they had. People were upset about it, people were angry about it. Because it was a surprise, I constantly had responses from cast and crew.
Szentgyorgyi: A number [of castmembers] came up to me and said, "Do we really need to do this?" And it's really a tribute to Josie and how much she had established herself as a really important character — the heart of the show — that there was this deep sense of, "Someone's being stolen from us," which is exactly what we wanted.
What was your favorite part about playing the character?
Loren: There were so many. I've always played young, so this is the first time I've played someone that's my age . I was, "Finally, I'm playing my age bracket!" I loved everything about it. I loved being part of the FBI and getting to work with stunts and getting to work with guns. What I loved the most about Michelle Vega and why I was so drawn to her in the first place ... is she has so much heart and she cares and there's nothing better for an actor than to play a character like that, that's driven and passionate and just wants to be the best person that they can be.
What was it like to be the newbie on such an established set?
Loren: I'm not going to lie about that. At first, I was nervous. I remember my very first scene that I shot — it was with Cho (Tim Kang) — he gave me a couple directions, and I felt like I was just doing my best to keep up with him and to keep up with the rest of the cast and crew. These people are so welcoming and so warm [that] within a week, I just felt so comfortable around them.
How does Vega's death impact Jane and the rest of the characters through the remaining episodes?
Szentgyorgyi: For Jane, it's a catalyst. It brings the implicit question of his relationship with Lisbon to the surface. Jane has opened himself up by declaring his love for Lisbon. He's made himself vulnerable — he's already someone who's suffered a great loss and knows that, by falling in love with someone, by letting yourself love someone, you open yourself up to the possibility of losing someone again, and he's going to have to confront and face whether he's up to that. That's very much what the last couple of episodes are about. Everyone in the team is going to be dealing with the death of Vega as well; it's a topic that keeps coming up.
The Mentalist airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.