TV preview: 'The Mentalist' ready to leave Red John behind

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This past Sunday's episode of CBS's "The Mentalist" rocked the show's premise with the revelation of the identity of Red John and more (warning: spoilers from the Nov. 24 episode ahead).

'The Mentalist'
When: 10:30 p.m. Sunday, CBS.

It turned out that Red John was not Patrick Jane's boss, CBI director Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston), but instead it was Thomas McAllister (Xander Berkeley). And by the end of Sunday's episode, Jane (Simon Baker, "The Guardian") had killed Red John with his bare hands.

"It was a real pleasing emotional closer to that story," said "Mentalist" executive producer Bruno Heller in a teleconference with reporters last week. "For me it was giving Patrick Jane exactly what he had 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."

Mr. Heller said there was no definitive identity to Red John at the beginning of the series, but McAllister emerged as the leading contender over time. As to the timing of this revelation, Mr. Heller said "it just seemed like, from a story-telling point of view and an audience point of view, it was time to move the story forward, and the best way to move it forward in a way that's exciting to the audience is to move forward much faster than they think."

Don't expect the show to go back and explain how Red John did everything he did over the years; Mr. Heller said it's time to move on. But how?

"Jane is a tragic figure who's gotten his heart's desire, the evil grail he's been chasing all these years," Mr. Heller said. "What does that do to him as a person? Can he begin a new life, and what kind of life does he want for himself and how will he define himself now that that part of his life is over?"

This week's episode (10:30 p.m. Sunday, KDKA-TV) picks up the story two years later.

At some point the show will return to a case-of-the-week format, although the CBI set has been torn down ("Yes, we'll be returning eventually to crime solving but not necessarily the same kind of crime solving"). With the Red John story done, could this be the last season of "The Mentalist"? It certainly seems like the end could be near.

"Tomorrow is never a given in this business," Mr. Heller said, noting that he'll be writing toward a season finale and not necessarily a series finale to air in May. "In a very real sense Jane is a happier person and a weight has been taken off his shoulders, and a weight has been taken off the show. 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."

First, of course, there will be ramifications for Jane killing Red John.

"When Red John dies, a large part of Jane dies in that moment as well," said Mr. Baker. "I think it takes a little time for him to get back on his feet again. He doesn't have a wife and kids. He doesn't have relationships with anyone other than the people he worked with at CBI and this perverse relationship with Red John. Now that that's over, he doesn't have a lot other than the CBI people."

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