By Brantley Thompson Elkins
ThereÕs television, and then thereÕs classic television. You donÕt see as much of the latter, obviously. But The Mentalist is classic television, produced by Bruno Heller, the man behind the Rome series on cable. It stars Simon Baker as Patrick Jane, a consultant to the California Bureau of Investigation.
Jane can be a pain to his colleagues, because he not only outsmarts them most of the time, but he seems to be completely out of control all the time – causing all sorts of public relations problems. Yet while he seems to treat every case as a joke, we learn early on that his attitude may be just a defense mechanism: his wife and daughter were brutally murdered by a madman known only as Red John. Back then, he made his living as a fake psychic, but the skills he honed then make him an asset to the CBI for his ability to ŌreadĶ people.
One thing a series like this needs is what could be called ensemble chemistry. We see that again and again in the interplay between Jane and Kimball Cho (Tim Kang), a by-the-book agent who does a dead-on impression of Jack WebbÕs Sergeant Friday; Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), the agent whose work is always complicated by having to make up excuses for JaneÕs gaffes and try to clean up the P.R. messes he leaves behind; and others. Of course, they all hate Special Agent J.J. LaRoche, who heads up Internal Affairs and seems more intent on making trouble for them with wild accusations and playing them off against each other than helping them get their work done.
There are continuing story arcs and sub-plots, involving not only new crimes involving Red John, but a romance between Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) and FBI Agent in Craig OÕLaughlin (Eric Winter), for whom she has left fellow agent CBI Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) after getting in trouble for having a relationship within the agency. And the cases are always bizarre. ŌThe Red Line,Ķ broadcast March 31, turned on the murder of Gary Wineman (David Kauifman), a man who ran a hedge fund and had claimed to be a victim of alien abduction – and whose body is later stolen from the CoronerÕs van on the way to an autopsy.
Coroner Steiner (George Wyner) had appeared twice before on the series and had been the butt of JaneÕs practical jokes. Guest characters often seem to be nothing but butts, and in their first encounter Jane plays another practical joke on Steiner, sneaking a note into the pants of the murder victim before the coroner arrives – the note tells him to believe everything Jane (through research and intuition) has learned about the victim. There are other threads in the episode, involving WinemanÕs business partner, his widow, the mother-in-law and even the butler. There are hijinks about a UFO cult leader, a deadly shootout with the body snatchers, and the digression of GraceÕs shopping for a wedding dress. ItÕs amazing how ŌThe Red LineĶ manages to blend all these elements without missing a beat.
But The Mentalist is a show with heart, and when Jane realizes that Steiner is dying – having noticed the signs of serious illness that everyone else had missed – the episode takes an entirely different turn. ItÕs the beginning of a beautiful friendship that brings out the best in them, even though – or perhaps because – they both know it will be a brief one. I donÕt want to give the ending away, any more than IÕd give away the solution of the murder case. IÕll just say that the faedout, which I hope youÕll see in the re-run or on the season DVD, will strike you deep to the heart.