'Mentalist' EP Bruno Heller, Simon Baker Preview the End of the Red John Era

Before the Red John arc -- introduced when the show debuted in 2008 -- comes to an end Sunday, the series creator and star discuss the long road to get to this point.
Sonja Flemming/CBS
"The Mentalist"

[Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.]

The Red John arc is wrapping up on The Mentalist.

By the end of last week's episode, Patrick Jane's list of seven Red John suspects had been whittled down to one name: California Bureau of Investigation Director Gale Bertram. After Jane publicly announced at a press conference that the CBI head was a killer, the FBI -- led by Special Agent Dennis Abbott -- shut down the CBI as a result. If the head of CBI was corrupt, who's to say there aren't more moles? More important, is Bertram Red John?

Sunday's episode, simply titled "Red John," marks the culmination of a series-long journey for Jane, as he comes face to face with the serial killer who murdered his wife and child. For creator/executive producer Bruno Heller, having the Red John case wrap up midseason was a conscious choice.

STORY: 'Mentalist' Postmortem: Red John's Identity, CBI's Future and Jane's Next Move

"Very early on, there were people who were saying in the first season, 'Are you going to find Red John at the end of the first year? Or the second year?' It's a question people have been asking and one we've been asking in the writers' room from very early on," Heller told reporters on a conference call earlier this week. "There was no functional, formal protocol moment where we said, 'OK, when this happens, we will set about closing off that chapter.' "

Instead, Heller compared the decision to close the Red John chapter to "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?" he elaborated. "It just seems 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 forward in a way that is exciting to the audience is to move it forward much faster than they think it's going to move."

Heller noted that "there were always three or four possibilities" for Red John, saying that there wasn't an "aha" moment when he and the writers honed in on the ultimate Red John identity. "It seems like the natural correct choice," he added, revealing the actor was notified about his character's Red John identity "at the very last moment and he was thrilled."

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Star Simon Baker admitted that the journey for him the past five-and-a-half seasons has been "strange."

"There's reasons and things you sign on for on that show and there's very important elements to the character that you make a connection with immediately. A lot of those things were laid to rest in this episode," Baker said on the conference call. "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...."

There have been many surprises throughout the years, and there may be a few more on Sunday.

"If you think you know what's happening and you think you know where it's going, you may be wrong," Heller hinted.

As for what The Mentalist may look like following Sunday's episode, Heller assured that though things are changing for Jane, Lisbon and company, there will still be aspects of the show that will remain the same. (He told the USA Today in a piece published Wednesday that the Dec. 1 episode, directed by Baker, picks up two years later.)

"It's going to be the same show to some degree," Heller promised, "but it's going to be a show with less darkness at the edges and more freedom to roam."

The Mentalist airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on CBS. Check back on The Live Feed following Sunday's "Red John" episode for a postmortem on what's to come.

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