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'Mentalist' ends Red John mystery, plans jump to the future

| Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Since CBS drama “The Mentalist” began in 2008, California Bureau of Investigation consultant Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) has been fixated on finding Red John, the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter. On Nov. 24, he gets his wish.

Although the Red John story has been central to Jane's character and the series, creator Bruno Heller wanted to examine how its resolution would affect Jane before the series ends, a distinct possibility in May. In the Dec. 1 episode, the sixth-season drama will jump ahead two years.

The Red John story “has been the anchor of the show,” Heller says. “It's been an absolutely necessary (device for) stability, but it's also been something that has held Jane in thrall and made him a darker and more driven and more ambivalent character than he would be otherwise,” he says. “We wanted to see what Jane is like without this burden,” and he's definitely “happier.” Even love is a possibility.

Australian actor Simon Baker, who plays Jane, calls the decision to end the Red John story and jump ahead in time “a bold and risky thing to do,” especially midseason. “I think that makes it fun and interesting.”

Viewers have gotten to play along, as Jane has been whittling down a suspect list, which once stood at seven. Last week, the focus shifted to CBI Director Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston), the subject of an intense manhunt as the Nov. 24 episode opens.

“I thought the list was a great idea,” Baker says. “ It's just a process of elimination in some way. After vamping for so long and giving tidbits of information and then (having) fantastical theories all over the place, to then have something that tangible was very clever.”

That solution to the mystery comes as the CBI Sacramento office is dismantled, after the discovery that it has been infiltrated by a secret society of corrupt law-enforcement officials that includes the serial killer.

“It was really strange to shoot all of that stuff. It felt enormously like we were at the end,” Baker says. “It's very clear that we're striking the whole thing and starting again.”

Baker, who directs the Dec. 1 episode, says viewers will see changes in Jane. “It's a coming-of-age in a way,” he says. “It redefines the relationship between Jane and Lisbon (Robin Tunney) in a real and adult way.”

Baker says there are plenty of stories to tell, post-Red John. “I think that is going to fall on our writers, if they can come up with stuff that's interesting and if we continue to move forward. “We'll give it our best shot.”

Bill Keveney is a staff writer for USA Today.

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