Since the beginning of CBS' crime drama "The Mentalist" -- currently airing its sixth season on Sundays -- faux psychic-turned-criminal investigator Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) has pursued Red John, the serial killer who murdered his wife and child before the story began. Jane's single-minded obsession with Red John has been the thing propelling him forward through his pain and grief. His quest for justice -- both in the pursuit of his hated foe and in his crime consulting work for the California Bureau of Investigation -- has, in some ways, ameliorated his guilt over fleecing the gullible in his previous life.
But having a single overriding goal could become a problem for Jane if he hasn't considered what his life will be about if that aim is reached.
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"The Mentalist"Airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on CBS
Since the beginning of the season, the list of suspects has been whittled down. In October, suspect Bob Kirkland (Kevin Corrigan) was first eliminated when it was revealed that he was actually on the hunt for the serial killer. Then Kirkland also became a victim at the hands of a fellow suspect. At the same time, it's become obvious that there are people keeping close tabs on Jane.
In the episode airing Nov. 3, he begins a journey that may lead to the revelation of Red John's identity, currently narrowed to suspects Ray Haffner (Reed Diamond), Reede Smith (Drew Powell), Sheriff McAllister (Xander Berkeley), Bret Stiles (Malcolm McDowell) and Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston). Having discovered that Red John has a particular tattoo, Jane hatches a plan to lure the suspects to his Malibu home -- the site of his family's murder -- and finally identify his nemesis.
The fascination with Red John extends beyond the show to its loyal fans. Speaking between scenes in his trailer at Warner Bros. Studios, Baker says fans who see him want to know "'Who's Red John?' That's the standard question." His standard reply is "Can't tell ya."
There are rumors that this is the season Red John finally is identified, but Baker, who's also a producer on the show, responds to some skepticism about that, saying, "You don't believe the talk, the chatter that's out there that we are going to find him this season? Wouldn't you want, just for the sake of it, to close that off? Because if the network decided to cancel you, you would never close that story up."
It's "tricky," Baker acknowledges. "My question is this: Is Red John the spine of the show, or is Jane's desire to seek revenge the spine of the show?"
This leads to the question of, since Jane's desire to seek revenge is directed at Red John, aren't the two the same thing? "We've built Red John as Keyser Soze," says Baker, referring to Kevin Spacey's mystery man in "The Usual Suspects." "But if we don't really know who Red John is, what if he's little Jim out at the corner? It's really about seeking revenge. As long as you keep the desire for the carrot, what happens when you get the carrot? What happens when you obtain a goal in life?"
Told that a person who experiences this might either feel lost, or might just set another goal, Baker launches into a playful speculation. He says, "If someone lives for a goal, if their sole purpose in life is to seek revenge, what does that leave Jane?" Baker asks.
"Do we care, once he's reached that goal? Do we care? Do we like Patrick Jane enough to care what happens to him after the dust settles?"