igeon-Holed: The Mentalist Flips Fans the Bird
Remember the NBC one-hour crime drama Profiler from the mid nineties? It was a show about Samantha Waters, a criminal profiler for the FBI whose husband had been murdered by the elusive and mysterious serial killer called "Jack of All Trades". As she hunts heinous criminals for the government, much like the folks on CBS' Criminal Minds do now, she also tries to bring her husband's killer, who is obsessed with her, to justice. Spoiler: It turns out that Jack was posing as a bumbling sheriff of a town in California. The big serial killer everybody was hunting for three seasons of the show was essentially Barney Fife, played by character actor Dennis Christopher.
I watched the show regularly, but decades later, I can't recall whether that story arc's conclusion satisfied or not, but I can't imagine it did. (Though the crossovers with Pretender were cool.) On the other hand, the end of reoccurring villains George Foyet and Ian Doyle in Criminal Minds were a tad more fulfilling. Well, at least until years later when Hotchner is hallucinating that he's in a movie theater sharing popcorn with his dead wife and Foyet. That was just silly.
When Bruno Heller, the man who brought us the HBO series Rome, first created a series about a an ex-conman who could pass as a psychic because of his keen powers of observation who solves crimes with law enforcement, I had little interest in it. I may have watched a couple of episode here and there, and thought it had a neat gimmick, but didn't really find it compelling enough to make it a regular watch on my TV schedule. The first episode that caught my attention was a repeat of the Season 2 finale, "Red Sky in the Morning", which found our hero, Patrick Jane, tied to a chair with bubble wrap, and face to face with his wife and daughter's killer, the infamous serial killer dubbed "Red John". But Red John was masked in this occasion. Several seasons later, guess who this enigmatic recurring menace ended up being? Spoiler: It turns out that Red John was posing as a bumbling sheriff of a town in California. The big serial killer everybody was hunting for five and change seasons of the show was essentially Barney Fife, played by character actor Xander Berkeley.
And they say creativity on TV is dead.
Like Profiler, The Mentalist wasn't entirely dedicated to the hunt for its main protagonist's nemesis, with mostly stand alone episodes and then the occasional dedicated to the real "mythology" of the main villain. Week to week, Patrick Jane, a mirthful trouble-maker observed, provoked, and deciphered murder mysteries, intentionally manipulating the people he met to bring killers to justice. Of course, he always made enemies, and sometimes it came back to bite him, but often the people he met ended up thanking him for revealing the hard truths about their lives. All the while, the Red John mystery remained.
The Red John material really started stacking up over time, and by season 6, there was a finely woven tapestry, decorated in Red John's signature blood-painted smiley face. At that point, Bruno Heller let it be known that soon the viewers know who Red John was, one of seven suspects Patrick Jane narrowed an extensive roster down to. Season 6 would be the season it all went down, the great reveal we had waited five years for, all the while pouring over the clues and suspects. And all that time it was Sheriff Thomas McAllister, that one guy from that one episode in the first season, who hadn't been seen again until this sixth one. A character who had no connection to the Red John case.
I say "all that time", but it was plainly obvious, and maddeningly insulting, that Bruno Heller, who had created the show and written most of the key Red John episodes, pretty much just picked a random name out of a hat. Not only was it a character that had barely been a character, not only did almost none of the clues point to this character, but the episode that revealed it, had wrapped up, killed off the main villain of the series, was embarrassingly silly.
Let's talk a bit about Red John in-story, who he was as a killer, how he worked. He came into prominence in the late nineties to early aughts, murdering several women with a linoleum knife. Usually he uses a taser to stun his victim, then binds them. He tends to slash the throat and then stab about the body. His signature is a smile drawn on a wall within short distance of the body, in the blood of the victim, with a rubber glove. His victims are usually female, but he has killed men before, either because they interrupted his killings or out of necessity to cover his tracks, by taking out a confederate. He is tech savvy, and has hacked into law enforcement databases, virtually undetected, to leave taunting clues. He is able to set up aliases and at least one phony version of himself, another killer posing as him, deliberately to fool Patrick Jane. He has a wide network of connections both in and out of the law enforcement community. He has a deep obsession with Patrick Jane, wanting badly to make him a friend at times, to bring him into his fold of followers. Above all things, however, he is a showman. He sees himself as an artist. He does not tolerate unauthorized fakes. Like Jane, he has a strong sense of theater.
Patrick Jane angered Red John by appearing on television in his phony psychic capacity and making judgements on his character. In retaliation, Red John murdered Patrick's wife Angela and daughter Charlotte. Thirsty for vengeance, our devastated ex-fake psychic joins the California Bureau of Investigation and under the supervision (handling, really) of Teresa Lisbon, Senior Special Agent. He solves murders as part of the team, in the hopes of one day finding and exacting reprisal on his bloody nemesis.
There were clues aplenty. At the end of the first season, we learn he had a blind lover, Rosalind Harker, who describes him as being "just under six feet tall, not muscular, but not soft either, short straight hair, a gentle voice, rough, strong hands" and adding that "he smelled of pine and nails and earth" and enjoyed the music of Bach. In Seasons 2 and 3 it's uncovered that he has operatives working within the CBI and FBI respectively and enjoys the works of William Blake (or at least "The Tyger", which comes into play later). By season 4 we see that he employs other killers that orbit around his charismatic lead, covering up his loose ends. Jane even encounters a fake Red John in Timothy Carter, part of a husband-and-wife kidnapping and murder team. At the end of Season 4 we learn that Red John sees his work as a "higher calling" that he wishes to bring Jane into. Jane also becomes embroiled in the life of Lorelei Martins, one of Red John's mistresses, and a killer in her own right, who in Season 5 gives him a startling clue: Red John is somebody he's met, somebody he's shaken hands with. This, and the revelation that Red John worked on the Visualize cult's Elliston farm in the 1980s, leads to a seven person suspect list at the end of Season 5.
In between those clues we had suspicious characters like Brett Partridge, a creepy forensic tech with a love for bloody crime scenes, Brett Partridge, the leader of a cult who Red John has some connection with, the seemingly bumbling fake psychic Ellis Mars, thrilionare Walter Mashburn, the PR-hungry CBI boss Gale Bertram, mysterious Homeland Security agent Robert Kirkland, and others. But by the end of Season 5, Patrick Jane had it whittled down to seven.
The seven final suspects that Jane narrowed down from a list of thousands (and yes, we're supposed to believe that Patrick Jane's memory is so focused that he can literally remember thousands of people he's shaken hands with since the murder of his family) are an interesting bunch. For one, some of them are obviously not Red John even by simple logic.. econd, the one who is Red John shouldn't even qualify for the list. And third, Red John sent a message to Jane at the end of Season 5 telling him that he knows the list, too. And the list is as follows:
- Brett Stiles: Leader of the Visualize cult and way too old to be Red John (sorry Malcom McDowell, but you couldn't overpower a Roomba)
- Gale Bertram: CBI boss, has always been suspicious, but semi-comical
- Ray Haffner: Former CBI supervising agent turned private investigator and member of Visualize who would be an excellent Red John, honestly
- Reede Smith: FBI agent assigned to take custody of Lorelei Martins and a fatty fatty bom-batty (along with Haffner, my other choice to be RJ, but I can't remember why, exactly)
- Bob Kirkland: Homeland Security agent, has been pulling strings behind the scenes and has a keen interest in Patrick Jane, as well as a Christopher Walken-ish quality
- Thomas McAllister (the guy who actually turns out to be Red John): Dopey corn-pone sheriff of Napa County, who was only in one episode before his appearance on the list
- Brett Partridge: Forensic tech for the CBI who loves blood spatter, admires Red John, and was the bar none fan favorite choice for Red John
This list, I now realize, was complete bullshit.
Jane's original list is based solely on the hand shake clue. From this, we can already eliminate Stiles, Smith, McAllister, and Partridge, none of whom ever shook Jane's hand (at least, not before Lorelei let slip the clue). What is the reasoning behind including them on this list? I'm still waiting for it. Don't try to ply me with ideas about "shaking hands" being metaphorical. Lorelei Martins repeats the clue on the video message Red John forced her to read before he killed her, which was delivered in the Season 5 finale. And three of the suspects actually did shake Jane's hands. The entire list is based on that clue!
In fact, here's a quote from Jane when discussing the list with Lisbon (emphasis mine):
"I recalled all the names of the 2, 164 people that I've met and shook hands with since Red John murdered my family. I might have missed one or two, but not many. 807 of those names were women. And Red John's probably not a woman. Another 949 were men that I had brief encounters with that I never saw or heard from again. That leaves 408 names, and Elliston Farm will exclude so much more. We're getting close, Lisbon. We're getting close." - Patrick Jane, "The Red Barn" (5x13)
Jane pointedly refuses to believe Red John is anyone he had brief encounters with. Which, again, must rule out Thomas McAllister, who, before Season 6, only appeared in his debut episode, a one-off case with nothing to do with Red John. So why is McAllister on the final list of seven suspects? Even if he shook McAllister's hand off-camera (which would be complete bullshit in of itself), we aren't ever told that. There is zero reasoning behind his inclusion. If Bruno Heller was planning to make him Red John any time before Season 6, why did he choose the one person who most certainly could not be? Even considering misdirection, we don't get a single line of dialogue to declare that.
I could understand if it turned out the handshake clue was bullshit but there was an explanation for why Jane knew it was bullshit, but there isn't any. It just somehow was. Why, then, was Jane suspicious of any of the others if the handshake clue was a front? Or was his suspicion of them also a trick? There's no evidence of it. There's no evidence of any of Jane's thinking beyond the one clue Jane and the audience are given by Lorelei Martins, on which the entire suspect list is based.
Sheriff Thomas McAllister is Red John. And yet there is no reason for him to even be on the list of seven suspects.
Season 6 was touted in the commercials for being "Red John: The Final Chapter". However, it wasn't at first clear how soon they'd be wrapping it up. Right away they killed off the fan favorite suspect, Brett Partridge. Then it turned out Red John also murdered Jane's old psychiatrist, who left some vague clues about Red John being middle-aged, self-possessed, a good whistler, and having some kind of fear, probably of heights. Jane seemingly weeded out McAllister when he helped him out on a rooftop in Napa, but noted his fear of birds. Then it was revealed that Bob Kirland was actually a demented killer bent on revenge on Red John, sort of a cracked mirror version of Jane, willing to kill the people on a fake suspect list Jane constructed in case he was spied on. Kirkland was murdered by Reede Smith as an operation by a secret organization of corrupt law enforcement players, called the Blake Association.
It's this same Blake Association that Gale Bertram and Sheriff McAllister are a part of, which Jane only learns of when Red John slips up, murdering a woman named Kira Tinsley that he had hired to plant a bug at the CBI, but leaving her enough life to hand Jane a linchpin clue: her killer had a tattoo on his left arm of three red dots. This ends up being the signal for the Blake Association. Jane confronts the remaining people on his suspect list to force them to reveal if they have the tattoo. An explosion kills Stiles and a completely innocent Haffner (who Jane and Lisbon hounded) and McAllister is presumed dead, too. Smith confesses to being on Red John's rolodex, but not being him, so process of elimination leaves Bertram squarely as the only suspect for being Red John.
And then, possibly the final insult, and a huge pile of excrement. Then comes the episode titled simply, "Red John".
The CBI, having been shut down by out-of-state FBI agents (since their boss has been outed as a murderer), try to locate Jane, who is looking to secure a meeting with Bertram. When he finally can and can get past FBI Special Agent Dennis Abbot and his team to meet Bertram in a chapel by where his wife and daughter are buried, he is quickly set upon by Oscar Cordero, a Blake Association flunkie, who pats him down for a gun he borrowed from Lisbon. Bertram plans to betray Jane, but Codero shoots Bertram instead. Finally, the real Red John enters the chapel, and it's none other than Sheriff Thomas McAllister.
Jane and McAllister banter a bit, pretty casually, considering that McAllister murdered the former's family, along with many others over the years. Jane reveals that he knows how McAllister faked his death during the explosion at his guest house some episodes earlier, planting a fake body that he had previously had altered DNA records for. However, Jane doesn't really have any questions for McAllister. He doesn't wonder how he knew his list. He doesn't ask what his plans are. Or anything about how he came to be. No, Jane doesn't care about those things, just the fans.
But Patrick Jane isn't real. The viewers are. After five years, we deserved answers. All we really got was this statement by Jane:
"You're an evil, sexually perverted sociopath with pathetic delusions of grandeur. The rest is just details." (emphasis mine)
It was as if Bruno Heller himself was stating that all those years, all those episodes, the mysteries, the hints, the reveals, the plans, any kind of reasoning gone into the conclusions Patrick Jane made in narrowing the suspects, those are "just details". Ultimately, none of them mattered. The list didn't matter. The handshake clue was completely worthless. Even the previous episodes in Season 6, pretty much all pointless. Red John turned out to be a guy Patrick Jane spent three minutes playing "rock, paper, scissors" with in Season 1 in an episode having nothing to do with the Red John case, who hadn't been seen again until the beginning of season 6, and if you thought the clues mattered, you're a sucker. Bruno Heller, like Red John himself, was just mocking anyone trying to figure it out.
What's Red John/McAllister even planning at this stage? He says that he's going to kill Jane, then make it seem like he and Bertram killed each other, but if he wanted to do that, why the elaborate game? What would he do next? People are going to notice that Red John didn't die after all if he goes onto killing more people with his signature smiley face. Does he plan to retire? What happened to his compulsion to bring Jane into his fold? Surely that's why he was there in person, right? Otherwise, why did he show up at the chapel at all? What about that "higher calling" Red John spoke about in the Season 4 finale?
Do we get any shout outs/references to Rosalind Harker? The killing of Sam Bosco's team? Timothy Carter, the fake Red John? Red John's time at the Elliston farm as part of Visualize? The answer to what "HE IS MAR" was, at least? Well, no. Maybe Bruno Heller is like Jane at this point, and just doesn't care. Instead, he releases a live pigeon hidden from his coat, and McAllister recoils, being afraid of birds, which gives Jane time to retrieve a hidden gun under a pew, which he uses to shoot McAllister in the gut and gun down Oscar.
Yeah. You read that right. I'm presuming if you've read this far, you probably already saw it. A live pigeon, a hidden gun, a professional policeman killed by a guy who never uses guns, and another dying on the floor because he's afraid of said bird. I'm only repeating this because I want it to sink in. The mighty Red John is, in a matter of milliseconds, completely undone by a live pigeon Patrick Jane had smuggled into the chapel in his coat.
It's unlike me to have gone this long without using profanity. I wanted to avoid it, if possible. It isn't.
Fuck you, Bruno Heller, with a live ferret, borrowing through your lower intestine. I know that, as a consumer of free media, you probably don't owe me a thing, but it's really crappy to be punched in the face this hard after years of watching this show.
But, oh, it's not over yet. Oh, no. A mysterious, unnamed woman enters the chapel and, feigning ignorance, begs Jane to put his gun down, like she's just a bystander. However, it turns out the woman is a Red John operative, and she lunges at him with a knife. The woman, who must have heard gunshots from outside and entered, tries to kill a man armed with a gun, who has killed one person and injured her boss, with a knife. Why didn't Red John have his operative, oh, I don't know, carry a gun, and perhaps shoot Patrick Jane, as to save him in case he needed it. Jane knocks the woman over with a candle (!) and pursues Red John through the graveyard, as he has slipped away while Jane was attacked.
Here we get a pulse-pounding chase, wherein a man several years younger than a doddering old man with a gaping, bleeding gut wound, cannot keep up with said wounded man. Not only is Patrick slower than McAllister, but McAllister is also, somehow, able to leap through a sliding glass door of a very surprised family, get up just fine, look at everybody apologetically, and continue running. Instead of, you know, just going around the house, or taking one of the kids hostage, or stealing a car, or any number of things he had time for since Jane is so slow. The wounded old sheriff just Kool-Aids through that glass door like a rhino going through a Japanese wall. Ferris Bueller wouldn't even do that trying to outrun his parents.
The ludicrous Jack Benny routine ends in a park, where an ailing McAllister finally crumples onto the ground next to a pond, desperately dialing 9-1-1 for help. Red John, serial killer, pleading for help from emergency services. Jane kicks away the phone, straddles (!) McAllister, and chokes him to death, without any mercy. Then he leaves a phone message with Lisbon telling her it's over, and runs off.
Again, I must resort to salty tongue, because other language fails me. Forgive me.
Fuck you, Heller.
You, Mr. Bruno Heller, are a bilious mound of rotting pubic cheese. You are a sack of steaming whale vomit. I would rather be given an enema of molten lava than ever watch another show produced by you. While it is true that I enjoyed The Mentalist for several years, especially episodes written by you, so I cannot especially say that you're a terrible writer, but you obviously turned out to be a pusillanimous dilettante, and even writing this article churns a rage in me that even hyperbole cannot do justice to.
"But wait!" come the cries from the villagers on the hills and dales, echoing through the countryside, through the halls of my home and into my ears. "Season 6 is as of yet unfinished! Surely we will be treated with many revelations involving Red John, the Blake Association, and at least some of your unanswered questions!"
Indeed, that may be true.
I don't care.
Now, don't get me wrong. This isn't just because the guy I wanted to be Red John wasn't. Frankly, he's the only one that makes sense, given the clues, but they could have theoretically made McAllister work, at least somewhat, had they set it up better. They didn't. There was no attempt. The episode "Red John" just says, "Yep, turns out it was that one guy from that one episode and a couple of others five years later. You can't know how. He's dead now. A pigeon defeated him. Enjoy Jane in... Mexico, I think."
CBS even spoiled the reveal itself in the commercial for the episode after the conclusion of "The Great Red Dragon", in a promo with McAllister's stunt double crashing through the glass door and him from behind walking in the chapel. They showed us who it was already in the preview!
The final showdown between Patrick Jane and Red John isn't some grand battle of wits between to master manipulators. It's not even a pulse-pounding thrill ride. It's not a terrifying encounter with a dangerous maniac, either. It's an episode of William Dozier's Batman TV series from the 60s. It's garish and campy, with a sneering and scene-chewing. There's an absurd chase scene that defies any kind of reason and a frankly dismissive, mean-spirited finale that gives a giant middle finger to the dedicated long-time viewers. Hell, most of the episode isn't even about Red John, it's about FBI agent Abbott obstructing Jane and the CBI! Red John doesn't even appear until the second half of the episode and when he does, Jane gives him a look like even Simon Baker himself can't believe it's the sheriff. No, that the character of Patrick Jane can't believe it's the damn sheriff that shouldn't have even qualified for the suspect list to begin with!
Did Bruno Heller, who wrote nearly all of the Red John-related episodes, and was the supervisor of the entire series, even review the past shows before he decided who was Red John? According to an interview, Xander Berkeley, who plays McAllister, wasn't even told he was Red John until this season. It's possible that Heller himself didn't know. And the writing of that conclusion is just seething with hatred for the whole story arc, like Heller regrets ever having created Red John and wished he had given Jane less serious reasons to be solving crimes, because the episode "Red John" is viciously dismissive of the mythology.
And yes, sure, it's possible Heller may attempt some sort of reconciliation with the disappointed fans by revealing details of Red John's conspiracy to us in future episodes. However, for me at least, that ship has sailed. He had ample opportunity to wrap things up. Why should I, having watched "Red John", even bother with the show? I should keep watching for what, Heller's scraps?
Currently, we have a brand new dynamic to the show. Jane is working with the FBI out of Texas, with Dennis Abott as his new boss, and Lisbon along for the ride as he solves cases for another group of suits, promising to decode a flash drive with a list of Blake Association members. It's the last vestige of the Red John case as the show returns to mostly stand alone cases. Some people like this new direction. After the doom and gloom of the first eight episodes of the season where it's pretty much constant Red John hunting, they see this return-to-form episodic nature with a more cheeky Patrick Jane as a breath of fresh air.
I see it as placing a funeral wreath on a fresh grave.
The only thing keeping me watching it now is force of habit. If I found anything better to watch on Sunday nights, I wouldn't even think about the show. It's background noise at best. I doubt that anything that happens now can redeem what happened to it.
Red John, Red John, burning quick, why were you a small time hick? What immoral hand or eye could write thy fearful idiocy?
Bruno Heller, that was my favorite teacup.
- Penguin Truth (2013)